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30 April 2010

The energy of a Void: some lessons on hardcore, faith & what not


Recently I had reason to reminisce about hardcore, a music very close to my heart. Want proof? Pictured above is the wall of my bedroom. Below: framed cover of Void/The Faith split 12″ (Dischord, 1982) Above: a copy of the etched side of The Locust’s “Well I’ll Be a Monkey’s Uncle” double 12” (Gold Standard Labs, 2000). A pictorial detail here:

One of the problems with explaining an appreciation for this music is its obscurity, its inexplicability compared to most of what people would consider music, and — the topic I’m going to focus on in this post — its energy, an energy so untidy and chaotic it doesn’t translate well into adulthood which, if you define adulthood like most people do, means that it does not translate well anywhere that is considered polite society.

Now for some Void videos, sorted by YouTube popularity:

LESSON #1: ENERGY – 58,000 views

So, yes, energy. It’s less like music than a rolling storm. The guitar player Bubba Dupree’s sway and lean is trance-like, masturbatory in a zen way, completely focused. The singer John Weiffenbach displays a weird athleticism all the weirder for how it’s mixed up with a weird rage. Imagine for a second if the jocks were the biggest weirdos in your typical American high school and you get a sense of the threat to the social order someone like Weiffenbach represents. He’s a punk but he’s proudly wearing short shorts, simultaneously upsetting both the actual weirdo peers (for the way he’s dressed) and the more straightforward kids (for the things he’s doing in those shorts). If only he replaced then with 80s-era running shorts maybe his band would have been more popular. But no that’s an innovation he left for Henry Rollins to master.

The drummer Sean Finnegan will not stop playing when the band does. It seems like whatever he is doing is only half-coordinated with the actions of his bandmates. He’s going balls out and won’t stop. It would be too clever to say that only death could stop this guy — or that he had an energy which seems too much, too much, which was destined to make him expire at a young age. But when you hear that his death in 2008 came via a massive heart attack, and that he was only 43 years old you might think those thoughts were correct & appropriate after all.

One of the reasons this video has so many more views than the others is that it’s the one bloggers gravitated toward when running his obituary — making him, perhaps, the single biggest means by which this pre-internet band has been embraced in this medium.

LESSON #2: WILLPOWER & WILL TO POWER – 28,000 views

This next video gives a better sense of what makes the band exciting. The camera never moves. The singer has a fearful, will-to-power like intensity. You understand the appeal the group might have to a heedless young person, an appeal much like the original creator of the will to power concept seems to hold on precocious young people — at least in my experience.

For the most part the band is absent entirely from the shot. But if you’re like me you don’t much care. There is plenty of visual interest here besides them, and the point of what they’re doing up there on stage, finally, is to incite a movement, a violence, a creative spark & persistent impact that goes far & above the music they’re making in real time. So yes, a shout out to 19th-century German classical philologists everywhere straight from 1980s era Washington, DC.

LESSON(S) #3 & #4: CHAOS & COMMUNITY – 19,000 views combined

Here’s the point to put a finger on it. Watch the second video, where an audience member for a second grabs control of the mic; where singer John Weiffenbach tells the crowd “Stick your fingers in my gizzard” and you’re not sure if it’s a lyric or a request; where you can barely tell where the band stops and the crowd begins.

Unique to this music is a sense that there is no line between audience and performer, between the chaos of the crowd and the creation of something new, between the artist and the community that supports them. That’s what made hardcore punk so inspiring to so many kids that would, eventually, leave the actual music and aesthetic of that culture behind. I recall the Passover Seder I attended a few weeks back at the home of a particularly forward thinking Lubavitcher rabbi in Boro Park. I, myself, neither observe nor practice any religion but I was taken aback by the guy seated to my left at the table — a Catholic hardcore kid from Connecticut that had recently converted to the Jewish faith and was dressed in the full-out Hasidic outfit — beard, side curls, black hat, etc.

It made me wonder, was hardcore punk a kind of religion in and of itself?

And finally…

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Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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4 September 2009

Song of the Summer: Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell”

The autumn doesn’t officially begin until late September. But let’s be honest, emotionally speaking, it starts after this Labor Day weekend.

And I just realized I never announced my official song of summer. Well, whoot, here it is.

What makes this song simultaneously retarded and awesome? Seriously! I think it’s the kind of thing that makes life worth living another day. And I am pretty much 100% serious.

A bit more food for thought on why I like dumb music & why I like smart music. (I hope I don’t have to point out that Das Racist’s music falls firmly in the “dumb” category.)

I will try to limit myself to three points:

ONE: When I listen to this song it makes me smile & note how it puts a laser like target on the redonkulousness of a phenomenon in the vernacular retail shopping experience which no one really pinpointed quite so well previously. (Unless there’s, like, a Tracy Jordan bit about those combo stores I’m missing.)

TWO: By contrast, when I listen to music like that of Nico Muhly it makes me think very deeply about language and meaning and communication. These, of course, are more rarefied areas of human experience, and suitably subtler shades of formal craft are required to make the work successful. (To restate: Artistic commentary about combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell franchises require less complicated tools than artistic commentary about how we tell stories and assemble notions of the self through language.)

THREE: It’s alright for a person to love music that tickles only one side of their consciousness. It’s alright for music to not be a 7-layer burrito dip of meaning, significance and catchiness. Sometimes a dog is a dog, and a cat is a cat, and you can love them for that.

dogcatmouse

Of course, music that tickles both sides (the need for humor, the need for thought) makes me even happier. I think the Dirty Projectors qualify, and it’s why I love Sufjan Stevens and Joanna Newsom.

Along those lines, this is what I love about Elliott Smith & the Beatles, too. Though neither is explicitly about intelligence or “smarts,” both artists possess a formal genius, plus an extreme realization of a musical aesthetic, along with a realization that the whole enterprise is inherently goofy & a good time & must sometimes break. Maybe that’s why I’m still obsessed with Crass too?

I’ve heard a lot of people in my circle complaining about how stupid Das Racist are, how useless, what an affront to “real” music. My question to these people is this: Why is it that the three rock critics left in this world seems to be obsessed with pinning down cats for not being dog like enough, and dogs for not being cat-like enough?

dogdressedascat

Okay, actually, I think that’s more than three points. But here’s a final one, after the jump….
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Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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