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6 August 2012

Deep thoughts on Jason Noble

Jason Noble died of cancer this past weekend at the age of 40. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the influence his art had on my path in music and my path in life. Below I’ll reproduce a long interview with him and his frequent musical collaborator, Jeff Mueller — which I conducted in 1995, but published in 1998 in the Jaboni Youth zine I did throughout college.

Rodan: “The Everyday World of Bodies” (1994)

First some perspective on his importance to my present day self over fifteen (!?!) years after I met him. Way more than other musical influences — the influence of Jason Noble was one that I lived rather than one which I acquired through clicking links on the internet or picking up albums in record shops. I was in my early twenties when he was in his slightly less early twenties. I got to see his projects evolve in the flesh at a most receptive age. Discovering the music he made in groups like Rodan and Rachel’s wasn’t just research into the history of music — it felt like a kind of mentorship at a (very slight) distance. I had the privilege of watching him living a life in art, hearing how his musical interests evolved over time, and learning that as your interests shift you could still maintain an unquestionably strong dedication to making art in a way that was humble, fearless and true. In this age of Spotify, there’s dozens of places you can start exploring his music — and I’d recommend starting with the album that made me fall in love with his work, Rodan’s Rusty (1994, Quarterstick/Touch & Go) — but this download of Rodan’s early demo tape Aviary, is another excellent way to begin.

It would require a long stretch of contemplation to fully unpack what I admired so much about Jason, what drew me so strongly to his music in those years. But rather than pretend I can come up with a comprehensive list on the spot, let me just dive into some uncollected thoughts. I remember how he seemed to be at the center of a Lousiville, Kentucky music scene that was disconnected from everything else going on in the world. I admired how he and his peers in projects like Slint, Gastr Del Sol, Palace Brothers and The For Carnation created their own universe. I particularly admired the frission of unlike sensibilities in his own musical projects — classical but punk, composed yet unleashed and, always, both beautiful and idiosyncratic. I was drawn to his sense of personal style and sensibility — how the almost forgotten art film he starred in, Half-Cocked, seemed to translate the wandering American possibilities of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Robert Frank’s The Americans into the modern age. I was emboldened by the fearless way that Jason absorbed and reformed the art he loved — from Neil Young’s epic 70s rock to hardcore punk to minimalist classical music to Egon Schiele. There was no anxiety in the way he integrated his influences. He just listened and loved and regurgitated those influences in new forms. “When it comes right down to it I guess we could be confused as having too many interests,” he told me back in 1995, “but I’ve always thought if you didn’t exercise ’em you were just kind of scared of them or something.” I liked how Jason was proud to be a “lifer.” He wasn’t making art to get rich or be cool or get girls; he was making art because he had to. And I liked the way his most profound insights about that life quest were stated with humility.

In any event, when I was coming up in the music world with my own little clique, what Jason did had opened up a lot of room for us, rooms we’re still exploring, space we’re still coloring in. And his help was also literal. I can’t recall all the dates or the bills, but a few of our artists’ earliest shows were opening slots for groups from his Louisville clique. I know it’s hard to imagine a co-bill of The National and David Grubbs today, but it happened. And though no one knew it at the time, the final show by Rachel’s was a co-bill with Clogs at New York’s Merkin Hall. Most excitingly, Rachel’s didn’t exactly “break up” in the traditional sense — it’s just that all the members, who continued to collaborate in various iterations afterwards, got busy with other creative possibilities.

Frequently, it’s obituaries which seem to pull me back to blogging. Odd that, but not dissimilar to the way death will make music fans around the world re-examine an artist’s discography. If this blog post gets you to check out Jason Noble’s recorded history for a few hours or even days or weeks, my job is done. Let this be the beginning of your own exploration of Jason’s work, and of your own creativity, rather than an end.

Without further adieu here is the interview. And just so I don’t give the misimpression that Jason was some po’ faced artiste — it’s hard not to take yourself too seriously when writing about someone’s death — I’m also going to reproduce the photo that accompanied the Q&A, a shot of Jason being fearlessly groped by Jeff. It was a pisstake, but it gets across one of the important things about Jason. That, for him, art was a way of grabbing life by the balls.

In 1992, Jeff Mueller, Jason Noble, Tara Jane O’Neil, and Kevin Coultas, all members of Louisville, Kentucky’s vibrant punk rock scene, joined forces to form the band Rodan. These four youngsters, all in their early twenties, were not particularly skilled at playing their chosen instruments. Rodan, however, did not take the easy path. Read more »

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29 May 2012

Discovering The Blue Nile

I’m pretty mad at the world for not telling me about this earlier. It’s like Talk Talk. But with tunes. (Yes, even better than when Talk Talk wrote tunes.)

Sure it’s not that good in the live setting, but imagine for a second if this was the version of blue-eyed soul that infected the internet how much healthier & happier & more connected the world would be.

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24 May 2012

Bono in living rooms

A few weeks ago, I saw this. But with my actual eyes. So did some other people. It’s the funny thing of the post-scarcity media environment we live in. It’s unclear if there’s a real difference between Bono at the Living Room, and Bono in your living room. Viz.

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16 May 2012

Maurice

This picture appears in the fresh issue of The New Yorker. It’s Maurice Sendak in his backyard wearing a bathrobe, taken by Mariana Cook in 2005. I assume she’d be cool with me sharing it, just as I’m relatively sure the magazine’s owners might not be. So let’s willfully misread copyright law for a second here to emphasize feeling over legal regimes, k? (And, uh, using a bit of Napsterlogic, maybe it’s okay if I tell you to subscribe?)

Anyway, accompanying the photo was a touching interview excerpt in which he expresses some extreme self-knowledge. It’s somehow not strange at all that the best obituary on Sendak was written by himself. None of that nostalgic lost childhood bullshit that we (?) have been posting to our Facebook pages & Twitter feeds. Which goes to prove: speed is overrated, and there is no way to better understand a person than by spending an extended period of time not online but in one’s own head.

I am in my bathrobe in the front with my dog, Herman, who is a German shepard of unknowable age, because I refused to ever find out. I don’t want to know. I wish I didn’t know how old I was. This is far more than I expected, far more than I need, far more than I desire. I didn’t think I’d live this long…

I have serious flaws. And I think they come from a time of one’s life when one is very young and they stick to you like glue. And then things change when you get older. You’re doing what you want to do. You’re very lucky. Oh, the books, the books, the books, the books; the prizes, the prizes, the prizes, the prizes. It doesn’t matter that you’ve done a hundred books. It doesn’t mean anything when people say, “I read your book. I like it so much.” People do say awfully nice things, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re a stinky person by nature…

It’s hard to be happy. Some people have the gift of pulling themselves up and out and saying there is more to life than just tragedy. And then there are those who can’t, and I’m one of them. Do you believe it when people say they’re happy?

There’s more to it than that. So I’ve provided a subscribe link above & I’m sure the internet has connived some method by which you can get it for free if that’s your thing.

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4 May 2012

“strictly necessary for their own consumption”: some deep thoughts on art & money

So this happened. In a spiritual sense it was a very unimportant thing. From the point of view of things with meaning, it had little. But often such things are what makes the world go round.

So, also: There’s a big art fair in New York this weekend. Here are some coherent thoughts about it. Sadly, for those of you who are into clarity, by way of contrast I’m just gonna quote some young Marxist who quotes the original Marxist, all of which is framed within the younger Marxist’s 2010 Artforum review of a book (in translation) by a lady of Germanic origin who I had not previously heard of, but who was apparently photographed once by Thomas Ruff once.

I like Thomas Ruff.

*deep breath*

Anyway, if you haven’t given up on this BLOG already you may enjoy the rest of the post but, yeah, it’s pretty meta.

Brand Identity: On Isabelle Graw’s High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture trans. by Nicolas Grindell (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2009)
by Julian Stallabrass
(Artforum, Summer 2010)

…The art market, she argues, has become modernized — meaning rationalized and globalized, franchised and branded. Old loyalties have eroded on both sides, as successful artists defect to more prominent galleries while the economic protection once offered by the gallery has almost vanished., Just as Warhol’s obsession with fashion and celebrity chasing damanged his reputation in days past but now seems standard behavior, Larry Gagosian, whose aggressive business practices were formerly the subject of disdain, is now “universally respected and admired.”

In an extraordinary passage from the Grundrisse, Marx points to a model of work set against the extraction of surplus value:

“The Times of November 1857 contains an utterly delightful cry of outrage on the par tof a West Indian plantation owner. The advocate analyses with great moral indignation — as a plea for the re-introduction of Negro slavery — how the Quashees (the free blacks of Jamaica) content themselves with producing only what is strictly necessary for their own consumption, and, alongside this “use value,” regard loafing (indulgence and idleness) as the real luxury good; how they do not care a damn for the sugar and the fixed capital invested in the plantations, but rather observe the planters’ impending bankruptcy with an ironic grin of malicious pleasure…”

An ironic grin may also greet the realization that what Marx is describing is also an ideal model of the artist’s labor, which should be free, self-fulfilling, and self-determined, a glimpse of the utopia that awaits all mankind after the final synthesis. Graw revealingly describes the demands made on artists by dealers (for example, to more regularly produce new work for art fairs), for which surplus in the Marixst sense may be an apposite term after all.

If you found that boring, well, here’s a picture of Macaulay Culkin.

So what’s the point of all this? Well, art is hard, money is complicated, celebrity is real & sometimes I suspect it’s more useful getting used to it and using all of it rather than putting up a fuss. I mean, get a load of this guy!

I will end with a story: A few years ago I went to a screening of an Alec Soth documentary at the New School. (I like him for reasons besides the obvious.) Right there next to me I saw what looked like Macaulay Culkin sitting next to Natalie Portman. And here’s the thing: it was Macaulay Culkin sitting next to Natalie Portman.

Was that a story or an anecdote. Not sure. But, sorry, that’s all I got.

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