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26 November 2010

Take it Sleazy


On Wednesday night, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson died. Here’s a nice balanced obit.

I’m not writing as a particular fan of his work. (He was most definitely a Dionysian but after a brief fling with industrial music in high school, I’ve mostly been on the side of Apollo.) I do offer much respect though, both for his body of work and as a lifer in pop (sub)cultures. (More on lifers from yesterday’s blog.)

Christopherson was a co-founder of Throbbing Gristle, partner of the amazing graphic design studio Hipgnosis, and a video director for artists as likely as Sepultura and Nine Inch Nails — and as unlikely as Yes.

Naw, you say? But no, totally, he made this video for YES:

That he was able to bring his own vision to projects like this, projects that were quite unlike his own output, is the greatest testament to his gift as a creator. His collaborators recognized this. Listen below to one of the first recordings of Christopherson’s Coil project. The title of the song “How to Destroy Angels” has recently been adopted by NIN’s Trent Reznor for a new musical project he started with his wife Mariqueen Maandig.

While some of the obituaries that have come out in the wake of his death seem to be masking the occasional sleaziness of his life, I like how his own site, Threshold House aka UncleSleazy.tv is considerably less circumspect. Ergo this message serves as the current homepage:

I’ll close with a song by one of his more well known post-TG groups, Psychic TV. Therein, I can hear the bits of Sleazy’s cultural output that I do take as an inspiration. While he will be remembered as an icon of industrial music, a culture primarily understood for its darkness, its transgression, its harshness, the real wonder of his output is that he could effortlessly display how, within darkness, there was often a certain light.

UPDATED NOVEMBER 29, 2010: I’d be remiss in remembering Sleazy if I did not point you toward this collection of tributes collated by my friend Brandon over at Stereogum. Best of all, the piece included this quasi-Buddhist quote from the man himself (via The Quietus).

“We are all only temporary curators of our present bodies, which will all decay, sooner or later. In a hundred years or so ALL the humans currently alive will have died. I take great comfort in knowing, with certainty, that thing that makes us special, able to enrich our own lives and those of others, will not cease when our bodies do, but will be just starting and new (and hopefully even better) adventure… If we don’t get to meet in this Life, maybe in the next you can buy me a beer!”

Call me a hippie for taking great pleasure in that quote. Go ahead. Try it.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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12 October 2010

Video art post-Gaga: Short attention span snippets on Kanye, Bjork, Bob Dylan, NIN & ICP

It used to be easy to understand the difference between Pop Music and Art Music. Pop Music was awesome (but kind of slight) and Art Music was awesome (but kind of tedious).

No longer.

Since the emergence of Lady Gaga and her ilk, it’s become harder and harder to determine the line between Art & Pop, between high culture and low culture and, yes, even between live and Memorex. The latest instance?

Well, okay, it’s not strictly true that Kanye and Gaga have changed the world as we know it. (Though yes when I read Kanye’s Twitter feed I feel he consistently threatens to reverse the polarity of the cosmos. In a good way.)

Artful pop stars appeared long before Gaga and Kanye came along. The popwerks of Bjork, Nine Inch Nails and Bob Dylan, to cite three examples, were powerfully intertwined with the larger world of the Arts — be they ripping off the work of “real” artists like Joel Peter-Witkin

NIN’s “Closer” by Mark Romanek

Or providing a forum for the emergence of other fellow creators…

Bjork’s “Triumph of a Heart” by Spike Jonze

Bjork’s “All is Full of Love” by Chris Cunningham

Bjork’s “Wanderlust” by Encyclopedia Pictura

Or, in the case of Bob Dylan, well, just allowing someone to be Bob Dylan…

Gaga, however, is something new. She’s too popular to be an arty favorite; she’s too arty to be a popular favorite in the traditional sense of the word. One part Madonna, one part Matthew Barney, all Gagamtkunstwerk, she doesn’t seem to care that, by definition, someone as popular as she is, is actually allowed to embrace stupidity more than she does. It’s always been the way of popular musicians to become idiots as they became really, truly popular. In fact, we’ve come to think of it as something of a God Given Right. Our most famous pop musicians are simply expected to become paranoid weirdos.

So why is it that Lady Gaga only seems to get sharper?

Part of it, I think, is that her music is, at best, sort of extraneous. At worst, my evaluation is that it’s is so clearly inferior to her co-branding & presentation that I wonder if & hope that she’ll transcend the need to make music at all. The sounds she makes (literally) are insignificant compared to the sound she makes (metaphorically).

It’s this over/under, best/worst evaluation of her which makes her so interesting. Pop musicians in the 20th century often struggled with the fact that they were popular for things other than their music. This conundrum became increasingly more fraught with the rise of music video. Remember when it was said that the video star would kill the radio star?

In other words, the visual would defeat the aural! Earaches would be masked by eye candy! This was cause for electrified, robot-age anxiety!

Now with Gaga, pop stars can revel in what they always wanted to be. Which is simply famous. Full stop. And guess what, dudes, there are many other “artists” crowding in to achieve the distinction of capturing this particular brass ring — achieving the nadir-slash-apotheosis of video stardom:

But, really, is this a race to the bottom? Or are we just redefining which particular ceiling this most popular of arts is trying to push against? Are we shifting from a world of Popular Music vs. Art Music competing in the marketplace, to Art and Pop joining as one to create a new kind of marketplace for Culture. No art. No pop.

One more video after the jump. To end things on a positive note…
Read more »

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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