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28 June 2012

TV Party Tonight (Slight Return)

As a belated addendum(b) to a pointless meandering of a good while ago, I had forgotten about this one above, which I saw when it initially aired many years ago, via the late '70s short-lived sit-com CPO Sharkey. Which may have actually been, to what limited degree I can recall, perhaps the one punk-rock portrayal on American TV at the time that wasn't hilariously awful. Sure, I think it may have involved a punk-rock girl with spiked purple hair, who was supposed to be a niece of Don Rickles' titular character, and at one point she teaches him how to pogo, telling him that all it involves is "jumping up and down...like after you get out of the swimming pool and you're trying to shake the water out of your ears!" At the very least, it was benign in how it portrayed punk, foregoing the more common moral-panic angle.

But at the time I had no idea who the Dickies were, or that the program had actually featured a legit punk band. But just how "legit" were the Dickies? I seem to remember that within a decade their reputation or legacy had become a bit toxic in certain enclaves, with them getting shredded for having been a bunch of poachers or opportunist buffoons. If anything, I guess they amounted to little more than the Buzzcocks' pop sensibility being channeled through some West Coast, Hanna-Barbera equiv of the Dictators. Case in point, didn't they do a cover of The Banana Splits theme song, even? They did, and I guess that settled the matter.

Memory-jog courtesy of Waitakere Walks.

22 June 2012

Shake That Monet-Maker

Above: Leroy Neiman with Salvador Dalí, Georges Mathieu

...And I began to wonder, many many years ago, if the moustache wasn't a big tip-off.

Two out of the three moustaches above having shuffled off this mortal coil within the past couple of weeks. At any rate, here's Brian Dillon from an archived article at Frieze from a few years ago, on the topic of what makes a charlatan...

"What it names, precisely, is a deficit of sincerity: this is what the critic Hilton Kramer was referring to in 1966 when he spoke of Duchamp’s 'resplendent triviality'. The charlatan does not set out to peddle mistruths about the world, but rather does not really mean or does not really believe in the work that he or she makes. This suggests a rather Romantic notion, a conception of artistic being as truth-to-self, which has survived into an era otherwise attuned to auto-invention and to celebration of the type of the trickster in popular culture and the avant-garde alike. In a sense it’s an objection to style, to surface, to those artists who do things for effect. (As though there were some higher value in art than its effects.) But the charlatan–wrangler objects just as regularly to apparent depth: for him no profundity is deep enough to be safe from the shallows of insufficient sincerity. In fact, self-evident profundity would be almost a definition of obvious charlatanry: real depth is harder-won."

Joseph Beuys, whom Dillon cites a couple of times in the course of his article, has been targeted as a charlatan a number of times over the years. Reactionary British art critic Peter Fuller once dismissed Beuys on similar grounds, referring to him as "that low, low charlatan." Fuller was far from being the only skeptic on that matter. When Beuys arrived in New York in the mid & late l970s, the crowds overflowed auditoriums when he spoke publicly. But by some reports, a fair number of artists and attendees were merely there for the hubbub factor, shrugging him off as having "the best hustle going." The self-mythologizing and persona mongering, spilling over into a sub-esoteric profusion of obfuscating, faux-symbolic bric-a-brac. The mysticism and endless spieling, diagramming everything out on blackboards during lectures like Lyndon LaRouche charting out his endlessly byzantine and batshit conspiracy theories. All of it part, the skeptics charged, of an elaborate medicine show. Everyone has their favorite candidates for this category, Matthew Barney being a big one over the past decade or so.

In reference to Duchamp, Dillon places a fair amount of weight on the question of irony. But in many cases, irony isn't so much what provokes the charge of charlatanism; morelike the showcasing of obvious cynicism and opportunism. This is what fuels attacks on the artists like of Warhol and Koons. Salvador Dalí was pretty much in a class all by himself when it came to huxsterism, brazen self-promotion, and the like. The French painter Georges Mathieu also proved very shrewd at merchandizing his diluted, Gallic version of AbEx. But as Molly Warnock pointed out in her article on Mathieu in a recent Artforum issue devoted to the legacy of Abstract Expressionism, the question wasn't so much whether Mathieu's enterprise was one of cynical and vulgar showmaship, but if it was instead the result of a profound misunderstanding of the style he chose to adopt. Secondary was how he chose to work the angles from there.

It's curious (to me, anyway) that Dillon steers the topic in the direction of music; almost as if there's a parallel that be drawn between post-motorcycle crash Bob Dylan and post-bloodied nose Joseph Beuys. The whole matter of "authenticity" is of course something that's considered a prime criterion of "rockism." And while yes it is inextricably bound up in the history of popular music, it actually pre-dates the advent of rock. Historically speaking, it'd be more accurate to call it a folk-ism, since it dates back to issues that first arose in the so-called folk revival of the 1930s, at a time when there was a thought to be a great deal at stake (socially and politically speaking) in the designation. But that's a digression that's better left for another time.

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Belated footnote: I should probably add that the remarks I made about Joseph Bueys above are not necessarily my own, but rather a gloss of complaints leveled by his detractors. Or perhaps they are partly my own, when I apply the harshest of analytical lights. Thing is, over the years I've never been able to develop a strong opinion or judgement on him one way or the other. To say that he was a peculiar and highly problematic figure would be a definitive understatement. If anything, I suppose he's a figure of interest to me if only because of the extremely polemicized discourse that surrounds him and his work. All of which far too much to get into here.

14 June 2012

Things as They Are (Reprise)

One of the first seminars, if not the first, I took when I started grad school back in the mid '90s was on devoted to "Art of 1970s." The instructor was a British expat who was widely regarded as an authority on all things Fluxus and who over the years had made frequent excursion across the water to participate in various Neoist events and "apartment festivals." One of the things he warned us about at the start was that any research we did in the course of the seminar would most likely involve primary research, since the art of the decade in question had (at that point) suffered from a comprehensive degree of art-historical and -critical neglect.

At any rate, at the beginning of the seminar he gave as a quick grounding in the state of things back in 1970, in the days when the artworld was transitioning out of the culturally transformative days of the 1960s. One of the things he chose to focus on was FOOD, the lower Manhattan co-op kitchen and restaurant founded by artist Gordon Matta-Clark and his wife and a bunch of their friends in 1971.

As he told us about the collaborative effort that went into the place and how it served as a anchor and hub for the proto-Soho art community of its day, some of the students expressed amazement. How did they manage to do it, one of them asked, how could they find the resources to put such a thing together?

"You have to remember that the economy was different then," the instructor told us. "And New York was in bad shape at the time, so rents and real estate in many parts of the city were quite cheap."

"But, no," the student insisted, "How did they find the time?"

"We all had a lot more time in those days," he responded. "Seemed like everyone did. Thing is, we thought that that was how things were going to be from there on out. That thanks to automation and whatnot, we would all have the time to pursue all sort of creative or constructive things of that sort."

"But...what happened to all of that?"

"I don't know,' he replied, looking genuinely flummoxed by the question. "All I can say is that none of us ever imagined that in the future we'd all have to work so damned hard."

* * * *

Which brings me to the following somethings. Here's David Graeber, via the latest edition of The Baffler, on why it is you never got that rocket pack and/or hover car....

"Why did the projected explosion of technological growth everyone was expecting—the moon bases, the robot factories—fail to happen? There are two possibilities. Either our expectations about the pace of technological change were unrealistic (in which case, we need to know why so many intelligent people believed they were not) or our expectations were not unrealistic (in which case, we need to know what happened to derail so many credible ideas and prospects)."

A number of dubious or debatable assertions made throughout, a number of things that beg for qualification; but it makes for a thumping good, enthralling read nonetheless. It also contains perhaps to most concise and compact dismissal of Alvin Toffler I've come across; which may or may not be such a major feat since I imagine Toffler's a pretty easy target. Still, as Graeber asserts, Toffler's not so insignificant as all that given the Newt Gengrich/neocon thinktank association. Then there's this lengthy interview with Graeber over at Bookforum, in which by way of cross-reference we see that Toffler and Fredric Jameson had something in common, that being the debt that each owed to Ernest Mandel.

One of the core assertions that Graeber makes in the Baffler piece gets echoed in the Bookforum interview, phrased differently, and dovetailing into an illustrative personal anecdote...

"Over the course of twelve years of activism, I’ve come to realize that whoever is running this system is obsessed with winning the conceptual war—much more so, in fact, than with actual economic viability. Given the choice between an option that makes capitalism seem like the only possible system and an option that actually makes capitalism a more viable long-term system, they always choose the former.

Oddly enough, I first picked up on this in an activist context. It was 2002, and we went to the IMF meetings [in Washington]. And we were scared, because it was right after 9/11. Sure enough, they overwhelmed us with police and endless security. Considering our numbers, it was shocking that they would devote all of these resources to containing us. And we all went home feeling pretty depressed. It was only later that I learned how profoundly we’d disrupted things. The IMF actually held some of their meetings via teleconference because of the security risk we ostensibly posed. All the parties were canceled. Basically, the police shut down the meetings for us. I realized that the fact that three hundred anarchists go home depressed seems much more important to them than whether the IMF meetings actually happened. That was a revelation. As the whole thing falls apart in front of us, the one battle they’ve won is over the imagination."

11 June 2012

Godwin returns, in a hoodie and some purloined kicks...

"And isn’t modernity – by which I mean the ramified social and cultural forms taken on by capitalism as it became, through the centuries, profoundly a ‘form of life’ – isn’t modernity the life-form of permanent crisis? Doesn’t capitalism depend on – thrive on – moments of social overreach and massive destruction of its productive powers? And isn’t one main function of ‘modernity’ – again, meaning the whole battery of social and representational apparatuses whose job is to endlessly reinvent a subject-relation to risk and anomie and breakdown (a subjection to society in free flow) – isn’t the task of ‘modernity’ to make crisis livable? Make it a natural habitat? Make crisis the individual’s life-world? [. . .]"

"The term that still seems to me to sum up this tourniquet of image and ghost-existence is ‘the society of the spectacle’. And it is, I think, this model of sociality that the crisis will eventually test to the limits. So secondly, this. We are familiar with the notion that the dependence of capitalism on continual growth may already be hitting against the limits of what the actual planet can take. Some say the economic question is solvable, and they may be right; but behind it again is the question of life-world, of the sociality capitalism has made. The idea of a low-growth or no-growth economy, that is, may be sustainable; but the idea of a no-growth spectacle – an image-world starved of resources, frozen and deteriorating, in a state of perpetual un-fashion – seems to me profoundly a non-starter. It is a contradiction in terms."

-- T.J. Clark, "Things as They Are"
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10 June 2012

Destination: Out

Re, the prior post prompted me to do a little poking about and find, much to my surprise) that someone at FACT mag recently posted an appreciation of Sensational's 1997 debut Loaded With Power. Complete with a technical notes about how Sensation recorded the thing in supreme DIY fashion, and how it shaped the album's stunningly dusted, murky atmospherics. As some Esquire contributor said a while back of Cody Chesnutt's The Headphone Masterpiece, "One has to wonder how differently neo-soul might've turned out if it had all developed by way of the lo-fi bedroom recording route."

The author also mentions the hand Sensational (née Torture) had in the Jungle Brother's Crazy Wisdom Masters sessions, which Warner Brothers made the group re-record for the sake of commercial viability. Torture having been, by some accounts, one of the factors that helped lead the Brothers astray down the path of outer-orbit experimentation. Him, plus an alleged steady diet of acid and avant jazz they were ingesting at the time...

The free jazz reputedly came by way of Bill Laswell, who had introduced some of the group to the likes of Pharoah Sanders and Sonny Sharrock. From there the JBs decided that hip hop was yet another in a series of inventive developments in the history of black music, and could/should get as "out" as one of its primary precursors.

Not sure exactly how the Brothers came in contact with Laswell in the first place, but shortly before the sessions in question, JBs frontman Afrika Baby Bam took somehow ended up being a one-time member of Laswell's project Praxis. The outfit's 1992 album Transmutation sported the line-up of Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, guitarist Buckethead, and Primus drummer Brain. The fifth member of the ensemble for the occasion was a freeform turntablist going by the name of AF Next Man Flip; who if you looked closely enough at the inner-sleeve group photo (which not much of anyone did at the time) turned out to be the JB's Afrika Baby Bam...

Laswell apparently played a role in producing some of the Crazy Wisdom Masters sessions, with thankfully didn't wind up with the sort of wet-blanket results that plagued the previous venture of producing Rammellzee's Gettovetts. But admitted there were a couple of transcendent moments of that particular jawn...

And as I recall it was Laswell who fronted Skiz Fernando (aka Spectre) the "seed money" to start the Wordsound label in the first place. Experimental sub-scenes have a tendency to be fishbowl-y like that, I suppose.

08 June 2012

Corrupted Science

Timh pops up with a couple of interesting posts over at 555 Enterprises. First, his thoughts on the Flaming Lips vs. Erykah Badu fracas. More interesting to me, however, is his discussion about the discussion surrounding Death Grips' The Money Store. The checklist he offers sums it up very nicely. About the only thing I would add: "Actress/Zomby epilepsy," perhaps; but conjoined with mid-90s Wordsound style beneath-the-underground hip hop, such as Sensational and the various Scott Hard-produced acts like New Kingdom...

Or maybe what Shadow Huntaz would've sounded like if they'd ever actually sounded the way most critics described them.

Growing Up Absurd (Fischer vs. Spassky Edition)

Not that I necessarily recommend reading this recent piece over at HTML Giant. While it could use a lot of help (i.e., editing, rewriting & development, etc), its central thesis -- that of reading Don DeLillo's Underworld through the lens of the Walter Benjamin's oft-cited concept of the "Angel of History" -- makes perfect sense. For those that don't know it or can't recall it in full, Benjamin described the concept thusly:

"A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

Benjamin was writing in 1940, and the storm he was referring to was the tide of fascism that had swept part of Europe. Yet Benjamin's notion of the Angel of History seems not only apt for analyzing Underworld, but could also apply to a fair amount of DeLillo's other works I've read over the years; particularly in relation to the meditative thematic undertow and tropes that often lay at the narrative heart of several of his other more ambitious novels. Which is unsurprising in a way, considering that DeLillo is an author of a specific generation. That generation being the post-"Greatest" one, the one that came of age in the decades immediately following the Second World War. The generation that grew up in during America's confident post-war peak as "Leader of the Free World," only to watch the country watch it all falter and begin to slide into decline a mere two decades later.1   Something happened along the way -- in the murky and turbulent transition between those two eras -- but what, exactly? Somewhere in the past, back in the years of the Cold War and the arms race with the Soviets, back when the country assumed its leadership role with an almost frenzied and bloody-minded sense of assurance (if not divine birthright), certain forces were set into motion -- forces which not only shaped history, but also birthed their share of secret histories, as well. And in so doing, produced a legion of demons and phantoms that would linger for decades thereafter, even into the present day.2

This has frequently been the stuff of subtext for a number of DeLillo's novels -- the cognitive dissonance of trying the square the American present with the past -- the inability to fully make sense of the of how things are in relation to how they were, or how they were supposed to be. The past as a foreign country, the present as the most mundanely maladjusted of futures.3   Therein lies a shared cultural neurosis, with DeLillo aiming to examine its various tics and symptoms in literary form.4

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1.  Although this socio-historic framing has been frequently invoked in his more recent titles, it isn't just the affluent years of 1950s America that DeLillo summons in certain novels. Earlier novels like Americana and Great Jones Street draw on elements of the 1950s and '60s countercultures. Yet inasmuch as Delillo engages these countercultural elements from the recent past (as an tangential "alternatives" to American mainstream society during those years), it's usually in a way that highlights their dwindling and marginalized and dissipated half-life in American culture during subsequent decades.

2.  A good bit of which very much continues to shape the ideological and political landscape in America to this very day. As manifest, one might argue, by the recent revived popularity of Atlas Shrugged and of various conspiracy theories that hail back to the most batshit of Bircherite literature from the 1950s.

3.  "The present" being a somewhat relative term in this context, because DeLillo's more ambitious novels are usually set or centered within a certain historical period -- ranging from the 1950s into the 1980s. There are exceptions, of course; such as The Falling Man, which was set in New York City in the weeks and years immediately following the 9-11 attacks. Yet inasmuch as the specter of the World Trade Center's twin towers serves as a recurring motif throughout the novel, in many ways it seems like an echo of the towers' appearance in Underworld -- referring back to the years of the Trade Center's construction in the early 1970s, playing out as an ambivalent and ironic symbol in each book.

4.  I wouldn't, however, make a case for there being a hauntological element in DeLillo's work. His tone is often more contemplative and circumspect (as opposed to melancholy or nostalgic) for that sort of thing.

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