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Rocking and awful - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 07:54 am
Rocking and awful

"There is no hope for liberals if they seek only to imitate conservatives, and no function either," said J.K. Galbraith, who died yesterday. You could extend that idea: there is no hope for peace if peace demonstrators, deep down, think war, death and aggression are cool.

Yesterday was a strange and interesting day. I began it by joining the March for Peace, Justice and Democracy on Broadway. The marchers carried banners saying "Fuck Bush" and chanted "1-2-3-4, We don't want your fucking war, 5-6-7-8, Fuck the cops, smash the state". I couldn't help wondering what kind of peace demonstration calls for things to be fucked and smashed, and, as a socialist who believes in the state and in civic order, I left the demo rewriting the chant in my head: how about "improve the cops, improve the state"? No? Too wishy-washy for you?



These thoughts were focused beautifully at the Whitney's Peace Tower demonstration in the evening. An event which could have been sanctimonious, worthy and boring turned out to be nothing less than explosive, full of fascinating contrasts.

The idea was to celebrate the original Peace Tower built in 1966 by Mark di Suvero as a protest against the Vietnam War. This tower has been reconstructed in the Whitney courtyard by di Suvero and Rirkrit Tiravanija. The evening began with a blonde lady singing Dylan's "Masters of War" (complete with Martin Luther King samples and Muslim calls to prayer) in a sententious "invocation" reminiscent of the very American moment when some over-wrought soul singer warbles "Amazing Grace" a capella in a baseball stadium. Call it "motivational melisma". This was followed by some of the veterans of the original peace tower in LA reminiscing about it, 60s radicals who'd been hounded by the security services for their political activities (one brandished his FBI file, full of hilarious references to "young men of unkempt appearance demonstrating against the war in art galleries").

I then sang five songs (Morality is Vanity, Beowulf, Frilly Military, I Refuse To Die and Tinnitus), executing my usual deformed twitches, Japanese girl poses and fake folk dances. There were more speeches, which I missed because I was clearing my gear out. When I got back, thrashcore band Apeshit started up. They played a set of screeching, jerky noise. I screwed in my earplugs, and noticed children in the room covering their ears in dismay. The older people, the 60s veterans, also looked pained, and many of them left. Basically all the frail people, the people who need the benign protection of other people, left the room. The strong remained.



I saw John Giorno pacing about, looking pensive, while Apeshit played. How would he follow this punky, nihilistic din? But Giorno is an old pro, a master of the crowd as well as a world-class poet and veteran Beat. He performed two long lyrics from memory, enunciating forcefully and clearly. Here's the second one, an excellent political allegory about a tree:

There Was A Bad Tree

After Giorno, a Japanese (well, the drummer is Chinese) group called New Humans set some fluorescent tubes on the floor and began slowly fading up pure feedback from their instruments. Intense, still and concentrated, they looked like Buddhist monks meditating. Rhythms began, an organic tattoo played with sticks on the back of a speaker cabinet. Then there was a "song", but strikingly original, sculptural, made of sheets of harsh concentrated noise. I thought New Humans were great, fresh and pure, proof that rock music doesn't have to be Dionysian, sharky, populist, fascist; it doesn't have to use exhausted rhetorics and hackneyed structures to whip up the crowd.



It was at this point that the evening took an extraordinary turn. DeeDee Halleck of Deep Dish TV, the radical video-makers whose excellent documentary about Iraq Shocking and Awful can be found in between the gift store and the toilets (the Whitney have taken some flak for siting it there), took the podium. She told us that she'd brought Faiza Al-Arji, an Iraqi woman whose blog A Family in Baghdad details everyday life in Iraq under the American occupation. But, close to tears, DeeDee told us that Faiza had decided not to speak, and had left. "I think it was the music that did it," she said. "I think she felt it was the kind of music that the American soldiers in Iraq listen to in their tanks."

At this, Ian Vanek of Japanther, who was setting up his drumkit for the band's performance, exploded in rage. "That's fucked," he interrupted. "What do you mean, the music they listen to in the tanks? We're trying to set up a fucking rock show here, and you tell us this is the music they listen to in tanks? That is so fucked! We support our troops in Iraq!"

Halleck left, looking bewildered. Other speakers calmed Vanek down with calls that he at least respect Halleck's right to speak, and someone tried to smooth things out with the statement that "A lot of the artists who performed tonight are motivated by deep anger at the way things are, and they need to express that anger in the music they play".

I ran over to the fraught Halleck and told her that I thought she'd made a good and important point. What does it mean to advocate peace using the textures, rhetorics and semantics of war? How can you be into peace when you're talking about fucking x and smashing y? And what does it mean that a representative -- the only representative -- of the people supposedly being helped by this evening's events, the Iraqis, sensed a deeply alienating menace and aggression in the music being played, and associated it with the spirit of the occupation?

Having shouted down a radical video-maker, Japanther took the stage, and played a populist set accompanied by two giant styrofoam puppets, grotesque Garfield-type figures decorated with fanged skull motifs and Satanism-ready, Thanatos-friendly phrases like "Moloch" and "Pack of Spades". One puppet was a lion with a knife, the other a chainsaw-wielding cat, and they proceeded to dance about in the crowd, hacking each other to bits like a gigantic Tom and Jerry. In other circumstances it might have been fun, but in the light of Vanek's disgusting dressing-down of Halleck and (by implication) her Iraqi friend, it was actually pretty obnoxious. Japanther's music showed none of the formal originality of New Humans' sheets of abstract noise; it's punked-up surf music, a lo-fi, speeded-up rehash of 90s American alternarock.

I left before the end, and met the Japanese musicians from New Humans on the street. They were also skipping Japanther's set, riding the subway home with a nice guy who turned out to be a friend of Marxy's. (Here's an mp3 compiling some of the evening's sounds. You hear the Broadway peace demonstrators, followed by Apeshit, followed by New Humans, followed by Japanther.)

Back home, I googled Japanther and found a Brooklyn girl called Laura talking on her blog about the swimming pool gig the band played last week. The conversation turned to clothes, some boutique called F21, which Laura thought sounded "like a cool code... or a fighter jet".

It's a small detail, but, like the fanged skulls on Japanther's puppets, it really brought home to me how little Americans in their 20s care for the iconography, the textures of peace. The Whitney's problem, in trying to assemble a 1960s-style program combining peace speeches and music, is that rock music today comes from a subculture that doesn't celebrate peace. It comes from a dark, nihilistic place more in love with death than life. Forty years ago that wouldn't have been the case. The rock music of 1966 would have been charged with Eros, not Thanatos.

The plant imagery of Giorno's poem, and its humane message, marked him out as someone who loves life, and his poem is about peaceful co-existence with nature. These are the values of the 1960s Peace Tower veterans, but they're also values I can see in the blogs of young Japanese -- Rinko Kawauchi's photojournal, for instance. The flower imagery Kawauchi loves so much is mirrored in the photos Faiza Al-Arji takes in her Baghdad garden and shows in Pictures in Baghdad, her photoblog. Unfortunately, on last night's evidence, America's rocking and awful subculture seems more in love with power than flowers. It really does sound more like a man stuck under a tank hatch or glassed into a jet cockpit than a woman watering her garden.

147CommentReply

beingjdc
beingjdc
A lover of unreason, and an exile
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 12:18 pm (UTC)

*checks out the blog*

In fact, this country needs leaders like Naoem Chomsky, even though he is a Jew

Hmm.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 12:22 pm (UTC)

American national pride -- not to mention our need to defend rock music -- does now require that we deconstruct Faiza's credibility. So it's to be anti-Semitism, is it?


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kaipfeiffer
kaipfeiffer
Kai Pfeiffer
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 12:42 pm (UTC)
smash the state

it's really quite a bit of irony, the ones protesting against bush wanting to "smash the state", while their "enemy" is just (and consciously) doing exactly that ...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 12:50 pm (UTC)
Re: smash the state

Exactly. Iraq today is the perfect example of what happens when you smash the state. Only the strong survive. It's a bit like the emptying of the room that happens when a thrashcore band starts up. Some people react with glee, but others look frightened and cover their ears. In fact, you see a mild example of the same thing on a Saturday night on the streets of any big city. Some people love the disorder, whoop and shout. But you see others -- mostly women walking alone -- looking nervous.


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mo_no_chrome
mo_no_chrome
mo_no_chrome
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 12:44 pm (UTC)

"There is no hope for liberals if they seek only to imitate conservatives, and no function either,"

The best book on this subject, and the only one of those riding the Michael Moore which actually has constructive suggestions, is George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant, in which he discusses the way in which debates are framed and the impossibility of arguing one's point when taking on the discourse of one's opponent - 'family values', for example, or 'pro-life'.


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enchochada
enchochada
Emma
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 12:50 pm (UTC)

Aberystwyth (where I live) is celebrating Social Forum Cymru this weekend, and the event you cite seems similar to some of the things we've had going on here. Here's a poem about Baghdad - the poet, Robert Minhinnick showed his film, 'Black Hands', which I think you would appreciate. We didn't have any alternarock bands, alas, although we did have Chilean revolutionary music, ambient dj-ing and some psychedelic rock. Plus Attilla the stockbroker!


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 01:02 pm (UTC)

Once when I was talking to one of my politically active friends she suddenly uttered "I want to fight!" and I replied "Uh, what? Why do you want to do that? It's not cool." so she said "Well, I don't like violence, but fighting is, like, the shit.". I do hope it was said with some kind of sarcasm... Just a wee bit(unlike Japanthers drummer, who does he think he is anway?).


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aberranteyes
aberranteyes
I'm Mister Cellophane
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 01:34 pm (UTC)

In the 60s, they used to say that fighting for peace is like fucking for chastity. It still is, but people don't say it so much anymore. Thanks for the reminder!

And thanks for the Galbraith quote. Personally, I'm fond of "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." I'd have written an entry in my journal quoting it, if I could have found the Bryan Zepp Jamieson quote I wanted to use as a follow-up.


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mistresshellena
mistresshellena
Mistress Hellena
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 06:40 pm (UTC)

Yes, I'm jumping on the band wagon of thanks for airing this opinion. It makes so much sense to me, but hadn't really gelled until now.

There was an excellent documentary "The Gate of Heavenly Peace" (http://www.tsquare.tv/) about Tiananmen Square and the student democratic movement which argued that they ultimately took up the language of the opressor and that was one reason they failed. This is a major redux of a well articulated, thorough, 3 hour film, so please forgive my broad stroke summary of it.


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bikerbar
bikerbar
bikerbar
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 02:29 pm (UTC)

Love is but a song to sing
Fear's the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Though the bird is on the wing
And you may not know why

Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now

Some may come and some may go
We shall surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moment's sunlight
Fading in the grass

If you hear the song I sing
You will understand (listen!)
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It's there at you command

Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now


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bluedevi
bluedevi
.
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 02:36 pm (UTC)
fanged skull motifs and Satanism-ready phrases

Only tenuously related, but: I'm writing a book about my travels last year and I'm currently working on a chapter about Japanese paganism and how it fits into their overall scheme of spirituality. I've been referring back to your post about paganism and Satanism which I read while staying in Nikko. Would you mind if I quoted you?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 03:32 pm (UTC)
Re: fanged skull motifs and Satanism-ready phrases

Y'welcome, ma'am!


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contentlove
contentlove
Content Love Knowles
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 02:43 pm (UTC)

Forty years ago that wouldn't have been the case. The rock music of 1966 would have been charged with Eros, not Thanatos.

Some of it, sure, just like today. There's a great irony at play here as there is a certain visible lineage from the MC5 to the Japanthers.

In the end, everything intertwines.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 03:02 pm (UTC)

I wouldn't say "everything intertwines". I'd say "this war continues":

"MC5 celebrated the holy trinity of sex, drugs, and rock roll, their incendiary live sets offering a defiantly bacchanalian counterpoint to the peace-and-love reveries of their hippie contemporaries."

Count me with the hippies, and against the MC5.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC)
Re: an aside

I haven't written for Vice since they turned down my idea to do a piece satirizing skull saturation. I thought they were iconoclastic, people who held nothing sacred, but skulls apparently were beyond mockery.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 02:51 pm (UTC)
japanther gig clips

If anyone's interested, I've put up two short clips of Japanther's performance:

Japanther #1 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt3yOomxXMM)

Japanther #2 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAq8WWSf2TM)

I came late for the event, and arrived just as Japanther started their set. Thanks for writing about what happened before, it really put their performance in context.

- notchy (http://www.notchet.com)


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freesurfboards
freesurfboards
freesurfboards
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC)

all revolutions based on anger were just manipulated to be put in the hands of those who wanted to grab power, or were really the rich ones before anyway.

The best way to subvert and completely overthrow the system is to not buy into consumerism, which would leave them with no money and without us fiending for our next ipod then they would have no power over us.

Wow, this is a really hippy conclusion, but I still mean it - If everyone came to peace with themselves then that would be the perfect revolution. Of course it's not going to happen, but I'm trying to convinence people one by one.


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samuellsamson
samuellsamson
samuel samson
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 03:30 pm (UTC)

"1-2-3-4, We don't want your fucking war, 5-6-7-8, Fuck the cops, smash the state"

Many police officers don't have very active sexlives, which may contribute to their levels of inchoate aggression. Maybe that part's worth a try. No I'm not volunteering.


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cerulicante
cerulicante
cerulicante
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 03:40 pm (UTC)

Vietnam was an earthshaking event because it demonstrated that being stupid in large groups could affect national policy in a much shorter time than using the political system itself. Ever since then, whenever some crackpot wants to fuck little boys or espouse the complete destruction of Israel, he gets 5000 of his like-minded friends and goes to protest to short-circuit the normal order of using the political system.

For Momus, who states that he is "a socialist who believes in the state and in civic order," this has to be the ultimate insult to his ideology, since violent protests and economic threats (like the illegals are planning) completely threaten the civic order and safety of others. It's as if a small group of people is saying "Our needs are more important than the majority and we are willing to do whatever it takes to force our viewpoint onto them." If that isn't ruining civic order, then Momus and I disagree on a fundamental level about what civic order is.

R.A. Heinlein had a nice quote about pure pacifism: "Pacifism is a shifty doctrine under which a man accepts the benefits of the social group without being willing to pay - and claims a halo for his dishonesty," and this rings true today as people who decry Bush, the war on Iraq and Israel's fictitious occupation of a "Palestinian" state that doesn't exist can't produce any real solution other than an idealist meme they shout over and over.


Protesting may have worked 35 years ago, but taking to the streets and screaming and yelling and making up stories for "impact" just turn off the rest of the population that works and pays taxes. The protesters render themselves impotent by thinking that they can win entirely by sheer shock value and not need anything in the political system. The US Democratic party has become a confederation of lunatics (Sheehan), dissemblers (Kerry), criminals (illegal immigrants) and no fresh ideas beyond the old "we're the UNrepublican party!"


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cerulicante
cerulicante
cerulicante
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 03:41 pm (UTC)

By the way, the "crackpot wants to fuck little boys" refers to the horrid goblins over at NAMBLA.

May they all be arrested for their sickening habits.


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henryperri
henryperri
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 04:47 pm (UTC)

The David Crosby types from the 60s took hallucinogenics, had visions of rainbows and unicorns dancing in fields, and decided that peace was the answer. The Brooklyn/art/music set are more likely to use alcohol and coke.

Let's also not forget that the 60s produced the Weathermen types who did try to blow up the state. These same people are now teaching our children in our public universities. Hilarious!

The same people who tell us America is a fascist police state wax poetic about the wonderfulness of Iran, ignoring the fact that their president has recently cracked down on all broadcasts of western or "indecent" music. Sounds like a great place to live! Don't all try to move there at once, now!


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aberranteyes
aberranteyes
I'm Mister Cellophane
Sun, Apr. 30th, 2006 05:02 pm (UTC)

The same people who tell us America is a fascist police state wax poetic about the wonderfulness of Iran

Really? All these people, without exception? I'd be surprised if you can find even one person anywhere left of center "wax[ing] poetic about the wonderfulness of Iran", and wouldn't believe it until I saw the quote. (I have no brief for Iran myself, but that doesn't oblige me to wax poetic about the wonderfulness of George W. Bush the way it does you; personally, I think Dubya and Ahmedinajad should, and in a just world would, be locked in a box together and shaken.)


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