April 16th, 2005


The ludic ludicrous

You know, it's a very sad thing when pretension seems to have left the building, left the district, left the nation, or left the world. Do I mean pretension, or do I mean the outrageous dandyism of the charlatan or shaman? Where has that dandy-charlatan-shaman gone? I used to find dandyism in Japanese street fashion, but these days there's precious little inspiration there. Beige, cream and black seem to be the rule, with a denim jacket flung on top. In the whole of Japan, only Eye Yamataka dresses well any more.

It's helped that I've just moved to a new apartment in a hipper part of Friedrichshain; I'm seeing a lot of pleasantly pretentious people right outside my door now, or sitting in pleasantly pretentious cafes with pretentious small dogs, talking pretentiously on cellphones. I'm still more pretentious than most of them, though, which is disappointing: I want someone to look up to, someone to egg me on to even more ludic ludicrousness.

Well, there's one megalith of pretension, a wise, kind, gifted centre of the ludic ludicrous. Its earthly name is Devendra Banhart. I'm sure you know Devendra's charming, warbly records by now. They're some of the least futile sound recordings currently being issued. He's working on a new one at this moment, according to Pitchfork, who've just published an e mail interview with him. His insanely interesting answers to their insipidly boring questions fill me with joy. I like Devendra's records, I like the license he gives himself to wander and ramble (in interviews, only Tom Waits does this better) and I especially like his outlook on life, his references to Donovan and Caetano Veloso, his subcontinental looks, his hippy-glam-indie-Indian fashion sense, his spiritual absurdity, his charismatic gentleness...

Pitchfork: How does this album differ from your previous work?

Devandra Banhart: "I wanted it to be a circle, a red ring representational of human feelings whole — all feelings, I suppose. That's the way Donovan's Barabajagal album makes me feel, or all of Caetano Veloso's albums make me feel. I wanted to make something like walking down the road and to your right is a mango tree, your left a peach tree, a guava on the road, a bee stings you past the fig tree, you hear a
cow, you get pissed, you get cold, you get overjoyed, you get warm, you swim in the road of fruit trees, but it ain't all fantasy goodness. It's like the seabirds who don't dig the land but gotta go to it and have kids on this one perfect-to-them tree, but they can barely balance on it. And that's not the point, the balancing — the point is the trees release their seed pods which are very very sticky and some get stuck to the mama and papa birds and the birds can't use their wings so they drop dead around the trunk and turn into fertilizer."

Before I knew about Devendra, I had a Devendra-shaped hole in my life. It gapes most screamingly in my February 2001 essay The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet. I wanted a contemporary figure in the mold of Gong's Daevid Allen or the Incredible String Band's Mike Heron. And, by Shiva, we've got one.