Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why I Write About Music

“BLOOOOZE ex-SPLO-zhun!!!....Man of my nature always got the trip!

Jon Spencer… This guy, not even 6 ft tall, and what, he must be 50 by now, lightning in leather, this sleek slithery freaked-up sanctity... speckled with sweat, seems to see more than I can see; his mad, dark eyes piercing out towards far off quaking mountains back, way beyond the crowd, his head craning up at emerald sky-swirls far above our heads, beyond our sight yet, his heart-thumping with the kick-drum, he takes his left hand from the neck of his guitar and claws it out at us as he exerts:

"Don't got to wait till Halloween to scream and wail...”

And back into it. Wail. The music, it’s giving him visions. I’m seeing it too.

And he churns along again, down, around, and speared out forwards at the stage’s edge, with his guitar, he himself as much an instrument as much as the wood-strung scepter he wields; his cohorts, his brothers, his mutually entranced assemblers of this raucous reverie, this chaotic-chop up…align with him in a perfect tumble-ballet. Wail.

He lifts his right hand, the pick scrunched into his fist as he spits into the mic:

“I need something weird – I need something strange
Cuz I’m a mean bag o’ bones, don’t got to explain…”

Don’t got to explain…


I’m writing this blog post having just attended a concert by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. It’s the weekend, it’s autumn, I’m in Detroit and I’m scooping out stringy-seed-guts from the Jack-o-lantern base of my skull in hopes to cook up some ruminative results to serve cockamamie theories, overly-brainy, highfalutin hypotheses as to why we…or least I …(still) write about music.

It’s disenchanting and disorienting and enthusing all at once to take stock of Music…in it’s hyper-democratic / instant-post state.

It’s creation, it’s creators, it’s listeners and its emission, its impact, its evocations… it’s use

I finally (finally) got around to reading Rip It Up and Start Again, a book on the post-punk movement from 78 – 84. Bands documented in this book embodied phoenixes from the initial wildfires of seminal punk; the pure, raw forms from the initial incarnations of the Clash, or the un-caged snarls of the provocative Pistols were soberly assessed as lacking… “Radical content…” was not merely enough…it demanded “radical form.”

Thus, post-punk band’s expansion, a blooming, opening up to disparate influences and the potentials that could be mined from other genres and the enticing experiment, then, of blending them together, bending them in new ways, and breaking whatever traditions that proved not fibrous enough to withstand this refreshing/constructive scrutiny…

New forms…A blend of forms… Radical forms.

It’s part of what Jon Spencer Blues Explosion pioneered and it’s why I found it so endearing, like some kind of 19th Nervous Eureka…to see my brother, a less-plugged-in-chap, only a moderate investor in this music crap and not entirely attuned to its potential for cultural fertilization…to see him, my brother, with his jaw on the floor and his eyes peeled back and his head shaking with disbelief…

…at this demonstration. Blues…but punk? Yes. Blues and punk. Blues and punk and some felicitously pissed-off honky-tonk shuffle. And funk. A weird, scuffed up funk thing. An explosion.

Blues Explosion.

Not that Spencer had anything to do with the post-punk movement. It’s just that I could re-experience the revelation through my brother’s own “first-time,” since he’d never seen this band no matter how long they’ve been playing or how long they’ve been touring, I could sense that he got it… The relevance of JSBX was its valiant/defiant scatter-sandwich-slam of styles and the dynamism therein displayed when such edgy eclecticism is installed into brains and bodies of players who believe in the impact, the use …of music.

It’s use to motivate. To inspire…

…but what though? Inspire-what?

That was the question that began author Simon Reynolds book, Rip It Up, that the face-planting fizzle of punk came about when the system-upsetters realized they couldn’t build much upon their initial inherently anarchic planks…or worse, they didn’t have the motivation to build anything back after their first “explosion.”

But I write about music because I can’t help seeing it as a story – a galactic-sized opera – where bands and songs and even noises are personified into characters with back-stories and complex, eruptive traits, ebbing, flowing, conversing, arguing, evolving, disputing, harmonizing…

What resonated most with me (and Rip It Up) was Reynold’s tacit question of: what’s it all lead-up to…what can all this music, all this action, all this progressive blending and bending and re-inventing…create …beyond ephemeral ecstasy.

How does the story end? Or, at least, when will a “next chapter” feel truly next, or new?

When can mere marvel turns to motivation…What do we want from music? I don’t know if I’m saying I want it to bring us peace or I want it to be able to build a community and to be the backbone of our social harmony, because then it just winds up feeling religious in a way and that leads to dogmatic zeal and then people start arguing again, judging, doubting.

I just know that I want more than just a cascade of blogs blurbing the latest single from a band that was stumbled upon through thrill-less chance by some surfer-snark-file-sharer spoiled by a sea supremely swamped with bandcamp-buoys.

When music criticism died –we lost qualification. You should like this because –muddled into a certain condescension like: Oh,…you haven’t heard of so-and-so’s yet?

And then Facebook gave us, us-all-too-trigger-happy-smart-phone grippers, the hollowly-exclamatory “Like” button and all went out the window.

But reading Rip, and seeing JSBX and the baffled grin on my brother’s face reminded me why I started writing about music in the first place.

It’s drama. It’s potential to inspire and to teach us… But maybe that’s reaching… Over-glorification.

We just knew that it felt good to be plugged into the dynamism together, to freak out and lose our shit…together, last night, at the edge of that stage. That MUSIC can do that to us humans.

And that brings me to the question, then, that Rip asks, that post-punk asked, that we all should be continually asking: That music can do this or that …to us, as listeners and players… What else, then, can it do?

What more can it do?