Saturday, November 05, 2005

everything is glam rock

kid shirt weighs in with some interesting thoughts in semi-response to my wooden wand piece, some cool compare-and-contrast vis-a-viz grime... his idea of free folk being about wanting to disappear is intriguing (theory triggered unconsciously by "vanishing voice" maybe?), yes yes, makes sense: a bourgeois-bohemian impulse to get lost, to unmake the most of yourself, (which makes the Animal Collective's "You Don't Have to Go To College" the closest point at which the scene gets to writing that unwritten manifesto) .... tune in, turn on, drop out... dissipate and radiate.... And some of his comments about WW&VV made me think the closest parallel/precursor to them is the Butthole Surfers (think about the pastoral weirdness on Hairway to Steven, the cover of "Hurdy Gurdy Man"; the Living Theater-esque stageshow; also the thread of classic rock pastiche running through the buttholes c.f. WW's comments re. deep purple, jefferson airplane, etc etc), and the Buttholes would have been something I'd have analysed in those terms, a middle class youth stepping off the career track (gibby trained as an accountant), laying waste to their own potential as a sort of proto-political act of refusal

i was talking to jon dale (who may be on the verge of staging a reappearance act) about this, he having his own dissensions with the piece, and i realised the stumbling block for me is actually not the unwritten manifesto aspect at all, cos when all that stuff says implicit and latent you can groove along with the trippy untethered soundswirl; no the stumbling block specifically with WW&VV is when they do write the manifesto, or at least get into spelling out the "what's it all about" too literally -- either in the lyrics (Toth intoning about how "the mystical power of the beautiful flower has turned sour”, or Satya Sai Baba Scuppety ululating about how "I sought the truth so long… all things must pass away… there is one path to choose” or visioning “a land of wondrous beauty that far exceeds my wildest dreams/where the air is pure and clean”) or just the mode of address: invocational, i-be-the-prophet. Cos, for me as not-ready-to-sign-up-for-membership-in-the-movement bystander-onlooker, it's like you're suddenly put on the spot: you either have to say "yes, i totally buy it, this guy is a visionary" or you hold back. and for a whole bunch of reasons possibly more to do with me than the guy's performance, I hold back from that suspension of disbelief. Woebot described the Wand solo album as "more Bonnie Prince Billie" than the group's stuff, and that's it exactly, cos Will Oldham' another one where I don't quite buy the persona, there's a "you're kidding me, right?" element.

With "performative enactment of the authentic", I guess what I’m suggesting or playing with is simply the idea that nothing is “real” once it takes place before a microphone or on a stage (how could it be?). Everything is glam rock, it's all artifice, the make-believe dependent on suspension of disbelief (bothon the performer's part and the audience's). So Humble Pie, despite being very much the kind of shabby blues-bore drivel that prompted glam rock into being, were no less contrived, absurd, or even grotesque, than Roxy Music. Everything is glam-rock too because it all works through glamour, of which there are many more kinds than "glam" or Hollywood (the glamour of anti-heroism or "ordinary joe" is still the stuff of fantasy, from Springsteen to Mike Skinner). Glamour in its original sense--witchy enchantment--might be a big part of free-folk's allure; the mise-en-scene that is conjured by the music works through exoticisim and mystique--you imagine a raggle-taggle commune on the periphery of society, banging instruments in some Finnish wildland or Vermont grove (or with the ancestor-influences: Incredible String Band and extended family in the woods, Vashti in her caravan, etc).

All the things that Kid Shirt lists, seemingly to refute the idea that there is a manifesto or needs to be a manifesto to the f-folk scene, do actually amount to a charter of principles, albeit quite diffuse and low-key. Not a manifesto in the sense of bulleted declarations and exhortations to be shouted in bold and capitals from a soapbox, but certainly a cluster of tendencies-verging-on-tenets:

-- looseness and spontaneity, a be-here-now approach to the jam
-- flux and mutability
-- shifting line-ups, collaborations, nucleus-groups orbited by solar dust-rings of freefloating occasional participants
-- trance states, creative automatism, music-as-ritual rather than "show"
-- tribalistic/family/commune-like image (and often structure)
-- "I am the music. There is no separation"--Heather Leigh Murray
-- “it’s all music, man” as overtly stated principle of all-gates-open fusion
-- yet at the same time countered by very definite zones of non-influence and attractions to other areas; bias to the organic, the acoustic, the hand-played

then when you factor that in with the hand-made, cottage industry aspect: the lathe-cut vinyl, the small-run pressings and odd formats (painted and decorated cassettes etc), the attempt to de-commoditise the commodity while also re-enchanting it, making it more precious and treasurable; you see an impulse to escape and transcend commerce that echoes the original folk movement's (in both US and UK) drive to reject the commercialism of popular culture music.

yes it does amount to a taggable worldview/philosophy, one that's in the continuum of the hippies, the beats (Woebot nailed it all a while back with his Are You a Beatnik or an Avant-Yob thesis, plus afterthoughts). and a subculture too, there's strong elements of homology between sound, clothing, discourse, economics

it reminds me a tiny bit of psy-trance: the syncretic spirituality (psy-trance's postmodern tribal package of Tao, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Hatha Yoga, Mayan cosmology, wicca, and alien abduction theories), the trancey-trippy music, the internationalism and dispersed rhizomatic scene structure, the cult of the great outdoors, the freak image

the musical coordinates for psy-folk are a lot cooler than psy-trance, of course, but i reckon that both scenes are expressions of a recurring and perennial syndrome, something that is
almost a structural fixture (if not quite requirement) of Western society... the children of affluence who become see through their parents values and the spiritual void of a life based around ambition/acquisition, become disenchanted with its lack of enchantment and try to build another path that will re-enchant the world ... you could probably even trace the impulse back through the centuries... here's a chunk from the Sex Revolts on those Medieval gnostic heretics and millenarian cultists the Free Spirits:

"The 12th Century initiated a period of unprecedented prosperity, just as in the post-World War Two West. But this materialism prompted a counter-reaction, in the shape of a new class of voluntary poor who renounced riches in search of spiritual values. These downwardly mobile bohemians formed 'a mobile, restless intelligentsia' who went 'on the road', following the trade
routes and preaching a contempt for wordly things. Like the beats, the Free Spirit brethren divided the world into square and hip, a 'crude in spirit' majority and a 'subtle in spirit' elite who could access the Divine Oneness in this life rather than having to wait until the afterlife. "

In the end though, I have to give the f-folkers a cautious "big up ya collective chest", if only for being one of the few things in the last five years (and i know the scene's got longer-back roots than that, but then so's grime: as fruitions, both are really Noughties phenoms when it comes down to it,) that actually amounts to a thang--a movement/scene, with something approaching a manifesto (however buried and vague, which is in itself in keeping with the manifesto, after all), plus accompanying canon it's pulled together for itself (interesting to me that they leave out the straighter Britfolk-Steeleye, Carthy, Tabor, Ashley Hutchings--in favour of the kooky stuff; again, makes me think it's Vashti's biography--and precisely her commercial failure--that inspires as much as her music per se). The whole package is something I can feel the pull of, to an extent, but well, I doubt I could fully get on board.

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