Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Instalment #1 of the Rip It Up footnotes, this first bunch covering the Prologue. These should be rolling out at a rate of one or two chapters a month from now on.
A dagger in the heart of popism, from its very own ideological godfather: Paul Morley's obituary for Girls Aloud , condemned with the kiss-off "canned candy pop". This from the author of Words and Music, the Mein Kampf of Popism!
stray music&food particle

Joy, being a veteran of NYC Eighties clubland, pointed out that Trader Joe's occupies the same building that once housed the Palladium, a reasonably legendary New York nightclub owned until quite recently by Peter "The Limelight" Gatien and before that originally opened by Steve "Studio 54" Rubell. So where people once lined up behind the velvet rope hoping to get inside and partake of the electric vibe, now they queue patiently in the street outside hoping to get in there and load up on tapenades, organic salsas, fresh soups and other delicacies for the domestic larder. That's your culture-into-pleasure relapse right there! (In fact before it was a nightclub it was a theatre I believe).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

music&food particles

+++Matos--with whom a couple of years back I had a discussion on this “hardly any rock songs about food” topic (and maybe there’s a few but considering what a big part gustation plays in life it’s pretty strikingly neglected c.f sex and drugs)--chips in to point out: “There are lots of them in not-quite-rock. James Brown's catalogue is studded w/them, especially the J.B.'s, e.g. "Pass the Peas,"even if a lot of them are instrumentals and dance crazes e.g. "Mother Popcorn" and "Mashed Potatoes"--still, Cynthia Rose wrote very astutely about this in her JB study, Living in America (she quotes a lyric that went something like, "When I was a kid, we had three meals a day: small meal, no meal, and MISSED meal!"). And I've heard a few good folk food songs, probably my favorite of which is "Slurf Song" by Michael Hurley, about spaghetti feasts. Best lines: "We fill up our guts and we turn it into shit/Then we get rid of it." ”

+++Matos also sez the Egg Cream is “not disgusting” at all , explaining “they're seltzer-based sodas that taste eggy and creamy but, oddly, contain neither eggs nor cream. ”. For some reason I've always imagined them as being like the interior of a Cadbury's Cream Egg, only runnier. Dan Selzer is more strident in his defence: “how can you so rudely dismiss the wonders of an Egg Cream?! When mixed in proper proportion, which is easiest to do with a proper Egg Cream glass from Junior's in Brooklyn, the Egg Cream is a delicious drink. To the first line on the glass, pour in U-Bet's Chocolate Syrup. Other flavors or brands are OK, but U-Bet's is best. Then pour in, to the ext line, just a bit of milk. Finally, add Seltzer and stir. What you get is a great deal less sweet or gross than a chocolate soda, and less heavy then a chocolate milkshake. You get something that's a bit dairy, a lot bubbly, and a great deal delicious. It helps even more if, like me, you have your own seltzer water maker carbonating machine. But that's besides the point…. and why is it called an egg cream? There are two theories...the stirring of the milk and seltzer creates a white froth that looks somewhat like what happens when you mix egg whites, or it derives from the french "et creme", perhaps from ordering a soda with cream. There is no egg whatsoever in an Egg Cream. And no Cream if you use Skim milk, I guess.”
Weird that Dan’s name is so close to one of the key ingredients in the drink! For eight years now I've walked past the deli three blocks away from our buidling that apparently does a very fine Egg Cream and I now vow to hold the gap reflex in check and igive it a go at least once.

+++Jon Wozencroft of Touch and this place asks: “Did you ever hear Phill Niblock's "TouchFood", a double CD celebration of Chinese cooking!?

+++ Owen Hatherley, on his new blog Sit Down Man You’re a Bloody Tragedy— the quick snack/tapas bar counterpart to his meatier essay-blog The Measures Taken—notes that ”the insult Bertolt Brecht reserved for the art he didn't like was culinary, implying a Huysmans-esque disengagement, an obsession with flavours and presentation rather than nourishing content... "

+++Neurochemistry X-pert Geeta spots a flaw in my serotonin theory. Think I must have
conflated Prozac (which suppresses sex-drive MDMA-style, but, sez G, doesn’t necessarily affect appetite) with another antidepressant, Cerzone (spelling?) that was big shortly after Prozac (but since taken off the market) which was supposed to be better than Prozac cos it didn’t affect libido (but did suppress appetite--at least for the close friend who was on it and got really skinny).

+++“But isn’t Ecstasy all about pleasure?”. Well yes and no. I'd say the key element of the X-perience—the most culturally catalytic element–is euphoria, which isn’t quite the same thing.
I’d further break that euphoria down into a whole multifaceted set of sensations and affects—clarity, cleansed perceptions and a heightened sensuousness (not really a sensuality), a crisp serenity, focus, a quickening--which together create an angelic lightness of being that lifts you above the mundane (including the desires and hungers of the body). And that’s why E culture was able to literally un-couple people from the heteronormative dyad and free up energy so that it could cohere around the collective: the gang of friends on an adventure to the end of the night, the massive. Overall, I’d put E more on the side of jouissance (and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to make the Barthes connection) rather than plaisir. Crucially though it's a jouissance of agape rather than eros.

+++"Difficulty for its own sake." It was a reawakened taste for difficulty that got me interested in postpunk again, of course. The wild frontier>>>pleasure-garden/raves>>>clubs trajectory that took place across the 90s had carried me along too until by the final years of the decade I was immersed in dance music that was very pleasure-and-pleasantness oriented—that whole rediscovery of house that a lot of former junglists and techno-headz embarked upon as a reaction against the hairshirt minimalism. Herbert, Body & Soul, etc, it was great up to a point–but just a bit too nice, a bit too easy. Which is why around about 1999 I started thinking about postpunk. Actually the other thing I was doing was rabidly buying old avant-classical records. Not just the electronic and concrete stuff, but the more forbidding stuff done with choirs or the traditional orchestra too. I'd been interested before, but in a sporadic and desultory way. But this was a real compulsion, an obsession, a reactive craving for something more challenging, less instant, than what dance music had become; something utterlly foreign and disorienting, a delirium of alien sound. You could get some of that from IDM and glitchy-clicky electronica but most it you could tell was lightweight biznis c.f. the propah avant-garde. I bought up more of the avant-classical stuff than I could actually process, it not being well tolerated by the missus (the turntable is in the living room rather than the room where I work, see) or suitable for the ears of an infant. In fact, some of the stack I only got around to recently (Kieran at six is surprisingly okay about playing Scrabble and Monopoly to a soundtrack of Subotnik and Mimaroglu). Last year, see, I suddenly started rampantly buying the vintage avant-classical vinyl again -that same craving for difficulty kicked in again.* A sign of the times maybe (my times, at least).

*'ah, but why not just—in 1999, and now—slake a yen for “challenging” and "abstract" by exploring the reams of experimental music and "pure sound" being made today, in all sorts of different zones? Why fixate on the old stuff? "Hmm, good question. Well I guess there’s a certain sentimentalisation of the vanguard at work here, the boldly-go-where-no-composer-has-gone years when the frontier is opened up for the first time. Can’t help feeling there’s something about such Moments—a momentousness-- that makes a difference to the music. You can feel it. Same reason as why the mid-70s dub has a magic, even though later exponents did things that were technically more extreme, more overloaded with Fx, etc… Kinda feel all vanguards or surge-phases have their cut-off points (e.g. with the avant-electronic stuff that’s maybe around 1980…; prog, similarly, I’ve little interest in it after the late 70s) But this is probably unfair, ignorant, a silly prejudice.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Fascinating meditation by K-punk on the state of youth today, based (before you scoff) on his greater-proximity-than-most-pontificators through being a teacher at a further education college.... He provocatively diagnoses The Problem in terms of “depressive hedonia” (as opposed to the usual "depressive anhedonia", inability to enjoy anything, spice gone out of life kind of deal requiring prozac* et al). Symptoms of this syndrome ("an inability to do anything else except pursue pleasure") being a binge approach to everything, with the result that kids get locked into an addiction/debt control matrix, and also an aversion to anything that involves difficulty or the non-instantness of gratification/comprehension. The implication of all this perhaps sounding a postpunk-y note of "what we need is a new Puritanism", chiming in with his earlier thoughts on the Zizek dictum that “there is no inherent emancipatory potential in pleasure” and related discussions in Dissensus (that i can't be arsed to track down for just at the moment) about the importance of the more-than-pleasure edge factors in music.**

I'd been thinking on vaguely similar lines recently, about a general relapse of Culture into Pleasure. The line of thought initially prompted by something that struck me as... striking: Trader Joe's--a Whole Foods-style chain of markets with delicious, healthful, incredibly cheap produce (nuts, coffee, wine, etc) plus prepared meals and budget-gourmet stuff (salsas, pasta sauces, etc) -recently opened to much fanfare in New York, and on the opening day there were queues round the block, people waiting hours to be admitted into what is at the end of the day a supermarket! It seemed weird--possibly a sign of the times--that the kind of anticipation/excitement once motivated by the release of an epochal album -- Sgt Pepper’s, or in more recent years the new Radiohead or new Oasis album (when they were at their phoney-Beatlemania peak) would now be motivated by the prospect of organic cashews and Fair Trade Costa Rica coffee.

You can see this--the relapse of Culture into Pleasure--culture-wide, the obsession with restaurants, home make-over shows, consumer magazines like Lucky with their guilt-banishing, just-another-day-in-shopping-paradise vibe.

Then again perhaps the distinction between culture/pleasure is just a Western, crypto-Christian hang-up/hang-over? (I'm sure Momus would have something to say on this subject).

Sorta related to all this, a few years ago, on the way to interviewing David Byrne over lunch for Rip It Up, I teased him that he'd never actually written any songs about “food” and then we talked about how there weren't hardly any songs about food in rock (lots of songs that use food/cooking as metaphors for other things, like sex, or music--but precious few about eating per se... Lou Reed's "Egg Cream" about a disgusting-by-the-sound-of-it New York drink, er... Lee Perry "Roast Fish and Cornbread"... er... you catch my drift )... and I may or not have mentioned my idea that there's something about food that's un-rock'n'roll (citing examples such as Bobby Gillespie, a chronic case of r'n'r if ever there was, who once told me that some days he just forgot to eat) but at any rate we concluded that this relatively lowly status of food was just a WASP thing, and that there were other cultures, especially in the non-West, where food was much closer to the domain of Culture with a big C (as opposed to culture in the folk/ethnological sense obviously).

At any rate, it later occurred to me that Byrne's old mucker Eno is someone whose radicalism is very precisely about taking music right to that edge where Culture becomes "mere" Pleasure (ambient as audio-decor, as perfume), but not quite crossing the line; he systematically removes the edge-factors, seeing himself as a rebel against rebellion. As Geeta points out in this fascinating post (author's tip, though, Geeta, don’t spill too much of the juicy stuff that should be going into your book into yer blog!), Eno is obsessed with cooking and uses culinary metaphors all the time in his public thoughts about music. Gardening, too.

* prozac and all those similar anti-depressant drugs are interesting because while they work on serotonin like Ecstasy does, to elevate mood, they are also like Ecstasy in that they suppress appetite and suppress sex-drive. In other words, as much as these drugs are designed to relieve anhedonia, they also have a kind of in-built anti-hedonic aspect (they create the body-without-organs by suppressing all that relates to being an organism--hunger, sex-drive, need for sleep). Which suggests a connection between feeling purposeful, energised, speedily forward-looking and not indulging the appetites, not wallowing in corporeal satisfactions. C.f. Marijuana, the ultimate "depressive hedonia" drug, it gives you the munchies, enhances sexuality, turns you into a slug of sensuality.

** what is the more-than-pleasure edge factor? Is it simply difficulty, the necessity for exertion, a strenuousness, itself? C.f. the (sub-)Culture/Leisure relapse as it's played out across the history of electronic dance--from the rugged frontier of rave (long journeys required, the possibility of disapointment, a bust; having to urinate in unsavory places, etc) to the pleasure-garden of microhaus/ et al. Or is the M-t-P a kind of in-built unattainability, something that creates a sense of quest? A reaching for something that's beyond reach. Musically encoded in the tilting-into-the-future feel of technorave's rhythms.

Anticipation is so much better...