Thursday, July 06, 2006

The missing epigraph for K-punk's superb reading of the new Scritti album

"And as regards, say, the "sweetness" of 'The "Sweetest Girl"'... well, I think there is a dirt, a criminality if you like, in sweetness itself"--Green Gartside

(from Scritti Politti interview by Barney Hoskyns, NME, 31 October 1981)

I dunno though, the more I listen to the album, the more I pick up on what seem like partially secreted references to specific misdeeds and actual epiphanies in Green's dare one say it real life--"looks like maybe we'll lose our home", "gonna steal your money", "first i hit a rock, then i hit a roll, then i'm hitting on you", the monkey in one song, the blood from a spoon in another, the "coca" in "Petrococadollar" ... a lot of these stray lyrics sounds like glancingly oblique
confessions of bad bad things one might do under various influences or long-term dire consequences of sustained dissolution.... indeed talking to Green i got the sense that a lot of the lines could be indexed to actual biographical correlates*, albeit ellipitically processed and scattered through songs, which seem to generally flit around a lot rather tell a story.... but when you add it all up you do get a kind of story of what he's been through...

there's a kind of dance of the seven veils going on in the songs, a now-you-see-me-now-you-don't tease that is as sublimely seductive as ever he was but is of a different order to the abstracted lexical labyrinths of Songs and Cupid and Provision

In a way it's more self-subversive of Green to go in for this veiled autobiography than if he'd really just picked up where Cupid left off and recapitulated the old concerns (the weakest stuff on White Bread is precisely that kind of wordplayful stuff about ontological drift, that sort of slightly smug and inappropriately comfy-sounding anomie e.g. "make a record of my own undoing", "been longing too long a time" etc)... what makes it not cosy are the recurring notes of shame, regret, waste...

The voice is the thing, as Mark says, the multi-tracking into a hall of mirrors, the gorgeously dovetailed harmonising with himself, the feline self-caressing narcissism.... those accapella codas that some of the songs on White Bread have ... the sheer size of the voice in the mix, unnervingly upfront, asphyxiatingly intimate, criminally cloying....

Fibre-free bread and beer: nutritionally speaking, given or take the B-vitamins in the Guinness, you almost might as well shovel spoonfuls of sugar down your gullet... Refined carbohydrates turn to blood sugar almost instantly don't they.

White Bread: you could say that Green removes the wholesome Grain of the Voice as theorised by Barthes, the element that bypasses or undercuts through all the expressive artfulness of singing and instead comes directly from "the body of the cantor", from pre-culture/pre-langue

and yet even at its most ethereal, the voice is where the Real of breath/ exertion/physical longing-loathing-fear/embodied-will meets the textual machinery of the lover's discourse/utopian politics/religion/etc

it's the uncanny hinge between presence and absence

Michael Jackson circa Off the Wall replaced Robert Wyatt as Green's vocal model during the shift from messthetics to meta-soul... and here's another Barney Hoskyns quote on MJ (you can access all this stuff at Rock's Back Pages, only if you become a subscriber though):

"It's a voice which starts into every split spare second, stretching like rubber, filling cracks like water. It's not warm or sensual or "black" but sharp, a squeezing of the throat's aperture, a voice of pure technique. Detaching itself, it gets lost in free flight. Its narcissism is almost not human. "-- NME, 17 September 1983

* other allusions are just weirdly concrete... like "Dr Abernathy". In the interview i did Green himself brought up the idea that this seems like a reference to Martin Luther King's right-hand man Ralph David Abernathy-- recalling with a chuckle that at one of the recent Scritti gigs a fan had come up and started nodding knowingly and going "yeah, yeah, Dr Abernathy, Martin Luther King's doctor, right?". But Green then denied that it was a reference to him or that he'd even known about the guy (who basically took over after King's assassination**). And yet if it's just a name plucked out of thin air, it seems freakishly resonant, when you think about the role of soul as a replacement for political faith in Green's life ("faithless now, just got soul", 'pray like aretha franklin", "my songs are hymns for agnostics, for the disillusioned like myself") , the link between gospel and soul, and the role of Black Christianity in the Civil Rights movement, the march to the promised land etc.

And the last line attempts to connect "all prophecy will fail" with Derrida-via-Benjamin's "weak messianic power"... but gives up.

* * in Memphis a few months ago i chanced upon the Lorraine motel, which has been turned into the National Civil Rights Museum museum, the front preserved exactly as it was that day King stepped out his room and onto the balcony/walkway where he was shot, right down to his car in the parking lot directly below . I didn't know any of this though and as we were wandering down this boulevard (which is where the city's art galleries cluster nowadays) out of the corner of my eye i saw this motel and its deck-access walkway and the car lot, so uncannily familiar from documentaries and TV footage, it was a cold shudder moment of deja vu and slow-dawning recognition. Equally eerie: standing directly under the trajectory line of the bullets.

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