Monday, October 8, 2012

The Wall

If you do art, there's a wall around you. If you're a person at all (you know who you are), there's a wall around you. You're inside, then there's a layer of meat around that, some number of molcules of air, and then there's other people and the world. The wall is meat and air. The you that's inside is a pathetic scared little blob of a kidney bean thingy, if we are to believe the artists who have made art about tearing down the wall.



Captain Beefheart's always been a favorite, ever since I found Lick My Decals Off, Baby in the same stack of records with Maggot Brain and Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow in the basement of these kids' house that I used to babysit for when I was a teenager. (That was a seminal stack for me. The same story even came up in my blog before. 1985, 6, around then. They were the kids' dad's records. There was a bunch of other less exciting stuff in there too, Santana, the Dead, shit like that. When I asked him about it, he played it off all cool: "Oh yeah man, when I was in college in San Francisco those were all just bands that would be playing up the street and we would go see them all the time." Heh.)

Beefheart, what a weirdo. Pseudonyms like "The Mascara Snake". Wearing tuxedos on more than one album cover. That trout mask. It looked cool but it functioned too: firewall erection. 16-year-old me had no fucking clue what was going on there. Art foregrounded.

All of us scared little kidney bean embryo thingies being all sad and desirous and paranoid and embarrassed, if we have to do art maybe we must make a wall of it and act all weird and geniusy.

The other thing about Beefheart is the sex. That tape bit on Trout Mask Replica where he's talking to this young lady and he proclaims "The name of the composition is 'Neon Meate Dream of an Octafish'." [pause, lights match] "No it's 'Hair Pie'." So awesome! Sex is meat and the reduction of the amount of air between you and the next person. No wonder a dude with some privacy issues might want a weirdness wall. Blunts the impact of the feelings. When you connect the wall is a medium.

Serious. Art. With jokes. But they are "jokes". They push as they pull.



People just try and try to tear down the walls though. If there's a wall people need to know what's on the other side. Famous people get deconstructed and re-explained as a matter of cultural course. If we connect through that art wall, it looks like magic and we want to know how a human could have done it. As if magic wasn't something we could do just by breathing and feeling a leaf. (It is.) There's such a premium on peeks behind the firewall - a glimpse of the artistic process. It's the reverse of how we love to watch accidents and find out how people died and know the details of tragedies. Cause maybe knowing all the details we can figure out how to avoid losing our limbs or whatever it was that happened to the poor bastard. If you see the artistic process laid bare, you prove it's not magic. You kill it.

That's what we little scared embryo beans love to do. Kill. Kill for peace.

Grow Fins is this amazingly lovingly produced box set from 1999 that kills. I got the vinyl version, three double-LP sets with a big book. If you were wondering anything about the artistic process, or you wanted some Beefheart pornography, extreme closeups of his head-vagina as your pathetic little embryo-self just pumped away at it, this is the box set you need. Tons of interviews with all the other guys he played with from coming up all the way through. Dudes from the desert from the Sixties, coming up on blues and doing acid and just living through the Nixon administration and all that stuff. Playing high school dances. Ry Cooder. Taj Mahal. If you weren't sure Beefheart was a real person, this will set the record straight. Everyone calls him Don.

("Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band" was a band at the start, and Don was the singer. He wasn't Captain Beefheart. Like how Debbie Harry wasn't Blondie.)

Frances chose just one volume of the set for me to dig into, Grow Fins Vol. II: Trout Mask House Sessions. On this one, it's most of the material from his most iconic record but without him singing, plus a bunch of other detritus from the same sessions that doesn't qualify as "outtakes" because a lot of it is literally just silence as the tape machine on the porch runs and the band plays inside. There's like ten or twelve minutes of silence on this thing. Also the last ten minutes or so are this conversation with an older lady who lived near them. Yeah. A Sixties California lady. So amazing. They ask what music she likes and she says Herb Alpert and Don is all, "Oh he can't play. All those horn parts are someone else."

That's pretty awesome, but my favorite part is the fully contextualized version of the excerpted flirtation I mentioned above. You totally get to hear Don hitting on this young lady. He says "Where'd you move here from?" and she says "Reseda".

"Reseda?" [pause] "She's nice."

Flirty Beefheart! "It's a bush recording."

"No it's Hair Pie."

I'm a fan. I don't have the same burning desire to see the artistic process stripped bare that I used to though. The more I live the more I can infer the pathetic little fuckers behind the erected walls. A lot's been made, among those to whom it matters, of Beefheart's 1982 retirement from music, people begging and pleading and whining about their deprivation. People treat artists like servants! Sometimes people's entitlement really pisses me off. Like someone made a great record and then they somehow owe you an explanation of why their new record sucks or why they just don't make records anymore.

People: Don had MS! Leave him the fuck alone!

(Also: it's none of your goddamned business why Lauryn Hill doesn't make records. Maybe she actually does hate you. Personally. Maybe Dave Chappelle hates you too. I don't blame them for all the sexist racist shit you always say about them.)

I actually enjoy this double set more than Trout Mask Replica. It engages me more. Trout Mask always leaves me a little indifferent. The interweaving interlocking interstruments and the way it sounds like each composition is actually three different songs at the same time. It seems like it's gonna be so awesome but it's somehow too awesome, too perfect, too fucking amazing, there's no subtlety. I want more ten-minute silences, more dirty locked groove swamp funk, more jokes and less "jokes". So. Tear down the wall.

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