February 15, 2009

Music School

(initial conditions, so funky)

When it comes to music, I've always been funky, I'm a soul and rhythm guy. My brother, for a counter example, went into rock... I went the other way. My first album purchase was Santana's Abraxas. By the end of high school, I was early on Earth, Wind & Fire, guided by pure intuition to buy an 8 track of Head to the Sky. That's right: big fat 8 track tapes with a mini machine player that I fitted into the glove box of my baby blue sunroof second/third hand Volkswagon Beetle whose floor board was just flimsy enough to to approximate a crude base drum on the drive. That's just how far back we're going here.

In my Navy days, I watched the mothership descend one night in my old home port of San Diego. Bootsy Collins. P-Funk. Boot camp buddies introduced me to the Ohio Players, "Skin Tight" and all that. Yes. Herbie Hancock's Watermeon Man. Night watches on the ship's bridge at port was easier when I could play some Chaka Kahn. Ain't Nobody Better. George Benson's Masquerade never sounded better than when I was walking off the gangway at Subic after sundown on the way to Olongapo.

Later, in undergrad school, I was climbing the big mountain. A hand made career guidance system, I designed a grandiose educational pyramid with architecture as a substitute for the art undergrad experience. As with my life growing up in in constant movement in a military family, I was out of it socially. Music scenes are social scenes, and socially I was maladroit. I've heard that Punk was a society of misfits... but it was still a meta-society afterall. You had to be threaded into a scene, you had to grow up with the same guys you knew when you were thirteen. Or something like that. I was always out of it. Somewhere else. Punk was already underway and in another place by the time I got out of the Navy. London was a world away from San Luis Obispo where I went to college. But even in that middle-Californian paradise, I remember a faint imprint of Iggy Pop, The Police, MTV's birth and . My friends Jim Brown and Jim Gates were in a band called "The Spurts" and all that. That's how it was, a late bloomer and all that.

Story of my life.

But here's the point of this blog post: Many... (or all of?)... my friends in the art world are avid students of music... true connoisseurs, and not just of any kind of music (as I think of myself, "encyclopedic" is the term I prefer), but of Punk, Indie Music, and variants thereof. Most good people in my art world are fans of this type.

One can't help but notice that there is a value system that these guys are tapping into. A creed. Thoughts like this are commonly expressed: "Yea, man, that's PUNK!" Heads, nodding. "Naw, that's Hippy. That sucks." For most of my life punk was just a word... even though I lived through the years. But now I think that I finally can see some kind of core beneath the shallow period cosmetics of torn t-shirts, mohawks and combat boots.

"Yea, man, that's PUNK!" Big smiles. "Naw, that's Hippy. That sucks." Just what was that creed? Here in our art world, punk informs art as a set of beliefs, a set unexpressed principles, profane articles of faith, an anarchic ideology, a credo to the bone, a vague doctrine, a sub rosa teaching, a halo of dogma, loosely held tenets, passionate canons. Here's an early rough draft of my take on PUNK/hippy: Punk is real. Hippy is surface and pretension, mere lifestyle. Ok. Alright. And yet the question deserves a deeper probe. What does punk really mean? I've come to the place where I want to learn, to turn over the rocks I skipped over so long ago. Remedial lessons. I asked some dumb questions. For this music geek, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. I started asking my pals what punk was all about. I want to know more.

My buddies perked up. They started to feed me this stuff.

And I'm loving it.

I think it has something to do with breaking the egg.


(Jason and Andrew)

I don't know if you've noticed yet, but I can project the web on my studio wall. A handy wireless keyboard and mouse, a name would drop in conversation and we could throw sound and image on the wall. It's great for making vivid the references in our conversations amid cigarettes and beer and stuff. Jason and Andrew went on a spree and I took notes, student that I am:

Minor Threat - Small Man Big Mouth

Minor Threat - "I Don't Wanna Hear It"

Minor Threat-Filler

Bad Brains - Pay To Cum (Live CBGB 1982)

Bad Brains - Daytripper (Beatles song)

They were also dropping Mark Gonzales along the way...




So, one day, Sean dropped into my studio with a hard drive loaded with 4 megabytes of movies and music:



H?sker D?

The Germs

The Circle Jerks

But what has impressed me the most so far was the...
Minutemen. It's because of the video documentary WE JAM ECONO that Sean included in his generous offering:


No. That word is insufficient. The Minutemen are THE SHIT. And what's more: I think there is a significant amount of FUNK in that PUNK stuff of theirs. Check it out: I started to take notes from the video (geek alert: time markers included):

(11:30) A great definition of punk rock: "...immediacy, intensity, honesty expression exploring things that interested them and exploring them really hard..."

A timeline overlay: in 1976: Minutemen graduated high school.. while I had already finished a WestPac cruise as a fleet sailor. Bee Gees and Clapton, that's how impoverished my milieu was. Nothing was hand made, everything was Pop off the commercial shelf.

Mike Wattt: "Those good old days... were really lame..." (limitations of instrument access) "...then.. you were more kept in your place. Nowadays you are kept in your place by your mind, the herd mentality than having the material wherewithall to do things"

(16:30) funk rhythmns hidden inside punk (check it out)

(19:00) "...the point was to get away with whatever you can, you don't have to be part of any manchine, except maybe your own..."

February 1979: Teen Post & the Reactionaries with Black Flag. (I had just got out of the Navy....)

(25:55) "...the songs were appealing because even though they were "political", they weren't didactic, they dealt with politics in a really impressionistic way..."

(28:00) "...the music blew our minds... it was not like any music we ever really listened to.... we couldn't understand how they would have played it... we couldn't get any idea of who they were... we couldn't picture them (the record was just a drawing)... the lyrics were so provocative... reallly like head scratching.. . it was something one could spend some time with..."

He must have seen the tightrope walker image I had posted a while back, of Philip Petit, this was in his hard drive too:


But here's the harder question: punk was then, a time frame of history... what is it that survived in the minds of my pals? Iggy Pop does lame commercials now. Henry Rollins too, we see him doing bit parts in shitty movies. "I hope I die before I get old" And then more than a few got old. Now what? The slip of artifice is starting to show. Look back at Mike Watt's good old days/nowadays quote. There's something going on there. A soul has left the body, it's Casper time and the revolutionary spirit survived decrepitude somehow. How?


Posted by Dennis at February 15, 2009 8:15 PM

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