T-Model Ford is the 84-year-old self-proclaimed “Boss of the Blues,” also known as “The Taildragger.” Each issue, Arthur calls up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and asks some questions about things we have on our mind. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from the fellas at Fat Possum Records, the Mississippi label that releases T-Model’s all-bets-are-off blues albums. If you’ve got questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email ‘em to email@example.com
How do you deal with traffic?
I don’t worry about it. I take my time. Don’t rush, wait your turn and your time will come. People want to rush too much these days.
Are bad people born that way?
It ain’t the way you born. It’s how you raised. If you in too much of a rush, you won’t raise ‘em right.
What’s a better pet: a dog or a cat?
A dog, if you train it right, is the best pet. You can’t depend on a cat, it’s up to its own devilment. But a dog? If you train him right, you can depend on him. You can leave a baby with him and he’ll stay right there. He’ll make sure that baby don’t get in the road. Pick him with up his teeth and move that baby on back up there. A cat won’t do that.
Do you have a dog?
I had two dogs that a white lady gave me, German Shepherds. I raised them up right, trained them right.
What happened to them?
Somebody poisoned them. And my cat Tom, while I was playing guitar up the road, somebody let their dog out and killed him. I was pretty mad that night. I got out there in the yard the next day with my gun, laying up for that dog [to return]. The police came, and I told them, ‘You ain’t taking this gun. It ain’t done nothin’—yet.’
I think they took that dog up to the country. They knew what I was fixing to do.
If you’ve got some cash, what should you do with it? Hide it somewhere, or put it in a bank, or…?
If you want to save it, put it in the bank. You can’t hide nothin’ nowadays. So, best to put it in the bank. It didn’t used to be that way. But now, the young races is in charge. They rushing around…. Most of the old folk are afraid to go out, because of the teenagers robbin’ and fightin’ and killin’. If the old folk do go out, they take a gun. Yeah, it’s getting rough now, alright.
What Mike Patton learned in his days of toil at Benihana’s
Originally published in Arthur No. 16 (May 2005)
Few working vocalists have done as much with their vocal chords as ex-Faith No More frontman Mike Patton. In the years since that Bay Area bizarro rock band’s demise, Patton has built an impressively wide-ranging C. V., including collaborations with jazz composer John Zorn, Japanese noisegod Merzbow and hip-hop concept squad the Handsome Boy Modeling School. His latest projects to see release through Ipecac Recordings, the post-genre label he co-founded and co-owns, are Suspended Animation—a bonkers 30-track tribute to the month of April by his band Fantomas (featuring members of Slayer, Mr. Bungle and Melvins)—and the battle album, General Patton vs The X-ecutioners, featuring turntablists DJ Rob Swift, Grandmaster Roc Raida and DJ Total Eclipse. For his turn in the Arthur kitchen, Patton selected a dish that was featured on his record of futurist recipes Pranzo Oltranzista: Musica da Ravola per Cinque (Banquet Piece for Five Players), released on Zorn’s Tzadik label in 1997. The tracks were instrumental but had sounds associated with cooking and eating—chopping, slicing, chewing, etc.—while the booklet contained recipes. Says Patton, “This is one of my favorites.”
Carne Crude Squarciata Dal Suono Di Sassofono
(tr. “Raw meat torn by saxophone blasts”)
Cubes of beef marinated in rum, cognac and white vermouth are served on a bed of black pepper and snow. Each mouthful is separated by saxophone blasts blown by the eater himself.
Sleater-Kinney The Woods (Sub Pop) D: Before we begin, I would like to say that today I am in the mood to rock. C: Well, my friend, you have come to the right place. D: [first song starts, D leaps out of chair immediately] Is this one of those Japanese bands? With a girl?!? Who is this singing? C: That woman is not a girl—she could show you a thing or two. [dramatic pause] It’s Sleater-Kinney, produced by Dave Fridmann. D: [Jaw hits floor] Really?!? SLEATER-KINNEY?????!!!!???? Fuck, man! [shakes head] This is a MAJOR statement of psychedelic riot woman super-rock power! Rock ‘n roll album of the year! God DAMN!!!! D: I know. Maybe the decade. Superfuzz-heavy in the Northwest tradition of Blue Cheer-Nirvana-Mudhoney, expansive like Neil Young with Crazy Hors…Hendrix… Built to Spill? There’s stuff on here that is out as Comets on Fire, possible even further. Who’s going to top this? Absolutely gigantic sounds…amps out of the red and into the black… a 14-minute song at the end that goes as far out as Comets On Fire, even into Les Rallizes Denudes and Ash Ra Tempel territory… D: I have to admit I would never have thought these three women would make a record that’s this relentlessly face-melting. C: I don’t know if they’d thought it possible either. There’s some precedent in Babes of Toyland, or early Hole, maybe, but this is just so much further… Well, I’m not sure that they’d call it psychedelic but it’s definitely psychoactive in an urgent kind of way. D: [musing] There’s a bit of Jefferson Airplane in here, that’s for sure. C: There’s a structure to everything but there are these void spaces, too. And then there are straight songs too, which rock in this tight, urgent way and then blow into something else via a drum charge or a panned guitar solo or I don’t know what. I know I’m going Beavis here but I don’t know how to [clears throat] …ahem… properly articulate the sensations I am feeling as I listen to this album. For a long time I didn’t like Corin Tucker’s voice, but here? It’s like this is the setting it’s always been looking for. D: And that’s some hotshit drumming for sure. C: [dancing] I can’t believe it, but seriously, one must acknowledge what is happening here. This is higher than High on Fire. They are Queens of a more stoned Age! D: An unheard of power monster, that singlehandedly, forever eradicates the notion that women have no balls. C: [Gives puzzled look at D, then continues] I cannot account for what I am hearing. Cannot assimilate. How did this happen? Seriously. It’s a lidflipper, a real wig-frier. Can you name another band that seven albums into their career, supernovaed into this kind of territory? This is so rare. It reminds me of something that Michael Moorcock was saying the other day: “In the ‘60s, Dylan, Beatles, Beefheart et al. were all thinking on their feet, if they were thinking at all. While Dylan remained a Guthrie sound-a-like he had no real credibility (although he did bring Guthrie a wider audience, I’d guess). As Dylan dumped the Guthrie cloak, especially when he went electric, he gained authenticity. The less like Buddy Holly the Beatles sounded, the better they got. Eventually, you went into a studio not knowing what you’d come out with.” I think that may be what’s happened here with Sleater-Kinney. Maybe this record just happened. Maybe we are witnessing the joy of unplanned, no-thinking, no-rules spontaneous creativity, of these three amazing women following and trusting their muse, confident in their abilities and each other to give it a trust that most other artists cower from giving these days? In any event, it’s an extraordinary creative breakthrough record made at precisely the right time by artists working at the peak of their collective rock power. That they are women in a stupid, male-centric culture doing this makes the whole thing even more important and inspirational. I want to go door-to-door like an evangelist for this record: “Hey sisters and brothers, have you heard the Good News?” But the old doors don’t exist after this album. They’ve all been blown open. D: Word to your moms, Sleater-Kinney drop bombs.
Oneida The Wedding (Jagjaguwar) C: New one from New York underground trance/art-rockers Oneida: a favorite around the Arthur offices for years now. D: [Listening to “The Eiger”] They’re using strings?!? C: Yes! This sounds amazing. The songs are catchier, there’s more dynamics in the structure, the arrangements are more varied. And the production is just nuts. This is another huge artistic breakthrough. Damn… D: Something is in the air… Something good. A new scent. C: Shit! Listen to how the keys get sucked out of the soundfield [on “Lavender”]… Listen to the almost-Espers psych-folk that is “Run Through My Hair.” “High Life” is an optimistic vocal over a total Kraftwerk/Cluster/La Dusseldorf electronic bed that changes into something more organic… “Did I Die” is like Wolf Eyes without the noise, [chuckles] whatever that means. Wow. I can’t believe this album… D: It’s true, it’s beautiful. C: Listen to how massive the drums are on “Spirits” and “Heavenly Choir,” and how majestic the guitar is. These are their “Kashmir”’s, their “When the Levee Breaks,” and this album is their Physical Graffiti… D: We are in the presence of genius, manifesting itself.
BULL TONGUE Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
One record we’d been waiting for a long time is the Black Noise Practitioner double LP (Apocrypha Totalus/Skul) by Electrophilia, which is Steve Parrino on heavy bass noise and Jutta Koether on strange keys. This duo has been playing around NYC for the last few years, mostly in art gallery-related scenes. Which makes sense as both members are recognized and well-regarded visual artists. The gigs we’ve been lucky enough to check out were always complete room crushers. Parrino’s monster bass blow-outs were some of the heaviest noise grenades happening in a city awash with such everyday sonix. Jutta, who relocated to the USA from Koln, Germany, sits at her large Casio straight and tall with long ironed hair and black aviator shades playing minimalist structures and rhythmic pokes. Here is what Jutta wrote about Electrophilia:
A music of resistant resonance – moving forward and from – a post punk existential – toward a megalith that collapses into a black hole joyously toward the void toward you not an end point but process – a supersession & pure expression of impossible range only the impossible is worth the effort – materialist music rendered with unconditional love – black psychedelic noise crashing minimalisms temporarily suspending all rules of sound – a virtual practice way of life – electrophilia a Fresh Aufhebung keeps occurring only in the present in the unconditional urgency of a Now.
Though they never really mingled into whatever inner noise circles there were in the area, all who saw them left with appreciative mind-zap. Parrino went on to release a few documents: seven-inches, CDs, artist books and mags (one recent book was No Texts, published through the Marianne Nowottny-related Abaton Book Co.) A notorious performance in 1979 called “Guitar Grind” was Parrino rubbing two electric guitars together, creating screaming insane feedback. Since the mid-’80s he was showing work that was at once abstract and slashing as well as graceful and sublime. Though part of the celebrated East Village Neo Geo scene, he was total punk rock. The tragedy here is that Parrino died in a motorcycle accident New Year’s Eve. He was 46, a good, good dude. We’ll miss him for sure.
Although certain heads took it upon themselves to warn me against the “stupid machismo” of Burmese, I think their herrings were red. Men (Load Recordings) is the third album by these San Franciscans, and they really kinda make that two-bass-and-two-drum thing sound like it’s a natural step in sonic evolution. Some mooks have commented on the static nature of this LP’s music, but it seems to me that the magmic core is fairly glistening with all kindsa post-core noise squantum. And it’s really kinda moving and emotional. For men, I mean. Sighting’s third effort, Arrived in Gold (Load Recordings) is pretty manly, too. But the spectral presence of non-rockers Samara Lubelski and Chris Freeman means that there’s a special kinda non-rock action going on admist the noise, too. Call it whatever you want, but I hear a new kinda freedom,baby. And it’s mighty upful.
As usual, there are been several blatches of greatness dropped from the poop hatch of Ed Hardy’s Eclipse Records label. First (perhaps) is the new Michael Yonkers LP, It’s Only Yonkers (co-released with Galactic Zoo Dossier). Yonkers is a legendary Midwest psych guitarist, interest in whom was revived by a crucial archeological de Stijl release a coupla years ago (which was reissued by Sub Pop). This new session is a blast—extremely raw loud guitar sprayed through classic one-man-band weirdness. Reminiscent of George Brigman or Horton or any of the other old school DIY heavies, with a cool Amerindian approach to rhyhms. Beautiful. Just caught up with Eclipse’s second Jack Rose LP, also. Apocalyps X/Raag Manifestos is another brilliant set of acoustic guitar inventions from this member of Pelt. Jack has really grasped a special place in the post-Fahey finger-master universe, and I just wish I woulda been able to catch his shows with Glenn Jones. Damn! There’s also the third volume of the proposed ten-volume set of double LPs reissuing the Sun City Girls’ cassettes. Fresh Kill of a Cape Hunting Dog/Def in Italy is crucial ’83-85-era stuff, and would be a very nice introduction to anyone who doesn’t understand how deep and wide and fast the Girls’ creative river runs. From pure mess to brilliant sharpness, it’s all here. Lastly is Puhalluspelto by Paivansade, one of those super-rural Finnish the-woods-are-full-of-acid-and-feathers bands. This is very pre-electric and stoned sounding instrumental madness. Perfect for late night glistening.
Something heavy happened in Finland again, this time in Tampere. Some float-head members of Tomutonttu and Uton connected in a basement and shared “bowed rainbow, contact-mic’d worm brains, boiling water, electric organs and shameless vocals” and created Hevoset. The cassette from this union is beautiful and amazing. Gorgeous love/sex trip organic zone flow. Co-release from the Haamumaa and Huutomerkki labels.
Originally published in Arthur No. 16 (April 2005)
(Hipped to this particular clip via Blastitude)
FREEDOM ROCK John Payne on new albums by Magma and The Mars Volta
MAGMA Kohntarkosz Anteria (Seventh)
THE MARS VOLTA Frances the Mute (Virgin)
We all know the cliché about France, that it is incapable of producing Great Rock Music, a condition said to owe to the French language itself, which is said to be too soft and nuanced to make the properly heavy rock impact. So it’s ironic that in 1969 France gave birth to one of the heaviest bands the rock world has ever known, and simultaneously not a rock band at all.
Magma was formed in Paris by drummer Christian Vander, the stepson of French jazz pianist Maurice Vander. Christian had been playing jazz and pop professionally since his early teens—he received his first drum set from jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, who stole it from his drummer. Vander gathered players from all over the country who were dissatisfied with the typical French habit of slavishly copying American or British rock and jazz musicians. At the time, he says, “Everyone had flowers on their clothes, but I preferred to see flowers in the meadows.” Magma dressed in black.
A raven-haired, powerfully built man of swarthy hue and wolfish glare, Vander was and is of a darkly cosmological bent, and had an early fascination with Gurdjieff. Musically, John Coltrane was his god, and Coltrane’s drummer Elvin Jones made a big impact on Vander’s multilimbed, badass drum style. Not wishing to play jazz, exactly—he still considers it a specifically black American art form—for Magma Vander drew on the folkloric music of his Polish Gypsy forebears. The band’s signature sound evolved via chanting, guttural vocals and much use of repetitive motifs pumped out on multiple acoustic and electric pianos and horns, atop militaristically hefty bass and drums.
But Vander felt that the French tongue was too perfumey for this kind of hard music, and he disliked the sound of English as well. So he made up his own language, a vaguely Germanic, craggily mellifluous thing called Kobaïan, which came to him, he said, in his sleep. Meanwhile, Vander’s vision was grand, and apocalyptic: He developed a high-concept project for Magma, a nine-part opus that would tell the story of the Kobaïans, a race of humans who’d fled the degradation of life on Earth and settled on another planet, only to find they’d dragged Earth’s miseries along with them. The solution, of course, was annihilation. The opus was never completed; after the release of Part 4, Mëkanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh (1973), the plan seems to have been abandoned, though the group continued to sing in Kobaïan and a mixture of English, French and vocalese.
Vander’s arcane world-view—requiring concept albums, quasi-operatic vocals and a distinctly non-rock & roll harmonic/melodic language—was sneered at by American rock critics, naturally, ‘cause it sounded nothing like a bar band from New Jersey and totally neglected lyrical themes of sports, cars and pussy. Yet Vander’s trip was not that far removed from the eccentricities of critics’ fave Sun Ra, or, for that matter, John Coltrane. At its best, Magma’s music, in particular MDK and its 1974 follow-up, the eternally cryptic Köhntarkösz, defined a sound roughly intersecting progressive jazz, Bartók and heavy metal, related texturally to Mahavishnu Orchestra and Red-era King Crimson. Köhntarkösz concerns an exploration of an Egyptian tomb, its serpentine, mozaical structure redolent of incense, mold and fire.
Magma’s sound grew wicked, culminating in the 18-minute metal masterpiece “De Futura” from the album Üdü Wüdü, written by the band’s then-bassist Jannick Top, who was in the habit of tuning his bass down to C for an extra-resonant brutality. Vander’s music could not, however, sustain all that dark hubris, and over the years Magma became lighter, more vocal-oriented and lyrical, even. Band members for this technically demanding enterprise came and went; many of France’s best players, including violinist Didier Lockwood and bassist Bernard Paganotti, joined the ranks. Vander himself has frequently been called, well, “the world’s greatest drummer” (it’s a prog-geek kind of thing to say, but there’s some validity to it in this case). A powerfully original and audacious maelstrom of controlled polyrhythmic fury, he’s a feral cross between Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Rashied Ali and, of course, Elvin Jones. In recent years he’s formed two other bands, Offering and the Christian Vander Trio, to further explore his jazz roots, and has engaged Magma in varied instrumental frameworks, including performances with large choirs and a version of MDK sung by a children’s chorus. And Magma has inspired an actual genre in France and Japan, called Zeuhl Music, with several bands (Japan’s rough-hewn Ruins, France’s very scary Shub Niggurath, among many others) adapting the Magma model of folkloric chants, twinkling ostinatos and raging rhythm sections to their own forbidding ends.
Circa ’05, Magma is still at it. Vander revived the band in the early ‘90s – primarily, says his wife/manager/bandmate Stella Vander, because a new generation of Magma fanatics begged Christian to reform the unit and let them have a turn devoting themselves to the rigors required by this strange obsessive music. A couple of months ago Magma released their first album of new material in many years, K.A.—not entirely new, however, as it’s a reworking and augmenting of a one-hour epic from 1972 they had never recorded or performed live. Musically it’s the missing link between the Gypsy-metal-jazz chant & throb of MDK and the Emëntëht Rê (descending into the tombs) sound as heard on the more angular and spare Köhntarkösz. (Apparently Magma abandoned K.A. after Mike Oldfield stole several themes, including the famous Tubular Bells main motif, while living at Manor Studios when Magma came to record MDK. Or so Vander claims. Funny to ponder the possibility that it was Magma who in fact provided the seed money to launch the Virgin Records worldwide mega-behemoth…)
Longtime Magma fans and curious newcomers will find a lot to rave about on K.A. The studio band is the same lineup that toured the States in 1999, a young, lean and incredibly mean crew that doesn’t pussyfoot too reverently around the material and which boasts, significantly, a simply fantastic bass player named Philippe Bussonnet who is the equal in fierce inventiveness and true threatening heaviness of his forebears Jannick Top and Bernard Paganotti. It’s not heavy like “De Futura” was metal-band heavy, yet in the spectacularly disciplined interplay between the complexly polyrhythmic and odd-timed bass, Fender Rhodes, mesmerizing chants/vocals and, of course, just totally wicked drums, drums, drums, it’s got real magic—a kind of black magic—deep inside.
Punk rock started in 1976. It’s almost 30 years later, and you know something? Some of us don’t want to pay our hard-earned bread to see a buncha yobbos in T-shirts drinking beer onstage and grinning like regular joes as they play the same three chords, in roughly the same progressions, as any beginning guitar player. Sometimes, we want a bit more. A bit more proficiency, a bit of ambition, some exploration. Maybe even some grandeur. POMP. Spectacle.
Perhaps it’s the Mars Volta (and their sillier corollary, The Darkness) who’ll bring that awestruck feeling back to the masses. Perhaps not—perhaps it really is too late to erect the wall again. But let’s just suppose…which is just what guitarist/composer Omar A. Rodriguez-Lopez does on his band’s Frances the Mute, the new Mars Volta disc. It’s a concept album, about what exactly I couldn’t tell you, and I think the band likes it that way. Some of it supposedly concerns itself with AIDS—perfect metaphorical stuff for these guys, allowing for an extremely inconclusively worded multipart song cycle in five sections, spread out over what must be the full 74 minutes a CD can hold. They give their pieces names like “Cygnus . . . Vismund Cygnus” and “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore,” with sections entitled “Vade Mecum,” “Pour Another Icepick” and, need you ask, “Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma).” Lyrically, unlike musically, it’s what’s between the lines that attempts to speak volumes.
Musically, though, it’s everything under the prog sun, times 50. It’s Yes. It’s Rush. Mahogany Rush, too. It’s Metallica. It’s Crimson. It’s Neu. Perhaps more than anything, it’s Pink Floyd circa Umma Gumma and Atom Heart Mother. It’s pretentious as hell, and clearly, that’s the precise, full-on point. On the surface you hear a lot of seriously impassioned, gonad-grabbing ’70s-rock wails, and very well sung, too, by Cedric Bixler Zavala. Interestingly, Zavala’s insistent caterwauling about a jillion tiny obscurities and moods and atmospheres and smells and prickly feelings and cobwebs and the moon and disease and so on doesn’t wear on you. That says something. Maybe it’s ‘cause he gives the impression that he’s telling a story, and ‘cause Rodriguez-Lopez’s music is so varied and surprising: metallic staccato juggernauts of drums/guitars/bass, liberally laced with ’70s Brit-jazz (Soft Machine) horns, violas, ‘trons and, significantly, huge portions of Mexican and Cuban musical shades and styles.
It’s when they let these Latin sections or dolorous prog-jazz weirdness sections go on for such a loooong time that you sense a kind of integrity and seriousness of purpose about the Mars Volta. What’s really interesting is that neither these extended non-typically-rocking passages or the inevitable returns to heavy-band machine gun carnage seem to blur interest. (That is, if you’re someone who actually likes to sit and listen to albums all the way through, like a lot of the original progressive rock records of the early ‘70s allowed for and encouraged.) To say that this music is “overplayed”—a common complaint about MV from critics who sealed their punk rock- and/or minimalism-inspired minds back in the ‘80s—is way beside the point; this is maximalism, and it’s supposed to dominate your body and mind, splatter your face, then melt back down in a big puddle, into which you can gaze and see a reflection of yourself . . . I’d argue that its proper reception will depend on how you much sleep you got, how much of the good stuff you imbibed/smoked, and – more importantly – how young you are. Because, technically speaking, it’s working with your levels of testosterone or ovum.
These rather amazing quagmires of sound were most fortunate to be crafted by an obsessive weirdo like Omar A. Rodriguez-Lopez, someone who, like Christian Vander, is just consumed with his vision, and the moral of the story is that, actually, in rock, any kind of obsession is where it’s at, no matter the “pretension” of the outcome. Surely we’ve all realized by now that one never really says anything in “rock” music by holding back one’s real impulses; not holding back—and risking ridicule—that means being honest, just as “honest” as Bruce Springsteen.
Well, no need to defend it, I don’t think. But here’s another moral to the story: Without a doubt, a younger generation of musicians in recent years have radically upped the ante, as players, songwriters and real musical imaginers. The Mars Volta are 100 times the band that Metallica ever was, not just technically but in terms of artistic ambition. There is something undeniably thrilling about any group of young musicians who are so focused on what they’re doing, so fucking into it, and you’re hearing it and grasping that what they’ve accomplished has taken an enormous amount of work—discipline—and they’re carrying it out with precision and guts. That the Mars Volta play the fuck out of these well-constructed and amazingly shaded pieces is just plain inspiring.
You hear a lot of “serious” musicians going on about the importance of paying attention to the space between the notes. Fact is, some music depends a lot on cramming in every note you’ve ever heard, in a desperate, obsessive, mad rush. The Mars Volta, like other young musicians, shouldn’t worry too much about the space between notes. At this point, like Magma, they do what they do because, sounds like, it’s what they were put here on Earth to do. Which gives us the opportunity to say, “Whew. The fuck was that?”
A visit with today’s Scandinavian black metalists by photojournalist STACY KRANITZ, featuring King ov Hell and Gaal of Gorgoroth, Satyr and Frost of Satyricon, Fenriz of Darkthrone, Frode Glesnes of Einherjer, Nattefrost of Carpathian Forest, Hymr and Lindheim of Helheim, Jyri Vahvanen of Battlelore, Nebelhexe of Hagalaz Runedance, Mortiis, and Blasphemer of Mayhem.
Freedom Now Maybe: The New Secessionism By Peter Lamborn Wilson
Last November, right after the Election, I attended an odd event in Middlebury, Vermont—a two-day conference devoted to the question of whether Vermont should consider seceding from the USA and declaring itself the “Second Vermont Republic.”
The first Vermont Republic lasted from 1777 to 1791, during which time it recognized neither Britain nor the USA as sovereign. Thanks to Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Rangers the state has an old and still-lively sense of itself as unique and independent-minded, if not downright cranky.
The keynote speeches delivered at Middlebury by SVR founder Prof. Thomas Naylor and activist/historian Kirkpatrick Sale made it clear that any Vermont independence movement would be radical, Green, Populist non-violent and typically “Vermont-socialist.” (The Bread & Puppet Theater is already interested.) SVR’s underlying philosophy is derived from the “Small Is Beautiful” school of Leopold Kohr (his The Breakdown of Nations is the bible), “Buddhist economist” E.F. Schumacher, the UK-based Fourth World Movement, and ultimately from the minarchism of Thoreau and the American tradition of “unterrified Jeffersonians,” extreme democrats and even anarchists.
All this may be considered odd enough. But what really struck me as strange was the mood of the conference. Everyone there was cheerful, optimistic and pugnacious. Everywhere else in America that weekend leftists, liberals and libertarians were plunged in gloom. But in Middlebury the triumph of Bushite Pre-Millenialist idiocy was taken as a sign that the US Empire is about to disintegrate.
The conference voted unanimously to support the aims of the Second Vermont Republic. Delegates stomped and cheered. One woman, whose son was in Iraq with the National Guard, proclaimed herself ready to die for this new cause if necessary. Suddenly it felt kind of like 1968 again. Were all these people crazy?
Four More Years.
You know what I’m talking about already but let me spell it out. Imagine: Four more years of Neo-Con Jihadist slope-browed pseudo-Zionist McImperialism; four more years of stomping on Iraq and Afghanistan and possibly Iran, Syria and North Korea; of deficit spending and debt both national and individual; of ludicrous Red/Blue culture war; of inflation and unemployment; erosion of civil liberties; no tree left behind; more tax breaks for the rich and the corporations; blah blah blah; and to top it off, “JEB IN ’08!”—and another Four More Years.
Some of my friends are moving to Canada where they can join grayhaired draft-dodgers of the Vietnam era and suffer the bitterness of exile along with the compensations of socialized health care and quasi-legal pot. No one dares to dream of staying on and overthrowing the Empire. Not even us grayhaired really believe in The Revolution anymore. But the piffle of tepid reformism (the “left wing” of Skull’n’Bones, so to speak) makes many of us reel with nausea and depression, or anyway terminal boredom. What’s to be done?
BOMB POP Born in war-torn Sri Lanka and bred in London, rising star M.I.A.’s pop instincts, radical consciousness and proudly pan-ghetto sound have no easy origin. As the defiant singer/MC explains to Piotr Orlov, it’s both where she’s from and where she’s at. Cover photo by W.T. Nelson.
“The mask is the face.” – Susan Sontag, “On Style”
“I don’t have a side, I’m spread out but I’m a mile wide/I got brown skin but I’m a west Londoner, educated but a refugee” – M.I.A., “MIA”
What, if anything, do we look for in a “pop” star worth supporting? Or more to the point, what are we willing to put up with, besides some gratuitous chart-topping populism and the 15-minutes of media-saturated intrigue, of course? Do we have any right expecting pop stars—not to be confused with musical artists whom luck, trends, circumstance or one great tune propels towards the mainstream—to influence a greater cultural conversation? Pop is, after all, the most powerful global transmitter of ideas in the information age, receiving over the past fifty years equal credit for the democratic tilt of history (Ted Turner’s comment that Western cultural export helped bring down the Berlin Wall) and civilization’s moral decline (Elvis, Madonna, Gangsta Rap, et al.). So, what effect can be brought about by a beautiful young woman whose looks and dance moves, globally minded outlook, state-of-the-art sonics, and spirited attitude recall any number of recent kiddie-pop models—yet whose life experience is based not on driving-towards-stardom dreams and Mickey Mouse Club auditions, but a mix of Third World civil war fatigue and immigrant struggles, Western art-school opportunity and hip-hop generation rebellion, independent experience and mod cons?
Meet Maya Arulpragasam, a 28-year-old Sri Lanka-reared, London-educated singer/MC with the stage-name M.I.A., who is approaching her pregnant pop moment, that inexplicable period when a confluence of fates—real and manufactured, critical and social, art and market—align to create sensations, and, at times, freak cultural anomalies and paradigm shifts. Since late 2003, she’s released a steady stream of dancehall-meets-hip-hop-meets-pop singles (“Galang” and “Sunshowers” being the most prominent) and one mix-tape (“Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1,” co-produced by Philly DJ wunderkind Diplo), blowing up via underground and Internet delivery systems (MP3 bloggers adore her), setting record companies frothing trying to pick up the rights to her debut album, Arular. (One succeeded: The album has just been released by the indie XL, but will soon be worked by Interscope.)