“I know a whole lot. I ain’t gonna tell you nothin’ wrong”: T-MODEL FORD, life coach (Arthur, January 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (January, 2003)


ASK T-MODEL FORD

[Note: ARTHUR has traded our former advice columnist, Neil Hamburger, to another publication for a comedian to be named later.]

This issue’s advice columnist is Fat Possum recording artist T-Model Ford, the self-styled “Boss of the Blues” from Greenville, Mississippi. T-Model, who’s been 78 years old for the last four years, has promised to tell ARTHUR’s readers nothing but plain wisdom. 

I know a whole lot,” he says. “What I tell you, I ain’t gonna tell you nothin’ wrong. If I can’t please you, I ain’t gonna hate you. I’m gonna make you feel all happy. You WILL get happy. If you shake my tree, I’m gonna shake your orchard. That’s the truth. I’m hangin’ like a apple on a tree. That’s why I ain’t fell. Cuz I’m HANGIN’!”

Email your questions to editorial@arthurmag.com 


Q: I’m 18, my boyfriend is 19. We’ve been together a year. We see each other on weekends. My boyfriend is so loving, but I just lie there. We’ve tried going out to dinner, massages, lots of kissing. Nothing works. I like having a cuddle, but I don’t want to have sex with my boyfriend. What should I do?

T-Model Ford: Uh oh. Well, it’s like this: you know, you go out, you kiss, and you hug, well now, that don’t get it. When you kiss, that‘s some dessert to you. If he ain’t interested in, he’ll ask what else to do. He ain’t interested in what she want to do. But now, if he interested in it, and she ain’t interested in it, she can’t change him. But now if he in it and sexy, he already ready, he waiting on her to tempt to do. Now if she don’t tempt to do, and she don’t want to, he can forget her, try to find him somebody else that wants sex. He gonna leave her! Age ain’t got nothin’ to do with it. I looked at bugs and antses. They do it! You take a hog, when she lay a pig, and three days after she lay a pig, the little male pig tryin’ to ride somethin’. That’s what sex is! Sex is ruler of the world. That’s for old–and the young. If you’ve got an old woman and she ain’t sexy, you ain’t got nothin’! You got an old man, and he ain’t sexy, you ain’t got nothin’! If he don’t feel on you, don’t rub on it, he might as well be DEAD. You take an old woman, you feel her, she close her legs up, don’t let you feel what’s down there, you LEAVE her. She ain’t sexy! I’m an old man, myself. I’m 80 years old, I mean, uh, 78 years old now, and right now, I’m sexier than a young man. You hear me!? I’m sexier than a youngun. I’m gonna tell you somethin’. In this week since I’ve been home…I’m gonna tell the truth. I done had sex three times since I been home. Now, can you beat that? I know you can’t. You know why? Cuz this lady woman, she opened her legs and let me feel down there, and rub on it, and I’ll suck on her tittie, but I won’t suck on that other thing. I got somethin’ to put in that other thing! Now, that’s an OLDER woman! Older as I am,… Now how come’n your woman can’t be that sexy? Huh? If a young woman ain’t sexy for you, you don’t need her! You hear me? 

Q: I’m 22. I have a cousin, she’s 21. We’ve known each other for most of our lives. She’s a fantastic person. She’s become really beautiful as she’s grown up. Well, one night three months ago she came round. We decided to stay in, watch a videotape, have a couple bottles of wine. I’m not sure how it happened, but we ended up showing each other what we like our partners to do, and this of course lead us to having sex. Now it was really good. I think I’m falling for her.

I know you is. You need to go your way, and let her go her way. Don’t try it with cousins. Dogs don’t know any better. He wouldn’t have his sister and he wouldn’t have his mama, but if he don’t know better, he’d have the mama and have the sister. You don’t want your name out like that, do you? Put her down, get you somebody who ain’t kin to you. It’s not trouble if you go with your cousin, it’s DOG. It’s dog do that. No human being don’t do that. If he’s a dog, he’ll do that. But if he’s not a dog, he ain’t gonna do that! 

Q: My hair is falling out, and I’m only 23. My hair was perfect up until about four months ago. Now when I wash it, it comes off in my hands. Nobody in my family is bald. I can’t understand why this is happening to me. Is this normal?

In one way it is, and in one way it ain’t. You got a worry, and you gets mad and angry, you reach up and get a handful of hair and pull it, break it loose from the roots and leave it there, then when you comb through it, it all comes out! It don’t hurt you. You see what I’m talkin about? Alright. See, I done that myself. I used to get angry with my girlfriend cos she lookin’ at somebody else. Just reach up there and get a handful of hair and pull it, break it loose, and when I comb it, all of it come out! That’s what do that. Or, either you’re sleeping at the foot or the head of the bed, and it’s rubbin’ it so, you can’t get off it, then when you do get off it, it done broke the root of it. And it wear your head bald-headed. He’s worrying, getting angry, he breaking his hair loose hisself. I know it is. You just watch him and see don’t he do that. 

Q: One day I’m happy and my future looks bright and hopeful. Then something unexpected happens, and I’m suddenly depressed and negative. Everybody I know seems to go through the same kind of thing. I feel like I’m on an emotional rollercoaster, up and down, up and down. I mean, is this why we’re alive? To experience this, to be up and down, up and down, is this the way it’s supposed to be?

Not exactly. You worrying about something. You thinking about something you done done, and you worrying about you can’t get to that no more. And it’s worrying your mind. You out by yourself, you wishin‘, if you ever done it, you’re worrying about it now, it’s on your mind, you wants to do it and you ain’t got nobody to do it with. And that’s what it’s doin’. You lay in the bed and think about it, or go out walkin’, sit by yourself, or… Ain’t happy with it? You need to leave it alone. If you can’t live happy, go on by yourself. Don’t let it run your brains up, your pressures up, and have you doin’ somethin’ you don’t wanna do. You feel like you wanna suicide yourself? Get out of that! Quit that! Get round a big bunch and enjoy yourself, that’s what you got to do. Get out with a big bunch and enjoy yourself. Don’t let that cross your mind. If you don’t want ’em, get you somebody that you can have sex with, and get with them. That’ll help it. I know: I’ve been through all up and down that line. See, I had a woman when I was in my young days, and she had me where I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t work by myself, coz all my mind was on her. And she had another man. Her husband. I took her away from her husband, and he come back into town where I went, and they poisoned me. For him, could get her then. I don’t know who she with, I ain’t seen her since that day. So I’m livin’ happy, and I feel good. Don’t NEVER let a woman get into your brains. When you got a woman and she go to worrying and getting close to your brains… If you ain’t gonna live with ‘em, you better cut out! Catch the first thing smoking going north, and don’t come back. 

Q: In my relationship, I am the gift-giver. During the year and a half that I’ve been together with my boyfriend, I’ve given him many presents. I’ve been very generous. It’s my way of showing that I like him. Yet he hardly gives my anything. That’s important, isn’t it?

It’s important, and otherwise… he USIN’ her. He done like her flesh and he don’t care about her a bit. She givin’ all of her good times to him, she makin’ him happy, but he not makin’ her happy. If he can’t change it, or she don’t want to change it, or if she like it like thataway, he gotta take off hisself and go into some other town. Or some other state. Stay away from her. When she go to writing him, and calling him, she done send a bad mistake. And she wanna call him back, and try to make up for it. But it’s too late! If her buggie don’t like mine, or like his, don’t get mad with him. Let it go. Go on into another town and make you a new life. That’s the way I do. When things don’t work like I want ‘em, and I can’t make ‘em work, I leave town and find me another town. And let the town furnish they own woman and you will do better. Don’t you carry a woman to another town for you to make up. LEAVE that one where you found her, and go to another town and try. You might get lucky. I know all about that stuff! I don’t let one woman stop my buggy from rolling! Let somebody else do it! I won’t wait. But if you don’t, it’ll hurt. It’ll get your mind all messed up. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. 


T-Model Ford’s latest album, Bad Man, was produced live by the genuinely legendary Jim Dickinson and released by Fat Possum this past September. It’s your own damn fault if you haven’t heard it yet. More info at www.fatpossum.com

CAETANO VELOSO on Brazil, 1968: Tanks, street protests, music, witchcraft cults…and a strange hallucinogenic drink from the Amazon (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (January, 2003)


DIVINE, MARVELOUS

Tropicalista Caetano Veloso remembers authoritarian Brazil, 1968: tanks, hallucinogens, music, street protests, literacy campaigns, witchcraft cults and TV variety shows

Caetano Veloso, now 60 years old, is widely recognized as one of the most important and innovative pop musicians of the 20th century. As a young musician coming of age in the right-wing military dictatorship that was Brazil of the late 1960s, Veloso co-founded the Tropicalia movement, a collective of Bahian artists, poets and performers that included the musicians Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, Tom Ze and Veloso’s closest friend, the musician Gilberto Gil. The Tropicalistas, as they called themselves, were dedicated to making a fundamentally new and rule-less music out of traditional Brazilian pop and the radical new rock n roll arriving from England and America. In this excerpt from Tropical Truth: A Story Of Music and Revolution In Brazil, his new memoir of the period, Veloso details how the cultural movement was overtaken by the political developments of the day—and how a strange hallucinogenic drink from the Amazon opened personal artistic and intellectual vistas for him and other Tropicalistas…


Carlos Marques, a young Carioca journalist who had gone to the Amazon region to report a story, brought back for Gil [Gilberto Gil] a bottle of something he said was an indigenous sacred drink that produced dazzling visions and heightened states of consciousness. Gil took some on the same day that he was supposed to fly to Rio to pick up Nara, his two-year-old daughter, and bring her back to São Paulo. He says that when he arrived at the Santos Dumont airport, he came upon a group of military officers who were there to inaugurate some exhibition connected with the air force. The changes in perception caused by the drug were just starting to take effect, and he arrived back in São Paulo saying that he’d become aware of extraordinary things in the presence of those officers. It was as though he had understood in that moment the true meaning of our destiny as a people under authoritarian oppression, and at the same time he could see himself as an individual, alone, carefully carrying his small daughter, but also able to feel—beyond his fears and political inclinations—a love for the world in all its manifestations, including the military oppressors.

The 1964 coup—which the military dates to March 31 but which really happened on April 1, the day of fools—had caught me precisely at the moment when I felt ready for a politically responsible and socially useful action.

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A tribute to sci-fi author Jeff Lint (“the burst sofa of Pulp”) by Steve Aylett (Arthur, 2002)

Jeff Lint: The Burst Sofa of Pulp 

by Steve Aylett 

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (December, 2002)


Pulp sci-fi author Jeff Lint has loomed large as an influence on my own work since I found a scarred copy of I Blame Ferns in a Charing Cross basement, an apparently baffled chef staring from the cover. After that I hunted down all the Lint stuff I could find and became a connoisseur of the subtly varying blank stares of booksellers throughout the world. 

Born in Chicago in 1929, Jeff (or Jack) Lint submitted his first story to the pulps during a childhood spent in Santa Fe. His first published effort appeared in a wartime edition of Amazing Stories because Lint submitted it under the name “Isaac Asimov.” “And Your Point Is?” tells the story of an unpopularly calm tramp who is pelted every day with rocks, from which he slowly builds a fine house. The story already reflected the notion of ‘effortless incitement’ which Lint would practice as an adult. “Jack was fantastic,” says friend Tony Fleece. “Went around blessing people – knew it was the most annoying thing he could do. A dozen times, strangers just beat the hell out of him.” Lint perfected the technique when he stumbled upon the notion of praying for people. 

Lint’s first novel was published by Dean Rodence’s Never company in New York. The relationship between Rodence and Lint was one of complete mistrust, rage and bloody violence. When submitting work in person, Lint insisted on appearing dressed as some kind of majorette. “He was a large man and clearly wasn’t happy at having to do this,” explains Fleece. “He blamed Rodence, was resentful. I still don’t know where he got the idea he had to dress that way when handing his stuff in.” 

The first novel with Never was One Less Person Lying, in which Billy Stem must tell the truth or be transformed into the average man. Rodence persuaded Lint to change the title word ‘Person’ to ‘Bastard.’ On a night of pre-press jitters, Rodence then partially re-wrote the final sections of the book so that Stem puts on a spacesuit and goes berserk, killing an innocent stranger with a large rock. The book was published as simply One Less Bastard. In the 25 years of their association Lint never forgave Rodence for the incident, and often alluded to it by repeated use of the word “bastard” when speaking to him. 

Around the time of his second published novel Cheerful When Blamed, Lint met his first wife Madeline, who was attracted to him by a knife scar which led from below his left eye to his mouth. This was in fact a sleep crease and Lint managed to maintain the mistake by napping through most of the marriage. But after five months a bout of insomnia put paid to the relationship and left Lint with nothing to occupy his time but his writing–luckily for the world of literature, as he produced some of his best work at this time, including Jelly Result, Nose Furnace, Slogan Love and I Eat Fog, all of which appeared on Rodence’s new Furtive Labors imprint. Turn Me Into a Parrot took issue with the fundamentalist notion that the world was only a few thousand years old and that dinosaur bones had been planted by god to test man¹s faith. Lint asserted that the world was only sixty years old and that the mischievous god had buried sewers, unexploded bombs and billions of people. In my own book Shamanspace I make it clear that humanity arrived eons ago but, like a man standing in front of an open fridge, has forgotten why. 

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THE NEW CLOWN ON THE BLOCK: Susan Carpenter joins the circus (Arthur, 2002)

…AND THEN I JOINED THE CIRCUS

Self-described “desk-bound journalist” Susan Carpenter decided to find out firsthand and feet-first how the females of the species are transforming the 21st-century circus. Now her back hurts. Photography by Lauren Klain.

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (January 2003). Layout by W.T. Nelson.

Xia Kemin has Ember pinned. He’s got her left leg lodged under a foot-thick gym mat while he presses her right ankle up behind her ear. Ember is crying. Kemin, the former Chinese acrobat who is her teacher, just laughs. He knows that pain is the only way Ember, a 20-year-old daycare worker and wannabe contortionist, will ever become the human pretzel she’s dreamed of.

Ember is a beginning student at San Francisco’s Circus Center, a school that teaches “anything in the air, upside down, backwards and humanly impossible” to aspiring circus performers. The Center is also my first stop before joining Ringling Brothers for a couple days as I attempt to figure out why women are still running away to join the circus–and whether they do anything more these days than sit pretty on a trapeze.

I’ve never been to the circus, not even as a child, but it’s getting harder to avoid it. Circus is everywhere, nudging itself into the public consciousness through books like Katherine Dunn’s carnivalesque Geek Love, movies such as Freaks and the neo-pagan art ritual known as Burning Man. I knew it had reached critical mass last summer when a friend from San Francisco asked if 20 of her friends could stay at my house while their gypsy caravan whirled through L.A. in a flourish of fire wands, wigs and stilts.

Circus used to mean men wrestling snakes while women in glittery unitards flew through the air in front of sticky-fingered children. That all changed when the flashy French Cirque du Soleil came to town in 1987, throwing mimes, bungee jumpers and Chinese pole dancers into the mix and attracting a more adult crowd. Circus hasn’t been the same since. Today, there are not only more circuses–and schools to train for them–but there’s also more women joining the circus, fusing their own sense of style with traditional techniques. The centuries-old art form, it seems, is finally getting a much-needed kick in the pants.

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“The Turntables Might Wobble But They Won’t Fall Down: A Jam Master Jay Fan Remembers” by Peter “Piper” Relic (Arthur, 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (December 2002)


The Turntables Might Wobble But They Won’t Fall Down: A Jam Master Jay Fan Remembers
by Peter “Piper” Relic

A few minutes before four o’clock on Halloween afternoon 2002, I realized I’d better do the crosstown hustle in grandma’s Nissan if I was gonna bumrush rush hour to Beachwood Place Mall. Cooped up in the lab all day, I ran outside—foliage in full flame and wind whipcracking off Lake Erie—Cleveland represent!—and drove east past the granite gryphons lording over Carnegie-Lorain Bridge.

Fiddling the radio dial of the broken cassette deck, I struck immediate jackpot as the “blazin’ hip hop and R&B” station spun Missy Elliot’s new single, giving me my fix of elephant trunk calls, backmask raps, and well, that chubby cheeked happy feeling Missy’s voice always gives me. Thing is, my favorite bit in “Work It” is the part at the end when Missy shouts out “to muh lay-deez!” and Timbaland’s track flips into the beat from Run DMC’s “Peter Piper.” Woomp! Damn if radio plays anything anymore that hits as hard as Jam Master Jay’s cuts—you know that sound, like carpet needles cutting through a bituminous bite plate? Of course, that sheer fierceness may be the reason the ending is usually chopped and faded by some dumbo-eared radio bungler to make way for a Liberty Ford commercial.

Eff ‘em. Hearing that snatch of “Peter Piper” got me hyped. I snapped off the radio and busted the verse embedded in a shell-toed part of my memory bank:

“Doctor Seuss and Mother Goose both did their thing
but Jam Master’s getting loose and DMC’s the King,
Adult entertainer, child educator,
Jam Master Jay king of the cross fader,
He’s the better of the best
Best believe he’s the baddest
Perfect timing when I’m climbing on my rhyming apparatus
When he cuts girls move their butts
His name is Jay, here to play, he must be nuts
On the mix real quick and I’d like to say
He’s not last but he’s fast and his name is Jay!”

Maybe those aren’t the letter-perfect lyrics, but hey. I also doubt that my Run DMC experience was wildly different than that of many other kids lucky enough to tune in during the salad days of Hollis, Queens finest, but here goes:

It was the fall of 1985. I was a freshman at a suburban Connecticut public high school. Out of nowhere one day a way-beyond-me junior girl came up to my locker and without saying anything just handed me a tape. It was not Huey Lewis & the News. This 60 minute Memorex piece of black plastic included Beastie Boys’ “She’s On It,” Original Concept’s “Knowledge Me,” Skinny Boys’ “Jock Box” and Run DMC’s “Sucka MCs”—all songs that crunched. I listened to it on my Walkman while delivering the New Britain Herald (pumped me up to break my fastest time record on my route), on a D-battery powered Tandy tape recorder while playing driveway hockey against my brother (it made my slapshot nastier). I listened to it endlessly, and when Run DMC Raising Hell came out the following year, I bought the cassette at Strawberry’s. It took me forever to get through the entire album because I kept rewinding “It’s Tricky” and “My Adidas.” (I remember the look on my mom’s face when I told her “You be illin’.” The first time was the last.) But finally I made it to the awesome closing track, “Proud To Be Black.” Jam Master Jay’s slashing stab-scratches cut like brass tacks through a whitewashed history text as Run proclaimed “George Washington Carver made the peanut great, showed any man with a mind could create!” I loved peanut butter and I loved funky beats, just like Run DMC! They became the first heroes I ever had who weren’t pro athletes.

Thinking about it now, Jam Master Jay’s beats and cuts were essential for Run DMC to get their message across. Heck, Run and DMC knew it—they shouted Jay out all the time. Run DMC and Jam Master Jay exemplified synergy, syzygy and symbiosis—like Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad, their music hit as hard as their lyrics. It had to. I doubt today’s average teenage hip hop fan can appreciate how awesome Run DMC were, because I don’t hear anything that comes close to their power on commercial rap radio. I mean maybe I’m an ageist kook, but damn…

Back to Halloween ’02. As I pulled into the mall parking lot, an announcement came on the radio: “We will now have 60 seconds of silence for Jam Master Jay who was shot and killed this morning.” The words hit like a brick to the head. I parked and walked dumbstruck into Dillard’s. The first two brothers about my age I saw I went up to and said, “I just heard…Jay Master Jay….” One fellow lowered his eyes while his buddy shook his head slowly and whispered, “I know.” I drifted over to a 70% off reject rack and found a black t-shirt that said I’VE GONE TO FIND MYSELF—IF I GET BACK BEFORE I RETURN KEEP ME HERE.

At the video store, I did what I’d come to do: buy Donnie Darko on DVD. I asked the girl ringing it up, “Are you a hip hop fan?” She looked at me. I went on: “Can you believe…Jam Master Jay?” She gave me a sorrowful, sympathetic smile and said, “He brought a lot to the game.”

He brought a lot to the game.

I drove home, flipped the stereo on and got into the shower. The Chronic 2001 disc I’d left in the player started up and I heard Dr. Dre’s voice: “I moved out of the hood for good, you blame me? Niggas can’t hit niggas they can’t see, I’m out of they sight now I’m out of they dang reach. How would you feel if niggas wanted you killed? You’d probably move to a new house on a new hill and choose a new spot if niggas wanted you shot…I ain’t a thug—how much Tupac in ya you got?”

That’s when I cried. Bad meaning bad not bad meaning good. Jam Master Jay, not being a gangsta, must have felt safe staying in the hood with his wife and kids. When Tupac and Biggie died, it wasn’t a shock like this, and didn’t hurt the same. I guess because with Jam Master Jay, it hurt the fourteen year old inside me. And that 14 year old who fell in love with hip hop (and the girl who gave me that tape; thanks Mary) is still fundamentally me. I feel Run DMC’s records like I feel my younger self: dated but never played out.

Watching Donnie Darko that night, I noticed that at one point in the movie Donnie—a suburban kid living in the mid ‘80s—is rocking shell toes. I can only assume Donnie also agrees with the on-record unison appraisal of Jam Master Jay by Run and DMC: “Goddamn that DJ made my day!”

For my friend Jeff Seifert. Rest In Peace.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF takes tea and talks shop with GENESIS P-ORRIDGE (Arthur, 2003)

As originally published in Arthur No. 2 (Jan 2003), with accompanying photography by Shawn Mortensen…

‘The whole planet is the museum!’
Author-theorist Douglas Rushkoff takes tea and talks shop with veteran mindboggler/conceptualist/artist/visionary Genesis P-Orridge, best known for his work as co-founder of seminal industrial outfit Throbbing Gristle and leader of neo-primitive-shamanic ravists Psychic TV

I met Genesis in the early ’90s in the Bay Area. He needed a lift to Timothy Leary’s house in Beverly Hills, and I needed an interview for a book I was writing about viral media. We spent about six hours in the car together, trying to impress one another with our strangest thoughts while Gen’s two daughters fought in the back seat.

We’ve been friends ever since.

I guess it’s about ten years later, now. I’ve gotten married, become an author and university professor, while Gen has been kicked out of the UK forever, gotten divorced and married again, replaced his teeth with gold ones, and done some other stuff to his body that I’d be scared to. Still, in spite of our outward differences, we’re on the same path, and often use one another for guidance along the way.

See, if you’re going to be an artist or writer or magician, you’ve got to navigate through some treacherous zones. If you’re not traversing new territory (or at least forgotten territory) then why write instead of just reading? And many of these regions and be culturally, intellectually, physically, and psychically challenging. Disorientation can’t be avoided—it is the rule. Panic is the thing you have to watch out for.

So, Gen and I have these long talks every month or so. Sometimes they’re data dumps, and sometimes they’re progress reports. This one is probably a little more the latter, coming as it does on the release of Gen’s new book, Painful but Fabulous: The Lives & Art of Genesis P-Orridge (Soft Skull Shortwave). —Douglas Rushkoff

Dougas Rushkoff (DR): Your new book has served for me as an occasion to look back on the history of cut-and-paste, as well as its tremendous influence on art and culture every since. Cut-and-paste can even be understood as a first, rebellious step towards the attainment of genuine co-authorship. From a broad, historical perspective, it seems to me that we move through three stages. We begin by passively absorbing the information that’s fed to us—the datastream. Then, maybe with the Protestant Reformation and the printing press, we gained the ability to interpret this information for ourselves, to some extent. Then, with cut and paste, we achieve the ability to take what’s been presented to us and move it around a little bit. We can create new meanings through transpositions of what’s there, but that’s limited, in a sense, to a kind of satire or self-conscious juxtaposition. And now, finally, with computing and the internet, with the ability to actually author what for lack of a better word would be ‘original’ material, now we move into artistry. But a truly interesting moment was that first cut-and-paste moment, that first moment of, “Okay this is being fed to us, BUT we can do this with it, or to it, and get something else.” I’d be interested in hearing from you what was it like to be part of that moment.

Genesis P-Orridge (G P-O): Well… The preamble would be this: in the early ‘60s, somewhat parallel to my becoming aware of the beatniks, I started to discover Dada and Surrealism. The first time I’d heard of cut n paste, I think was Brion Gysin giving Raoul Hausman and one or two of the Dadaists the credit as one of his inspirations. He said they would cut up words from one of their poems, putting them in a hat, and then they’d draw words out of the hat, and make a new poem. What had happened was that more emotionally based artists, the ones who were actually involved in feeling human as well as just glorifying creativity, had become very disconnected from the concept of linearity, the concept of Reason, all the material concepts of the world. They had just experienced the first world war, which had led to this Armageddon, this hell on earth, and this was their reaction against what they saw as that war’s cause: the misplaced celebration of Reason, the control over information and culture in society, the harmful repression of irrationality, which has backfired.

That’s really where the first step came, that disconnection from, and obsession with, a finished, perfect result that was ‘owned’ by the artist that made it. One of Brion Gysin’s greatest poems, which I didn’t understand until very recently, was ‘Poets don’t own words.” He would do a permutation: “Poets don’t own words, words poets don’t own, own words poets don’t” and it was only recently that I actually experienced it in a visceral way, that that’s been the big change. This is what you’re talking about: that we are blessed, or gifted, or pushed, by various events to deal with the information that’s coming at us, and that society and culture are, if you like, a solidity that’s based on the inertia and linearity. This solidity is oppressive, and in order to even begin to be anything one might label ‘free’ or ‘liberated, you have to, as Burroughs used to put it, ‘First you have to short-circuit control.’ Because control is ultimately an oppressor. Control really does contain all the feedback loops of consumer culture that you’ve talked about so astutely.

I’m know I’m going in a weird loop here, but basically the point is that during the middle of the last century, the idea of having to be an Artist who owned each thing fell apart. The Dadaists did live events. They did collaborations. They did The Exquisite Corpse, where they would do a drawing, fold it, next person would draw some more, fold it, and then the result was the art. And of course no one could say with any of these activities, ‘I did that.’ They all did it, but it also made itself. That process intrigued the more interesting artists from then on.

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“Our Dead Bodies are Like Honey to the Flies”: Gabe Soria meets Devendra Banhart (from Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (Jan 2003)…

Our Dead Bodies are Like Honey to the Flies
Gabe Soria meets 21-year-old Devendra Banhart. Photography by Shawn Mortensen. 

It’s a cold and gray afternoon in Brooklyn. I’m sitting in Devendra Banhart’s fourth floor walk-up apartment and we’re both slightly hungover. The furniture in the apartment is old and scrounged looking, full of ramshackle character. Devendra asks me if I want to hear a new song, something he wrote the evening before. Keep in mind that I’ve known the guy for a grand total of five minutes, and in those five minutes, we’ve already been witnesses to the aftermath of a car accident on a nearby street. It’s a good, we’re-unemployed-so-what-the-hell feeling, and there’s nothing to do but roll with it.

Of course, I say.

He begins to play me a lilting, sexy lullaby, something that sounds as if it could have been written in 1910. It’s gorgeous. Later I’ll learn it was partially inspired by a new girlfriend. But now, once he finishes playing, a little wobbly (there’s that hangover again) but unaffectedly so, Devendra announces that he “sucks” this morning. I assure him that that’s not the case, but he’s unconvinced.

A week later I will see him play for his record release party, and the song formerly known as “Sucks” will be polished to a rough sheen, so beautiful that the air at the show is almost palpable with the audience’s need to shed an appreciative tear. No one needs to be told that they’re witnessing something special. Everybody sips their drinks quietly and the room is hushed. Even the bartender looks sheepish when she has to go through a particularly noisy drink preparation. It’s not an affected pose though, this silence. It’s not the silence of pretentious jazz fans, or avant-garde indie kids who aren’t aware that their emperors of silent cool wear no clothes. This is the silence of a group of people in smiling awe of a genuinely talented and wonderfully strange kid, a young man whose charm is almost effortless, whose skill is obvious and whose soul is on his sleeve.

But that show is still a week in the future. Right now, we’re still slightly fuzzy from our respective previous evenings and are both in need of coffee. “Do you mind if I take a shower before we go? I stink real bad,” Devendra says.

Go right on ahead, I say.

He hops off to his bathroom, and I sit there in his apartment, staring at the walls. Everything I know about Devendra Banhart so far is from listening to his peculiar and beautiful debut record, Oh Me, Oh My The Way The Day Goes By The Sun is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit (on Michael Gira’s Young God Records). At first glance, he seems like a prime candidate to be dismissed as yet another in the long line of “weird white folkies” that cynical rock critics have been setting their watches by from Dylan to Oldham. He fits the racial profile: a kid with a patchy beard who’s studied his blues ‘n country licks. And there have been so many who reek of artifice and calculation. But when the real thing comes along…wow. It’s nutsy bananas. Devendra Banhart and Oh Me Oh My… are, without trying to sound like a super-happy hype machine, the real thing. His is the sound of a skeleton playing his blues on the front porch of a haunted house, banging out curiously hopeful cemetery songs with a celebratory, surreal zeal, singing out with a high, quavering voice that is at once bizarre, unearthly and old, yet completely inviting and totally ingratiating.

And he’s twenty-one, I think as I wait for him to finish getting ready. This kid’s got his entire creative career ahead of him. Jesus.

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