WIZARDS OF OZMA: Stewart Voegtlin and Beaver on MELVINS’ heaviest record (from Arthur No. 34)

As originally published in Arthur No. 34 (April 2013)

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WIZARDS OF OZMA
What made MELVINS’ 1992 beercrusher Lysol the most unlikely religious record ever built? STEWART VOEGTLIN pays attention to the men behind the curtain…
Illustration by BEAVER

Discussed:

Melvins
Lysol
Boner Records, 1992

Melvins
Gluey Porch Treatments
Alchemy Records, 1989

Melvins
Ozma
Boner Records, 1987

Melvins
Eggnog
Boner Records, 1991

Earth
Extra-Capsular Extraction
Sub Pop, 1990

Melvins
Joe Preston
Boner Records, 1992

Thrones
Alraune
The Communion Label, 1996

Used to fight flu in early 1900s. Used as douche, disinfectant, “birth-control agent.” Toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates. But commonly consumed by alcoholics as alternative to more expensive tipple. Taken off grocer’s shelf. Popped open. Sprayed into its cap. Thrown back. Used and reused because—or in spite of—its overpowering carbolic taste worsened with a burn weaponized and wince inducing. And, finally, used, infamously—but not orally—by Buzz Osborne (guitar, vocals), Joe Preston (bass), and Dale Crover (drums) as title of Melvins’ fourth full-length record, Lysol, released in 1992.

Lysol is Melvins’ biggest record. It’s their heaviest. While being “big” and “heavy,” Lysol inadvertently questions what exactly constitutes “big” and “heavy” records. While being intentionally cryptic, Lysol questions what it means for records to be unintentionally accessible, and why a record’s content must posit a “message” that not only means something, but also purports to uncover some semblance of truth. The dialectic is reluctant. That it’s as “big” and “heavy” as the record itself, and actually does threaten to posit a “message” that masquerades as truth, is an unexpected payoff from a record that satisfies as many aesthetic criteria as it eliminates.

Harold Bloom could’ve been talking about Lysol when he praised the completeness and finality of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The book fulfilled Bloom’s idea of the “ultimate western.” All genre criteria were not only satisfied; they were eliminated. Anything published on its heels was not a western at all, but futility in the form of mechanics, ink, paper. Lysol was released in 1992; the two “heaviest” records released that year other than itself are Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer and Eyehategod’s In the Name of Suffering. Their sound is distinct. They work within the confines of their carefully cultivated worlds, and thrive in doing so. Lysol’s sound? Also distinct. Also works within its world. But does so in such manner that the construction that defines its world falls, like a ladder kicked away after its ascendant looks down on what they’ve climbed out of, and becomes not meaningless, but too meaningful.

What Melvins accomplish with Lysol, particularly its 11-minute opener, “Hung Bunny,” is a sort of Heavy Metal as religious music. When “Hung Bunny” isn’t stomping inchoate distillations of “God’s silence,” it’s spreading śūnyatā out as endless horizon. When “Hung Bunny” isn’t indifferent about “theophany,” it’s providing the conditions necessary to understand, or receive, the divine in the first place. Not surprisingly, it’s an attentive record. A concentrated record. A ceremonial record. It’s the most unlikely religious record ever built, as its cover tunes (which account for half of the program) easily constitute the band’s bulletproof belief system, while “Hung Bunny,” recreates Tibetan Buddhism’s ritual music, and stillbirths one of the more unfortunate subgenres, “stoner doom,” without even taking a toke.

It’s a risky hyperbole. (Aren’t they all?) Somewhere in a suburban basement, a kid’s pulling tubes, crushing beers, Lysol spraying through ear-wilting wattage. It may not initially present as enigma, even in the midst of buzz, but it will always require interpretation. How that kid understands Lysol may be no different than how orthodox monks understand the Jesus prayer. In a deceptively simple way, the kid and the monk make sense of their lives through external power, with or without what Richard Rorty calls “an ambition of transcendence.” That we struggle, unprovoked, through these self-imposed puzzles, is what binds us, despite the disparity of aesthetics we are geared towards through fate’s random generation. Ultimately we gravitate towards that which lends our lives meaning—even if meaning is undone in its meaninglessness. Realizing the kid’s and the monk’s “road” to sense is the same path carved out by, and because, of the “big” and the “heavy” is the first step out onto the yellow brick. Continue reading

LET’S BE PERFECTLY CLEAR

Study: “Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – Jan. 26, 2012) (via Joseph E. Stiglitz)

“Secret Handshakes Greet Frat Brothers on Wall Street” (Bloomberg News – Dec. 22, 1013)
“Sigma Alpha Epsilon has sent almost 3,000 men into finance, according to resumes on LinkedIn, which shows no other industry employing more than 1,800…”

Jarvis Cocker – “Cunts Are Still Running the World” (2006 – featured in the film Children of Men)

Well did you hear, there’s a natural order
Those most deserving will end up with the most
That the cream cannot help but always rise up to the top
Well I say, “Shit floats”

If you thought things had changed
Friend, you’d better think again
Bluntly put, in the fewest of words:
Cunts are still running the world (x2)

Now the working classes are obsolete
They are surplus to society’s needs
So let ’em all kill each other
And get it made overseas.
That’s the word, don’t you know
From the guys that’s running the show
Let’s be perfectly clear boys and girls,
Cunts are still running the world [Repeat: x 2]

Oh feed your children on crayfish and lobster tails,
Find a school near the top of the league
In theory I respect your right to exist
I will kill you if you move in next to me
Ah, it stinks, it sucks, it’s anthropologically unjust
Oh, but the takings are up by a third, oh so
Cunts are still running the world [Repeat: x 2]

The free market is perfectly natural
Do you think that I’m some kind of dummy?
It’s the ideal way to order the world
“Fuck the morals, does it make any money?”
And if you don’t like it, then leave
Or use your right to protest on the street.
Yeah use your right, but don’t imagine that it’s heard
Cunts are still running the world [Repeat: x 6]