December 19, 2011

The 51st Revolution

Ah, the annual report.  Seems I was a bit pissy last year.  Don't know why, don't care.  It was what it was.

New job this year.  Not a monumental difference, but this one's not killing me with the death of a thousand cuts . . . i.e., I come home with some energy and the ability to do more than just recover from the job.  It's up to me to take advantage of that.  So far, so good.  I celebrated my first week of non-obscene holiday season working hours by writing a big chunk of crap and recording a new song I am rather fond of.  A true memorial indeed!

Sometimes I feel like I'm in my early thirties, and just lagging behind.  I have ideas, I've always had ideas . . . now, I know what I can do with my life.  I have a plan with a main strategy and a secondary strategy, and both seem (simultaneously) executable.  Kinda wish I would have figured this out twenty years ago, but it is what it is: and chances are, knowing where I was twenty years ago, I wouldn't have been able to pull this off back then.  It's just . . . well, now there's a little bit more urgency to get something done.  Time doesn't seem infinite anymore, even though it feels like I still have plenty of it.

Plenty of time?  It wasn't that long ago that I turned forty, seems like . . .

The one thing I am starting to understand fully is the gift of age.  It sort of snuck up on me, but I am feeling the depths of my age, and that (mostly) makes me very happy.  It turns out that most of what I want out of life will come to me of its own accord, if only I am diligent in living the life I think is right.  It doesn't make it easy, but what is?

Anyway, more crashing generalities (just like in years past), but there you have it.  This ain't no damn confessional.  I am grateful for my wife Sharri, my good friends (and they are many), and my family.  I am looking forward to the future with growing impatience: I am just happy to greet every new day, even if it takes me forever to get out of bed to do it.

December 7, 2011

The Capacity to Affront

UPDATE (12/16/2011): Dan has added the show here for all to enjoy!  Go give it a listen.

I'm not an innocent when it comes to this.  The very first time I stepped onto a stage with a guitar in my hands, at Bloomington's Second Story back in '86, the primary goal was to send a few shock waves through the crowd.  We had two poets shout poetry over the top of each for a few minutes, then Tony, Matt, and I slunk out behind them, turned on the amps, and laid down brittle screeching sheets of noise for about ten minutes.  Cognitive dissonance + sonic dissonance.  Of course, we did this at a performance art showcase, so it went over like gangbusters.

Not so much at the next show, which was a rock show.  Or an ALTERNATIVE ROCK show, as it was known at the time.  People thought they got the joke the first time, but they didn't.  The joke was not that we were destroying music, being specifically anti-musical; the joke was that music was already dead, and we were just playing with the pieces.  The joke was not that we were making ourselves musical sacrificial lambs, inviting the hate of our audiences with noise specifically designed to incite said hate; the joke is that we loved these broken shards we were tossing out at our audiences, and if we didn't necessarily think we were a great band, we thought at least, for small discrete moments in time, we made great sound.

So, we soldiered on with Casio keyboard beats, primitive driving basslines, and incoherent dual guitar hooliganism.  After a short time, we picked up a drummer who loved jazz, and built his own drum kit out of a combination of discarded drum parts, steel barrels, and PVC drain debris.  The band got bigger, the band got smaller.  Around 1990, we joined forces with the only other people as forceful and knuckleheaded as we were, the Sick City Trio (first just Dan Willems and Heather Floyd . . . Chris Willems strayed along soon enough).  Sometime around 1995, the band ended up in Louisville.  Then, in May of 2006, the band stopped playing together.

It's not directly germane to the discussion, but that band was The Belgian Waffles!.  I mention it mainly because 1) it's a little context for today's discussion; and 2) because the band involves three of the Sick City 4 in addition to your (not so) humble author.

*          *          *          *          *

I don't get out as much as I would like to anymore, but what the fuck?  I'm fifty years old, and twenty-five-year-old me would have expected much less out of the fifty-year-old me.  In any case, I do my best to see Sick City 4 whenever possible, and not just because they are my friends.  They are, to my mind, not only one of the best bands around, but one of the few that will surprise you with each and every show . . . hell, each and every note.  So, when the word of the last minute booking came my way via what the kids are calling SOCIAL MEDIA these days, I cleared the calender.  It was a Friday, and I was off work at six, and back in on Saturday at eleven, and my new lower-stress job was making me feel a little bit more social, so I headed out for the gig.

I finished eating dinner around eight, and started killing time before the gig by flipping through the channels.  At a couple minutes after nine, I was delighted to find a U of L game on ESPN.  Five minutes later, I realized that it was a home game, and that there was no way in hell I was going to find parking anywhere close to Harley's Main Street Tavern, which is less than a block away from the annoyingly-named KFC Yum! Center, a.k.a. the arena in which U of L plays basketball.  So, I got out, and after running a grid between Brook and Fifth Streets, from Main to Muhammad Ali, I finally just parked in the YMCA parking garage about six blocks away.  When I strolled into Harley's and ordered a High Life, it was about ten.

The game was going on still, and it was a tight one.  Not a good game, mind you, but an exciting game: low on basketball beauty and execution, high on drama.  Unlike a lot of out musical junkies, I am a huge basketball fan, so I was enjoying the game, waiting for the SC4 to start tearing it up after the game was over.

Now, what I should have realized but didn't is just how much game traffic would end up inside the bar after the game.  Like I said, it was an exciting game, and it took the Cards one overtime to dispense of Vanderbilt. As soon as the game was over, the sidewalks were immediately flooded with fans, and the streets were flooded with cars . . . horns were honking, people decked primarily in red were choking the sidewalks and screaming "C - A - R - D - S  CARDS!" or some such nonsense.  I was chatting out in front of Harley's with Dan and Heather while they were having a cigarette, just killing a couple of minutes before they went on.  Bart was out there too, spelling out shit at the top of his lungs in a faux-euphoric sporting bonhomie.

At that point, I was starting to get an idea of what would be going down very soon.  When I first showed up, the majority of Harley's current patrons were killing time, watching the game, waiting for the music to start.  After the game let out, the straights (for lack of a better term - you know what I mean) started flooding in, ordering buckets of Miller Lite, and generally enjoying the hilarity of Louisville's one point OT win.  Out on the sidewalk, Dan, Heather, and Bart were chuckling over the chaos streaming out of the Yum! Center (hereafter to be referred to as "the arena"), and it wasn't clear to me if they had any inkling as to the scene that was getting set up.  Dan mentioned it was too bad I didn't bring my guitar to sit in for the set; at that point, one of the Opposable Thumbs very kindly offered me the use of his rig.  I thought about it, I really did: but I also had a feeling that there could well be some audience issues, and I tend not to respond kindly to audience heckling (I generally turn up the amp to the point that I am the only one able to stand the volume), so I thought it best I didn't participate.

I've talked to Dan since the show, but I'm not sure to this day if he had the same premonitions about the crowd that I did.

So anyway, after a fair amount of time, SC4 stepped in and started their set, and almost immediately, the basketball revelers stage left started showing signs of consternation.  First it was the mugging "wtf is this shit" kind of lampooning, then visible mocking of the band, then outright hostility.  They were yelling at the band, gesticulating, plugging their ears, the whole routine.  At a certain point, one woman who appeared to be in her mid-40's approached Dan's recording microphone, apparently thinking it was a PA mic.  As she started to grab it, I moved toward her to shoo her away, and whether she saw me or realized that the mic was plugged into a recorder right underneath it instead of a PA, she quickly moved away*.

Now, as far as SC4 sets go, this was a somewhat tame affair . . . or, as Dan put it to me the next day, "we were lobbing softballs at them all night".  Dan was playing the baritone sax, Heather was on trumpet, and Bart was on drums.  Without Chris on guitar, the volume was reasonably low (not that he tends to play loud anyway), and a lot of the surface atonality of the set was gone: after all, two horns (two single tones) can be resolved by the average human ear, but getting that third (and fourth, fifth, sixth, etc.) tone is what really drives dissonance home.  So while some of the horn lines may have been aggressive and ragged to more mainstream ears, there wasn't a lot of actual dissonance going on.

It is also important to note that the instruments were not amplified in any way.  Not that you really need to amplify anything in that space; but again, I'm just making the point that it wasn't particularly loud.

As you were facing the front of Harley's, the band was set on the left side, with the front door to the right.  Dan was on the left, the Bart in the middle, and Heather by the door on the right . . . which turned out to be an unfortunate place for her.

As is their wont, the band was playing mostly long, sprawling improvs.  Even beyond their disgust with the music, the crowd was frustrated with the lack of song breaks during which they could register said disgust.  As it became clear the band wasn't leaving the stage anytime soon, different things started happening.  A couple people took it upon themselves to walk up to Heather during the set (while Dan was dueting with Bart) to tell her how much the band sucked.  From what Dan told me, they went into detail with her about exactly how each member of the band were deficient on their instruments.  Other people walked out with their fingers in their ears.  Somebody behind me was tearing up a paper tablecloth and lofting spitballs at the band.  Some guy thought he would lampoon the band by coming up to the stage and doing a really silly dance . . . though how his making an ass of himself dissed the band I don't know.  One of the regulars walked up to Bart between songs and requested "Mony Mony" or "Bonie Maronie" or some such shit.  And then, there was the lady who tried to grab the mic earlier: she decided to post herself right in front of the band on Heather's side, and make a slashing gesture across her throat to try to get them to stop.  And, when I say "making a slashing gesture", I don't mean giving the high sign; I mean she was jumping up and down, stomping her feet, whipping her hand across her throat, and twisting her face into a writhing mask of rage.  By that time, it was pretty clear all this was starting to get on Heather's nerves, so I walked over to her side of the stage and stood in front of the crazy lady so Heather didn't have to deal with her anymore.  At about that point, crazy lady decided to join some of her friends outside, where she could continue to express her displeasure by radiating ugliness through the front window.

By this point, the bar was emptied of a fair number of people.  Apparently, the owner's son came in, saw what was going on, and got pissed off that he was losing paying customers by the boatload on what should have been one of his busiest nights.  He collared the bartender who booked the show, who valiantly held the owner's son off for as long as he could, trying to let the SC4 finish their set.  Meanwhile, Heather was looking more and more stressed, Bart was looking more and more amused, and Dan was COMPLETELY OBLIVIOUS.  He just kept pounding along, focusing on his horn.  Between songs, he would huddle with Heather and Bart, discussing what to play next, while both of them increasingly looked at him like "you really want to keep after these people?" . . . he told me the next day that he heard a lot of noise between the songs, but that he mainly heard people clapping (and yes, there were a handful of people who were there to enjoy the bands), so he just kept going on as originally planned.

About thirty five minutes into the set, the SC4 had chased a whole bunch of people out, the bartender was struggling to keep them from being booted off stage, angry lady was out front being angry with other patrons less than pleased with the night's musical entertainment, and a few of us left were immensely enjoying the carnival surrounding the set.  At about that time, the band kicked into "Chad's Organ", which was much less of a softball than most of what had gone down previously.  It was at that point that angry lady decided to make one more entry: I laughed out loud as she walked in the door and Dan, almost as if he sensed her there, let rip with an aggressive, growling, Ayleresque line punctuated with barking squeals.  Angry lady froze, petrified by her fury - I was reminded of that old David Lynch comic strip, "Angriest Dog in the World" - before stomping back out.  As great as that solo was (and it was quite a solo), it was angry lady who made "Chad's Organ" for me.

A couple minutes into the set closer, "The Burrito Song", the bartender couldn't hold off his boss any longer.  He came up to Heather and Bart and sheepishly told them that the SC4 would have to give up the stage for the evening.  Heather, who by this point seemed frazzled by the whole scene, said "It's our last song, why don't you just let us finish?", while Dan, still oblivious, had no idea what had been going on.  By the time the SC4 had left the stage, Harley's had been subjected to a 45 minute long circus.  The bartender (very) apologetically explained the situation, Dan realized for the first time that the band had emptied a good chunk of the bar, a couple Opposable Thumbs came up to apologize as well, and Heather and Bart were just packing their crap to get the hell out of there.  For my part, I finished my beer, said my goodnights, and hiked the six blocks back to my car to head home and get some sleep so I could work the next day.  I found out the next day that the Opposable Thumbs ran their way through a raucously satisfying set a little later, after things had time to calm down a bit.

A good account of the evening, complete with some nice pictures, can be found at American Gloam.

*          *          *          *          *

As I alluded to, I've had my share of confrontational situations like this, and have been shut down by everyone from the police to angry bar owners**.  I used to have a little fun with it back in the day . . . it gave us a bit of a rep.

Nowadays, however, I don't have time for petty confrontation.  I want to play in front of a crowd that at least wants to be there.  And while I certainly don't mind a bit of heckling, I've got no interest in tearing down a room like we used to occasionally do.  And, in that regard, I'm probably no different than Dan, Heather, and Bart.

I've also got a fair amount of sympathy for the bar manager who shut the SC4 down.  I would be frustrated too if I saw the amount of money walking out the door on what should have been a very profitable night for me.  In his place, I would have shut the band down inside ten minutes, bought everybody in the band drinks for the rest of the night, and promised to bring them back on a Sunday or weekday night when U of L was playing out of town and the arena was dormant.  And then I would have made very sure that the bartenders who booked the place realized that the primary purpose of a business is to make money, and that, like it or not, we have to cater to arena crowds.  If you want to bring the freak scene on an off night, by all means do so.  Just don't mess with my pocketbook.

As for the bartender, he probably didn't see that there would be a problem.  We all tend to believe that if we like something, it should at least be tolerable to everyone else . . . of course, we can now see that's not the case.  And, it should be said, he did his absolute best to buy the SC4 enough time to finish their set, and was very apologetic when they didn't.  For that matter, the Opposable Thumbs folk were very nice too.  I hope to see them soon when they aren't playing past my bedtime.

As for the people like angry lady, I have no sympathy.  If I'm out, and I stop by my favorite watering hole to get a drink and a karaoke sing-along breaks out, I don't bitch: I move along.  I hate karaoke with a passion, and I will leave any place that is doing karaoke, but I don't try to stop it, or bitch about it to the bartender or manager, and I certainly don't stand at the front of the stage making throat-slash gestures to the fake singers.  Singer songwriters generally annoy the hell out of me, but I don't walk up onstage and tell them how lame their navel-staring is; I move along.  If a Hank Jr. wannabe is rocking it out from the stage when I walk through the front door, I don't fret; I leave.

At the end of the day, I've got to thank angry lady for a whole new level of entertainment.  Seeing you make an ass of yourself was a blast.  Your crippling consternation was a great show, and it's nice to know it's still possible to offend people like you.

To the rest of you: see you at the next Sick City 4 show.

Sick City 4 can be heard here.  If you're all very good, maybe Dan will put up a tape of the show under discussion.
*  Ironically, something very similar happened to The Belgian Waffles! at a club called Sparks that was just a couple blocks east of the current Harley's location.  It was in the late 90's, we were on stage, and some coked-up young miss grabbed the recording mic, yelled into it semi-coherently until she realized it wasn't going through the PA; whereupon she decided to get on stage and start yelling into the vocal mic which was temporarily abandoned.  I'm not clear what she was yelling about, but it was kinda like Abby Hoffman at Woodstock during The Who's set, except nobody in our band whacked the cokehead diva off the stage with a guitar (we just turned up and kept rolling).  The big difference between Sparks and Harley's is that Harley's was full of "straights", while Sparks was a dreadful "cutting edge" hipster joint.  Just goes to show our ability to alienate does not discriminate.  And yes, a recording does exist.

**  Let's see: shut down more than once at Second Story, very pointedly told we would never play again at Flashbacks (a short-term incarnation of Uncle Pleasants in the late 90's), Twice Told Coffeehouse, Butchertown Pub, shut down by the police at almost every house party we played in Bloomington . . . 

November 25, 2011

YouTube Spree!

 . . . over at the Tumblr. feed, notes toward everything.  20 choice slices of blues and jazz.  Hey, you've got the internet on your TV, right?  Fire it up!

October 31, 2011

Colors are Transmissions

“colors are transmissions”
    you said
“transmissions from somewhere else”
you always crave transmissions
from somewhere else
shortwave radio broadcasts
rife with the chi of center earth
public access television
from deep in a rainforest
snippets of exotic musics
  raining down
  dust from the stars . . .

you sit tucked into a corner
your face pressed against a small window
wanting another street
          magical, luminescent

you would leave your room, go
  down into that gray street,
have someone stake you bus fare,
  if only you knew where to go

October 23, 2011


an audience recording of The Feelies
somewhere in Germany, sometime in ‘88
you hear air
those kids singing in those accents
jangle like seltzer
broken disassociated split
at the back of your head like nostalgia
but not nostalgia, the gnaw cold
  and the jitter, and the jangle
  code deep
  a face of vertigo

coming out, the other end of a
very long sentence that has
long ago abandoned recognizable
grammar, subjects and objects
cartwheel over each other
  it was, at one time,
  a happy reel, I suppose

October 16, 2011

Untitled Autumn Poem

fragility of sun filtering
back through tall, weedy trees
made explosive by gold autumn
          I will never see that light again
          in exactly the same way . . .
          at the same angle
          with the same foliage
          even now turning brown
          & driven groundward by wind
the branch precariously balanced
since last winter stays, but the day comes
when it is thrown down
when even that which is permanent
is thrown down

- to come around again
different, or the same
a series of notes played the same
on a different piano
a keening harmony shifting
melody around it,
always coming back, the same
different and everything
with this day a point on the arc

October 10, 2011

The Steve Jobs Memorial iPhone App

I was a bit taken aback by the outpouring of grief for Steve Jobs … I had no idea that so many people would take the loss so personally.  And I had no idea that he would be cheered as such a “great American”.  I wonder if Bill Gates will engender such a deeply personal reaction when he passes?
Now, don’t get me wrong: if you are a great believer in American capitalism, then Steve Jobs should be a hero to you.  He is, unquestionably, one of the great capitalists of his generation.
And I understand that many people have a deep fondness for the gadgets he developed.  I know many people who swear by Macs, and won’t even touch a PC unless it is absolutely necessary.  I hear the testimonials about how the iPod changed the whole musical landscape, though I don’t buy that for one minute.*  I see the people who fetishize their iPhones and iPads, and though I can appreciate them as cool little toys, they are far from “game changers” as far as I can see.
I do not own a single device that was created directly by Apple (though, not being a techie, I may have some devices with Jobs-developed tech in them and not know it).  I never got a Mac because they were/are expensive and don’t play well with other computers.  I never got an iPod because they have obnoxiously proprietary software, and they don’t play well with the online music sites I subscribe to (though, that aside, I do think they are the finest portable music devices currently made).  I haven’t got an iPad because, frankly, given the amount of typing I do on a computer, it would be of much less use to me than a laptop, and you can get a pretty decent laptop for the price of an iPad.  I do lust after an iPhone to a small degree, but the stupid phone that I currently have serves my needs well enough (plus I don’t have to pony up for a ridiculous plan just so I can check scores on my phone when I’m stuck at work).
Indeed, the proprietary nature of all of Jobs’s hardware seems anti-democratic (“If you want the cool stuff, you have to pay for the cool stuff, and you have to buy it from me.  And you not only have to buy the hardware from me, but the software as well.  And you’re going to have to pay extra, because this is, after all, the cool stuff.”).  The proprietary nature of his tech was designed to create a self-sustaining market for his products.  More than creating cool stuff, Jobs was interested in cornering a market by creating cool stuff.  The cool stuff was not the end, it was the means, with market domination as its end.  To me, he’s nowhere near being in the same league as whoever it was who introduced consumer-grade recordable media to the general public … now there was a guy/gal/team of folk who really changed things.
There is the air of hipness around Apple, an air of exclusivity.  I don’t think it is a stretch at all to think of Apple products as fetish objects.  And while I do appreciate that there is a level of high design to everything that Jobs touched, I don’t think that Apple products are held in the regard they are simply because of their quality: it’s all about fashion, and it’s fashion dictated by marketing.  At the end of the day, Jobs’s real triumph was not in technology, it was in marketing.
Please do not take this as a criticism of Steve Jobs: I live with a designer, I have designers in the immediate family, I understand the value of design.  Design was the cornerstone of his marketing, and even if marketing was his real triumph, design was essential to his marketing campaign. He was very, very good at what he did.  The only problem I have is that I’m not sure all the eulogizing takes into account what he really did.
Again, Jobs was the consummate capitalist.  I can admire him in the same way that I admire a consummate basketball coach … Bobby Knight, say.  Furthermore, as far as I know, Jobs conducted his business in a relatively moral and forthright way, given the morality and rules of capitalism.  I have no problem whatsoever with Steve Jobs as capitalist.
But I do have a problem with Steve Jobs as cultural icon.  The kind of culture that worships Steve Jobs is a culture reduced to a glossy magazine ad.  Or, perhaps more accurately, a culture reduced to a trendy lifestyle-enhancing iPhone app.
*  That argument could be made for the faceless Japanese engineer/design team at Sony who invented the Walkman, thereby changing dramatically the role of music in our lives.  The iPod, to me, is an updated Walkman with a big promotional campaign. 

October 4, 2011

Thaddeus Russell's Dead Horse; or, Philosophizing With a Shotgun

A Renegade History goes deeper.  It goes beneath what the new "social history" portrayed as the bottom.  It tells the story of "bad" Americans - drunkards, prostitutes, "shiftless" slaves and white slackers, criminals, juvenile delinquents, brazen homosexuals, and others who operated underneath American society - and shows how they shaped our world, created new pleasures, and expanded our freedoms.  This is history from the gutter up.  -- Thaddeus Russell, A Renegade History of the United States, from the Introduction.
So goes Russell's mission statement from the very first page of the book . . . and he sticks by it relentlessly, starting with a concept and slotting any and all facts at his fingertips to buttress this "radical" view of the world.

Nietzsche said he philosophized with a hammer.  Russell, if he "philosophizes" at all, philosophizes with a shotgun.  A sawed-off shotgun, to be precise.  And like a sawed-off, no matter how much impact there may be up close, once you step back, it largely looses its effect.

In case it's not clear, it is Russell's thesis that the refuseniks of our culture are the ones who have defined our culture.  Further, it is these refuseniks who have defined our freedom by stretching what is allowed by the dominant culture.  All this by simply refusing to play along with the establishment.  See how easy that is? So, maybe those Wall Street protests will work after all . . .

Seriously, though, it is something worth spelling out: how do the refuseniks, the underclasses, the renegades, the "bad" people, whatever you want to call them, create the America we live in right now?  Russell clearly here is not taking the same tack as Howard Zinn; that is, he's not fitting them into a Marxist narrative as to what the history of the "people" is - it's clear that Russell's "people" aren't Zinn's "people", thought they are both, by and large, talking about the same people.  And that is to Russell's credit, even if it isn't necessarily to Zinn's detriment.

There are two basic related problems to Russell's book: first, like Zinn, he's too quick to slot given people and events into his system, to interpret history for his own purposes.  Like Zinn (even more so, I would say), he starts from the conclusion and works backwards.  This, in and of itself, is not a problem: if the "facts" line up with the conclusion, and the conclusion is an interesting and/or useful one, then we could work with it.

That, unfortunately, leads to his second problem: what exactly is this system, this solution, that he is proposing?  Well, as far as I can tell, he simply wants to posit that the common man defines history against the system, that man defines culture in opposition to civilizing (hegemonic mainstream) influences.  He is, of course, defining the monolithic vision of the great American Individualist in frankly libertarian terms, and moreover, making that the centerpiece of American History . . .

 . . . which, to me, far from sounding revolutionary, seems to be the same bill of goods we've been sold since the idea of an American state existed, even if Russell trades whores, queens, jazz musicians, and drug addicts for the farmers and industrialists of the original American myth.  Like the idea of a  new class of mainstream black capitalists as revolutionaries of race in America, it is not convincing . . . the names and faces have changed, but the song remains the same.

At the end of the day, there's no question that Russell's "renegades" have helped define current American culture; it's pretty self-evident, even beyond the whole "flap of a butterfly's wings causes a typhoon in China" sort of complex system dynamics.  It is also self-evident that American culture is equally defined by the millions of people who do very ordinary mainstream things, like working a normal job, going to church, etc.  And while it may be worth discussing exactly how this "renegade" dynamic works, Russell doesn't do it with any kind of insight that might be interesting.  As a matter of fact, it's this lack of insight, accelerated to an unwillingness to even think through the topic that is practically anti-intellectual, that makes this book ultimately not worth reading.  That, and the fact that he could have exhausted the thesis of the book in a short paper.

*          *          *          *          *

All that said, there are some interesting discussions here.  I will (hopefully) pick up one or two of them before the Christmas retail season shuts everything else down.  I do think there is some importance to understanding where and how Russell goes off track.

September 29, 2011

Music in Fiction

We're used to opera, musicals, music in drama, music and dance.  The soundtrack is recognized as an essential part of a movie, as important as the cinematography, the sets, the dialogue, and the acting.  Some of the greatest composers of the 20th century, guys like Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, and Bernard Herrmann, are primarily movie composers.  Quentin Tarantino is brilliant in his use of pop music in film: he understands pop music not only in its vital soundtrack function, but he understands how pop music functions as cultural indicator, and how that can weave another level of meaning.  It is this "cultural naming" function that is the primary value of music in fiction.

One of the things I do when I'm writing a character is to figure out what kind of music he/she listens to, and how music functions in his/her life.  I may not necessarily bring it up in the story, but I usually know what my characters listen to.  In a couple of cases, I've gone so far as to put together playlists or load up mp3 players with music for my main characters, and listen to that music while I am writing the story.  It's a pretty easy way to define a character, since we (especially we Americans) have used music to define ourselves since the dawn of the jazz age; but it also can be very lazy shorthand.

Frank Bill doesn't use music in this way in Crimes In Southern Indiana, but he does make a mistake that bugs the hell out of me when I run across it: the bogus soundtrack provided by the radio.  In this conceit, a character turns on the radio and a song is playing, and that song is meant to be the soundtrack for the scene.  That, of course, requires that the reader be infinitely familiar with the song and/or artist . . . it is almost as if the writer plants the song in your head so he has a soundtrack.  Now, if the music is tied into the characterization, I don't have a problem with that (if it's done right); but it's cheating just to use the song for backdrop, for atmosphere.  Bill mentions specific music only twice in the book, so it's a very minor problem for him . . . but it is a problem.  First of all, I think he's using it sketch atmosphere, and as I said, I think it's a cheat.  Secondly, both times a character turned on the radio, and there was either a Johnny Cash or a Dock Boggs song on the radio.  Okay, that's just not realistic: the only way you'll turn on the radio in Southern Indiana and hear either Johnny Cash or Dock Boggs is to pick up the Louisville public radio station on a Sunday night.  There's no way a bunch of ultra-violent tweakers or tragically doomed redneck fishermen drinking Natty Lights out of styrofoam  coolers tucked away in the front of their pickups are going to be cruising around Southern Indiana listening to Louisville public radio.  Now, there is a spot on the dial down here that plays old-time country, but even then, the Cash songs are few and far between, there's no Dock Boggs whatsoever on that station. And again, the audience is either the folk who were old enough to hear the music first time around in the 50's, 60's, and 70's (and are probably much more interested in Jim Reeves or Eddie Arnold than Johnny Cash), or they are hipsters, not tweakers and rednecks.  It throws a kink in the characterization, if you know what I mean.  I can totally see where, at that point in the movie, a Dock Boggs song comes up on the soundtrack, but not on the radio.  Lynyrd Skynyrd makes sense, not Dock Boggs.*

Like I said, not a huge problem for Bill.  But look at this name-check pile that Elmore Leonard drops in Mr. Paradise:
I like to go to clubs and wave my arms in the air, thrash around, get down with the beat.  I think there's more energy here than in New York, a working-class audience getting their release.  You know what I mean?  I've seen Eminem at the Shelter, in the basement of St. Andrews?  Iggy at the Palace, back with the Stooges.  Hush, white hip-hoppers, and the Almighty Dreadnaughtz at Alvins.  Karen Monster, a cool chick, the Dirt Bombs, they're high-speed Detroit punk.  The Howling Diablos any Sunday out in Berkley.  There's a new band called the Go, kind of glam but they're okay.  Aerosmith I love, they keep coming back to town.
Obviously, besides name dropping Iggy for, like, the hundredth time, it looks like all Mr. Leonard did was go pick up some free weekly rag in Detroit and drop a few names onto the page . . . Jesus, what a mess.  Where to start?

Well, this little diatribe is meant to tell us something about the femme fatale of Mr. Paradise, Kelly Barr.  It seems that Ms. Barr, in addition to being a music aficionado, is a fashion model best known for her appearances in the Victoria Secret catalogue (the novel opens with Kelly and her Playboy-bunny-high-dollar-escort-soon-to-be-murder-victim roommate Chloe having cocktails in a bar when Kelly is approached by the frumpy waitress who idolizes her for an autograph).  Ms. Barr is twenty-seven.  This novel was written sometime around 2002.  So, let's start with Iggy:  the final Stooges performance was indeed at the Palace, on February 9th, 1974.  Which would have made young fan Kelly approximately . . . ready to be conceived. And even if we allow that she could be referring to the 2003 reunion, that show was at Pine Knob, not the Palace.

But it goes deeper than this kind of knit-picking.  We are talking about music as a sense of identity, and even if you choose music of locality to be your marker, then you are still stretching.  Who in the hell identifies with Aerosmith (a Boston band, by the way, which kind of throws a monkey wrench in the locality thing), the Dirt Bombs, and Eminem?  The crossover there is extremely limited, and the musical taste demonstrated is democratic, to say the least, and doesn't define the character at all.  But even more crucial is the language: this is not the language of a twenty-seven year old who is "hip" enough to be into the Dirt Bombs.  "Get down with the beat?"  Who under the age of fifty would say that?  "Working class audience getting their release?"  I would lay money that a Victoria Secrets model hasn't used the term "working class" outside of school . . . and even if this "chick" was "hip" enough to be down with the "working" "class", she wouldn't talk about the sweat and dank of a Detroit club being a "working class audience getting their release".  Besides, there isn't much of the working class left in Detroit; there are the rich, and the wage slaves of the service industry, which qualifies as sub-working class.

It's not only music that gets this treatment - fashion, cars, pop culture, all are there to be misunderstood.  Mr. Paradise is a dismal novel, and I say that as a Leonard fan.  All it amounts to is a 291-page exercise in the misuse of pop-culture shorthand, as if it were written by a tragically square community college lit professor.  It's a shame, because Leonard has produced some of the very cultural artifacts that any hipster should know.

And it's a shame because music can contribute a lot to fiction, if it is used with some intelligence.

*  I have only read Crimes in Southern Indiana once, and when I went back to find the two musical interludes in question, I was not able to find them.  If I have misrepresented the circumstances in any way, please correct me in the comment section.

September 21, 2011

The Poverty of the Male Gaze [UPDATED]

I've read a fair amount of Edward Abbey in my life, most notably in a tent pitched in the desert just outside Tucson on one of my Easter week trips somewhere between '98 and '03.  Somehow I never got around to The Monkey Wrench Gang, an oversight I am now correcting.

Abbey gets all the characterization out of the way up front, in a very businesslike fashion: his main characters all get their own brief chapters right at the start, and then (I assume) we move on to the whole point of the story, the ACTION!  Trouble is, Abbey is stubbing his toes a little bit when it comes to the characterization, especially when it comes to Bonnie Abzug, the woman of the crew at the center of the story.

The problem with Bonnie is this: 28 year old ex-dancer, spunky, heady enough to be aware of all the hip trends but too self-possessed to be sucked in (he lists her bookshelf only to go on about how the books are neglected), "sexy" (Abbey, in the narrator's voice, describes her as "half WASP", and then goes on to translate WASP as "white anglo sexy protestant"), and hard to get, but not unattainable . . . sort of like that Porsche you have to save up a long time for, but are able to afford by your mid 40's. 

Frankly, it's kind of pathetic.  It's the same problem that almost ruins Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo books): the liberated, sexual woman as imagined by the repressed middle-aged male libido. While Abbey's imagination at least seems to enable him to make characters like Hayduke and Sarvis a lot less annoying than Larsson's Blomkvist, the women are still a problem; Bonnie may be "liberated", but she sure as hell isn't liberated from the male gaze.

I had this idea knocking around my head tonight as I watched The Bourne Ultimatum on TV, when, lo and behold, a couple ads for new television series slotted themselves into the same thought: seems we are going to be treated to Mad Men riffs by the major networks in the form of two new series, one about Pan Am stewardesses, and the other about the Playboy club.  I can just tell by the ads that these series, though they may be politically correct (as are Abbey and Larsson), that they too will be the product of some filtered, sanitized, and ultimately sexist libido . . . probably not exactly a middle-aged libido, but close enough.  Mad Men, you see, for all the mid-century estrogen flowing from the tube, has a complexity about it that the repressed middle-aged (or, for that matter, mainstream commercial) libido does not recognize.  There is no question that Mad Men sexualizes its characters, both male and female (indeed, that is one of the central themes of the show), but it also addresses the complexities and multivalences of its characters, which liberates it from the repressed middle-aged male libido, or any libidos that would contain it outside the libido that the characters transcribe for themselves.

Sexualization itself is not the problem: the problem is the poverty of the typical Western middle-aged male libido . . . or, to put it another way, the mainstream (white, Western) male has no sexual imagination.  Hayduke is short and hairy, Sarvis is old and fat, Smith is skinny and gawky, but Bonnie is a nearly perfect specimen, with no human flaws to define her?  Why does Bonnie have to be a dancer (that is a real hippie-60's/70's thing, by the way)?  And, if she's a dancer, why does she end up having to be a stripper?    And if she is a dancer/stripper, where is the erotic motivation for her?  Or, if there is no erotic motivation, what are the socio-cultural forces that pushed her that direction?  Where is Bonnie situated on this physical/sexual/cultural axis?  These questions aren't answered for a simple reason: dancer/stripper is imagist shorthand for SEXY BABE . . . and here, "imagist shorthand" should read "stereotype". And it's not just the female characters who suffer in this scheme: Lisbeth Salander as a portrait sketched by the male libido was bad enough, but the whole Bomvkist-as-Don Juan thing almost destroys the novels.  I'm not far enough into The Monkey Wrench Gang to find out if Bonnie Abzug is going to sink the novel, but I doubt she will, since I expect Abbey to focus on the ACTION, now that the annoying task of characterization is out of the way.

I understand that it is hard to write female characters, and I know from experience: the only interesting female character I have written so far is a six foot, two hundred pound, lesbian African American bodyguard, and I have written her so butch it barely counts.  It is too much to expect every male writer to write perfect female characters; but, given the fact that these stories are our cultural narrative, it is important to understand them for what they are.

And now, back to The Monkey Wrench Gang.

*          *          *          *          *

UPDATE: Okay, I am going to let Abbey off the hook for this one.

First, while The Monkey Wrench Gang is narrated third person omniscient, the narrator is an unreliable one.  Throughout the book, Abbey's own personality takes control of the narrative, from the descriptions of the desert, to the bias against "everything big" (government, business, military, police, etc.), to the obvious targets he sets up (among others: universities, "book larnin'", R. D. Laing & Buckminster Fuller - man, he really hates those geodesic domes), all the way down to sly, pointed one-liners in the voice of the narrator instead of one of the characters.

So why does he get (partial) absolution just because he is showing his hand more obviously than, say, Stieg Larsson?  It is precisely this unreliability which makes him more acceptable: you either take him or leave him, essentially treating him like one of the characters in the book.  This drawing down of the objective narrator into the subjective realm humanizes the narrator, asks you to overlook his flaws.

So why wouldn't you overlook Larsson's flaws in the same way?  Well, because Larsson's narrator does not break the seal of objectivity in the same way that Abbey's does.  The narrator remains essentially invisible in the Millennium Trilogy, which asks you to accept the narrative structure as fact.  The male gaze undermines this narrative structure, calling everything within the narrative structure into question.  This is especially problematic because the Millennium Trilogy is almost naively leftist, and if one of the pillars of Western Leftism (feminism) is questioned, then everything that extends from this leftist point of view is also called into question. 

To me, it maps like this: Edward Abbey, narrator, is saying to the reader "I have a story.  This is my story, and it has me in it.  To hear this story, you will have to put up with me . . . but hang around, I promise it will be worth it."  Stieg Larsson, on the other hand, is saying "Here is a story.  It is true."  How much more of a deficit will problems be for Larsson than for Abbey?

Second, Abbey is much more about ACTION than Larsson is.  Both are dealing in culturally seismic milieus, but Abbey is painting the whole novel in broad strokes, like storms sweeping across the desert.  Larsson, on the other hand, is taking a piece of thriller genre fiction and deepening it with a heady dose of cultural/political tension.  You can forgive Abbey characters boldly painted because they serve a larger narrative.  Larsson's characters, on the contrary, make a claim for more profundity at the precise point they are called into question (i.e., from a point of view that has come to be called "politically correct" around these here parts).

In the end, feminism may be problem for both writers, but I am much more willing to put up with Abbey the curmudgeon than Larsson the clueless middle-aged white liberal.  Larsson's Millennium trilogy is fun reading, but The Monkey Wrench Gang is what the folks would call a ripping yarn.

September 11, 2011


So, what is it that we a remembering now?
  • That we are not immune to the horrors of the world?
  • That we are capable, in extreme moments, of extreme sacrifice & extreme selflessness?
  • That, when allowed time to "think" about things, it is actually our fears & emotions that take over?
  • That the quest for justice can be perverted with disastrous, evil results?
  • That the world is awfully damned quiet when all the planes are grounded?
  • That our capacity for exploitation knows no bounds?
  • That people with the will to do harm can do enormous harm against very long odds?
  • That the enemy of our enemy is not always our friend?
  • That chickens come home to roost?
  • That people will come up with the most outrageous explanations to avoid that which they do not want to face?
  • That assassination and murder are the same thing?
  • That war by another name is terrorism?
  • That the ends justify the means?
  • That the ends don't justify the means?
  • That one horrible act can became an excuse for a lot more horrible acts?
  • That nothing is ever clear?
  • That almost nobody is right when it comes to this?
  • That myriad & endless eventual minutiae can be roped into the same narrative, robbing such event of meaning and substance, no matter how monumental said event was/is?
  • That those ah-rabs hate our freedom?
  • That there is a whole 'nother reality that we have only begun to be introduced to?
  • That bin Laden is/was Satan?
  • That bin Laden was a revolutionary?
  • That we helped create the very terrorist organization that is responsible for 9/11?
  • That our jingoism knows no bounds?
  • That, if Japan had nuked us instead of vice versa, this event wouldn't seem as monolithic?
  • That we really don't like it when the war is brought to us for a change?
  • That people running for office know no shame?
  • That there are people, ordinary people, who pay the ultimate price for things that happen far beyond their muster?
  • That this horrible act harmed not only innocent citizens of New York and Washington, but innocent citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention collateral damage in Britain, Spain, Pakistan, India, Palestine, Israel, Syria, etc.?
  • That violence begets violence?
That the sun always rises in the morning?

In the mouths of far too many, "REMEMBER 9/11" is empty sloganeering.  It is nothing more than lip service to a demographic, a bumper sticker that signifies your club.  It is all about the speaker, not those about whom we speak.

In the mouths of far too many, "REMEMBER 9/11" is a call to war against that which they refuse to understand, an empty blanket of words to protect them from the OTHER.

Some will not be able to forget, as much as they want to.  For the rest of us, given the "lessons" that we have "learned" from 9/11, amnesia would be better . . . an entirely appropriate moment of tribute for the innocent victims and the heroes (yes, I will use that word) who tried to rescue them has been swallowed by flag waving USA! chants.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: REMEMBER 9/11 is the victory of the people who brought down the towers.  Their place in our fears is ultimately exactly what they hoped for.

The past returns to us like a ghost, haunts us . . . handcuffs us to a history that we can't escape, or believe we can't escape.  To move forward, we must overcome the past, actively build our past into our own future . . .

. . . which indeed, is exactly REMEMBER 9/11 crowd are doing, but with disastrous results.  It's one thing to write your past, but you must be responsible for it.  The REMEMBER 9/11 crowd are handcuffing themselves to the ghost of burning buildings, to a future of vengeance and retribution.  It is, indeed, an old specter, a film that has been running in a destructive loop almost since the beginning of remembrance, since the beginning of history.  It is the haunting, the history we can't escape: it is the document of our extinction.

So let's turn our backs on all this jingoism.  If we want to remember 9/11 at all, let's make it a Memorial Day for slaughtered innocents worldwide - not just here, not just then.  Let's make it a day for those who are destroyed by forces of violence and repression everywhere.  Not a victim's day, mind you, but a day to re-dedicate ourselves to the dreams of the lost, the dreams that perhaps they didn't even dare to dream.  Let us make 9/11 a quiet memorial to the brotherhood of the common man.

In other words, let's forget 9/11.

August 2, 2011

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

I'm two weeks away from sipping a cocktail with the gentle lapping of the waves out the window behind me.  And yeah, it's been warm (or, as the natives say, HOT) up there, but it's nothing compared to here.  And even if it was, THERE'S A FREAKING LAKE RIGHT THERE

My "beach" reading list (which, by the way, I'm entertaining the idea of reading on an actual beach once when I'm up there) is jam-packed with goodies.  I should be done with Infinite Jest by then, but there's still plenty of stuff: I've been hauling around a copy of Zizek's Living in the End Times for a while now, & finally took it out of my backpack so I could fit the Wallace in.  But, today I picked up a copy of his The Fragile Absolute at the Borders fire sale, along with a copy of Jean Baudrillard's The Transparency of Evil, so I may do that first.
(a brief aside here: since when is 20% off a real-deal bankruptcy sale?  I mean, what's the big deal?  Probably still more expensive than Amazon, and you know anything left over is going to be bought up by someone [probably Amazon] for, like, a penny on the dollar.  Fortunately for me, the Philosophy shelf must be considered a real boat anchor, because everything there was marked down 30%, which is a little better, but still not exactly a fire sale, if you know what I mean.  Of course, most of it is completely silly-assed shit like Lost and PhilosophyThe Zen of the SimpsonsPostmodernism for Dummies, etc.  Of course, Zizek being the current rock star, they have plenty of his stuff, so I'll probably pick up most of that if the discounts get deeper.  And they have plenty of Nietzsche and Foucault, but I'm pretty well set there already.
But seriously, 20%?)
The real gem, the one I'll probably strap on first, is Thaddeus Russell's A Renegade History of the United States.  That should be pretty fun.  And, let's see, what else?  I might drag along a copy of Freud's Civilization and It's Discontents, because I need to re-read that in the near future - there's something there that just may bridge some ideas in my mind.  And of course, I'll drag along my Riverside Shakespeare in case I get in the mood, and I'm sure there's a new-ish Elmore Leonard joint I haven't read that I can rip through in a few minutes.  I might have to see if there's any Faulkner left around the house I haven't read yet, though that's actually more appropriate for sitting on the back deck here at home, sweating into the pages.  For poetry, I've been thumbing William Blake and Vicente Huidobro's Altazor recently, so I may take them both.  Or maybe Mallarme or Jack Spicer instead . . . who knows?

Man, I'm already on vacation in my mind.

Reading on vacation is one of my favorite things in the world.  The first full day I'm there, the day after the 10 hour drive, pretty much all I do is eat, drink, read, and sleep in the sun (and take a sunset cruise with dad and mom on the pontoon boat).  Ever since I started really reading (which, for me, was pretty late - 18 or so), a big part of my vacation was spent with books.  I remember certain summers by the books I read, like the summer I read The Stranger straight through without stopping, then immediately went back to the book store to buy a copy of The Fall, and did the same thing with it.  Or the summer I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and pretty much walked around in a daze for the rest of vacation.  I commonly did the summer "beach read" (i.e., easier to zoom through) gig with crime novels, and that's when I fell for Elmore Leonard, Walter Mosely, James M. Cain, and Jim Thompson.  Last year I did Stieg Larsson, and while I do have a few beefs with him, I've got to admit it was fun stuff, by and large.  I also discovered that I would rather be reading John Fante whenever I have Raymond Carver in my hands. I remember reading all of Flannery O'Connor's short stories recently, and finding a nice Faulkner 4-in-1 at a used book store in Traverse City to follow it up. The reading is as much a part of the vacation as the water, and you can't take either away . . . especially now that Ernie Harwell is gone, and the Detroit Free Press is a mere shadow of its former self.

Vacation . . .

Oh, and GO TIGERS!! 

July 11, 2011

Plato, the Poem

shadows on the wall, he said
you don’t even see the thing
shadows of puppets in firelight

blink, rub your eyes, blinded
stare straight at the sun
feel the full burn of the light
until you can see, really see

then go back down
into the prison of night
swim through darkness, blind again
even the shadows are gone
even the consolation of the lie
  is invisible

  he said there are two phases
    of blindness –
going from the dark up to the light
& going from the light down to the dark

before you call a man a fool
you best know
if his head is full of darkness, or light

July 6, 2011

Landscape: Weather Becoming Dolphy

Hello friends.  Hard to believe that it's almost all-star break already . . . need to crank up this summer a little bit for some fun.  At least we haven't been getting hammered with heat like last year.  Anyway, not much to write, so I thought I'd drop my favorite Eric Rensberger poem on y'all:


evidence of high wind 
everything that gets so far off the earth 
is returned to it thrown down 
new growth starts up 
the bones of what did tower

/and the animals get their backs and rumps roughed up from 
   bowing backward to the gale 
/and the birds are made to skim an arm's length ahead of the 
/and the people are built with extra bracing, like houses 
that expect the worst  

and what's out there 
the weather is the same as what's 
in every human heart 
bad trouble and energy 
enough to make it real  

/but over there on the edge of the earth is a black wood with 
extra-human sounds in it 
/and if the animals and the bent trees keep pointing in the 
right direction 
/and if only the wind can reach that far and then blow through 
it and if  

the right fingers appear 
with their silver keys 
unlocking faster and wider 
than the wind can 
slam shut the doors of 
the wood, we'll finally hear  

Dolphy before his head burst 
playing how to live 
between out and inward weather 
and what's so beautiful about it 
after all, what's so 
important about someone 
pulling melody after melody 
out of his bountiful mouth

Damn, that's the shit, right there.  Makes me think about the basement over on Gardner, punching amplifiers with horns and guitars, making them rage like wounded animals . . . or, even further back, the hollowbody Kay and the clarinet, the cramped apartment on the first floor of Rufer, we had to shut off the fan and close the windows during the take, then we ran outside with icewater just to get our body temperatures down after the take . . . or, all the way back to the decaying house on the ridge in Elletsville, bourbon flowing like water, Bob & Eric & me finding our way into the universe, howling like banshees . . .

You can find the poem here.  You can get to the index of Eric's poetry site here.  Maybe it's because I feel this stuff . . .  but you should feel it too, because it's immortal.

Everything is swimming around, past images flashing like lightning . . . I'm feeling the need for a stiff drink right now . . . but cash is short, the liquor store across the street is closed, and morning is less than eight hours away.  A little sonic cure will have to suffice: the Catkillers from '96 with me, Eric, and Rob Stockwell.

Wonderful World of Sound by billzink

Ah, that's the stuff.

June 28, 2011

Why Do You Think They Call It Noise?

For the sake of context, I will point you to various musical projects I have been involved in, past and present.  My band of 20 years has documentation here, my current band is represented here, and of course you can score some downloads at Bandcamp if you wish.  An overview of what I do is at my Soundcloud page, which just happens to have a very sweet version of "Amazing Grace".

*          *          *          *          *

We called it noise when we started in the 80's; industrial noise, to be precise.  But even then, what was called industrial noise was becoming restricted, reduced, and reterritorialized*.  All these guys that were beating on metal together, I suppose it makes sense that, sooner or later, they grasped rhythm as the way to communicate.  Or normalize, I would say.  After a while it sounded like a hippie drum circle with tubes and sheet metal instead of hippie drums.

Punk rock came about when what was called "rock -n- roll" at the time became bloated and irrelevant.  The Ramones (most visibly) stripped it down to three chords and a cloud of dust.  But by the mid 80's, when we first showed up, punk rock had evolved (devolved?) into hardcore, there were rules to be followed, there was a club to join, there was a cannon to master.  Punk rock was becoming daddy, and even if daddy had tattoos, leathers, and a funny haircut, he still wasn't essentially different from polyester cocaine dancer daddy, or long hair groovy judgmental-in-a-different-way daddy, or Mad Men daddy.  Bands who wanted to be more creative, to move outside the strictures of punk rock, by and large moved back toward mainstream rock (creating "alternative" or "college rock"), which by that time began to look like a bastion of freedom compared to punk rock.  And then there were the freaks.

So, noise was our punk rock.  It was our way of breaking things down, similar to the way the Ramones broke things down . . . except instead of three chords and a cloud of dust, we just had the cloud of dust - no chords.  First called industrial noise, the "industrial" faded away when the inherent rhythmic stupidity started heading ever closer to disco, and when it became more about lifestyle (which always seemed to me like clubbing with an attitude) than about breaking down music.  "Noise" stripped of other connotations was much more elemental, much more primal.  Historically, noise could collect non-industrial types like Einsturzende Neubauten, the Butthole Surfers, and even experiments by more rockish avant-garde bands like Pere Ubu ("The Book is On the Table").  It could reach back to the no wave of Mars, DNA, Red Transistor, and Lydia Lunch; back to the sixties free improvisation groups like AMM, to the free jazz of Coltrane, Coleman, Ayler, et. al., and to the non-idiomatic free players like Derek Bailey and Evan Parker who bridged that gap.  It could reach back to Stockhausen, Xennakis, and Cage; it could reach back even to strictly regimented late 19th/early 20th Century composers who produced complex music that broke the rules of the time.

The elemental, primal aspect of noise also means it is irreducible.  Like "music", "noise" is a subset of sound.  These two subsets are generally thought to oppose each other, with music being a pleasing arrangement of sound, and noise being an anarchic and (to varying degrees) annoying occurrence of sound.  They are not, however, totally exclusive of each other: the differences between music and noise have a strong cultural bias, and what is normally considered noise is often included in the arrangements of sound that make up music.  But while music will stretch and change (which is, by the way, the beauty of music), noise remains outside, remains irreducible.  

This whole rant came about because, recently, I've posted my band several different places online, and I've been asked to classify the band each time.  I consider my band, Black Kaspar, a noise band.  Now, you will see "noise" as a qualifier quite often when it comes to current music; I often had the choice of "noise pop", "noise rock", the old standby "industrial noise", and so on.  I, for one, reject noise as a qualifier, because it's nothing more than an attempt to reterretorialize noise, to bring it back into the fold as a musical spice rather than the main course of sound.

Now, it's not the mainstream that is trying to reclaim noise, not by a longshot.  It's the outsiders that crave acceptance, that crave recognition on some level no matter how small, that crave to cleave back to the hierarchy.  It seems that an artist always wants to claim to be special, and there is nothing special about noise; one makes noise accidentally as soon as your feet hit the floor when you get out of bed in the morning.  The artist always seems to need to claim a space for himself that is his own, so for him, "noise" is just too pedestrian, too normal, too . . . unmusical.

And that is why I choose "noise" for my tag.  I certainly hold my music up against most of what gets made these days, but I don't claim any special expertise, I don't lay claim to any sort of cannon that needs mastery.  I make NOISE, simply and irreducibly, and you can like it or not, but you can't tell me I'm doing it wrong, because there is no right way.  I'll leave it to others to write clever songs; I'll continue to sculpt my sound.  And when you ask me what makes my noise special, interesting, or worth listening too, I'll not bore you with conjured complexities: I'll just point at what I've done and say "there it is - you tell me".  For me, the beauty of pure noise is that it is the anti-cult: join if you wish.
*  Through no fault of the first industrial noise band, Throbbing Gristle, who showed up just a year or two after the Ramones.  It was probably the Throbbing Gristle folk who coined the term "industrial noise".