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Lost in rhetoric the other day, I forgot one instance of the Wire canon that lately did burn down my house in the same way as Screw/Trae/et al: Julius Eastman on the posthumous Unjust Malaise 3-CD set. Now this particular strain of head-noddy glacial Serialism/Minimalism/whatever the hell it is, isnt normally my idea of a walk in the park with the one you love. (In fact, in tandem, I listened - or tried to listen - to a 3-cd Phil Niblock set and it bored the arse straight out my dayglo Bermuda shorts.)

But there's an 'x' factor in Eastman that snaps my neck around to wonder : who/what the Reich is THAT?
Whether you know His Story or not (and it's quite a sad one, a perplexing one, altho not entirely unexpected in its burst and fall); if you do know the story you cant help but think the 'x' factor is to do with a Crazy Black Queen (over-)acting on the stage of a post-Cagean apolitics of 'dont ask dont tell' campus whispers, and thereby showing up his elders and closeted betters; whether this makes the quote actual music unquote more or less gripping, is something to explore. I think you can 'hear' the story 'in' the music: I think it tears through what might otherwise be dry and boring Formalism, with at times thrillingly audible traces of his complex and ornery personality. (One serialist composition for four pianos is whipped along by Eastman's vertiginously joyous and unexpected preacherman "1 - 2 - 3 - 4!!!") At the time (downtown NYC, mid 70s), Queer Politics was about refusing certain 'Forms' or restrictions, it was about coming out crazily and messily all over the place, no division between 'private' and 'public', between feral cruise and cocktail politesse; and this probably scared the shit out of Cage, Cunningham et al. , who belonged to a different generation altogether.
(I'm sure Terre Thaemlitz somewhere draws a devastating parallel between Cage's at times too-convenient and approaching-Twee muscial formalism, and his ambiguous Closet-y status.)

I read a great definition of Formalism yesterday as it happens. (This could apply to that ridiculous Neubauten ICA restaging Simon mentions too: was there ever a better example of the futility and cul de sac emptiness of Formalism as terminal and terminally vain, vainglorious, exhausted gesture?) The definition was found in an Obit for the rather interesting sounding Peter Viereck (on whom, more at a later date, possibly; I must admit I'd never heard of this strange poet/historian before): "[In this] he expanded into the field of cultural criticism, proclaiming "form yes, formalism no". Commenting on Robert Frost's mot that free verse was like playing tennis without a net, Viereck said that formalism in poetry was like the net without the tennis." Isn't that on the money? So many times I've visited some "shocking, daring, powerful" Art Event at the ICA and "the net without the tennis" was exactly how it felt...

Now, that dumb-ass Greil Marcus quote Simon spotlights - the thing about Anita Baker (although of course it could be about Chic, or Dr Buzzard's, or any black male singer who ever put on a beautiful suit and serenaded an audience into submission, etc, etc) : What I hear/read in that quote is something like 'black folks shouldnt/can't have a phantasy life, that's not what they're FOR...' Coming out on top (or even burrowing out sideways from the bottom) and enjoying - if only for a night, or a season - the jouissance of the Hi Life, on any number of well-cut hi-steppin' "signifyin/signifying" levels - isnt how Marcus sees the black entertainer or black social engagement. It doesnt quite rebound the right way for the tastes or trajectories of hs own phantasy life; which is fair enough - more power to his Unconscious and all that I say ... not enough folks let the traces of their Symbolic/Imaginary life out onto the page these days.

But that doesnt give him the right to criticise a sharp dressed man, or a woman's lu-lu-luscious seduction-night croon. And who knows, this may all, ultimately, be very precisely about some body's ability to lose self consciousness, or history - which ever comes first or gets back on top - and allow themselves to get or be CAUGHT UP IN THE RAPTURE OF 'X' ...

But then, Marcus has never given (M)ANY signs of liking music that betrays a sonics of phantasy and phantasm, that carries its so called 'politics' in its rapt or rapturous sonics rather than from its all-too-correct soap box. Which is why I'd normally cheer his concomittant dismissal of R.E.M. Jesus & Mary Chain et al - but it just seems a bit rich coming from someone who has so consistently championed such DULL DULL DULL and worthy Holy Greil plodders as Springsteen, Clash, et al et al. And for whom Black Folks seem to be there only to provide the politically appropriate MYTHOS - i.e., street or crossroads mythologies, Stagger Lee mythologies, stuff fraught with danger - altho, of course, not usually to the Berkely bound middle class white boy writer, safe and secure at his desk - rather than anything suspiciously aspirational. It all devolves to the Street Nigger of his fevered imagination...

Ishmael Reed long ago noted (and castigated) this post-Mailer syndrome of white cultural critics unable to see the Black social stage as anything but fraught with danger and despair and downward trajectory ; but surely the elephant in Marcus present day salon is Rap. Marcus' forthcoming book about 'Prophecy and the American Voice' takes in two seperate chapters on David Lynch, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Roth, David Thomas, and ... NO RAP??????!!!!!! No Black music AT ALL in a book about the American Voice as a soothsaying and Prophetic one?

(What I'm saying may be a bit lazily dashed-off unfair; but it may just scrape against a few unpalatably barnacled truths. That the 'Voice' Marcus is obsessed by is one he hears, fundamentally, inside himself, and projects out onto a rather severely circumscribed 'canon' of 98% white spokespeople. It's a lecturer's voice, essentialy, displaced onto mainstream rock n roll song-as-message and message of secular redemption ...)

Its like I was saying the other day about music I admire, but dont actually listen to - something to tick off, rather than lose yourself in, or be taken over by. I feel that way increasingly about Marcus' texts. I mean, it's impossible not to admire his uh huge contribution, his industry, his relentlessness (at pushing his One Voice, One America vision) but Christ, it's getting a bit threadbare and monomanical and just plain overwritten and stodgily boring to read.

Cf., this upcoming book THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME - Prophecy and The American Voice [Faber] Whole sections of which are just plain turgid and overwritten and nerdo-gonzo boorish, like a man using an encyclopeadia to convince you that Coke tastes nice. He actually manages to make David Lynch (or rather, his favourite David Lynch, which also happens to be exactly the same as my favourite David Lynch) seem BORING, which is going some. Altho maybe it's not so surprising, as I thought Marcus' BFI Classics entry, on The Manchurian Candidate, was his thinnest, sketchiest, more self-parodic work to date.

The problem with that "American Voice" is that Marcus hardly ever writes about it AS A VOICE. Always as this straight-backed historico-metaphysical construct, personal myth of 'redemption', and huff-puff 'It All Comes Back To the Eternal LOGOS of Free Speech' re appropriation. Somewhere in my archives I'm sure I've got a long semi-rant of A Repudiation of Marcus I wrote as part of a longer project (involving the ghosts of Elvis Aaron Presley, Walter Benjamin, the Gothic tradition, and Rickie Lee Jones' "Pirates': I think that was it). Any rate, it's been bugging me more and more, ever since Invisible Republic... or maybe it's just fundamentally, that my taste (which prefers tracks to albums, one offs to canonic 'classics') runs to his Real Life Rock Top Ten (which, coincidentally, I always love, even when I disagree with it), far more than it does to the more professorial voice of his increasingly lumbering theses.

Another forthcoming book I found turgid and complacent and politically bizarre and unreadable: LACAN - THE SILENT PARTNERS - edited by Slavoj Zizek. I'm sorry, boys - I still don't get the Zizek thing. But especially here. Richard Wagner? Henry James? Turgenev?
Bill and Ted's Totally Amazing Course On the Dialectic .... boner.

{BTW: anyone with acces to Rocks Backpages should check out the acutely wonderful and uncommonly acute Carol Cooper's defences of Black Glamour - as 'political' stance - in articles on August Darnell and Prince, amongst others.}

{NB: big thanks to Nick at The Wire, for sending me the Julius Eastman and other stuff to begin with...

posted by Ian 6/01/2006 10:03:00 AM

re: Marcus - in many ways I agree with you. But then I think of GM's ongoing obsession, from Mystery Train through to Double Trouble, with Elvis: work which in many ways is ALL ABOUT phantasy and phantasm. At the same time as much of GM - the Dylan, the Band, the Clash, the PJ Harvey - is a totem of rockism, I can't help but feel that there's a persistent auto-critique...

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