But I repeat myself

MMM, November 2006 on Janet Jackson: Every comedian for the next two years did some variation of the “Miss Jackson if you’re nasty” bit.

Sports Scope, May 2007 on UFC: Will Liddell finish avenging all his career losses or will Rampage (Mr. Jackson if you’re nasty) repeat?

When you do as much blogging as I do, I suppose such self-plagiarism is inevitable.

Albums that share this blog’s initials

Unfortunately, that would be Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, which doesn’t quite fall into the “so bad it’s good” category but rather the “so bad that decades of amusing conversation have not quite discerned what Reed was trying to do, but the theories are great.” I first heard of this album in the great book The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time, a must-have. This is #2. That’s an accomplishment.

They cheat a little with #1 — it’s an album of Elvis Presley’s between-song mutterings. I’d argue that’s a spoken-word album, which means Reed’s effort is #1. But maybe they’re cheating with this one, too. It’s basically guitar feedback minus the guitar playing. Like Elvis’ “work,” this is a byproduct of rock and roll packaged on its own, like having a big tub of MSG instead of the Chinese food it’s supposed to accompany.

This came up because the great music bloggers Jefito and Jason are doing one of their strange male-bonding things in which they send each other crappy stuff to read, hear and generally endure. I think Jason may have to concede now that Jefito has sent him MMM. (The album, not the blog. I hope no one finds my blog difficult to endure. Hee hee … pun on my last name. Anyway.)

But Jason makes the most of it. He took a bunch of pictures of himself listening to MMM, put it over the first 1:45 of the 64-minute epic and put the whole thing on YouTube. You can see Jason’s agony while experiencing only a small taste it. You could even experience none of it if you just mute your computer.

Enjoy (though it’s NSFW):

I’d say Jason’s as good an actor as he is a blogger, but he’s clearly not acting here.

So now I’ll offer a couple of attempted explanations what you just heard (or turned off).

The basic theories are: career suicide, a flip-off to Reed’s record label, a flip-off to music critics, a slow-motion drug overdose, an experiment in avant-garde classical music.

The latter isn’t that far-fetched. In case you wonder why classical music essentially died out as a creative force a couple of decades into the 20th century, it’s because the genre fell into the hands of people who were so busy trying to make grand artistic statements that they didn’t give a crap whether you listened to it.

This happened gradually. Everyone freaked out when Stravinsky unveiled Rite of Spring, but that piece stands up today as a viable piece of music. Then you have Carmina Burana, a very cool song cycle that pops up in ads and movies all the time (the blood-drinking scene in The Doors stands out). Then you have the WWII-era output of Aaron Copland. Anything after that, well, you’re not going to hear it on NPR anytime soon. You may have heard of Philip Glass, but can you hum anything by him?

I’ve met Philip Glass, oddly enough, through the professor who taught my composing class. And as proof that someone out there is still listening to classical music, that professor has his own Wikipedia entry, one that mentions the fine young composer Anthony Kelley.

So it’s not that the genre is dead — it’s just that the most famous guys created unlistenable music. In small doses, it’s amusing. You should’ve seen the sweet, innocent flute players in my music classes when the professor dropped some Stockhausen in the house. But I can assure my CD collection is Stockhausen-free.

And indeed, Stockhausen as an influence of this … um … work in the excellent Wikipedia entry, which refutes the Worst R&R Records notion that veteran mastering specialist Bob Ludwig deserves some special prize for withstanding this album. Ludwig apparently thought it compared favorably with the avant-garde classical people. That praise is fainter than that of a Class D star 50 billion light-years away.

Lester Bangs is credited with a great review seeking the bright side of MMM. But the Rolling Stone review is better because it calls bullshit: “Avant-garde artists (Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Andy Warhol) have been experimenting with ennui as a concept for so long that it’s no longer daring to tax the audience’s patience by being deliberately, intensely boring.”

In terms of avant-garde rebuttals, that’s right up there with Hobbes refusing to buy Calvin’s “found art,” despite its grand statements of the pointlessness of art itself, because it doesn’t match his furniture.

Wikipedia also has this: “The German new music ensemble Zeitkratzer have played Metal Machine Music in concert, with Lou Reed as soloist, using tradition classical concert instruments from a score transcribed from the original recording.”

Jason endured a listen, though he shared the experience with his cat. Bob Ludwig got throught it. Rock critics pride themselves on getting through it once. But the members of Zeitkratzer actually sat down and transcribed … something … out of this album.

To the members of Zeitkratzer — you are braver than all of us. Or perhaps you have powerful narcotics that should be studied as a possible cure for all human ailments. In any case, congratulations.

My gender hypocrisy

A quick journey to the depths of my mind, in case the Paula Cole post made you think I’m incapable of introspection …

I was listening to Carbon Leaf and thinking how much I liked Barry Privett’s understated tone. He has emotion in his voice, but he doesn’t sound full of himself. Too many male vocalists these days strain on each line like they’re saying, “No, really! I AM the next Eddie Vedder! This is meaningful shit!”

On the same playlist, a female singer — KT Tunstall, with Black Horse and the Cherry Tree. The song itself is nothing spectacular. It’s a lot of Em/B7 riffing with lyrics that don’t make a whole lot of sense. What does she have against black horses? (As someone who grew up in an area with a backwards attitude toward interracial dating, I’d rather hear “gray horse.”) And why a cherry tree? Did it just fit the meter better than “maple”? I listen to plenty of abstract Throwing Muses songs that I couldn’t decipher with a battery of English grad students and hallucinogenics at my disposal, but I’m usually able to latch onto something.

Special notice: The “woo-hoo” backing vocal sounds almost contrived to grab the lesbian coffeehouse crowd. Which, apparently, has worked. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The sexual preference, that is. My buddy J.P. and I once found ourselves in a Chapel Hill coffeehouse listening to a 23rd-year postdoc with a buzzcut huskily singing about spider women, so we’re a little scarred.

So why is this song on my iPod, occasionally cranked up on the way to work? Because Tunstall sings the hell out of it. How a wiry Scottish woman is able out-Etheridge Melissa Etheridge’s early albums is beyond me. Her voice says far more than the lyrics. She’s vulnerable and remorseful, but she’s still strutting with self-assurance, just like Tracy Bonham on Up to the Roof, any number of Poe songs, even Jonatha Brooke at times.

In other words — all the things I love about female vocalists are things I apparently dislike about male vocalists.

So am I a hypocrite?

The Pretentiousness Hall of Fame

From a discussion at Jason’s blog, we stumble upon Paula Cole’s home page, in which she don’t want to wait to tell you what she’s been doing the past few years.

A few excerpts:

In all of the honest expression, struggle and painful hard work of “Harbinger”, “This Fire” and “Amen”, I stood outside myself and saw myself running furiously on some giant hampster wheel.

Is a “hampster” a cross between a hamster and a Dumpster? Or maybe a hamster and the Hamptons? (Which, I should point out, I always thought was a mountain range.)

I precipitously chose a charming man with whom I conceived my daughter, Sky.

“Precipitously”? As in “abrupt”? “Steep”?

But really, I knew that a lot of the old infrastructure had to die in order for there to be rebirth in my life. I left at the Vernal Equinox of 2003, while I was studying Kundalini Yoga with a community of Seiks in Los Angeles. I let these worldly trappings fall away. They felt inauthentic.

Technically, the Vernal Equinox is about as “worldly” as you can get. It’s not some spiritual moment. It’s entirely dependent on the spatial relationship of land masses to the sun.

I read Jungian psychology. I mothered my fantastic kid. Somewhere in there I moved back East, to my authentic culture, I separated from my charming man, and miraculously, I desired to sing again.

The “charming man” is African musician Hassan Hakmoun, whose bio basically ‘fesses up to marrying someone to move to America. Given that, perhaps he won’t feel quite so badly that he fares about as well in Paula Cole’s bio as the woman (we think) in R.E.M.’s The One I Love.

Hey, who are we to judge relationships? Splitting with someone after having a child together would be a far more devastating experience to me than living an “inauthentic” lifestyle, even if I weren’t still madly in love with Mrs. MMM after 10 years together. But maybe some people feel differently.

An old acquaintance, Bobby Colomby, saved me. He heard about me languishing so existentially in the crevices, and he appeared in my life and somehow got me a new record deal and started putting the fun back into music.

Can you “languish existentially”? Actually, I like that. At least, I’d like it out of context. In context, it just reinforces the narcissism that drips from her words like ink dripping from a squid’s belly. (Does it drip from the belly? I don’t know, and I don’t care — this is art, damn it! I use big words and read Jung, so up yours!)

I think the basic problem here is something that afflicts all of us. We’re overwhelmed by choice. When I go to the grocery store, I have 30 kinds of overpriced granola from which to choose. In life, as long as we’re financially secure (OK, that doesn’t “afflict” that many of us), we can go in any direction we want. We can go for big bucks in business, we can pursue our artistic dreams, or we can meditate. (Steven Wright: “I really wasn’t that into meditation, and she wasn’t really that into being alive.”)

Cavemen and cavewomen (not the Geico kind) didn’t have this problem.

“Og, we hunt tomorrow. Village need food.”

“Actually, Ek, I need go walk East, toward sunrise. Village no longer authentic to Og. Og stand outside self and see Og run in place, like buffalo in U2 video.”

“Og, wtf? You want starve, you go by self. Village hunt. Village eat.”

And so Ek walked through the forest seeking a way out of his existential despair, only to be eaten by a bear.

Which brings us to Bjork

(I love that video. Had to end this semi-coherent rant on an upbeat note.)