Sunday, October 13, 2013

Angels of Obscurity: Public Image Ltd. – Behemoth / The Rite of Spring

Public Image Ltd. – Behemoth / The Rite of Spring 12” EP
Bastardo (unknown edition, clearly limited), 1980

I am quite certain that Behemoth is the most unfathomable piece ever produced by Lydon & co. (in this case, Levene, an un-credited Martin Atkins on drums, and perhaps others). Thundering bass drums accompany a cacophonous stream of what sounds like Tibetan ritual horns issuing sustained blasts which weave in and out of an exotic tapestry of exasperated anguish. Lydon’s shrill vocals howl with reckless abandon over the top of it all. The lyrics, consisting of a sort of prose poem in the style of Rimbaud at his most contentious, are at times submerged completely beneath the blasphemous tide (for there is nothing holy in this, at least not in the conventional sense), only to reemerge as if soaring with vengeance toward an invisible sun of penetrating diamond. There is much mystery and beauty in this, agonizing through it may be. At precisely the 2:22 mark, it all comes to a dead stop, followed by exactly one minute of silence. The piece is then wrapped up with a tremulous whimper from Lydon, fading into the all-consuming nothingness of eternal night.

The Rite of Spring is perhaps more along the lines of what might be expected to follow the art-damaged dirges of Metal Box. A rolling and meandering bass line carries twisted melodies wrenched indifferently from Levine’s guitar accompanied by a smattering of drums. The lyrics document an erotic encounter of a quite unusual kind, lacking neither affection nor disdain, perhaps inspired by Cavani’s ‘The Night Porter’ (Lydon mentioned the film as an inspiration in an interview for French TV sometime in late 1979). The ‘Rite’ in question bears no relation to Stravinksy’s Rite as far as I can tell, though it does seem to involve the letting of blood (or is that a strained metaphor?) Overall, a nice addition to the PIL oeuvre, but is it indeed a love song?

I have yet to track down a single item released on the mysterious Bastardo imprint other than this long lost Gnostic gem. The internet remains mostly mums about the whole affair, discounting the occasional oblique mention deep within the bowels of Usenet (from what I can gather, the entire operation was run out of a basement somewhere in Belgium). I scored my copy from a loquatious and rather opinionated war veteran (or so he claimed) who worked a record booth in a flea market in SeaTac, WA. Shockingly, he had not a single good thing to say about the gentleman who’d brought the item in the day before, nor did he approve of my choice of footwear.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Angels of Obscurity: Dead Kennedys – The Typewriter with a Missing Key / Geiger Counter

Dead Kennedys – The Typewriter with a Missing Key / Geiger Counter 12” Single
Cherry Red, Secret Stash edition (limited to 111 pressings), 1979

The a-side of this rare unearthed punk gem lies somewhere between condemnation and satire, with perhaps a smattering of admiration thrown in for good measure. What are we to make of the poet-philosopher-cum-soldier Gabriele d’Annunzio? He turned the city of Fiume into a dada insurrectionist state in 1919, playing a sort of delirious master of ceremonies while Italian troops surrounded the city, perhaps themselves too perplexed and/or amused by d’Annunzio’s antics to take back the city by force. The lyrics seem to celebrate the conjunction of the artist and the psychopath, while at the same time recognizing the catastrophic effect such a conjunction brings to bear upon the lives subjected to it. The track begins with a militant drum beat before the caustic bass line sets in, followed by Biafra’s acidic vocals. The enigmatic title is somewhat of a mystery, perhaps Jello knows something we don’t? Indeed, I’m told that this record originally came with a reproduction of an English tabloid article from the time in which the events concerned occurred, but alas, mine is missing. Perhaps they might provide clue? Any further information would be greatly appreciated.

On the b-side, Geiger Counter recounts the wanderings of what may be the last man on earth as he searches for post-nuclear survivors while trying to avoid areas contaminated with heavy radiation. A slow and sonorous song fraught with reverb and echo, Jello’s voice pierces through the dense fog of sound like a dagger plunged into gasmask. The lyrics grow increasingly frantic and scattered as the song goes on, succumbing at last to a frenzy of paranoia inclined to gibberish. Pounding drums and jarring guitar lines pick up the pace at the very end, intensifying exponentially as the song fades to an icy silence which continues for a good 15 seconds before the needle reaches the inner limit of the vinyl.

This record is truly a lost gem. Good luck tracking down a copy! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Angels of Obscurity: Black Sabbath - Sister Ray / Seraphim

Black Sabbath – Sister Ray / Seraphim 7” Single
Minotaur Records (distributed from Belgium), 1971

Slowed down quite a few notches and beset with a heaviness far exceeding that of the original, Black Sabbath’s cover of The Velvet’s ‘Sister Ray’ is nothing short of haunting. The chorus surges forth relentlessly like a storm tossed sea as the vessel thereon heaves to and fro under a starless sapphire sky, ever threatening to lose control as towering waves roll and break with the vengeance of an insane god. Ozzy wails Reed’s lyrics with reckless abandon tempered with a monotonous tremor reminiscent of such classics as Electric Funeral and Lord of this World. I would never have thought that a phrase so ludicrous as “too busy sucking on a ding-dong” could be delivered to such chilling effect.

Seraphim is a paean to the many-eyed, six-winged fiery serpents encountered by the Jewish people as described in the Old Testament Book of Exodus. The first half of the song features Ozzy’s lurid descriptions of the fiery angels interspersed with short licks from Iommi’s guitar, while the second half kicks into high gear, depicting the descent of the angels onto a sleeping city and the resulting havoc which befalls its terror-stricken inhabitants. The whole thing is simply beautiful, featuring some of the most poetic lyrics in the whole of Sabbath’s repertoire.

This hidden gem is easily the jewel in Minotaur Records’ crown. As with all in the Minotaur Special Dispatch series, this was extremely limited, and has never since been repressed. Perhaps it will be released as part of a retrospective package someday. Or perhaps not, as the band seems to have written it out of their history. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Notes on Dhalgren, Chapter 7: The Anathemata: a Plague Journal

The condition of paranoia is one in which meaning is attributed to arbitrary occurrences, disparate elements are tied conspiratorially together, and patterns are superimposed onto chaos. This is a state that is somewhat intrinsic to the way in which the human psyche works. Meaning is generally understood to be ephemeral; it is not something that has inherent existence in any one thing or another. Rather it is imposed, a matter of interpretation. The mind has always had a tendency to contextualize all signals. Chaos is not permitted in the human psyche. The soul deprived of meaning simply creates meaning of its own; this is true in both for the artist and the paranoiac, and no less for the most vulgar among us.

Literature bears much in common with mental illness. The reader is compelled to draw connections between disparate events and feelings, to become convinced that a higher order exists within the variety of the narrative, and to seek some grand solution to the matter. Perhaps the reader, while immersed in the story, even feels that they are just on the verge of grasping that solution. Kidd explains as much during his psychiatric evaluation with Madame Brown as he glances uneasily at the scar on her leg, noting again the chain she bears as he fingers his own.

“When I was in the hospital - “ remembering, I smiled – “I used to have a friend who’d say: ‘When you’re paranoid, everything makes sense.’ But that’s not quite it. It’s that all sorts of things you know don’t relate suddenly have the air of things that do. Everything you look at seems just an inch away from its place in a perfectly clear pattern.”

The very motifs that appear in both narrative and in mental illness are also present in the initiatory ordeal. In fact, the whole of the book might be considered as an extended initiation in which Kidd plays the parts of both initiate and Hierophant. Kidd’s quest for the Lost Word may be taken also as the journey to adulthood, roughly taking the form of the Ouroboros in much the same way as does Finnegan’s Wake.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s all just meaningless after all. Delany certainly seems to take his pleasure in walking the knife edge between meaning and chaos. We are presented, within the depths of the final chapter, with a string of nonsense phrases from Kidd’s journal. About halfway through the journal entry in question we find the phrase, “I have come to wound the autumnal city”, suggesting that all of the meaning which we have attributed to this cryptic proclamation may be mistaken, that the phrase is simply the result of free-association after all, as meaningless as any of the epithets which surround it (“Pavement sausages split; the cabbage remembers. […] Fondle my noodle, love my dog. […] Pentacle pie in hunger city…”)

Several among the artists of the avant-garde over the last century (the anathematized) have attempted to escape the bounds of the narrative art. Some have attempted to capture the dizzying chaos of life, while others have striven to reach beyond all that we know and all that we are. While the avant-garde has often succeeded at providing a change in perspective for the reader or viewer, it has never quite managed to destroy the classical techniques against which it has striven. It has failed to wound the autumnal city. The human psyche cannot escape its own context, its own tendency to endow all that it encounters with meaning, to tie the sensory data that is presented to it into some sort of pattern. Our experience is all bound up with the process of interpretation, leaving us powerless to perceive the naked truth of the matter. The truth is that we do not perceive the world directly, but rather through a series of mirrors, prisms and lenses of our own making.

Within the space of seven rambling chapters, making liberal use of great beauty and banality, explicit sex and violence, long drifts of unnavigable ruin amidst the shifting streets of a hostile city, Delany has shown us, by way of example, a ubiquitous governing principal which regulates all signals, and to which we are inextricably bound. It is up to us to decide whether we wish to hide behind this principal, to use it as a weapon, or wield it as a tool, whether we wish to take our place in the endless narrative as victim, oppressor, or initiate.

“Pray with me! Pray! Pray that this city is the one, pure, logical space from which, without being a poet or a god, we can all actually leave if – what?”