by carl wilson

Let's Talk About Love

prince.jpg

Apologies for having vanished up the spout all week: I was distracted by a miscellany of bright shiny objects, including last night's shows by Laura Barrett and Bob Wiseman and others, at the Boat, and then Dollarama and the "secret" set by Cursed at Wavelength. They were all a pleasure, but particularly Hamilton, Ont.'s Cursed: I think it's been about eight years since I saw a live hardcore band, and Cursed rebaptized me in blood and filth with such loving care that for a moment I flashed back to the time when I regularly sought out the sensation of feeling my body forcibly shaken by such music (which is closer to techno, like gabba, in a way, than to song-based rock - and the way Cursed play it, on the edge between HC and metal, not unlike the opera either). It was amusing too to see the more mild-mannered of the art-pop Wavelength kids' eyes bugging out and their heads wobbling, unsure whether they'd loved or hated the experience.

Anyway, while I've been gone there's been some news - which some of you have gleaned already: I'm going to be writing a book for the 33 1/3 series of books-on-albums. In my case, it's about what may seem a highly unlikely object of study: Let's Talk About Love by Celine Dion. I could explain why, but I'd rather let you puzzle it out for now. (Speculation welcome.) Suffice it to say I'm very excited about the project, which is going to be the most challenging bit of music writing I've ever done. And I'm also thrilled, and relieved, finally to be losing my livreginity. (The first of many atrocious bilingual puns to come in the Celine-fixated future, folks...)

Meanwhile, catching you up a little, I had a feature in the paper on Friday about the Untitled exhibition at the Diaz Contemporary gallery, curated by the terrific Toronto artist Kelly Mark, featuring sound-and-music-related art by artists including Dave Dyment, Pete Gazendam, Adad Hannah and (Zoilusian favourite) Brian Joseph Davis (the " target="_blank">10 Banned Records, Burned, Then Played project, which has been much blogged about around the Internet, in fact). The show is on till Feb. 11 and worth a visit. (Read more here.)

Also in Friday's paper, I reviewed the new Rosanne Cash album, Black Cadillac, an immensely stirring collection of reflections on family, love and loss (prompted of course by the recent passing of her father, Johnny Cash, mother Vivian and stepmother June Carter Cash). It's so much better than the last, Rules of Travel, which I now realize I overrated just because I was so glad to have Rosie back, but was too tempered and polite. This here is the real thing, the best since The Wheel from the artist my friend Gordon calls "the gal who put the cunt back into country."

And on Saturday, I had the latest instalment of my rather irregularly appearing Focus section column, Thought Bubbles. Which actually includes a couple of spoonfuls of music content this time around.

The art of noise

By CARL WILSON
Friday, January 27, 2006
The Globe and Mail, R26

Perhaps it's the era A.D. (After Downloading) that's made music such a popular theme with visual artists, since it permits the studio-bound to cultivate their fixations - revisiting teenage pleasures or gathering fresh droplets from music's bleeding edge - without straying too far from their workbenches.

On the other hand, with music now freed from its confinement to round vinyl or plastic discs, from the garter-snake-brown noose of tape and even from the localized limits of the broadcast radio signal, perhaps there's a counterimpulse to recapture the sonic genie, to invent new material forms to bottle it.

Toronto artist Kelly Mark has assembled a dozen such efforts, several sparkling and some drab, at the Diaz Contemporary gallery as Untitled: Thoughts about Sound, Music, Silence and Confusion.

Not all the works involve music; any free-range noise is fair game. In fact each piece is about what is absent as much as what's there. No answer comes to break the stalemate in Doug Lewis's "I Dunno" Game - in which three stereo speakers faintly mumble the Ouroboric formula, "What do you want to do? I dunno, whadda you wanna do?" like disembodied slackers on some unseen stoop.

And Amazing Grace is missing in action in Pete Gazendam's There Shall Be Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth, a headphone piece in which a tongue clucks out the rhythm and tones of the inspirational hymn. Since it's dated 2001, it's tempting to take the piece as a manifestation of faith lost, or at least at a loss for words, after Sept. 11. But the tense, sardonic hollows of this mouth music seem unlikely to harbour such easy affirmation.

For a few works, what's missing is a reason to exist. The music box in a tin pail offers merely cute tinkling and the implicit pun on "carrying a tune in a bucket." Scottish artists Beagles and Ramsay's video of bald-wigged losers glumly reciting Madonna lyrics is the kind of condescending goof that mars too much art piggybacking on pop culture: mediocre BBC sketch comedy.

Much more knowing is Adad Hannah's video Band Practice. It seems at first to be a still image of a rock group in rehearsal in a grotty warehouse space. But soon you see it's a moving picture, in which models strain to hold frozen poses, such as the drummer bent over his crash cymbal. It sends up the clichés of rock photography, but also pays tribute to the workaday band, rehearsing hard to stay in stereotypical place. Dynamic suspense, composition and colours repay the viewer for lingering over its unlikely objects of contemplation.

Dave Dyment, an artist who frequently focuses on music, provides a centrepiece with White Noise, which reproduces all the sheet music from the Beatles' 1968 "White Album" in white-on-black silkscreens that are layered until they form a near-total white field, just like the cover of the album. It cocks an eyebrow at the overexposure of the Beatles, yet emulates their classical grace. The sight automatically suggests sound, as if all the music had congealed into a sonic wash - in fact, for me, the reflex brought on by the image was so clear that the recorded element (which does just that) seemed redundant.

Not so the mix of sound and vision in Brian Joseph Davis's 10 Banned Albums, Burned, Then Played. Davis is a multimedia artist fluent in the codes of music and pop culture. As a writer he's recently been praised for Portable Altamont, a collection of prose-poetic hysterias and hallucinations on celebrity.

This new installation works as advertised: Davis has taken 10 records that have been subject to censorship - from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring to the Dead Kennedys and the raunch-rap of 2 Live Crew - put them ritually to the stake, and then returned them to the turntable. The charred remains hang on the gallery wall, while the music's sputtering remnants play on headphones. (The project also can be found on-line at http://brianjosephdavis.com/banned.)

It's cheeky, but not only that. The sounds show the physical weakness of art in the face of force, but also the resilience of mass culture (no matter how many Beatles records offended Christians burned, after John Lennon's infamous "bigger than Jesus" gaffe, there would always be more). In fact some of the records sound positively funky even after they've been ravaged and warped down to scratched, skipping snatches.

Even more striking is the oddly apt - and texturally gorgeous - sculptural magic the flames have worked on each artifact. The edges of Louie Louie have melted and hardened into a protective carapace nearly as thick as its garbled (but not really obscene) words. Early 1960s comedy album The First Family is ripped apart by a second assassination, sequel to the one that turned its Kennedy-era satire into sacrilege. The green band across the cover of the Sex Pistols album has been scorched right into the vinyl underneath, lending the pockmarked tar a cadaverous tinge.

Whether purposeful or poetic accidents, these are details only the assured explorer can stumble upon. Davis is enough at ease in pop to embrace the confusion of Marks's (un)title: He has a nose for what may linger after any attempt to bind that hobgoblin has dispersed to data smoke in a binary wind.

Untitled runs to Feb. 11 at the Diaz Contemporary Gallery, 100 Niagara St., 416-361-2972.

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Monday, January 30 at 6:34 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (20)

 

COMMENTS

i've heard the james brown live at the apollo book is also supposed to be quite good. and that the ok computer book is written by an academic musicologist who analyses the album from a score (!), largely ignoring the "sonic effects" or some such..

as for VU + Nico: what is some good writing about it you might recommend??

Posted by andrew on February 2, 2006 1:31 AM

 

 

Craig, like any series of books it has its ups and downs. I really like the Led Zeppelin IV book by Erik Davis, which is saying something because I'm not at all a Zeppelin fan. I also like Michelangelo Matos book on Prince, the Love book, and Franklin Bruno's book on Armed Forces by Elvis Costello, and quite a few of the others. I haven't read the Ramones book yet but it's looking promising, with some of the same ideas that would have gone into my alternate idea, which would have been a book on Pere Ubu's The Modern Dance, and I've even heard good things about the semi-fictional one about The Band. So don't count it out on the basis of the VU book, which frankly is about an album that's been much too well-covered already. (Interesting question - what non-Beatles and non-Dylan album has had the most ink spilled over it in rock-crit history?)

Posted by zoilus on February 1, 2006 7:10 PM

 

 

It's been a long while since I read "American Psycho", but the thing I remember best from the Lewis/Houston/Collins (I can't even recall the U2 incident) is that he was praising music coming from social groups he hates (working class/blacks/foreigners).

Posted by Mwanji on February 1, 2006 4:56 AM

 

 

Not to rain on your parade, but I heard those books weren't very good. I tried to read the Velvet Underground and Nice edition but it's monotony won out and I finally had to put it down.

Posted by Craig! on January 31, 2006 6:41 PM

 

 

Um, if you don't mind my interrupting the Buffy-fest -- congrats Carl!

Posted by john on January 31, 2006 5:14 PM

 

 

My doctor won't let me have any Buffy-related cultural theory. Says it produces such a rush of endorphins that I might slip into a pleasure coma, or delusional alternate universe, and never return. (cf. episode 6:17, "Normal Again")

Posted by zoilus on January 31, 2006 4:12 PM

 

 

I stand correted Wilson. You easily outgeek me on this front.

Heck man, two HOT (who would have Thunk Hannigan would bea jewass) jewish girls for the price of one show. Could life get any better? Those lad magazine pictures of Hannigan in the school uniform i just found in Google have made my day.

http://www.geocities.com/morgan_lander_fix/AlysonHannigan03.jpg

Here is the outline for the talk i went to:

"onday 21 November, 8:30pm in the Nihon Room

Metamorphosis, Buffy, and the Classical Body

By Jonathan Wallis

To what extent are we defined by our bodies? How do we understand our bodies, and those of others? Why is the body so common as a social and political metaphor? These questions, and the literary possibilities of the body, have fascinated writers since antiquity. In his epic poem Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid manipulated the bodies of his characters to examine the question of what it means to be human. Using similar ideals of bodily integrity, the writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer used the changing body to explore concerns about personality and gender, desire and alienation, at the end of the 20th century. Do our bodies define us? Come along to the Ivory Tower Society for a discussion of two texts in which bodies are disturbingly unstable.
Last Updated ( Saturday, 22 October 2005 )"

Posted by guy tanentzapf on January 31, 2006 2:42 PM

 

 

Oh, Gellar, sure, I don't know about that (though everything I see has her being strangely evasive about it, which makes me wonder if she's just Jewish on her estranged father's side, and not her mother's). But you can't extend that to the character of Buffy: Willow is explicitly Jewish, while Buffy and Xander are pretty explicitly not...

Buffy: "What are you doing for Christmas?"
Willow: "Being Jewish. Remember, people? Not everybody worships Santa."

Tho of course, like many a Jewish computer-geek girl, Willow converts to wicca and lesbianism in college, making her hilariously uberprogressive (but emotionally distant) parents proud.

(Alyson Hannigan, by the way, is def. Jewish on her mom's side, while her dad's Irish-American.)

Don'tcha try and outgeek me on BtVS, Guy!

Posted by zoilus on January 31, 2006 2:23 PM

 

 

Sarah Michelle Gellar is a big jew. Just read this :

http://copland.udel.edu/stu-org/chabad/asktherabbi/011gellar.html


(www.jewhoo.com is essential reading)

In the show she also acts like perfect Calofrnia JAP. Ive met a few, i know.

Secondly. Ill pick up the brett easton ellis conversation with you another time. I think that probably without intending it BEE reveals something profound about how even with the most banal stimuli the human brain is capable of great things. (this is true of the book too, which beyond being the funniest book ive ever read about the 80's is also one of the most profound Nihilistic satements in literature this side of Atomised. It was inspired by "notes from the underground" and for my money transcends it).

But I agree, the U2 concert scene is very very funny.

G.

Posted by guy tanentzapf on January 31, 2006 2:04 PM

 

 

Gordon! Hi! ... I don't care who said it first, to me it belongs to you.

Guy, sorry, but two things: First, Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Not remotely Jewish. California valley-girl WASP through and through.

Second, I don't think you could say Ellis was elevating Whitney and Huey Lewis. Those "Pitchfork"-style reviews were, after all, beign enunciated by a psychotic serial killer. To me the joke was pretty obviously that Patrick Bateman is so soulless that not only does he kill and dismember people, he seriously thinks Huey Lewis is great music! That's in keeping with his other obsessively slavish attention to 1980s status details, like brands of suits and ties. (On that level I actually think the book is a bit unfairly mean to the musicians.) In addition, remember, in that decade people such as Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and Phil Collins all DID get that kind of attention from reviewers in Rolling Stone, for example, which was probably then at its absolute nadir. Bateman is really just parroting (and amplifying) what he would have read. You're right that it's as much satire of music writing as it is of the music, but Ellis wasn't looking at fanzines and such; he was looking at the mainstream press. The best music scene in the book, though, is the part set at a U2 concert, where Bateman believes he's receiving a communication from the Devil through Bono, while (if I'm remembering right) persisting through several pages in calling the guitarist "the Ledge."

Posted by zoilus on January 31, 2006 1:28 PM

 

 

Carl,

Can't take credit for the "cunt back into country" line. It's often attributed to Rosanne herself but was apparently actually said by junkie step-sister Carlene Carter at the Grand Ole Opry. Introducing herself in front of her father, she said, "I'm here to put the cunt back into country." Johnny was not amused. Agree that it's nice to have Rosanne back to her "spunkier" self though. Thought she was headed for tasteful irrelevance.

Cheers,

Gordon

Posted by Gordon on January 31, 2006 12:20 PM

 

 

Hats off, Carl.

Posted by Chris on January 31, 2006 10:29 AM

 

 

> Calling what Bret Easton Ellis does "satire" is a bit wrong. What he does in effect is to expose whats wrong with every 8.5 review is Pitchfork, or every fawning review in the rolling stone record guide. Indeed this is the "satire".

I don't think that's true...

Posted by DW on January 31, 2006 10:26 AM

 

 

Carl,

Calling what Bret Easton Ellis does "satire" is a bit wrong. What he does in effect is to expose whats wrong with every 8.5 review is Pitchfork, or every fawning review in the rolling stone record guide. Indeed this is the "satire".

Why it isnt just "satire" is this. What easton does is not to devalue Huey lews but in effect to bring him UP. To write one of those pitchfork 8.5 style reviews about him proves his worth. Which is a much more exciting form of this post modern no high art/lowbrow bullshit. The real ansewr is that given the write mileu one could elevate Whitney Houston to "clap your hands say yeah" levels. In fact its much easier because CYHSY will leave no cultural legacy while Whitney surely has.

The fact that Brett doesnt quite get there with Huey amd Whitney is the source of the laughs and the "satire".

One of thew best talks ive attented here in Cambridge was given by a classics fellow in Pembroke and entitled "Buffy The Vempire Slayer and Ovid'd Metamorphosis". I cant say which half of it was better. I do know most of the people there were as happy to hear about the ass kicking jewish princess as they were about the ass loving roman poet. Both of the items on that night's manu handled their main themes with imagination sensitivity and panache.

The fact remains writing about Ms. Dion could easily be the source of a great treatise. As will be my proposed treatise about the dopelganger as it relates to Jan Grabarek/Kenny G and the works of HAruki Murakami

G.

Posted by guy Tanentzapf on January 31, 2006 7:52 AM

 

 

Is it a book about learning to love something you hate?

Posted by Sean on January 31, 2006 4:40 AM

 

 

You're a scary man, Guy. Science AND Jan Garbarek/Kenny G expertise, all in one package. But, uh, you do know the music stuff in American Psycho is satire, right? In any case, thank you for raising the bar. This book is going to be complicated, to try and please you (insofar as you represent one part of the imagined audience) and Marco (insofar as he represents the Marcoesque portion of that audience) all at once!

PS - Marco, I would have written about Love in a heartbeat, but there's already a Forever Changes book in the series. It's quite enjoyable.

There's a little bit of a clue to my focus up at the 33 1/3 blog, actually, except inside-out:

http://33third.blogspot.com/2006/01/book-recommendation.html

Posted by zoilus on January 31, 2006 3:58 AM

 

 

I say let fucking Celine Dion have her due.

A canadian icon of the highest degree.

As a child I saw her winning the eurovision contest and witnessed the birth of a star live on the IBA broadcast.

Some of the best music writing ever is found in Breet Easton Ellis's American Psycho. The way He breaks down Huey Lewis and whitney Houston is amazing. I expect nothing short of that level of genius from Carl. I cant wait to hear what he has to say about immortality.

If they are looking for someone to do Kenny G's Breathless im your Guy. (i could write the chapter about the doppleganger like existance of jan garbarek/kenny G in an hour and a half)

Im so jealous carl.

G.

Posted by guy tanentzapf on January 30, 2006 11:02 PM

 

 

Definitely all of the above.

Posted by Dixon on January 30, 2006 7:48 PM

 

 

I would wager all of the above.

Posted by andrew on January 30, 2006 7:16 PM

 

 

my speculation:

someone said "let's talk about love" and you, thinking they meant "let us talk about LOVE (the band)" got excited that you'd be the go-to guy for Forever Changes, or even Da Capo or Four Sail. Sadly, before the miscommunication became apparent to either party, you had signed the book contract, and the only way out was to write the darn thing. so that's why you're writing about Ms. Dion. Because you're a good man who keeps his word, even when he misunderstood the agreement.

please tick off the correctness of my guess:

[] correct
[] extremely correct
[] extremely clever, and correct
[] all of the above


Posted by marco on January 30, 2006 7:01 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson