by carl wilson

Pop Confab Day 2


Ghoulardi, spiritual father of the Cleveland 1970s nouvelle vague: See notes on David Thomas's EMP lecture, bottom of this post.

Quick notes from today's proceedings of the Seattle EMP Pop Conference on "Music as Masquerade". After the all-together-now luxury of last night's opener, it was sad to have to choose among three or four panels in each time slot today, so it became less of a full-group shared experience. But without the simultaneous scheduling, of course, there'd be no room for the likes of me. In general, though, the quality of the work is really high and the diversity and passion of the presentations remarkable. And plenty of nice chats with good people along the way.

This morning, I caught Krin Gabbard discussing how Miles Davis's collaborator on his "autobiography," Quincy Troupe, rewrote the transcripts of Davis's interviews, in a way to black it up (worse grammar, more "motherfuckers") and in another way to massage it to serve the self-presentation Davis wanted to make of himself in late life, as the tough but wise old mentor - Gabbard backed this up with a few clips from the remarkably awful Davis movie Dingo, in which Davis plays an old trumpeter who rasps out cryptic aphorisms and encouragement to a young Australian trumpet player trying to make it in Paris. It went right onto the must-see list. In the same panel it was Eric Lott, again, discussing the 50th-birthday live concert by Frank Sinatra at the Sands in Las Vegas, where his patter repeatedly slides into blackface humour (basically imitations of Kingfish from Amos'n'Andy), in part as a strange way of reaching out to his backing band led by Count Basie, and in part as an invocation of black masculine exoticism (as well as "Dagoface" Italian-American working-class realness) to ward off anxieties about aging, the theme of many of the songs he sung that night. Lott wound up with a striking anecdote, too, that at Sinatra's birthday 30 years later, at 80, there was a tribute with star after star singing songs associated with Sinatra - closed out by Bob Dylan, who did his own Restless Farewell (which Lott joked is kind of Dylan's My Way). That seems rude until you find out that Sinatra specifically requested it. Said Lott, "I cannot imagine Frank Sinatra ever sitting down and listening to early Dylan, given their places in culture and society at the time. But that's what makes these masquerades and exchanges so complex." (Someone in the audience later suggested that Sinatra's daughters probably turned him on to it, which feels like a nice homely explanation, but I'd add that musicians almost always are listening to unexpected things and that this should go high on your list of things to like about musicians.) Julianne Shepherd rounded proceedings out with a jeremiad about the done-wrongness of Courtney Love, the new Yoko Ono, the object of an American snuff-film fantasy and moral jeremiad all at once. I wasn't quite convinced that Courtney's in-our-faces meltdown is as much an Artaudian aria of self-liberation as Shepherd wanted to claim, but the point that she is hated as a woman and mother for exactly the mirror image of the irresponsible behaviour that is romanticized and celebrated among male rock stars was smack (pardon the expression) on.

By the way, yesterday when I said Eric Lott's hair was flowing white tresses? That was a strange mental leap. He's actually a greying blond and while it's kind of dramatically present, "flowing tresses" would give you totally the wrong picture. Psychosocial analyses? Wait, don't tell me.

I enjoyed the lunchtime chat about music blogging, featuring Geeta Dayal, Tom Ewing, Jess Harvell, Jay Smooth and mod Michelangelo Matos, but most of it doesn't seem recappable - it was more conversational and banterly, appropriately enough. A couple of thematic hot points: Why is music blogging such a boys' club, when Livejournal, for instance, is loaded with girls and women and one of their top topics of conversation is music? Consequent to that - does the blog-crit-sphere tend to reproduce the conditions of the music press? Do magazines still matter? Who reads blogs? Are we just talking amongst ourselves or is there a non-blogging audience, or does that not matter? Are MP3blogs just a coolness contest? What does your mom think of your blog? And are music bloggers, for some reason, unusually likely to be estranged from their fathers? That seemed to be the pattern on the panel. (It doesn't apply to me.)

I caught a great paper, with video illustrations, by Daphne Carr, on "Disco-Polo" in Poland - the Eurodisco-meets-folk/polka hybrid sound of the Polish sidewalk vendor and wedding dance - but didn't keep notes. She had good stuff on the city mouse-country mouse dynamic but also on the temporal displacement of the immigrant - Polish-Americans still listen to disco-polo while in Poland itself it's basically dead and scorned. Then rushed down to the JBL Theatre - which I realize I keep presuming is named for James Brown in some way, but is probably not - to miss Hua Hsu's paper on Duke Ellington and orientalism and come in partway through Josh Kun's Abie the Fishman, which was a mindblowing, totally beyond summary, riff on Jewish identity, passing, "audio Zeligism as the dominant mode of American Jewish musical performance" and, of course, Dylan, climaxing with a says-it-all audition of Dylan's Talkin' Hava Nagila Blues, in which after saying, "Here's a foreign song I learned in Utah," the ex-Zimmerman basically chokes out the words "Hava Nagila" syllable by syllable tortorously once and then lets out a cowboy yodel. Read Kun's precis and be sorry you missed it. Kun had a strong complement in Jody Rosen's paper on the "Hebrew comedian" circuit - a kind of Semitic minstrel show with the weird twist that it was mostly done by Jews and for Jews. Rosen gave a neat analysis of the entertainment as a transitional rite of the immigrant casting off old identities and rising "above" them, and offered cool musicological analyses of tons of great 78 recordings, mentioning plenty more with titles such as I'm a Yiddish Cowboy by "tough-guy Levi," Under the Matzos Tree, Oh Such a Business! (A Herbaic tale of Woe) and more.

Finally there was the heavy duty panel, "Lessons in Mayhem," featuring Drew Daniel of Matmos (and the Soft Pink Truth, and UC Berkeley) giving a supersonic-brain-flight rapid-fire talk on a Germs reunion/re-enactment concert featuring the actors who were going to play the Germs in an upcoming bio-pic as well as the surviving Germs (minus the suicide Darby Crash) and an audience of survivors and wannabes of various kinds. "Where does the spectacle ever stop?" Daniel asked, quoting a friend who said, "Now we can all jerk off to the futility of his life, as art." Daniel multiplied the mirror imagery and doubleness of the situation like a master prestidigitator, winding up with a video of himself getting a "Germs burn" (the fan shibboleth of a cigarette burn on the wrist), talking about the constitutive wound of mourning and melancholia and the effort to reject and hold on to a loss. Greil Marcus was up next, arguing that cover versions today of old blues and folk songs by Son House and Dock Boggs done by people like the White Stripes, the Eagles of Death Metal and even John Cougar Mellencamp have escaped from the tendencies of the sixties folk revivalists and are actually pretty good, in part because they don't attempt to be reverent - they can be irreverent, astonished, amused, angry, just about anything else, and thereby find their way somewhere closer to the "black holes" within those songs - rather than stumbling into the blackface of the righteous mimic.

And it all wound up (for me for the day) with David Thomas' indescribably hilarious and transporting and enraged and amused paean to Cleveland mid-sixties monster-movie TV show host, the unhinged genius Ernie Anderson aka "Ghoulardi" (later the announcer voice of the Love Boat). There were (and in some places still are) many TV horror hosts, but Ghoulardi was the most original (no fake Bela Lugosi accent etc.): He spoke in Mad-magazine hipster profundities, wore ridiculous fake costumes, blew things up live on TV with firecrackers, dropped his own image into the midst of the movies they were showing, once repeated WHAT ME WORRY for 10 minutes straight in different inflections on air ("tedium as mayhem"), mocked local media commentators and suburban areas and generally, said Thomas in a long, performative speaking-in-tongues tirade accompanied by surf-guitar instrumentals and video footage of the Ghoulardi show so rare that it can hardly be said to exist, inhabited the "rebel without a cause mask," the hypnotic Flibberty Jib Man who undid all assumptions about art and trash, the reliability of the media and the linearity of narrative for a generation of middle-class Cleveland-Akron adolescents - who just happened to go on to form bands such as Devo, the Electric Eels, Mirrors, the Cramps and Thomas's own Pere Ubu. "We were the Ghoulardi kids," says Thomas, dropping into a dog-whimpering whisper. They came to an avant-garde "unencumbered by pretension, elitism and dogma" and gravitated to rock music because, he concluded, stomping, writhing, mopping his face and complaining "my eyes are sweating," rock "provided the most readily available medium through which to pursue artistic mayhem." After a standing ovation, a stunned crowd then attempted a question and answer period, during which Thomas repeated the denunciations of punk rock he's been making for a quarter-century, made fun of audience member's questions and pounded his head against the table. It was just sublime.

Curious footnote, by the way: Besides being the spiritual father of Pere Ubu, Ghoulardi in real life was the father of the boy who grew up to be the movie director P.T. Anderson (Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love). Makes sense to me.

News | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, April 16 at 12:31 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)

 

COMMENTS

Oops! Very funny mistype. Sorry, Michaelangelo... sorry we never got a chance to meet-talk at the conference, by the way. Next time, I hope.

Posted by zoilus on April 19, 2005 03:05 PM

 

 

That's Drew Daniel of Matmos, not Matos.

Posted by Matos W.K. on April 18, 2005 07:49 PM

 

 

If ever you do feel able to re-cap the music blogging chat, those topics you mention are all ones I've been trying to crack, and I have neither heard nor come up with any satisfying answers or educated guesses. But both my parents read and enjoy my blog and I don't consider myself estranged from my Pa (though I do consider my Pa to be estranged from reality, in many ways). :-)

Posted by jennifer on April 17, 2005 02:50 PM

 

 

hmm marcus's line seems to swerve past some giant gaps eg."folk revivalists" has to include people like led zep too, and the "reverance" of folding the blues into bizarro ELFIN SAGAS trumps everyone else's irreverence hands down. and where does jack white's backward-gazing loretta lynn collab fit into this?

and the ghoulardi thing sounds tremendous (although p.t. anderson being connected to anything "unencumbered by pretension" makes zero sense to me hoho)

Posted by jones on April 16, 2005 11:27 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson