by carl wilson

Roll It Out Like a Monkey

Sasha asks of early REM: "Was that the first time lyrics were incomprehensible, repeatedly?" Not just a mumbler, but "someone with a full-on commitment to concealment."

Sorry to return to a previous reference but "commitment to concealment" leads to one inevitable answer:Pere Ubu. David Thomas very deliberately developed a singing style in the mid-70s in which many of the words were incomprehensible, part of a philosophy that persists to this day (even though he now sings much more clearly) that the sense of the words is secondary to their sound, that sound is the medium of rock and it is best if the "poetry" does not interfere with the beyond-language level: When asked what he thought of Peter (Bauhaus) Murphy's cover version of the best-known 1970s Ubu song, Final Solution, Thomas said, "Everyone who covers that song makes the mistake of singing the words so they can be understood."

As if speaking directly to Franklin Bruno, Thomas has said: "Rock music as an art is designed to communicate that which is beyond words. It's visionary, nonlinear, nonverbal, non-narrative, inarticulate. We're dedicated to the art of cohesive, intelligent, nonverbal communication.... I wouldn't know a thought if it came up and bit me. When you ask a question the answer springs out of nothingness and I flap my gums. If I like the sound of what my voice speaks then I learn it by rote so that I can roll it out like a monkey the next time. The form of the words triggers a recognition of meaning."

I think the precedent you'd track for that stance has to be Louie Louie. This seems to me very different than the hardcore punk/metal versions of incomprehensibility that followed.

I'd love it if somebody essayed a reply to Franklin's question about whether there are MCs who are beloved as writers but not so much as performers (to paraphrase what he said) - where it might make sense to say, "I'd like to hear somebody else cover that," the way one does of Randy Newman or Stephin Merritt even tho I prefer their versions to anyone else's. Does a rap exist as a text and a song outside of its specific recorded version? Is there any precedent for that?

Is it sampling that renders hip-hop a kind of songwriting where cover versions would be absurd or is it something else?

In John Darnielle's comment to the entry below he seems afraid I'll use his latest LPTJ post to drag him into all this. Which I'm afraid I will. That and more to come in the morning when the week's columnizing is done.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, August 24 at 05:20 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson