Thursday, March 31, 2011

In Defense of SWA

Merrill and Chuck
by Darren Cifarelli
Some of my best memories….
[I must state that I was most likely the one guy in the audience at most of the underattended shows described in these posts. SWA was a total obsession for me.]
“Everything is but the sum of its effects. What something is, whether it be sex or madness, depends altogether on the concerns of interpreters who make things cohere, who create compositions, discourses, and connections, who construct genealogies by composing narratives.” –Nietzsche, Of Genealogy
“When people are used as society’s tools then history shows in turn we will learn that mass confusion rules.” –SWA
Background info (unknown source): “In philosophy and politics the postmodernists see reason, progress, scientific truth, and democracy as just (to use J.F. Lyotard’s expression) “meta-narratives”, big stories the Western world has told itself to convince itself that it’s better than the rest of the world and has a right to the resources and leadership of the world. The belief in objective Truth is a product of the rationalism of the Enlightenment, of a faith in economic and technological progress, and is expressed in the optimistic humanism that ruled the modern Western world for so long. Derrida calls this faith “logocentrism”, the West’s centering its philosophical and political vision on universally valid rational beliefs. The postmodernist wishes to take apart this faith, to substitute local stories for these meta-narratives, to make truth an individual rather than a social phenomena.”
So SWA crawled out of that pond. But wait, wait.
STEVE ALBINI? Steve Albini was himself a joke. Note the frequent references to his ineptitude in the Letters section of FE. Virtually every issue of FE is overloaded with Albini-slander; for instance, “I don’t care if Albini condemns entire genres of music about which he knows next to nothing…” (FE#11, p. 8). What Robert Fripp was to Creem Magazine in the 70s, Steve Albini was to Forced Exposure in the 80s: a pompous, conceited, pretentious ass who served no purpose other than as object of ridicule. That same issue lists “Be SWA” as #17 in a list of “The Most Pathetic Things a Man Can Do (in order of Pathos).” #6 is “Write about rock music” and #8 is “Write about anything besides rock music.” “Listen to SWA” is not mentioned. Personally, I followed Coley’s and Meltzer’s picks more closely than Albini’s. [On a side note, Big Black’s Songs About Fucking suffered from some of the same misinterpretation that SWA suffers from, parody heard literally, yet toying, nevertheless, with the same notions of labeling, pastiche, unfunny jokes, contextualization, and expectations.] That SWA’s music fell on deaf ears is unquestionable. Were their music labeled otherwise, it would rank more highly. The death of LA’s post-punk music scene left a gaping hole devoid of meaning, of significance, highlighted by SSTs declining experimentalism and open-mindedness, as indexed by the signing of Flag clones Bl’ast, and as represented by critical responses to SWA. Don’t deny; don’t forget Dukowski.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

But I Learned How to Mingle via Vintage Contemporaries

“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Amassing Wealth in Other Worlds

    Once, Reb Shmelke found himself with no money in his pocket to give a beggar. So he went to his wife's drawer, took out a ring, and gave it to the man. When his wife came home and discovered that the ring was gone, she began to cry. When Reb Shmelke explained what had happened, she demanded that he run after the pauper, as the ring was worth over fifty talents.
    Running desperately, the rabbi managed to catch up with the beggar. He grabbed the man and said: "I've just discovered that the ring that I gave you is worth more than fifty talents. Don't let anyone trick you into accepting any less!"
    The story holds us in a material dimension until the very end, when we realize that Reb Shmelke lived in another dimension of the world of money altogether. In this dimension, he could only interpret his wife's concern as a desire that the poor man not be tricked regarding the value of her tzedakah. This may seem like a surprise ending, but if you read it equipped with an understanding of the world of livelihood, everything makes sense from beginning to end.
    Another example is that of Reb Eliezer, who, based on his comprehension of livelihood, tracked down tzedakah opportunities like a greedy businessman.
    The charity collectors were in the habit of hiding from Reb Eliezer, because he would often give all he had to charity. Once he went to the market to buy a wedding dress for his daughter, and when the charity collectors saw him coming, the tried to run away. But he saw them first and followed them. When he found them he begged, " Tell me, what do you have today for tzedakah? What cause are you collecting for? They answered, "We're collecting funds for a wedding dress for some poor girl who is about to get married." Reb Eliezer thought to hinself, "This girl take priority over my daughter," and he donated all he had, keeping only a zuz. With this zuz he bought ahandful of wheat, which he placed in a room in his house.  
    When his wife came home, she asked her daughter, "What had your father bought for you?" And the daughter answered: "Whatever it is, it's over there in that room." The mother went to the room and couldn't open the door because there was wheat piled high up to the ceiling.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Felipe Alfau Story

      IN WRITING THIS STORY, I am fulfiling a promise to my poor friend Fulano.
      My friend Fulano was the least important of men and this was the great tragedy of his life. Fulano had come to this world with the undaunted purpose of being famous and he had failed completely, developing into the most obscure person. He had tried all possible plans of acquiring importance, popularity, public acknowledgment, etc., and the world with a grim determination persistently refused to acknowledge even his existence.
      It seems that about Fulano's personality, if we are to grant him a personality, hung a cloud of inattention which withstood his almost heroic assaults to break through it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Utmost Mark of Vulgarity

"One is least akin to one's parents: it would be the utmost mark of vulgarity to be related to one's parents. Higher natures have their origins infinitely farther back, from them a great deal had to be accumulated, saved, and hoarded over long periods of time. The great individuals are the oldest: I do not understand it, but Julius Caesar could be my father-or Alexander, this Dionysus incarnate ... At the very moment I am writing this, the mail brings me a Dionysus-head ..." -F. Nietzche

Old Age and Youth

Miles and Gittel

Friday, March 18, 2011

Grasp of the Intangible

"Some men go on a hunger strike in the prison of the mind, starving for God. There is joy, ancient and sudden, in this starving. There is reward, a grasp of the intangible, in the flaming reverie breaking through the bars of thought."

-Abraham Joshua Heschel

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sufi Tale

The Indian Bird

A merchant had a bird in a cage. He was going to India, the land from which the bird came, and asked him whether he could bring anything back for him. The bird asked for his freedom, but was refused. So he asked the merchant to visit a jungle in India and announce his captivity to the free birds who were there.

The merchant did so, and no sooner had he spoken than a wild bird, just like his own, fell senseless out of a tree on to the ground. The merchant thought that this must be a relative of his own bird, and felt sad that he should have caused this death.

When he got home, the bird asked him whether he had brought good news from India. ‘No,’ said the merchant, ‘I fear that my news is bad. One of your relations collapsed and fell at my feet as soon as I mentioned your captivity.'

As soon as these words were spoken, the merchant's bird collapsed and fell to the bottom of the cage.

‘The news of his kinsman's death has killed him too,' thought the merchant. Sorrowfully he picked up the bird and put it on the window-sill. At once the bird revived and flew, to a near by tree. ‘Now you know,’ he said, ‘that what you thought was disaster was in fact good news for me. And how, the message, the suggestion how to behave in order to free myself, was transmitted to me through you, my captor.'

And he flew away, free at last.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Deep Capture

“The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”
~Alex Carey
All of the key elements are in place. As with Galileo’s capture, today we have an extremely powerful institutional force with an immense stake in maintaining, and an ability to maintain, a false, though intuitive, worldview. Our basic hypothesis (and prediction) is that large commercial interests act (and will continue to act) to capture the situation–interior and exterior–in order to further entrench dispositionism. Moreover, they have done so largely undetected, and without much in the way of conscious awareness or collaboration. Hence, large corporate interests have, through disproportionate ability to control and manipulate our exterior and interior situations, deeply captured our world......This practice of portraying the consumer as nobody’s fool is extremely widespread. After all, if the consumer is king, then it is hard to justify making manufacturers pay for simply following orders. And this ability to place responsibility squarely on consumers–to say in a tort case, for instance, that they “assumed the risk” of their actions–has been fundamental to the tobacco industry’s success in selling a product believed to cause more than 440,000 premature deaths per year in the United States alone. Thus, an important reason that sellers might embrace and encourage dispositionism is their hope of shifting responsibility and avoiding costly regulation or liability.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Laura Simms Essay

Two years ago I had a surprise phone call from Monsieur Jean Sviadac, a friend and storytelling mentor who was visiting New York from Paris.
We had first met at The Musee De L’Homme at an international conference in 1989. During our first conversation he told me a Hassidic story about Death. It quenched my need at the time for faith. I had just learned that I had cancer and was facing the possibility of my own death. Jean did not know this at the time. About his storytelling he said, “I am not a performer. I only tell a tale if I feel it will benefit.” It did. He tells Hassidic tales and Sufi stories like those of Hodja Nasruddin. “These tales are a sudden shock which wakes up a deeper awareness in the listener,” he said. Each time we met, he seemed to tell me a story that I needed to hear.
In a restaurant on Broadway, Monsieur Sviadac said, “I just thought of a tale that I read over thirty years ago. I have not thought of it until today. I will tell it to you.” Since the story was an oral and vivid telling, and I was deeply moved. I will recount it as I have recalled it and retold it since:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Going Through Old Boxes II

This is the drawing I made on work stationary in 1990 and taped to the wall near Steve Malkmus's bedroom door in our Jersey City apartment while he was away in California recording his first album. When he got back he asked if I wouldn't mind if he used the caption for his album title. Sometime later he added the phone number of Jim "Cripple Jim" Coleman, who played keyboards in Cop Shoot Cop and worked as a projectionist at the Whitney.