Long Gone Blues: On Violence, Sex, Balloons, Repetition, Hello Kitty, Guy Hocquenghem, Airports, Billie Holiday, Miley Cyrus, Gender Autism and Shameless Promotions

by on Sep.10, 2013

Lately I’ve been thinking about the sexual part of violence and power. Lately I’ve been making something like blues music for an album (Black Water, estimated: side A in late September, side B in October). Lately I’ve been thinking about this one quote by Guy Hocquenghem found in the back register of the lovely little book “Sisyphus Outdone” by Nathanaël:

[Homosexual desire] is the slope towards trans-sexuality through the disappearance of objects and subjects, the slide towards the discovery that in matters of sex everything communicates.

One day I went to a child’s birthday party and ate cake from a hello kitty plate instead of a turtles plate. One thing that surprised me about America when I first got here was definitely the sweetness of its birthday cakes. One day I saw a daddy who was ready to let his son fall off a tall wall because a boy that gets really hurt turns into a man. Fourth of July fireworks were firing in the background. Lately I’ve been thinking about a photograph of Russian manly boys picking up and torturing young gay boys, posing shirtless with guns. I don’t even know where I saw the photograph, if it even exists, I think it was one of those facebook link shots. Maybe I had a dream. If you dream current events does that make you a whore for fashion? Lately I’ve been thinking about how being a man means being something singular and contained, the taming of the boy into an agent of rationality. A man is either irreparably violent or controlled, contained, a man whose subject-hood is locked and loaded.

in matters of sex everything communicates

On Friday nights the whole family gathers and watches Americas Next Top Model Girls & Boys. During the commercials we practice our best face-poses. The idea is to keep face despite the embarrassment of the body.

At the pool party it is modesty for girls only because boys can’t control what skin does, the belly-skin of girls. This is the skin of a certain age. This is the skin that is the most dangerous of all the skin and threatens to throw the not-yet rationalized boy into a raging rape scene.

I was thinking about the repetitive line and how it’s like an image in a way. We look at it sort of like an image. There is nothing to figure out. Instantaneous, useless. It becomes surface, sound.

in matters of sex everything communicates

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about rape-or-not-rape. On this new album of songs that are some kind of blues I made a song sort of about rape using a Mississippi Fred McDowell sample that runs over and over for eight minutes. It’s a remake of his “Find My Suitcase”. Toward the end it gets wobbly with weird dub-step-like bass lines.

Once I came on a plane and the man at the desk asked angry questions and made up lies because if you have nothing to hide you can’t be shaken because the world is ultimately fair. But I got shook up because the lies seemed very dangerous and I forgot some vital piece of information, became infantile, like a child. I stuttered. I couldn’t remember the name of my professor. I could see his bearded face, his gentle ways, his supreme knowledge of old testament lineage, but his name was gone. Because his name was gone I became someone hiding something. I wondered if this was how terrorists feel.

Sometimes I forget the silliest things. Like my own phone number. Like my own address. This is the stuff of identity, humanness: birth and death records. My band name is My Hot Air Balloon. It was inspired by Swedish balloon explorer Andrée and his demise on the north pole. Travel by hot air and spectacular failure.

Nothing has been heard of Professor Andrée, who started in a balloon for the North Pole, accompanied by two companions, about three weeks ago. Two carrier pigeons were afterward picked up, with certain marks on the wings intended to give the impression that they were from the explorer, but it was soon made manifest that they had not come from him.

-Baltimore News, Baltimore, MD. July 31, 1897

So anyway, I wrote this one song about interacting with authority called “Honey You Got the Bible, I Got the Gun”. It’s an American fairy tale. Its like Thelma and Louise. It’s religion and guns. It’s a love story with authority. It starts:

Hey Mr. Officer won’t you take down my name
You can keep it in your file no hard feelings

This was a while ago, maybe like two years, a kind of protest song. I played it on my daughter’s ukulele but it didn’t quite work. But one day recently I was making this really bouncy sexup beat using an old atari beep and I got to singing this old song. And I was singing over and over “Mr. Officer” until the old-fashioned  protest song seemed to turn into something else, more intimate perhaps, or at least more deranged. Sort of like Miley Cyrus grinding with that ridiculous foam hand. A kind of impotence. A kind of yearning.

(I know I know. Dead tissue, be gone. But I think the most upsetting thing about the Miley Cyrus thing was the flatness, the over-the-top-ness and the redundancy of the performance, like it failed to tap into shocking-but-acceptable sex-up Disney coming out behavior (say Christina Aguilera back when) as well as arty androgynous lady gaga awareness. When you’re trying to dance sexily but its not sexy it becomes something else, deranged, less than human, porn. Like the commercial. Shocking. Simply Oranges.)

Bible Song Intro Beat (ca 15 seconds):

Usually when there’s protest songs there’s not much sex going on, its more a manly comradely thing (like those boys in Le Mis!), dustbowls and union meetings, like sports, numbers in the proper squares. But I was thinking about this officer, this border control man, politician (the three characters of the song) and how there is a sexual element in that kind of official control-controlee relationship, this sort of dance and courting. And how we don’t want it to be. How we want the violence to be rational, because if its rational it can be identified and labeled and codified and renamed and verified and classified until it becomes digestible and necessary.

Like what if the power to be couldn’t just symbolically fuck their subjects. Couldn’t reasonably go to war.

Then I added a Billie Holiday sample over it. Not sure why, but once I had it sounded good. I love Billie Holiday. When I grow up, that’s who I want to be. Billie singing: Long Gone Blues. It fitted strangely well. So it goes something like, (where there’s suppose to be something like a chorus):

Mr. Officer

Mr. Officer

Talk to me baby

Tell me what’s the matter now

Mr. Officer

Mr. Officer

You tryin’ to quit me baby

But you don’t know how

Mr. Officer

Mr. Officer

( Billie Holiday’s Long Gone Blues)

I didn’t know then that Kanye West had sampled Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit for his Blood on the Leaves, a song that is sort of nauseating to listen to, Nina’s sped-up and deranged sounding vocal, Kanyes autotune, lynching meets club romance. But anyway, I like the idea, because the violence of the original, written by some Jewish guy who was inspired by a photograph of a lynching, isn’t allowed to be contained in the No Trespassing Zone of American History Relics.

It always befuddles me when the expected reaction calls for reflection and respect because the topic is of a certain bloodiness and severity, like you’re suppose to stay in this remembrance stillness pose. It reminds me of when I was a kid and we were playing charades and I did the act of Thinking or maybe even The Thinker by that sculpture guy and nobody could figure it out.

My wife says this is because I’m autistic. This is probably right. I’m planning to write a blues about this.

One thing America likes are those Time Capsules which is funny because there’s no history allowed in this small town. There should be jazz and blues statues and museums. Instead there’s waste and dead towns.

Like there’s something disturbed about the past, like a disease of nostalgia.

I decided to try to make a blues album because I love old blues music. Instantly it felt kind of fraudulent, treating blues as a genre rather than tradition, to make a kind of “concept” album. Tradition suggests initiation, cultural and geographical (if not genetic) inclusion, blah blah. I don’t feel part of that “tradition”, I don’t feel particularly rootsy. But I was interested in exploring different themes that blues music deals with: violence, sex, death, mainly, and folklore ghosty stuff, gospel religious stuff.  Interested in certain very bluesy sounds and bluesy phrases. To write songs on these subjects, exploring these sounds, these phrases. The idea of tradition is so full of shit anyway, just time passing allowing motive to overgrow so you have something supposedly “genuine” and “deeply rooted” or whatever. For the purpose of division. You can only really sing the blues if your an old black guy who has suffered. Also that the blues is more like a condition, something inside you, your devil-deprived soul, expressed as a summary of one person’s life lived in some unending misery, it has to be earned.

One way of questioning this earning seems to be questioning the containment of certain people and art by labeling them/it exotic, wholesome, “natural”, as opposed to capable of a more rational, severed-from-the-creator, constructed, layered, complex Entity, suggesting that they are not capable of such elaborate thought processes. But hidden in such questioning there seems to be an underlying moral stand favoring written and planned transactions of feelings and information over oral and improvised expression, an economic approach to art.

In blues lyrics one thing that becomes apparent is that its pretty impossible to determine ownership, multiple versions of songs coexist, lines are swapped, stolen and reused. There is (as in most pop music!) the use of heavy repetition, a musical employment of words for their secondary quality, their sounds, an oral transference, to convey a mood, incite dancing, movement, the promise of ecstasy, possession, tongue talking. I’m muchly interested in all this, and most of these songs are written to fit a certain sound, often a beat, an atmosphere, than the other way around, creating a mood in which exorcism becomes possible. Hopefully.

It’s interesting how in early America the drum was banned for its dangerous ability to cause riots. It’s also interesting that the early banjo, brought over from Africa, is a kind of secret, hidden drum, later made a decidedly white instrument through minstrelsy. That it was instead the formerly royal artsy-ass then industrialized guitar that became the blues man’s primary instrument, awesomely tortured with knives and bottlenecks, made to scream and weep. Etc. etc.

The album will pop up on soundcloud, here. Or like on facebook. Or some such. 

6 comments for this entry:
  1. Joyelle McSweeney

    Hi Kim, Fascinating post I need more time to read and think on, but one piece of info that could fit in well here– Abel Meeropol who wrote Strange Fruit, in addition to being some Jewish guy, was also the guy who took in the Rosenberg’s sons and raised them. So there’s the fatherhood motif, subsitution, the execution-by-the-state, paranoia, Jewish masculinity itself as a disputed and often disparaged entity. There’s also a nugget on Wikipedia about Meeropol being involved in a copyright suit over a French version of another song of his– copies, money, ‘false’ versions, etc…

  2. Kim

    Woohoo. Yeas, certainly. I got lazy not checking him out. The more unstabilizing connections the better.

  3. Brown Old Roy

    I like the aspect of trying to tradionalize yourself within the root cause of the blues, but I do believe that it lies deep within ones bones, its initial dna, a yearning a longing, something left unwritten that keeps coming from a place deep underneath the surface of the status quo, not black or jewish, but from the land, a promise of a tuber hiding far beneath the ash of a fallen forest, that in the slow passing of time, surely in pain and in loss, that dire bleak landscape of life being unfurled into a scorched earth hides within its surface a wild and wonderful new creation brewing the supreme sap of the ever present nucleus of life, the sickly sweet stuff just like ones cake on a hello kitty, a candle shall emerge, blown out pink, dark above the water, delicious in crumbs, it shall restlessly call forward a new legion of growth drumming as one would to the inevitable rebirth of death amongst the gone

    sex and violence, drums and gourds, you feel in your marrow their songs (or you just don’t fucking get the blues!)

  4. James Pate

    Really great post, Kim. I’ve often wondered where the idea of blues singers as being “rooted” and authentic comes from…To me, it seems pretty likely to’ve sprung from the folk revival era, and an example of largely white audiences foisting their ideas of “blackness” on certain performers.

    In contrast, Robert Johnson was a complete dandy, as the few pictures of him make clear. Even down to the way he held a cigarette in his mouth. And he had, by all accounts, a deeply troubled relationship to his step-father, who wanted him to not be a singer but work the kind of manual labor jobs he himself had worked all his life…Not exactly an example of bluesy authenticity…

    What often gets lost too is that, for a few years in the 20s and 30s, blues music actually sold. Johnson was ambitious. He traveled all over the place, and was excited as hell, according to his fellow musicians, when he got the recording sessions that would, decades later, make him so famous.

    When Henry Smith gathered together the materials for his Anthology, he made the choice to use records people actually bought. This was the Pop music of the time, what people danced too…

    Or take Howlin’ Wolf: he didn’t leave Memphis to Chicago to work in a factory. He left to record and make a living as a musician. He already had a contract. Again, this doesn’t match up well with the idea of a blues singer as some sort of natural being just waiting to passively be discovered…

    What bothers me about the whole “rooted” and authenticity thing is the implied racism/classism in it. These people aren’t capable of the self-consiousness of art, it seems to suggest, they can only speak without artifice from their soul and experience. Bullshit.

    Anyway, can’t wait to hear the record, Kim!

    James

  5. James Pate

    Harry Smith. He always looked more like a Henry to me…

  6. Kim

    James,

    Yes definitely a racist exotic element in such labelings, similar to the treatment of ‘world music’ etc. Like a lot of blues musicians got their inspirations from the radio, and how can you have rock n roll without a dandy show-off performance.

    On the other hand I guess I’m weary of an alternative of Self Conscious art-making where literacy and craft is king. Or perhaps the equating of self-consciousness and literacy. A talkin’ blues for instance is a kind of improv, and repetition a way to remember a song without writing it down. Pop and blues share definite similarities there I’d say. A song’s catchiness, moodiness, groove, helps you remember. Anything religious too is highly suspiciously something ‘internal’. Or songs exclusively about requited/unrequited love or leaving/being left.

    Almost like there’s a library of phrases with corresponding rhymes for the purpose of something else, a mood, an atmosphere, rather than a story. An assault of cliches, perhaps, copies of copies, which threatens the barons of taste, the dukes of archiving duties. Cliches actually makes performance primary rather than secondary. The perishable quality of a performance/(body?) as opposed to the lasting quality of a written work or studio recording.

    “Cool” too is one of those words applied to blues men and women that’s undoubtedly appearance but supposedly earned in some way, reverberating from somewhere inside. Racism, then, as always, a violence against the existence of a body.

    Roy,

    Excellent performance of a talkin blues!

    Here’s Robert Johnsson singing Dead Shrimp Blues http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlSianaiWyw

    Kim Kim