Friday, March 24, 2006

AGAINST ORDERS. Every couple of years I haul out the Lester Bangs comp Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung for pleasure's sake. With each reading a little more melacholy accrues. Not so much over his early demise -- that's sad, but Bangs was in a way lucky (as Greil Marcus' pretended message from beyond the grave suggests) to be spared what we got after the deluge.

Bangs, as you may know, was the great chaos theorist of rock music. In the early 70s he glommed onto the nuttiest music he could find. He pleaded the case for Iggy back when Iggy was a joke. He championed the Godz because they were so totally fucked up, and after declaring mellow-rock king James Taylor "marked for death," he softened toward the guy just on the grounds of general fucked-upness ("Just look at him on the cover of One Man Dog, out in a canoe with his mutt, wearing a necktie even which is a cool move at this point in time. Or those pictures of him at the McGovern benefits, in an oversize sportcoat..."). When he loved artists, like Lou Reed and Richard Hell, he rode their asses mercilessly just for the snap- or smash-back; he asked Reed questions like, "When you recorded Berlin, did you think people would laugh at it?" Who would ask Reed anything like that now?

Bangs didn't want catharsis, he wanted agon, because he knew rock and roll was, or was supposed to be, the irritant from which came the pearls. Of course, too much can be made of this. One has to be careful about celebrating any life that was so quickly washed away by Darvon and Romilar. Self-destruction is not cool. Well, no, it is cool, actually, much cooler than spa treatments and star treatment certainly, but once you adopt that yardstick you find that that the life by which you measure it gets smaller every day, until it's roughly the size of a cemetary plot. Which is why Iggy himself finally had to turn against his own personal tide and stop beating his brains, beating his brains, with liquor and drugs. And maybe why I got the feeling, riding one night in another van full of gear out of town and hearing on the radio news of Kurt Cobain's death, and hearing all around me people asking why, and hearing a voice in my head asking "why not," that I myself got the idea to get out of the game.

Still, this paradox obtains: moderation can get out of hand. Everything in our public life has tended toward an increase in order for a number of years, and while we all enjoy the benefits, and are lectured on several bases that going even a hair in the other direction would most hurt the most vulnerable among us -- the poor, the weak, the children -- we have to acknowledge that this civic rehabilitation has not been without cost. To stay with the topic just a little, if you think concerts are as good now as when people were getting routinely fucked up, you're dreaming. I am tempted to cite Bill Hicks ("You think the Beatles weren't high when they made 'Yellow Submarine'? They had to scrape Ringo off the ceiling for that one!"). But I am averse to the argument from authority. I would only suggest you look at the record, or at the records.

I remember when you couldn't go to an outdoor classical concert in New York without hearing the announced name of the corporate sponsor booed lustily by the crowd. (This was well before you had to have a pass to get onto the Great Lawn to see the likes of Dave Matthews.) I was reminded of this by Bangs' essay about a 1977 Tangerine Dream concert at Avery Fisher Hall (!!), at which event spectators screamed obscenities at celebrity DJ presenter Alison Steele the Nightbird -- and we liked Alison Steele! Bangs himself, on assignment and cough syrup, treated the event as an occasion for psychedelic ramblings, judging the unruly crowd and his hallucinations superior as subjects to the music (though of that he was neither unmindful nor ineloquent). "So finally, picking up my coat and lugging my clanking cough-syrup bottles, I push my way through the slack and sprawling bodies -- out, out, out into the aisle. As I am walking up it, I am struck by an odd figure doddering ahead of me, doubled over in ragged cloth and drained hair. I don't trust my Dextromethorphaned eyes, so I move closer until I can see her, unmistakably, almost crawling out the door... a shopping bad lady!" Again, one can make too much of it, but that sounds like a pretty good show to me.

Just today I picked up this message from my old pal Lach:
I went out this week to a local music venue (doesn't matter which one, that's not the point) and was asked for ID at the door. Now, this alone pisses me off as I don't drink. If I order a whiskey, ID me, but why do I have to be 21 to hear a singer/songwriter perform? Anyway, what happened next astounded me. The door guy wanted to swipe my license through an electronic reader and download the information into the scanner! What the fuck?!? Did you know NYS licenses carry info like your social security number, address, tel. no., etc? Identity theft potential aside, what an extreme invasion of privacy just to hear music. The bar manager said that the police pressured them into using the device...
Giuliani, that fuck, knew what he was doing when as mayor he strictly enforced the City's ancient cabaret laws, and Bloomberg, that cunt, knows what he's doing, too, with this shit. Order's a popular electoral gambit. People squawk when you hit them up for tax money, but applaud your sense of responsibility when you dig your entrenching tool into the pleasure centers.

When you read, as any ordinary internet trawler will, fulsome odes to the iPod and the pay-per-view concert, please try to keep in mind that things were once way more fucked up. And seriously consider whether that means they were worse.

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