Monday, May 13, 2019

Poem at Scoundrel Time

My poem “Elegy for the Republic” appears at Scoundrel Time. Many thanks to poetry editor Daisy Fried for publishing it.

Read it here:

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Fun House Recording Began 49 Years Ago Today

Photo: Ed Caraeff
On this date 49 years ago, May 11, 1970, the Stooges entered a recording studio in Los Angeles to begin recording their greatest album, Fun House, which would be pressed onto vinyl by Elektra Records and released that August. The critical theorist Theodor Adorno wrote in his 1938 essay “The Form of the Phonograph Record” that “Ultimately the phonograph records are not artworks but the black seals on the missives that are rushing towards us from all sides in the traffic with technology, missives whose formulations capture the sounds of creation, the first and the last sounds, judgment upon life and message about that which may come thereafter” (Essays on Music 280). In other words, vinyl records are not only the actual recorded moments in time but their medium beyond that moment, embodying a potential of deep importance to our lives now and in the future — perhaps even, as the last part of Adorno’s sentence suggests, in an almost mystical way.

What missive or message did the Stooges send us from 1970 in the form of the Fun House LP? That could take a whole book to elaborate, but in recording this music, this album, I would argue that the Stooges are not so much concerned with the “thereafter,” such as it may be, as they are with the immanence of the moment. It is through its unique particulars that life is imbued with whatever meaning it may have. Such unique particulars may take the form of an improvised Ron Asheton guitar lead, a screech of feedback, a drum roll, a vocal whoop, which may never be repeated again in exactly the same way. We listen to the record, knowing it is but one moment, each track one particular take, yet we can play it again and again, each time hearing it anew.

Or it may take the form of the imagistic poetry of Iggy Pop’s lyrics: “Down on the street where the faces shine / floating around on a real O-Mind / see a pretty thing, ain’t no wall. . . No wall!” (“Down on the Street”). To be in the “O-Mind” state means to overcome the limits of the self as part of the collective group in the act of creating music and art. It can be reached by other efficacious means as well, depending on what is at hand (e.g., drugs): “Out of my mind on Saturday night / 1970 rolling in sight / radio burning up above. . . All night till I blow away” (“1970”). The lyrics themselves developed during the recording process, rather than being fully written out in advance.

There is no better way to listen to Fun House in regard to its sound than on vinyl, though many years ago a friend told me he preferred to listen to it taped onto a cassette so that he didn’t have to turn it over, and so it played as one long set, one complete work. This makes sense, and a few years later the CD rose as the predominant medium, accomplishing the same thing. But now, many have returned to the vinyl album as the preferred means of delivery of those “missives whose formulations capture the sounds of creation” — and the tapes which would eventually be transformed into the “black seals” of this crucial LP began rolling 49 years ago today.