response to Mark Wastell's Epiphany in Wire 292, fascinating
not because it is a Rashômon-like alternative reading of
the same event, but because - contrary to certain prevailing
hedonic relativist orthodoxies - it demonstrates that there is
something more involved in aesthetic judgments than a mere
registering of sensations. The difference between Mark's response
and Simon's was not at the level of pleasure; it wasn't that Mark
found Parker and Braxton any more agreeable than Simon did. But, in
Mark's case, the initially disagreeable sensations induced him to
take a leap beyond the pleasure principle: a cognitive
act, a commitment, a decision to override the 'anger and confusion'
that the music first caused him to feel.(Simon of course has taken
such leaps in respect of other scenes, other musics.)
The mantra of hedonic relativism has it that 'everything is subjective', where subjectivity is construed as an arbitrary set of preferences. But Mark's Epiphany vindicates the view that certain encounters - events - produce subjectivities, even as they destitute us, deprive us of old worlds.
Discussion in The Wire office
turned the other day to Kid Creole, with the recent release of
Going Places: the August Darnell Years 1974-1983.
Aside from fronting one of the plain weirdest bands of the early
80s, the tropical gangsters Kid Creole And The Coconuts, I hadn't
realised, among his other projects, he'd produced perhaps my
favourite ever disco track, Machine's "There But For The Grace Of
God Go I", perhaps the most impassioned chronicle of inner city
bigotry and white-flight in the entire disco canon. Listening to
that track, a mix of gospel guts and pure synthetic pulse, what
strikes me is how camp is an essential part of the physical DNA of
the track – flamboyance and narcissism is practically built into
its outre melodies and assertive, strutting steps. While the primal
urge that runs through rock, funk and house - the drive, the motor
of so much music, from Black Sabbath to James Brown – has been
analysed to death, I wonder if the counter-current of camp, which
delights in lateral movements and show-stopping pauses, has been
analysed in dance music as much. It's easy to hazard a guess as to
why it might not have been – male music journalists would rather
talk about unbridled sexual energy than something as supposedly
effeminate as camp.
Mostly, though, the compilation makes me wonder what's become of camp in urban music today. RnB and rap videos these days look airbrushed, as if hidden behind a plastic wall, a distancing effect exacerbated by the constant use of slow motion and fast cross-cutting. The big names of urban music are synthetic products of the studio system as much as (arguably more) than Hollywood stars. The overall impression is a fear of people finding out what they're like. This look-but-don't-touch sexual politics is, for me, deeply un-sexy, and it's music's loss.
My recent Invisible Jukebox with Wu-Tang
Clan's The RZA (featured in The Wire 292, which has
just hit the streets) involved a train spotter's paradise of
sample-spotting and internet researching as I looked into the
building blocks of the great Wu-Tang albums of the mid-90s. One
sample I missed, sadly, was that "Ice Water" from the RZA-produced
Raekwon album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx featured a vocal
sample from none other than Bing Crosby, singing "White Christmas".
The langorous, grandfatherly "I'm...." from the first
line is cut off just before the second syllable, leaving only a
deep voice and wide vibrato that sounds like it's emanating from
the depths of the pyramids. It's one of the most gothic moments in
the whole of hiphop, using good ol' Bing's disembodied tones as an
unearthly, weirdly non-gendered siren call.
It's odd to think of a sample fiend like The RZA getting a kick out of Bing's voice, but dig deeper and there's a strange kinship between the pair. The RZA recently invested a large amount of his own money in vinyl-to-digital scratch technology; Bing Crosby was instrumental in developing early tape technology, by investing $50,000 in the fledgling Ampex company.