Friday, May 8, 2009

A rather apt description... NSFAnyone.

clipser - Throbbing Gristle - Hamburger Lady

Click above if you're one with a strong stomach. If you're brave, play it on good speakers, and turn the lights down. It's the most horrific three minutes you're likely to hear (inb4 "that's just bullshit I could do better with my ass lol").

Hamburger Lady is a legendary track by a legendary group of "destroyers of civilization", who are currently in the midst of a very small set of reunion tourdates. If you're in Glasgow as I write this, I believe, you've still got a chance to see this historic group live. Now then.

Here is the backstory of the track, from the sleeve of "DOA: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle," the album whence comes this track:

"...By far the worst is the hamburger lady, and because of shortage right now of 'qualified technicians', e.g. technicians who can work with her and keep their last meal down, Screwloose Lauritzen and I have been alternating nights with her, unrelievedly. If you put a 250-lb meatloaf in the oven and then burned it and then followed that by propping it up on a potty-chair to greet you at 11pm each night, you would have some description of these past two weeks. Which is to say the worst I seen since viet napalms. When somebody tells you that there is a level of pain beyond which the human mind cannot retain consciousness, please tell them to write me. In point of fact this lady has not slept more than 3-5 minutes at a stretch since she came to us - that was over two weeks ago and, thanks to medical advances, there is no end in sight; from the waist (waste?) up everything is burned off, ears, nose etc - lower half is untouched and that, I guess, is what keeps her alive. I took one guy in to help me change tubes and he did alright, that is alright till he came out, then he spotted one of the burn nurses (pleasant smiling zombies) eating a can of chile-mac at the desk, and that did it: he flashed on the carpet. It is fucking insane is what it is."

-part of a letter sent by Al Ackerman from Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. 1978

A lot of TG's material, in my opinion, is merely obsessed with shock value; the descriptions of Genesis P. Orridge & Cosey Fanni Tutti's early COUM Transmissions performance art shows, so far as my admittedly unsophisticated art perceiver's mind can tell, show nothing in the way of genuine social commentary or artistic value, other than an underlying nihilistic desire to break down all semblance of pro-social behavior. TG tracks like Slugbait continue in this vein, revelling in the death ov civilization.

But Hamburger Lady is a different matter entirely; where the psychopathic imagery of Slugbait is defanged by its very extremity, Hamburger Lady meditates on, and evokes, a horror that is all too insidious, and impossible to ignore, by vice of its very banality. People are burned in fires every day, and in the bad cases, their lives turn instantly from whatever regular boring existence they previously endured to an endless and unendurable pain... a pain which, due to a far-too-literal interpretation of an oath ("do no harm") that all doctors take, medical professionals then set out to preserve and extend indefinitely, indeed, for all intents and purposes, to inflict upon the victim until they die - potentially not for years, or decades.

The protagonist of Slugbait, a killer who murders a young family and revels in the retelling of his actions, is an outsider. The protagonist of Hamburger Lady, a caregiver who sees to her "tubes" which presumably deliver medicines and pain drugs, is an agent of society's care. The Slugbait killer's spree, no matter how horrific, lasts only a matter of hours. The Hamburger Lady's keeper, on the other hand, acts with society's blessing to prolong her pain for as long as he possibly can.

Considered in the light of this policy of our modern, clean, civilized,
"enlightened" society, one does have to wonder whether the accusation
that TG were "destroyers" of civilization could really be considered a
criticism, as such. And in context, even TG's more extreme material, no matter how repellent and useless on its own, does seem to serve an artistic purpose in the context of the overall body of work.

It is tempting, in light of the fact that Orridge and Ackerman were in the habit of trading "mail art," to retreat into the notion that this narrative is merely an invention of an artistic mind, that the Hamburger Lady exists only in the dark corridors of Ackerman's imagination. I don't personally know whether he really spent any time working in a burn ward. But once you accept the premise of the song, such comfortable bliss is impossible to attain, because even if the story is fiction, stories just like it play out in real life, as you read this, in every city in the world. I deliver blood and blood products at my job, and on one of my routes, I ride an elevator, and sometimes it stops to let people on or off on a certain floor, and there's a sign on the wall - "Burn Ward" with an arrow - that gives me chills every time. By the sign's presence, I'm reminded of what's taking place down that hall. The door closes and I soon go back to my boring job, subtextually grateful that my life is indeed so boring, because there are any number of ways that it could be interesting which I would not enjoy.

What inspired me to write this entry, though, was Boing Boing's recent interview with the band, which led me via a google search to this fellow's account of his first, and seemingly last, exposure to TG. His description of what happened by the end of Hamburger Lady is, true or not, an inspired piece of storytelling, and an illustration of how a horrible thing like this can get under your skin.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

If I had the machinery, I'd totally do this.

Ever go to, say, The Olive Garden at lunchtime, and there's this gigantic parking lot which is nonetheless packed to the gills, because the Olive Garden is for some reason a mecca for people who eat lunch.

Anyways, as you troll up and down, searching for a spot, there's always one or two assholes who have parked their giant-size Hot Wheels diagonally in two spots, because their tricked-out Honda Civic is so very, very precious that they cannot risk someone scratching it.

Now, if I owned a franchise where this happened on a regular basis, I'd have a towing company on the premises every day at noon to help themselves to any car that tried this. Since this never seems to happen, I know some people (no, it wasn't me in my rusty 85 Tercel, no way, no how, never me, uh-uh) who drive 85 Tercels rusty old cars that purposely scrape their shitbox car along the edge of such egomobiles. I would never do such a thing, but it's been known to happen, and I can't say as I feel much sympathy for the owners of the tricked-out shitbox-in-waiting.

But leave it to the geniuses at XKCD to come up with this bit of brilliance. It would take a bit of engineering skill and heavy equipment to pull it off, but we can all dream, can't we?

xkcd - A Webcomic - Parking

Monday, March 2, 2009


Courtesy of The Zeray Gazette, we finally learn exactly what Artoo was saying. He pretty much bleeps for me.

Now, if I could just figure out how to fix this fucking page layout...

Edit: There's a bunch more episodes on youtube, but apparently they're done by other people who have no sense of humour, because they suck.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

I can dream...

...of being as serene as Hank the Hermit, brought to us courtesy of Again With The Comics, via the always-interesting Boing Boing.

(click for full size)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

On Selling Out

The subject: Iggy Pop's car insurance adverts.

I encountered this by way of Michael Bérubé's blog, and this BBC News article on the subject, and originally wrote what's below as a response to the BBC website. By the time you (all two of you) read this, it may be on their page as a comment, depending on if they let words like "piss" and "arse" through their filters... anyways.

I'm in the jaded and apathetic camp as regards the concept of selling out. Indeed, this is the only rational position to take about it, because what we're really talking about is nonconformity. Nonconformity is great, and I consider myself a nonconformist, but a lot of people seem to mistake ANTIconformity with NONconformity, when in fact anticonformity is indeed simply an inverted form of conformity.

That being said, I did find the "Get @ Life" shot of Iggy's ads both jarring and oddly fascinating, and after reading this article, I figured out why: The "Circle A" is a venerable symbol of the anarchic, punk spirit of true personal and artistic freedom. It is, to people of a certain age and mindset, as sacred an icon as the virgin is to Catholics, a fact which is self-reflexively subverted by the fact that its original association was with pissing on the very idea of the sacred.

And that's what we need to keep in mind here - the punks of Iggy's era, particularly the Raw Power-Sex Pistols-CBGB late 70s, were a raw assault on all mainstream sensibility. When the Pistols rented that boat and blared God Save the Queen from the Thames for all of London to hear, they were going beyond the Do-Your-Own-Thing freedom of the 60s straight to the jugular, in hopes of tasting the blood of mainstream society's fragile (and hypocritical) sensibilities.

Fast Forward to 2009, when Iggy Pop stands in front of the most nakedly cynical and hamfisted attempt to coopt punk, the "Get @ Life" graffiti bomb. Leaving aside the possible textual readings (Get at life, get anarchic life, get a haircut and a job and a "real" life), we have a man whose punk cred is (was?) unassailable standing in front of this banner, this clumsy attempt whose main offense is the abject stupidity of whoever came up with it, and Iggy is trying to SELL US SOMETHING. To people of a certain age and mindset, this is as deep an insult/assault to the sensibilities as was the famous boat ride of the Sex Pistols during the queen's jubilee.

That assault on the sensibilities, friends, is punk. Don't howl in protest, because you know I'm right. Iggy is laughing his ass off, I'm quite certain, because it's been literally decades since he was able to raise more than a sigh of boredom by rolling around in peanut butter and broken glass. But to turn on us, to "sell out" and to do so with people who clearly have no clue? That is provocative, in an age that has become largely immune to artistic provocation.

I wish him well, and hope just as fervently as I did a week ago that I'll be able to catch him live before he's gone, because Iggy rules, and his picking up a few bucks while thumbing his arse at the people who would tell him what he's allowed to do will never change that.

Free comic/cartoon idea:

Howl, The Beatnik Werewolf. Or the werebeatnik. You could work in the curse of Moloch in there somewhere as the cause of his, umm, "lykeruanthropy".

Someday, one guy will read the above and laugh his ass off, and possibly run with it. Just let me know if you do, cause I'd like to read it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Death to the industry!

This is a repost of a response I made to an entry on Elliott Randall's MySpace blog back in 2006. If you don't know the name, you know the man's work: he played lead guitar on Steely Dan's Reelin' in the Years, which starts with the 11 notes that, when I was a mere toddler, catalyzed my lifelong obsession with music. Mr. Randall is arguably the reason I'm sitting here writing this. Anyways, the entire entry and thread are here, if you want to check it out, but I've always felt that this really comes very close to encapsulating my views on music, so I present it here as well.

Also, I was considering cleaning up some of the text, but I decided to just leave it as is, if only for the amusement you'll feel at the rather quaint idea that I had, waaaay back in 2006, that $80 was an expensive concert ticket... and here we go.

Lots of great replies to this already, and I'm probably gonna echo a couple of them here.

There's a lot of things that have played into bringing us to this spot, but I remember when Napster was still around, people (the RIAA's people, mostly) were sounding the deathknell of the recording industry, and my immediate reaction was "we can only hope."

Now, take that the way I mean it, but as Elliot already pointed out, artists have been getting shafted by the industry for decades already, and while all this file downloading is certain to have a LOT of casualties, I can't help wondering whether, when it all shakes down, artists won't end up being better off.

It's been mentioned that the notion of intellectual property is on the way out, and I tend to agree with this, but there are powerful people who are going to fight hard to keep it. This goes way beyond the recording industry: look at biotech, for instance, who are pushing for the right to patent human DNA, or the pharmaceutical industry, who are pushing doctors to prescribe their expensive, and often unsafe, pills, and who will not budge on things like reducing prices for AIDS medications for victims of the epidemic in Africa. This, too, is intellectual property at work, and I don't think that the eventual death of intellectual property would be all bad either - this debate goes far beyond the borders of the music world.

And just how legitimate is this notion of owning a song, anyways? In fact, this is a very recent phenomenon, placed in the context of the whole history of music, is it not? I don't know exactly how classical music worked, but most of us work in the milieu of popular music, and any folk music fan knows that the idea of authorship is actually quite a hazy one. Traditional folk music draws on a number of key chord progressions, rhythms and lyrical themes, altering them slightly, rearranging them, moving one set of lyrics to a different set of chords - any blues or folk music (which are really the same thing) fan will know exactly what I'm talking about.

One of my favourite albums right now is Richard Thompson's '1000 years of popular music,' which runs the gamut from 'Sumer is Icumen In' all the way to 'Oops! I Did It Again!' - a great concept, though it could easily have filled a box set, or several box sets, and still remained incomplete.

But I digress. Jazz musicians, I am told, draw on 'standards,' which enable them to instinctually know where a jam is going. Similarly, the virtuosity that can be observed in the rhythm section at any blues jam is remarkable - somehow they know when the song is stopping, where it's going. Country musicians have what a friend of mine's musician father called "Nashville tab," a shorthand way for an experienced musician to walk onstage, speak to the band for 30 seconds, and then they all play, flawlessly. From this, I tentatively extrapolate (I know there's a lot of musicians present - feel free to correct me) that all musical forms have a basic vocabulary, a set of giants' shoulders if you will, on which all individual creativity rests, and a big part of becoming proficient in said form is learning this language - to know in a blues song, for instance, when you hear the I chord turn to a 7th, that you're about to go to the IV.

Song ownership really began in earnest, as I understand it, with the Tin Pan Alley era, where every good house was expected to have a piano, and would then, of course, require a collection of sheet music. Later, that paradigm became a phonograph and a collection of disks or cylinders, and then a Hi-Fi and LP records, and then a stereo and CDs, and then...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Something bad happened in there somewhere: the invention of the phonograph. Previous to that, music was something that you DID, not something you bought. In that era, music could be a profession if you were good - bars with pianos would hire people, for instance - but mostly women just sang while they hung out the washing, farmers practiced the fiddle over the winter (and read books, another activity that's increasingly unpopular these days), kids were given lessons and expected to learn. Music permeated the lives of everyone, not just people to whom the label "musician" was applied.

The death of the recording industry won't bring that era back, as nice a thought as that is, but perhaps along with the many casualties that are coming from this era of shaking things down, some of the more odious aspects of modern music will also die out:

Things like the idea that a musician, as well as being talented, must also serve as eye candy. The primacy of visual beauty has gotten so ridiculous that nowadays, you don't even have to be able to SING - they've got pitch correctors for that. Once upon a time they were trying to make machines sound human, but now they'll settle for making humans sound like machines.

Maybe Clear Channel will croak, and their stranglehold on the airwaves, in which the same damn 500 songs get played over and over on every damn station on the dial, maybe that will end.

Maybe the idea that a live show needs to be a song and dance spectacular, with billion-dollar lighting rigs and ten costume changes and rising platforms and big screens and sattelite feeds, maybe all that can die out, and people will stop going to shows to "Be Entertained" and start going to "Hear Music" again. When that happens, concerts will no longer need to cost $80 for the worst nosebleed tickets.

I'm sorry, I babble and babble. Hopefully y'all get that when I say we can only hope that the industry dies, I actually say that out of my love for music, not my disrespect for musicians. We all, musicians and fans (of which I am both), deserve better than this.

Special bonus Steely Dan oddity for making it this far: a live performance of Do It Again featuring David Palmer instead of Donald Fagen on vocals.

Palmer is an interesting example of the record industry at work - as I recall, Fagen was not originally acceptable as the group's frontman (whether because his vocals were not considered up to snuff or because he was such an ugly bastard is open to debate), so Mr. Palmer was brought in to front the band, and was long gone by the time the second album came out.