The Honor of Virtue
by Charles Bernstein
What I say is what I meant
& what I saw is what I said
But neither seen nor spoke
Is what I think I thought
(from ‘Recalculating‘ (2013))
2013 10 Dez
The Honor of Virtue
- Witch – Leslie Winer (re-release)
- Roundup Ready – Leslie Winer
- Greco Chante Brel – Juliette Greco
- There’s A Dream I’ve Been Saving: Lee Hazlewood Industries 1966 – 1971 – Lee Hazlewood
- A Bad Wind Blows in my Heart – Bill Ryder Jones
- Volume 3 – She and Him
- Sound System – the Clash
- Crimson / Red – Prefab Sprout
- AM – Arctic Monkeys
- The Next Day – David Bowie
- Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
- Take Me to the Land of Hell – Yoko Ono
- 1979 NOW! – Vic Godard and Subway Sect
- Sticky Wickets – The Duckworth Lewis Method
- White Light / White Heat – Super Deluxe [Box Set] – Velvet Underground
- In St Cuthbert’s Time – Chris Watson
- Understated – Edwyn Collins
- Songs Cycled – Van Dyke Parks
- The Complete LHI Recordings – Honey LTD
- Personal Record – Eleanor Friedberger
2013 5 Nov
Like so many people I felt that Lou Reed’s recent death was a great loss and one which seemed even more perceptible with each passing day. I think that I was more into the Velvet Underground than Lou Reed’s solo work – but this is nothing to do with the quality of his solo work, which is great – it’s just that there’s sometimes a limit to what there is time to listen to.
The track that I have always loved most of the Velvets is ‘Foggy Notion’ – but I don’t know why … and this is perhaps the answer … it’s precisely the fact that I can’t say why I love it so much that explains why I love it. I can’t readily point to the emotion that it excites in me; I can’t say even what the song is about – because I have never really listened closely to the lyrics. What I can say is that when I listen to the song I get a sense of carefree playing and singing – almost as though the song were being made up on the spot (and who knows (or cares) if it was?) … there are references to calamine lotion – which is something that is very familiar … though I don’t really know what it is for … some references to Sally Mae and (I realise as I write this) some references to hitting her ‘harder harder harder’ – Ooh dear … nothing sinister I hope … but where the narrative is going I don’t know. There are countless other songs by Lou Reed / the Velvets that are probably more memorable – or even ‘better’ but sometimes you just need a song that you can’t get a handle on – one that remains chimerically foggy.
2013 11 Sep
leslie winer ©’s 1990 release ‘Witch’ – which is hard to find (depending on which Witch you’re after) is available to download. Words are good, but when other words don’t do them justice ears are better.
Here is an American Haiku to celebrate:
a night canvas
a sheer cut
misses a spectre
A quality of Leslie Winer’s work is that it resists or defies any analysis that could really come close to revealing its dynamic, questioning nature. In the same way that the songs themselves demonstrate the struggle to capture the elusive noumenon of objects, feelings or experiences, so the language that is necessary to describe both the music and the words is inevitably drawn towards (and, as a look at reviews elsewhere will show) must resort to easy analogies or trite categorisation. To really grapple with these songs’ concerns is to enter a vertiginous, dizzying, but exhilarating vortex where, if there are any ‘answers’ then these are not to be found on the level of language (the Soviet psychologist Vygotsky compared a thought to ‘a cloud shedding a shower of words’) – which is merely the point of departure ; better to follow the example of the characters in the Ealing comedy the Lavender Hill Mob, whose descent down the spiral staircase of the Eiffel tower – shedding accoutrements en route, gives them the opportunity to achieve an altered state of consciousness by letting themselves ‘be’ in the moment – beyond thought-language-reason and enter into something that looks like pure joy – or madness. Dunderhead, for example, the fourth track on the Purity Supreme ep ‘Always Already’ – a collaboration between Leslie Winer and Christophe Van Huffel, could easily be labelled with the nearest glib adjective such as ‘cinematic’ or ‘macabre’ etc. or use references to ‘Badlands’ or ‘Deliverance’ (just as I have myself made an (easy?) reference to an Ealing film) and yet whilst it is not hard to see why those labels/references might be used, to do so would not be so much to scratch the surface, as to gorge on the surface alone – to the neglect of everything else – like a pig hunting truffles (well, a not particularly well trained pig). In Japan there is a bath toy that resembles a bar of soap and which, when immersed in the water, begins to spin, effervesce and disintegrate, to eventually reveal the plastic thing concealed within. This track – as with each of the other three songs on the ep, works in a similar way; except that the fizzing, coruscating nature of each, as its concerns are addressed – I hesitate to say ‘revealed’, is ongoing – and whatever “meaning” can be inferred has to be continually revised – refusing to yield to the final death knoll of any fixed interpretation. The concern is with the liminal – with exploring the reality (the word itself is inadequate) that whatever we experience or perceive can only be unsatisfactorily described through fallible words and senses. The words used are just the shed skin of the thing that was experienced.
Each song on the ep is ‘about’ ‘being about’ things – and the references within the songs reflect this: ‘what you notice is the flaw’; ‘The words that I like. Are you revolting’? (‘revolting’ could be the sense of the dynamism of words themselves as they are constantly interpreted and their meanings fixed and then reassessed; their limitations and their recalcitrant nature – Scott Walker likens his own relationship to words as that of a military commander to his troops: where the troops can as easily run amok as meet their military objectives; or it could simply mean ‘revolting’ – in the literal sense of being ‘nauseating’) This view of words recalls the work of French New Novelist authors such as Nathalie Sarraute or Alain Robbe-Grillet. There are repetitions of very precise references to specific moments in time and place (in Milk ST. and ‘Half Past 3 Cowboy’, and yet, as a line in the former puts it: ‘the more specific you get, the more general you’ll be’. As in other songs in her earlier work, statements are made which are overt assertions of certainty: ‘This is….’ or ‘I am….’ and whatever the predicate happens to be – but at the same time this certainty somehow seems to undermine itself and be rendered unobtainable. At the end of Dunderhead the woods woman too is subverting her own narrative – if that’s what it is, by almost caricaturing it in an hallucinatory, playful, riffing manner.
This might give the impression of a dry, intellectual exercise, but the converse is true: there are some drily funny lines; ‘I got a couple of drops of Indian blood, mostly on my hands’; ‘I got a tiny phial of ‘come to me’ & a gallon of ‘get the fuck out’; ‘Mama’s got a brand new fag’; there is brio, attitude, empathy and anger. For me the most affecting song is ‘Famous Inhabitants of Louth’. I have no idea what the references are to, but it doesn’t seem to matter – this is a song that contains joy, sadness, yearning and mirth. The seemingly (and possibly consciously) aleatoric references to the residents of a Lincolnshire town – accompanied on a voyage by an orchestra and cow, to acting as an intermediary for in-fighting pirates, to flies ‘locked in a JSTOR-logo embrace’ and to ‘English sweat’ might seem to be a recipe for distancing or losing the listener altogether – but instead they captivate – cerebrally and emotionally: who would have thought that a detailed description of a Mr Pig watch costing 21 quid could move you to tears? There is something beautiful and pathetic in the meticulous description of this banal object. The music itself is suitably fractured, dramatic or understated – conventional in parts or idiosyncratic elsewhere and the incanted narration is snarled or plangent, playful or vituperative, according to the inflection that the words demand. As the final track says – ‘it’s all good’.
I’m not sure how many people have listened to this ep, but I hope that it gets the exposure, love and critical praise it should – because listening to music doesn’t get much more stimulating and enjoyable than this.
2013 29 Jul
Here is a Leslie Winer track with some JJ Cale and Samuel Beckett from her own site:
In a Spike Milligan story about (if I remember correctly) a short break in Paris, the narrator, describes waking up in his 3rd floor hotel bedroom, opening the doors and stepping out onto the balcony, and then (as he writes) … “I remembered – I didn’t have one!” Well something similar happened to me today. I excitedly drove to the post office to pick up a package from Kudos Records, from whom I’d ordered the Purity Supreme ep “Always Already” – Purity Supreme being a collaboration between Leslie Winer and Christophe Van Huffel. I slit it open with an eager finger (that I had to hand (so to speak)) and remembered that wonderful feeling I had years ago whenever I bought a new record – that wonderful, but slightly unfamiliar feeling … unfamiliar because it’s years since I’ve been in the habit of buying records – the reason being: I don’t have a record player! (something I should have remembered when reading Michael’s recent Blog post about his turntable!)
There is a fine line between devotion, enthusiasm, love, single-mindedness, passion and obsession and this line is in a constant state of flux – until it makes that fateful shift – usually with conviction (and often irrevocably) – and encircles the subject in a single hypostasised category “cell” where there is no disguising the emotion or state any longer and little chance of recourse or redemption. Yuka Honda captures this initial nascent, throbbing, latent state in “I Dream About You” from her 2009 album Eucademix. The song is sung by Miho Hattori (I believe) from the perspective of a female subject to the female object of her burgeoning desire – the refrain “I dream about you” is incanted over a monotonous electronic backdrop – occasionally interspersed with more elaborated semi-spoken narrative and snatches of dialogue from a European movie of indeterminate identity or content – save that it is suitably “moody” and ominous. The ambiguity of the line “I dream about you”, that is alluded to in the song’s opening reference to the “little moment between twilight and night” – is perfectly framed by the music, by the singer´s tone and by the paucity of detail. When we are focused – however healthily or unhealthily on an object of adoration – words are usually superfluous – and when we hear the line repeated again and again, each iteration is inflected with a different hue – Love? Sexual desire? Anodyne admiration? Tender affection? Venal obsession? Any interpretation could be possible. The narrator reveals how she meets the object of her passion three weeks earlier, when “She gave me a sweet smile – the kind I call sublime”. This word is most apposite as, Mona Lisa-like, it embodies the ambiguity and latent quality that exists at the heart of all change. Limus – “oblique” and Limen – “threshold” – words that it may derive from, signal that line which initially can crossed from moment to moment until something will happen that drives us to cross it without hope of return. Was the smile genuine? Was it a come-on? Was it a guarded, resigned defence put up instinctively in reaction to an encounter felt to be sinister? The great thing is we will never know. The song will remain forever in this unfinalisable state.
2013 13 Jun
It’s a wonderful thing to get drunk on music – and particularly the music of Scott Walker. Since first hearing ‘Such a Small Love’, when buying the Julian Cope compilation many years ago at the height of post punk (it’s funny how each epic period that we lived through seemed eternal at the time, but with retrospect lasted perhaps a few months!) I have loved almost everything I have heard of his (with the possible exception of ‘Stretch/We had it all’) and find his most recent work to have surpassed even his earlier seminal solo work (recently re-released and remastered) in terms of its scope, artistic ambition – its humour and literary playfulness/inventiveness. But despite Tilt/the Drift and Bish Bosch being just about as fine as it can get, I still love his earlier work and can’t believe that until today I had never actually heard ‘the big Hurt’! So to sit in front of a roaring computer, listening to a wonderful ‘new’ Scott Walker song (well, he didn’t actually write it) that has already been freely available for years is akin to … well, is akin to finding a Scott Walker that you didn’t know about, when you perhaps could have done so simply by buying the album! The song has the typical ‘big’ orchestration of that period and, again typically, has a prominent violin presence … but unlike, say, the sinister sustained string effect on ‘it’s Raining Today’, here, the violin has a ludic/lunatic/Rabelasian quality – jumping around wildly all over the place – as if mocking the counterpart MOR orchestration that forms the backdrop to much of the rest of the song. It’s almost as though the violin part is channeling Scott’s psychic disquiet as he wears, but at the same time seeks to shake off, the mantle of conformity to the mainstream, which he had donned as a teenager and worn ever since with elan, sophistication and youthful Schnodderigkeit. Interestingly, the violin part isn’t consistently wild and untrammeled, but (playing its part to perfection) intermittently bows to conformity and sounds at times almost as though it would feel at home in the ‘Stingray’ outro (not in itself a bad thing!). And just when the strings have had enough of being ‘out there’, the unrest spreads elsewhere to the trumpet … it seems that something has to give: the truth will out … But what holds all of this together and prevents it from fracturing completely, is the voice, which glides effortlessly from stanza to stanza (I think the word is more appropriate here than ‘verse’) in what is perhaps the finest example of ‘gliding’ that I can recall in a song, as it rises and descends through the pitches like a cool, ray-banned surfer … expressing on the surface, loss – of love and time, but also pointing towards some kind of recovery and growth; both in terms of the narrative of the song, but also an artistic and spiritual growth. If this is hurting, then who needs joy!
2013 27 Mai
Although I knew Jonathon Richman and the Modern Lovers though Roadrunner, Ice Cream Man and Egyptian Reggae, which I heard around the time of the first punk explosion, for some reason I never really listened to him very closely until about three or four days ago, which is quite a long time to allow such a great treasure to escape from your life … I can’t even remember the chain of aleatoric thoughts that lead me to him again, but I find myself becoming ever more captivated by his enchanting music. What I find so great about him is that unlike a band like Coldplay and countless others who need to express BIG emotions and big sounds, which ultimately end up feeling limited and constrained because of the scale of their ambition, Jonathon Richman’s music is small and homespun in its sound and in its lyrical interest and yet manages to seem limitless in the possibilities it suggests of its possible meaning and its spiritual yearning. Whether he is writing about being a mosquito or about honey bees or parachute jumpers, whether about the joys of driving along a New England freeway or dancing in a lesbian bar; however small or parochial the nature of his concerns, the expansive nature of the joy that the lyrics give rise to in the listener and the vibrancy and ebullience of the music are such that any one of his songs could charge you with sufficient energy to single-handed build a pyramid, fight a Roman legion (assuming there was one in the vicinity of the pyramid) and still have room to counter the next wave of misery that is an inherent part of the human condition, but which he manages to somehow dissipate through his songwriting.
Although there are so many of his songs that are great, I particularly love ‘Twilight in Boston‘ because it expresses the joy of the mundane – of the prosaic, with precisely the deftness of touch that avoids slipping into the mawkish (of course, this is subjective). It happens to refer to Boston, but this could be an experience that anyone could have, anywhere in the world – at any time. It’s sung with that gleeful sense that enjoyment comes from the here and now, from the smallness of things, which at the same time are connected to something greater. So as I listen to it, I can celebrate the wonderful reaction of Jurgen Klopp to Subotic’s goal line clearance, walking past Tonbridge castle in the late afternoon sunshine and at any of these times, feel connected to an Egyptian slave who is in love with Cleopatra (my interpretation of Abdul and Cleopatra)!
(Dedicated to the inspiring BVB team)