Wednesday, April 27, 2011

James Brown ist toht und Mein Hut, er hat drei Ecken

This post is about music, specifically three songs. Actually about four, but the fourth one comes later. Get some friends together and cue up these songs on your browser playlist:

Pop Will Eat Itself’s “Not Now James, We’re Busy”

Every time you hear the name of the hardest working man in show business, drink.
After you feel warm and fuzzy, which depending which song you played first, shouldn’t take long, sing this as sing-song as you can with your best Hogan’s Heroes accent:

Mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken,
Drei Ecken hat mein Hut,
Und hätt er nicht drei Ecken,
So wär es nicht mein Hut.

Or for the more English inclined:

My hat has three corners,
Three corners has my hat,
Had it not three corners,
It wouldn't be my hat!

And then play another James Brown themed song, maybe throw on the Inferno James Brown “Funk On Ah Roll” EP to mix things up, and get some more warm and fuzzy on.

And then throw down with whatever drinking song you remember from your high school language classes, most everyone has one or two burned into their brains for life. The three cornered hat song happens to be mine. Or mein as the case might be.

Our German teacher, also the high school soccer coach, taught us this song in 1st year German. Didn’t find out until much later that while a children’s song essentially, this tune is also a pub and Octoberfest favorite. Picture a bevy of burly Bavarians belting out, “Mein Hut er hat drei Ecken” while cleavage baring beauties two fist two dozen pints of pilsner past the merry picnic table planks piled high with a pithy plethora of pleasantly ploughed peoples.

This post isn’t really about drinking songs though. I would encourage you to learn some, as they’re ace even if no pints of brown pop are involved. Kids would enjoy tea parties all the more with some grand traditions taught through titillating bottom’s up ballads. Don’t have to be rune lyrics or anything, except in Ireland. Just sing-song, sort of preposterous, easy to remember, and fun to sway along to arms slung over one another’s shoulders like Can Can dancers gone crazy.

That particular group of songs were part of a strange trend, a sort of musical meme before Wiki or Google or social networks brought memes to the masses, or the sense of meme meaning a solution brought from posing a problem too or as by product of a lot of people influencing one another like monkeys trying to type up a draft of Macbeth.

Around 1989 - 90 there cropped up a dearth of X is Dead / Toht / Just Sleeping / Really Feeling Much Better Now, Thanks. “Michael Jackson is Dead” a couple decades prematurely. “Helmut Khol is Toht” where all those years of high school Deutsch paid off at last for more than sniggering over the phrase, “Ich Liebe Dich.”

James had some legal problems, a run from the cops for some reason, and a mix of gossip about maybe some DUIs, possibly some spousal abuse that would be darkly ironic as his wife died during a plastic surgery operation on the table. Isn’t dying pretty a Hollywood adage? James on CNN, James catching flak from late night talk show hosts, James getting all the wrong sort of attention, infamy really, and then society moved on. Or did they?

Something caught in at least three musical groups’ craws. OJ hadn’t happened yet. Not everyone necessarily had cable though market saturation of boxes promising even more channels of crap sat imminent and nigh. Internet as a concept had begun to befuddle television hosts on the Today Show and a myriad other media outlets. Video game systems still saw Mario as major innovation.

And three genres were evolving, mutating out of what had come before. LA Style, essentially one hit wonders despite the number of 12 inch remixes with and without rapping, were on the ripcurl of a mighty change to club playlists, not unlike Dubstep blowing up last year, or mash-ups & bootlegs a few years ago, or mash-ups done live on the fly a couple years ago.

Foetus has been around for a while in one form or another under various aliases, tied into the NYC art and punk scenes yet creating something new, something mean, something willing to experiment and put forward material that differed track to track as much as the patterns various items from the produce section might make against a concrete slab when hurled from passing jet cars. Wiseblood, Clint Ruin, Steroid Maximus, Manorexia, so many faces for an artistically inclined musical polyglot. In the late 80’s and early 90’s JG Thirlwell is making songs about sex, murder, god boys, and visiting lost lovers in the dead of winter in Eastern Europe. Producing demented covers of “I Am the Walrus” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” with NYC icons like Lydia Lunch.  Jazzy swing EPs making double entendres about shooting up and bondage versus becoming the damsel in distress left bound on the train tracks waiting for the train to come. By mid-90’s Thirlwell is music directing for MTV reality shows, slicing non-mainstream artists like Meg Lee Chin into the shows’ segue ways. And by the 2000s Thirlwell’s posse is making soundtracks for cartoons, Venture Brothers most of all. 2002 Thirlwell approves of the use of some Steroid Maximus material in my film school documentary and short film, moody instrumental stuff. I remain eternally grateful. By 2010 Thirlwell has collaborated with artists from Ninja Tune and other labels to remake, rethink, reimagine, and re-engineer many of his post 2000 material, introducing electronic aspects from people like Amon Tobin and Kid 606. And as the music has evolved, I’ve remained inspired and loyal to it, and to the artists behind the library of it all. Music that challenges you, makes you think, and also keeps you invested, excited, moved, and motivated has merits far over any catchy jingle or commercial catchphrase.

Pop Will Eat Itself made waves for merging samples and wry, clever lyrics with poppy, accessible sounds, making them accessible for mainstream folks and college alternative fans alike. While I liked their more obnoxious material like “There’s No Love Between Us Anymore” or “Beaver Patrol”, the song “Not Now James, We’re Busy” has always been my favorite. It recounts a story and turns James into a bystander, trying to interject, to share his perspective, yet getting perpetually shushed. This use of samples to story tell reminds me of the Jams / KLF tracks “Whitney Houston Joins the Jams” and to a degree “Don’t Take 5, Take What You Want”. At the time, sampling had just become a contentious issue for musicians, rappers particularly. Hip Hop relied on pulling breaks from records and effectively looping them to create the backdrop soundtrack to MC tongue twisting tirades. To go a step further and use samples, particularly as the voice of the sources of the outtakes, James for James, Whitney as Whitney, as story telling elements, as more than a break or hook, impressed me. 

Meat Beat Manifesto anchor Jack Dangers once expressed the building of an audio experience from snippets and loops and pieces and parts of other audio experiences and narratives as Audio Collage. I love that expression, and have a long standing dream of being able to afford the luxury to just collect sounds and build ambient beds with emergent narratives using samples, sourced sounds, and manufactured new bits similar to the stuff my friends Rob Bridgett and Scott Morgan produce, just with more layers, frenetic frenzy, not unlike the transitional montages of KLF’s Chill Out album or Andreas Ammer & John Peel’s Radio Inferno or Meat Beat Manifesto’s Subliminal Sandwich. 

 Like Walker Murch creating the legendary 130 something track mix for Apocalypse Now that had to be made the hard way and won an Oscar nod and a Guinness World Record for the effort. And back then most of this had to be done with tapes and DATs and early incarnations of sampling decks. A far cry from the laptop rock Luke Vibert, Plaid, or Kid 606 could post 2005.

So take some time to look back, to play some songs from your youth and consider how differently they were likely made, and why they were made at all, as entertainment, social commentary, comedy, innovation, or just anthems for the toasts to raise too.

Goodnight, James.


No comments:

Post a Comment