Vol. 3, Issue #11 June 20th - July 3rd, 2008

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

Charlie Doesn't Listen to Avant-Garde Music!!!

“Eh, music hater.” - Bugs Bunny, “Long-Haired Hair” (1949)

I’ve never really understood why people allow sounds to upset them. I understand trying to get a radio signal to come in clearer, or wishing the two guitarists would tune their instruments together so they could create their intended harmony instead of dissonance, but if music is meant to be noisy, so be it. From Yoko’s screams in the art galleries, to Ornette Coleman’s squawks in the dancehalls, John Cage’s whispers and feedback in the concert halls, or Throbbing Gristle’s wall of tape loops, it’s all simple vibrations in the trembling air, often running at a faster rate than traditional music, but not always.

I watched a documentary on the New York Philharmonic’s recent visit to Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea, and while I was hardly expecting an enlightened point of view from a dictator, I hadn’t heard anything about his view on the arts. Of course Kim is the latest to ban certain types of music from his regime, in this case it’s decadent American jazz. The Philharmonic did Gershwin “American in Paris” just to annoy the little jerk.

Jazz has had a long hard battle over the last hundred years, whether it was seen as “just” race music- as oppose to our culture’s classical music - here in its manger, America, to decadent nonArian music by Hitler and the Nazis - though please note that when Duke Ellington played in Switzerland during the war he always noticed that several Nazi officers would break German law and cross the border just to hear some jazz. Apparently not all Nazis were devoid of good taste.

In fact, one reason America had such an influx of Avant-garde music in the 20th century was because many of its major figures, such as Kurt Weill and Arnold Schoenberg, left Nazi Germany for the relative freedom America gives to music (if you overlook the racism in early protests over rock’n’roll).

The more I listen to experimental music the harder it is to wrap my head around the concept that it is anti-anything. But even around “enlightened” people, if you put on the wrong record, you get everything from declarations that its noise to the idea that it can physically affect people, such as giving the listener a headache. C and C# played together create dissonance, a faster vibration than, say, C and E, which is harmonic and vibrates at a slower rate, but many fine pieces have dissonance incorporated in the harmonies, from Stravinsky to The Beach Boys. Often the lack of a beat seems to throw people, but not all music is suppose to be foot tapping.

It’s like humans are preset to their own culture’s music by a certain age and few leave the Platonic cave to see what other noises are out there. I remember back in the 1980s, Reverend Jimmy Swaggart was giving a lecture on what was wrong with rock’n’roll music. At one point he mentioned the “weird” harmonies that came in fashion in rock music in the late 1960s; like the old Vox Wah-Wah Peddle commercial “Makes your guitar sound like a Sitar!” Actually India’s classical music is a lot closer to what music in the Holy Land sounded like at the time of Christ, more so than the 4/4 timing and Appalachian harmonies found in white gospel music or the blues based music of the black churches.

Growing up in America, I’ve always found it bizarre that people from other cultures have been so acceptant of American blues based music while we have been so intolerant of their music - remember The Beatles were the first group of foreigners to land a string of major hits in America. I never understood why some guy in a third world country with a completely separate music system would get excited about Elvis coming over the radio, or why the Japanese got so heavy into greaser fashion, but the blues is like some kind of virus that infests people; like Elvis said “When I hear music, rock’n’roll music, I have to move around.” It seems to work on the rest of the world too. It may well be our greatest weapon in cultural warfare. And that might be the answer to why dictators, people who want to control situations, ban free thought in music, and especially anything rhythmic coming out of the North West hemisphere.

Yet even here in the west people have violent reactions to music. Ornette Coleman used to get beat up during breaks early in his career, and usually the assailants’ goal was to break his plastic saxophone so they wouldn’t have to hear him anymore. John Cage did a reading in Italy where a riot broke out and more people were on stage at one point than were in the audience.

A classmate in college told me he saw the great free jazz pianist, Cecil Taylor and his band, in concert and “it was like being in Hell.” I asked if he was Catholic, he said he wasn’t. “Then that’s a mighty strange reaction,” I told him.

Ironically, Charles Manson, who was something of a fascist in his own, sad, little world, had no problem with the Avant-Garde, so much so that he found religious meaning in perhaps The Beatles’ boldest recording, “Revolution Number 9.” I’m still convinced it’s one of their most influential recordings and that it had a profound impact on the future of music. Yet, true to form, Manson was a racist and, at the same time, tried to ban Jazz from the ranch.

So remember, Kids, next time you hear a piece of disagreeable noise, ask yourself whether this is something really effecting you, or is it an effective tool to annoy fascism. With such a mind-set you might come to realize that Avant-Garde music may truly be the most all-American music in the world.

Annoying people is one of the greatest rights we have. Have a happy Fourth of July!

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