Friday, December 22, 2006

Comments Return from the Dead; Zorn's Dilemma

Hey I just recovered all of these great comments that have been lingering in some to-be-moderated file... Apologies to dbr, mzn, and johnny too bad, who I hope will keep reading even though their comments have only just published. Check the Lessig piece especially for dbr and mzn's very thoughtful comments to my mostly ranty critique of LL.

Johnny Too Bad asked me what I think of John Zorn and Masada re: elitism and their musical construction of jewish identity four months ago, and I guess a response is better late than never.

I feel really conflicted about Zorn. "Spillane" was the first out record I ever got, in junior high, and it permanently rearranged my brain cells. Seeing him on "Night Music" with the kneehigh striped socks and leather jacket doing the whole squeaking/skronking/muting against the inner thigh alto thing was a revelation when I was a freshman in high school. Between interviews with him in music magazines and his curating at the Knitting Factory and Tonic and Victoriaville and the records he put out on Tzadik and Avant, he is probably the individual through whom I learned about most of the music I like. I also remember the Zorn concerts I have seen very fondly, partially because his personal charisma is so strong.

But musically, I must say that I hate just about all of his music. I hate the quick-change cross-genre stuff, hate the game pieces (although mostly because the groups that recorded them in the post-parachute period were so awful... all of that digital reverb and gutless han bennink-lite drumming, and macho berklee horn playing), hate the quasi-Ligeti string music (more than all the other stuff combined), and really hate the whole way that "radical jewish music" is correlated with minor scales and modal ostinatos in Masada.

Also, what's with the seeming need for every male American "eccentric musician" to embrace hyperoverdocumentation and egomania? It's really creepy and Ayn Randy. Like, knock it off.

But, that said, I saw Masada in Jerusalem with my mom when I was 19 and it was really nice. As I think about it, the big problem at a technical level really is that he does the whole Duke Ellington/ICP thing of writing for the voices and talents of particular musicians, and at the end of the day, the musicians he likes don't appeal to me... I just never want to hear Joey Baron or Wayne Horvitz or Dave Douglas or Bill Frisell-with-electronic-effects or most of the other people Zorn seems to love. With the exception of Marc Ribot and Otomo Yosihide and Zorn himself in his extreme duck call solo improv persona, the whole Tzadik stable seems kind of really bad. But Zorn blowing his crazy noise? I still think it's a good sound.

You'll get no Zorn apologist out of me. Same as you, he was one of the first "out" musicians I got into as well and only later learned what a ripoff artist he was. I agree that the idea of Masada being "radical" is a bit strange, too though it is probably the least offensive thing Zorn is doing.

The overdocumentation is what REALLY bugs me, though. What volume of filmworks is he on now? 65? He runs a record label, think of all the CDs he could be releasing with the money spent on the endless different series' of Zorn's music. And who the hell organizes a 50th birthday festival? 60? Maybe. 50? Come on!

The question my mini-diatribe leaves me asking is, why is Zorn the guy you and I and lots of other people heard before people who are better? Is it the amount of material available or something else?
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Thanks for checking in nhennies. My two cents regarding why Zorn is the dude everybody encounters first are probably the same as yours, but here goes:

1) I don't think Zorn would have been on the radar if he didn't use versions of a bunch of things that are repugnant to me: a)sexism-- all of those bondage and japanse porn covers; b) orientalism-- see a; c) gratuitous violence; d)profanity-laden macho/hostile song titles; e)theatre.
Yeah, I know I shouldn't hate "e," theatre, and in fact i bet I wouldn't mind Kagel's theatre-y pieces, but otherwise, I just can't stand theatre in music. In Zorn's case, it is definitely a way for people to consume weird music without having to listen hard.

2)Zorn's records were available, for some reason, when other, better people's records were not. And even when better people's records were available, they were often bad records. For instance, most of the best New York School stuff was not recorded well and mass released on CD until well into the 1990s. And the Evan Parker rack at the local record stores in Toronto, for instance, were typically full of awful ECM CDs. It was not until the birth of the web, I think, that getting into weird music didn't require a lot of very discouraging trial and error. At the very least, my life, ages 15-19 seemed like one bad gamble after another, music consumption-wise. For me, it was meeting people with longer memories of out music that really helped me sort out the good from the bad from the okay from the derivative.

3) I got into Zorn through indie and indie people tend to be: a) very bourgeois, in terms of musical taste, and b)averse to close listening to music that lacks obvious embedded indices of how to listen. I don't know about you, but I quickly gave up trying to establish common ground with old indie friends once I started becoming fascinated by the other stuff...
Just last night I was saying:

"You know, when I meet indie rock fans now I almost never like them."

'Nuff said.

We're watching The Dog Whisperer. It's amazing!
Yes, I have noticed that I too don't get along with indie rock people so much anymore.

At first, I was surprised by the fact that I stopped feeling like I had anything in common with strangers on the basis of indie-ness. This was especially true when I worked at the legislative council. All these indie people worked there, and I swear they all instinctively hated me. It was seriously like ninth grade.

Then I started noticing that I also especially dislike indie people for their very indie-ness. I am speaking here mostly of the manorexics with the haircuts, of course.

I guess on a larger scale it started with the awful Flaming Lips albums, and the emergence by default of Yo La Tengo as the last band standing and therefore de facto the "best" indie rock band even though they are the worst. Well, at least, I don't think I relate to one thing that they do when they make music or listen to it. And that bastard with the afro and the striped shirt seems so smug and self-satisfied and the song he sings in the "Gilmore Girls" season 6 episode where all of the musicians invade the town suuuucks...

Now, it is all about the awful Canadian bands for me. I don't care if this makes me "rockist" or whatever (but I don't see why it would, since I pretty much hate rock music)... If someone says Arcade Fire or The New Pornographers, I start getting hostile. No, not hostile. Narcoleptic? What's good about that music? Tell me!

Cesar Milan is my total hero. Rules, boundaries, limitations. If only I could really internalize this lesson for my own life!
right on! i bother to comment mostly because i really enjoyed your use of the term "ayn randy" - if i can get that into my own vocabulary i would use it often, since it sums up a particularly useful concept.
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