The Lowest Form Of Literature

I was a paid musician, on and off, for 35 years. My first paid job was a high school dance. Probably the first several jobs were high schools. I was 15. By the time I was 16 the band I was in had been banned from Grant High School in Fox Lake, Illinois, for several bits of showmanship. Our guitar player stripped naked and wrapped himself in the American flag at stage right. This inspired our keyboard player to execute high volume slides on his Hammond BIII with such wired verve and abandon that he stripped the plastic off of several keys. As a result he cut his hands and wrists on the broken edges, washing two octaves of fake ivory (he had done this before and had keys replaced) with blood, then passed out. Our singer hit a local greaser named Bozo over the head with a microphone stand, sending him to the hospital. The drummer and I had taken only a reasonable handful of Desoxyn pills and maintained a professional-sounding rhythm section.

We played a lot of bars (that overlooked my age) and then colleges. In Champagne and Carbondale, Illinois; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Madison, Wisconsin, I started to read rock magazines.

I read other people's copies of Creem, Crawdaddy!, Hit Parader, and Rolling Stone. Someone had British magazines like Melody Maker and others, the odd copy of Cashbox or Billboard, and later, The Village Voice, where Robert Christgau and Lester Bangs would appear. I didn't take note of bylines until those guys. Rock and roll and the printed word were different deals. For a long time I assumed Greil Marcus was probably an Oxford professor who may have indulged in reefer back in the 1920s, and this explained why I didn't understand him. I didn't understand Christgau because I was too stoned.

Decades later I stand in front of the magazine rack at Borders looking at the rock press display, and it's a sea of full color, glossy, mostly corporate (in one way or another) organs of promotion. Advertisements literally fall from them and flutter to your feet.

I bought three for nearly $30. One was Spin because I'd read it years ago and it had survived and two others because of their complete foreignness. I recognized no writers and little of what they wrote about.

Undoubtedly this is because I'm old. And while the stuff is foreign, it should not be alien. It's not as if I spent my youth in a neurasthenic shell at MIT. Why do I feel like I'm reading the irrational and illiterate street-jargon and clique-speak ramblings of the schiz-affected autistic, the media cafard mutterings of MTV comatose consumers, or the incoherent Tourette outbursts of short-circuited inmates?


"Books That Kill," by Kyle Anderson: "Twenty-one-year-old Natalie Riedman is a proud University of Nebraska graduate, a future doctor, and a runner-up for Miss Nebraska USA. But for the rest of her life she'll be known as 'The Hot Tutor,' her official title on NBC's new reality series Tommy Lee Goes to College in which the Mötley Crüe drummer does his best to focus on his homework instead of all those undergrad girls, girls, girls."

"Howling at the Moon" by Chuck Klosterman, in which he writes about bands with the word "wolf" in their names (i.e. "Wolf Parade, Guitar Wolf, Super Wolf, Wolf Eyes, Wolf Mother, Peanut Butter Wolf," etc.). He prefaces his essay: "I am trying to view these wolf bands through the eyes of a sociologist; this is not easy, as I don't know anything about sociology."

He goes on: "People who like music have wasted a chunk of their lives thinking up names for bands that do not exist." True, but redeemed for all of us by George Carlin, who once thanked fictional bands that opened for his act, among them, "The Note Fuckers" and "Waitress Sweat."


I am trying to view this magazine through the eyes of a cyberneticist; this is not easy, as I don't know anything about cybernetics. "Cybernetics: n: the science of communication and control in animals (as by the nervous system) and in machines (as by computers)." -- Oxford American Dictionary.

"Reviews: Apple Logic Pro 7.1." Random sample: "WaveBurner (Pro only). Although we were very pleased to see WaveBurner included with version 7, in practice its lack of plug-in manager meant that it could take up to five minutes to open. WaveBurner 1.1, which is included, but a separate application to Logic, has a plug-in manager similar to that found in Logic, GarageBand 2, and Tiger.

"However, given the big fanfare for OS 10.4 (Tiger), it is strange that this gets little mention in the Logic 7.1 upgrade. Hopefully there should be at least slight performance improvements over Panther. We hope the new editions in Tiger that filter through to Logic 7.1 will include the 64-bit audio file format and audio device aggregation."

On page 155, this critical work caught my eye, as it would anyone who was once young, coursing with hormones, and rebellious: "Fxpansion's 8-Bit Kit Expansion Pack for BFD." A discourse on previous incarnations of BFD -- whatever that is (aside from Big Fucking Deal) -- is concluded happily by this remarkable statement: "This meant that for the first time we could close our eyes and it felt like there really was a real live drummer in the room with us." For the first time. Remarkable. Future music.

And nothing says sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll like writer TJ Glover's announcement: "A stripdown of the Halion 3 engine marks Steinberg's entry into the ROMpler market. What we have here is essentially Steinberg's equivalent of IK Multimedia's SampleTank and Native Instruments' trio of licensable sample playback engines --Kontact Player, Kompakt, and Intakt. The idea is that sample producers license the HALion player engine and fill it with their own sounds so Steinberg make [sic] a bit of cash."


The Transplants are on the cover with a quote from one of them bannered, "People ain't gonna know what hit 'em." The feature begins, "They're a veritable rogue's gallery of rockers, with celebrity, punk history, and full-on street smarts coursing through their veins. And if you try to pigeonhole their music using the old punk-rock rulebook, they'll strap some dynamite to your preconceived notions and kiss your butt goodbye. Simply put, Transplants don't care what you think."

About a song, I think, but it's unclear. Tim Armstrong describes their 2002 debut album by saying, "It has a summertime vibe, but he's talking about killing himself." A quote from member Rob Aston, who looks fresh-sprung from the penitentiary where he won the homey dog of the month award, recounts a recent event in Hollywood: "Me and my partner got in a fight with some fools. Cops came and all that good shit -- they're questioning motherfuckers and this and that." Tim Armstrong: "Rob is super fucking honest. He don't give a fuck about pleasing anybody." Travis Barker, Transplant and also member of the Barker family of MTV's Meet the Barkers, usually doesn't go out with a bodyguard, writer Michael Muller tells us. Barker says, "I think it brings more attention. I'd rather take an ass-whupping than walk around with some big fucking ogre." It is true that I finished Muller's article without awareness of what hit me. Not only that, but I've heard the Transplants, and not only was I oblivious to the nature and essence of what hit me, but for the life of me can't remember what the thing, that might have hit me, if it did, was.

Bands that have been together for at least a decade have escaped my doddering radar, bands featured in AP like Melt-Banana and Darkest Hour. Among band names, 99 percent of which slid off my scar-slick memory cells, only two adhered to a sticky and encrusted synapse in the toxic effluvia of my mind. Those were Dashboard Confessional, whom I applaud for their existential and theological pith, and Black Dahlia Murder, being a fan of that slaying. More on that combo of scamps after these words.

AP, wisely, does not narrow their demographic appeal. Here, for example, is a short piece on the band Eisely, which states: "They would actually prefer it that you call them 'wholesome.'"

"Who would take that as an insult?" asks 21-year-old singer/guitarist Sheri DuPree. 'We go on tour with these bands and they party.That's what all bands do. We drink lots of coffee.'"

One can deduce something from the advertisers in this 192-page publication: mostly indie record companies. But also Vans, and here is a full-page t-shirtsthatsuck.com ad: "Offensive apparel for the whole family!" Torso-wear includes such logos as "Everytime you masturbate, God kills a kitten," "Helen, you really ought to douche," and "Ask me about my explosive diarrhea!"

"The lowest form of literature is rock journalism." -- Hunter S. Thompson. And whether or not it is the job of the rock-write community to tell you whether something is good to listen to is a question rock-write pioneer Richard Meltzer addressed repeatedly, mostly by manipulating form and content into something as irrelevant as the material at hand. An example of this was when he had his cat write an "ambient review" of a piece of "ambient music" by John Cage, which consisted of

silence. In AP's "Wiretapping" column, someone who had written a bylineless review of Black Dahlia Murder might have thought about Meltzer's approach, but didn't think it through.

"With Miasma, forget everything you know about the Black Dahlia Murder. The album is made up of 84 different 30-second songs, all of which are acoustic odes to singer Trevor Strnad's pet gecko, Miasma. Each track is quiet and pensive, creeping through your headphones at a snail's pace in an effort to lull you into slumber. Or we could be could be [sic] completely bullshitting you about what is surely one of the heaviest (and best) metal releases of 2005. You figure it out."

The writer (maybe editor) has the passive-aggressive killer instinct of a shy but cunning dictator. Aged rock-write advice might be to read any of Meltzer's pieces such as "A Whore Just Like The Rest," and read them to the end. I don't think you will find the word heavy or heaviest, but I can't swear to it. I can't imagine him ever typing the phrase "You figure it out."

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