The Courage of Horrible Sounds: A Gonzo Meditation

My favorite record by Radiohead is Kid A, not, I take it, their most famous record, but in my opinion a sleeper.  That album contains many sounds that, taken in isolation, sound horrible, but in their contexts are sublime.  Supposedly, at the time that album emerged, the members of Radiohead were much taken with Autechre and the whole genre of digitally created blips and blorps.  Now, the blip-blorp school of music is indeed boring and trivial, but Kid A is a deeply moving artifact.  Here, as is so often the case, influence and genesis are truly quite irrelevant.  All that matters is the individual achievement.  Keats, for example, was greatly influenced by Edmund Spenser, who is worth a look, and the eminently forgettable Leigh Hunt (the leader of a supportive coterie), neither of whom give the least inkling of the value of Keats’s poems.  Yet Radiohead made Autechrean blips and blorps into a  profoundly meaningful texture.  What is impressive about this achievement is that the horrible sounds, which are edgy and hip for C.E. 2000, and thus provincial, no doubt, somehow coalesce, transcending their putative genesis, to create the sound of ravishment, of invasion, of transgression, of intromission, of ecstasy.  Ah God, those cut up vocal sounds, compressed into inarticulate expressions of, who knows, utterance just south of intelligible: thuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-dih-dih-nuh-de-dih-dih-dih-dih-nuh-de-nih-nuh.  Kid a kid a kid a kid a. Fih, fuh.  Dear ih nah, ha-dee nih de now-ow-ah.  Simply put, how could these artists have known that such horrible sounds would, together, make beauty?  Listeners are not mind readers, of course, and artists’ intentions are neither available nor particularly useful to understanding.  How could Radiohead have known?  Odds are, they didn’t.  But the outcome is not merely luck.  This much is certain since the outcome is not the effect of a cause, much less the product of a conscious intention: they did it without a net, without certainty of a satisfactory (so-called) outcome.  (Piss on cause and effect reasoning, much less the calculation of means and ends.)  The fact is that an artist follows intuition.  Again, in these pages again and again, put simply, the moral imperative for the artist, the only moral imperative, is truth to imagination.  The artist alone, or with his lonely little group of collaborators, hears everywhere the voice of the Everlasting No: you’re too loud, you sound like shit, you suck.  And yet the imagination generates that which has never been before, and therefore to the ignorant, the prejudiced, the philistine, the profiteer, the prophecy fulfills itself: it sounds like dog.  And the Yea, far from everlasting, is weak, ephemeral, doomed.  So let’s listen to Third Stone from the Sun.  First time, it sounds like a mashed-up muddle of nothing wee-wee-uh-we-we-we.  And then the melody: ravishing, ecstatic, sturdy, robust, vertiginous, beautiful in purest beauty slowly and only under repeating listenings like in years and decades, emerges.  Did Hendrix know that these sounds would be beautiful?  It can only have been a knowing-without-knowing, a doing-without-doing.  (Bitches Brew would provide an equivalent example, though Miles had a track record in ’69, which, in ’67, Hendrix did not.  Michaelangelo.  Picasso.  Sophocles and what’s so beautiful about Oedipus’ eyeballs out?)  Yes, the coterie supported, and indeed the profiteers might have drooled.  And moreover, the coterie can be as vicious as the profiteers: “Turn that goddamned guitar down,” said an audience member at Voodoo Chile.  But how heavy, burdensome, debilitating, and disempowering would have been the naysayers, the voices of busy common sense.  Hence, a perfectly rational explanation, for this and all artistic achievement, comes clear.  All quail before the Everlasting No, which threatens, most realistically, with annihilation.  (The coterie says yes, but the coterie can’t take it, can’t really stand up to what it affirms with its mere will, its mere intellect.)  But a force, call it character, resists the pressure and the lure of Nothing, and chooses, in violation of the fundamental law of physics–the law of entropy–the principle of disorganization–the triumph, the godlike triumph, of Something.  O blessed rage for order!  A negative will, a negative capability and fcuk a bunch of failure–or for that matter, of success.  Yes, entropy will win.  Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.  All things fall and are built again, and those that build them again are gay: gaiety transfiguring all that dread.  Splinter, like all gurus, senseis, rabbis, and school-teachers had it right: courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it.  Is Louder Than Dirt the equal of Hendrix or Radiohead?  Well.  We dare the attempt.

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