Help! I've Got Nine Inch Nails in My head...

Page 14

"...M.M.M. stood suddenly for music, music, music,
in brilliant, brevier and canon..."

—Samuel Beckett, Murphy, 1938.

And that's how I want it, this vault, a roof above of diamond-hard glass with so many views and perspectives that you can see it all because you've looked so closely at so much already.

Now I'm trying to figure out how I got to this point I'm at and what the hell could possibly be next. The point that I am at? I need to tie an unlikely artistic knot with two imagined opposites—Stephane Grappelli, master jazz violinist who came to fame in the 30s with Le Quintet of the Hot Club of France; and Trent Reznor, the man whose vision has given us the industrial storm and clang of Nine Inch Nails.

  • On Monday, September 5th, Labor Day of this year, I travelled to Artpark in Buffalo to see the 87-year-old Grappelli caress birdsong and the sweet sighs of angels out of his violin to the accompaniment of 60-some-year-old Bucky Pizarelli's hot Italian jazz-guitar and a very young stand-up contrabass player who later wowed us all with a nasty deep down solo version of "Makin' Whoopee."

  • On Monday, November 28th, I travelled to the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh to see Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails serve up, on a mottled cybergothic tray piled high with moist veins and smoking circuit boards, a multi-layered and highly detailed map of angst, alienation, and anger that was, quite frankly, one of the the most moving aural doses of pure aggressive beauty I've ever known.

Trent and Stephane

Watch closely now, as I attempt to make sense of this split, this span, this spectrum in my world.

Hi. My name's Rick. I'm a music addict. I listen to rock/ country/ jazz/ metal/ new/ classical/ baroque/ rap/ free form/ Asian film scores/ buzzing bees/ pounding iron forges/ trains clacking by/ the polyrhythms set up by my turn signal and wipers in tandem/ the snow on TV a percentage of which is actually the echo of the explosive birth of our universe... And everything in between—the hybrids and mad mixtures and crossed-influences that make it all one continuous modulated song, so where really do we draw the lines and in fact why do we need to draw them at all? What lines?

And speaking of film scores, just imagine if we were to let ourselves identify effortlessly with soundtracks without the supplied pictures. To be able to feel what those sounds make us feel in the movies while we walk the streets or drive our cars. Sound works on us like crazy when we let it, only becoming strange and unlistenable when we try cramming it into our pegholes. (Why isn't Ennio Morricone's whacked spaghetti western music on radio?) Everyone and every world has its own soundtrack; its own way of speaking the universal language; its own sound-wave map which might act as guide for every prospective visitor. Like a thousand dialects/a thousand ways to say "hello." So many mental homebodies, stuck irretrievably in one confining place. These labels are there for our convenience, as means of description, so we can talk about them—not as some kind of cage to lock ourselves in. It seems that listening exclusively to, for instance, the not-exactly-higher form of expression that radio-driven "Top 40" has become could hurt somebody. Like eating three-times-a-day-every-day meals at McDonald's.

Not sure how it happened, but I remember access to the stereo console (what'saconsole?) as a small child and it was a serious tool/toy for me. So I'm diminutive and hairless and listening to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, Belafonte at Carnegie Hall and Andy Williams crooning, Brubeck and Monk in addition to the day's popular music fare, and that's the way it ought to be, and that's the way it was with me, and today I'm bouncing off of two extremes.

Grappelli and NIN, like a side-by-side reading of Heidi and American Psycho.

I grew up with context as a living thing, my field of view moving and panoramic. Just like I've read a few trillion sentences, not all writ by the rules of course, so I have a sense of how to write and also how to subvert one. Context is like a grappling tool. I try now and then explaining to my dear grandmother why it is harmless and not a sin to say the "F" word, but she has no contextual cash with which to buy this. I let it slip at her 87-year-old ears every half-year or so as a kind of periodic pulse check, and she responds by pretending she hasn't noticed, though I always catch her left eyebrow getting stuck way up high, as if trying to leap off of her head. The word is most everywhere, though it hasn't shown up here since it hasn't been "in [my] context" yet. (See, I'm trying to alienate you all by small portions, so I would never say that unless I absolutely had to, as perhaps in an essential quotation or something. I have so many options, don't you know?) Just imagine what a help it would be if "in context" were to become some new mantra, a way to help us pause and look more closely and carefully. At everything...

More in a Minute, But First...

...We Pause Here for a Major League "How it Works" Sidebar:

It begins innocently enough, with the simple dropping of an obscure name.

[ And in retrospect I am wondering—what if we had the insight to take that first cue, that first brick in the road (before we even know it is one) and suddenly see laid out in front of it the projected intricate landscapes through which it might lead, all at once—how bright would that flash be? ]

The name comes via a story about Doe telling Smith that his father, now 75 years old, used to love the music of one Goebel Reeves, and that a long time ago Doe and his childhood siblings broke their Pa's last Goebel Reeves 78-rpm record (that brittle vinyl clattering in dark shards across the floor, all of the Doe kids stopping, Pa Doe stopping, time stopping...) and wouldn't it be wonderful if he could hunt down one of Reeves' records to surprise his Pa with this Xmas? Now Smith is, although he has blood in his veins and sweat on his brow, an actual book in human guise, and people everywhere who know what I mean, who have someone whom they consider a "book," know how important this is: to have access to someone(s) who can help you find out what you need to know. So Smith goes digging and stands there murmuring: "Goebel Reeves, Goebel Reeves, I know that name, why do I know that name?..." and Doe offers: "He wrote a song called 'The Hobo's Lullaby'?" and Smith's eyes widen and he shouts (hallelujah!) "Goebel Reeves!! The Texas Drifter?!?!" and Doe's jaw falls slowly, with an echoing deep basso thud, to the carpeted floor, where it floods with the warmth of drool and wonder, marvelling at the serendipity that has placed him in the unlikely company of someone who actually knows what he's talking about.

Now Smith has deep connections to the World, see? So he says to Doe: "No way. You will never find a Goebel Reeves record, they are incredibly rare..." and in three minutes he's on the phone to Ohio because he knows where a Goebel Reeves record would be if it were anywhere (i.e.: he has an enormous set of keys) and Ohio says "no, I've never even seen a Goebel Reeves record, but you might try Maryland," and moments later Smith hands Doe a Maryland address saying "if anyone has one..."

And weeks later he tells me that Doe comes back "today, and taps me on the shoulder..." (just had to, from home 40 miles south) to thank him because Maryland mailed a cassette with nineteen cuts by The Texas Drifter and Pa has found a truly heavenly piece of his past to look at once again, and a kind of unlikely knot has been tied.

And he tells me "The Hobo's Lullaby" is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. So I ask have YOU any Goebel Reeves tapes and he says "no but I've got the song done by..." Arlo Guthrie, on an album of the same name. And the cords, they begin to quiver...

And it is a beautiful song, and it leads us to "The Massacre of 1913," the story of striking miners and several women and children burned alive by the National Guard and $ Interests, and we pause at Pa Woody Guthrie, briefly, with a nod to that side road and its depth of adjoining fields. How in the hell do we get to...

"I call 'crystallisation' that action of mind that discovers
fresh perfections at every turn of events."

—Stendhal, 1822

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