Spending $12

As an itinerant writer and copyeditor, I’m not always rolling in the cabbage. Not that I’m complaining—you think I’m complaining? You think I want to go back to my old cubicle and turn gray under florescent lights while invisible demons eat my soul? No! I’m aspiring to live like Beaumarchais!

Of course, right now I’m copyediting an 800 page book on Romanian farm collectivization, meaning that my life actually resembles Kafka’s Das Schloss starring Henny Youngman, but that’s the price of endeavor, and I can do naught but cast my gaze towards the ineffable rewards that will someday be mine. Sure, things are tough without a steady paycheck, but do you think Gomez Addams came by his fortune through normal channels? No! And when the biography of Gomez Addams is written, I bet they’ll skip over his “lean years” and devote the bulk of the text to Gomez’s knife-throwing, tango dancing, and alligator farming. So it is with me. Above my desk, Dear Reader, I have two cross-stitched samplers: one reads “An ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations. A copyeditor spends his life getting into tense situations,” and the other reads “The life of a freelance writer is always intense.” Those are words to live by.

This is all a roundabout way of admitting that I’ve been totally fucking broke lately, especially during my recent visit to NYC. I don’t know when I’m gonna be able to get out west to see people, or when I’m going to be able to pick up that Times New Viking Present the Paisley Reich record I’ve been wanting to get—or any record, for that matter. In fact, if it weren’t for good friends, I would have gone without food and housing.

While in NYC, I was bound and determined to see music. Specifically, I was determined to see Om, who were playing a show with Daniel Higgs. That’s a good lineup right there.

Daniel Higgs is the main guy in this band Lungfish, and now makes these strange albums of solo banjo and jew’s harp improvisations. I’m a big fan of his recent Metempsychotic Melodies album, made up of long banjo-based compositions plus the odd string of stentorian intonations about love.

Higgs music is sprawling, and it sounds like he’s channeling awfully weird forces when he plays. (My friend Matty, who has launched a one-man humanitarian mission to make sure that I stay tethered to the world of fine music, introduced me to Daniel Higgs’ stuff. Thanks, Matty.) Besides Metemphychotic Melodies, I’d recommend his album Atomic Yggrasil Tarot, which you can get with a little hardbound book of Higgs’ paintings and written text. All of the Daniel Higgs solo releases are good, though.

Om, on the other hand, is a band made up of the bass player and drummer of Sleep, a band that broke up in the 90s. Sleep started out sounding kinda like Black Sabbath, and ended up trying to deliver an album to their record company that was an hour-long weed anthem. One song—one hour. This album is the legendary Dopesmoker, available at fine record shoppes everywhere.

Needless to say, a 60 minute marijuana metal monolith isn’t gonna move units in the way that 90s alterna-hits of the day did. The record company wasn’t pleased, and the band split amidst tensions. The guitarist guy formed High On Fire, which is a metal band that has songs about Pharisees and yetis and shit. (Check the sample lyric: Abominable nomad/The ancient monks know his clan/The time of yeti will rise/Because his ways have been wise.) The other two guys in Sleep, bassist-singer Al Cisnros and drummer Chris Haikus, became Om.

Om is just bass, drums, and singing. Their music really couldn't be simpler, but by making long, repetitive songs that undergo slight variations over time, the band creates something totally compelling, and rewards your listening effort. They do songs with names like Rays of the Sun/To the Shrinebuilder—songs that take up the entire side of an LP, and keep going and going until your mind is all stretched out. Now, I’m not a big heavy metal fan, but I do like psych music and dub reggae. A long, psych-stoner-doom rock dub sounding anthem thing? About a shrinebuilder? I’ll buy that for a dollar.

This kind of music doesn’t just drop out of the sky—if you’re going to be in a bass and drums combo that does hypnotic 20 minute long songs with only one part, well, that’s dedication right there. That’s the kind of band that springs from the fertile soil of a previous band’s decomposing remains . . . a lot of things had to happen for a band like Om to exist.

Seeing as how I was in New York for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t gonna miss these guys for anything. This took some planning—you see, I really was broke, and not at all sure I was going to have the $12 (or whatever) it would cost to see them by the time they played. I had to buy things like food and subway fares.

So I squirreled away $12 at the beginning of my trip, figuring that I could make up the remainder of the ticket price by changing the assorted foreign currencies in my wallet. Let me tell you: not dipping into that $12 was a lot of work. I won’t go into some of the more embarrassing details.

And as I wandered around NYC, seeing friends and eating their food, I began thinking about why I liked Om (or, say, Akron/Family) more than, say, certain other kinds of modern-day psych-y bands that play shows all over These United States. Because they’re out there, you know.

One train of thought led to another, and I ended up finding myself thinking about this Jorge Luis Borges story called “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.”

In this story, the narrator talks about his friend Pierre Menard, who is a writer. He lists Menard’s works, which are all pretty interesting, but pale in comparison to Menard’s real work, which was to try and write Don Quixote:

The first method he conceived was relatively simple. Know Spanish well, recover the Catholic faith, fight against the Moors or the Turk, forget the history of Europe between the years 1602 and 1918, be Miguel de Cervantes. Pierre Menard studied this procedure (I know he attained a fairly accurate command of seventeenth-century Spanish) but discarded it as too easy. Rather as impossible! my reader will say. Granted, but the undertaking was impossible from the very beginning and of all the impossible ways of carrying it out, this was the least interesting. To be, in the twentieth century, a popular novelist of the seventeenth seemed to him a diminution. To be, in some way, Cervantes and reach the Quixote seemed less arduous to him—and, consequently, less interesting--than to go on being Pierre Menard and reach the Quixote through the experiences of Pierre Menard.

So the story continues onward in this interesting manner. When Menand finally produces his fragments of the Quixote, the narrator compares it to Cervantes’ Quixote. Now, the two texts are identical. And comparing identical passages, the narrator finds Menand’s Quixote to be “almost infinitely richer.” Even though both texts contain the same words, one was written in the 17th century, and the other was written in the present day. Therefore, they are judged differently and they contain different meanings.

Bands like Om and Daniel Higgs seem familiar at first. Before I even heard them I'd heard about them, and figured that they just made drugged out, boring hippie nonsense. I resisted listening to them for a long time: I didn't necessarily want to listen to some guy making banjo drone-folk, and while I liked Om on paper, it seemed like they'd be tedious in practice. When I finally took the time to actually listen, I was hooked. It’s hard to say what these guys are tapping into. but the stuff they’re playing is entirely new, and nothing if not contemporary.

I'm always hearing how people are supposed to have low attention spans because we live in a media landscape of soundbites and blah blah blah, but it would seem that a whole lot of popular music these days embraces dynamics, experimentation, and active listening. OM and Daniel Higgs (along with a number of other artists) are making these kind of sounds that demand that everything else be pushed away. It's meditative, but not necessarily peaceful. I'm reminded of . . . I don't know . . . I mean, don't most world religions or spiritual thingies have a moment when someone, like a priest or a magic warlock guy or whatever, performs some kind of an action to prepare a space for religion stuff? Like how priests say prayers and wave around that incense burner, or how a magic warlock guy might light candles and place them around the sacred ritual pentagram? They're purifying the space, right? Purifying the space, or creating a void in the secular world, or something. This is an ages-old practice, but its done differently by different people from different religions in different parts of the world. Despite all these differences, it accomplishes the same thing.

It’s 2008, and the music industry is collapsing like a preternaturally old man-monster who lived for 200 years by sucking the blood from the young and innocent, until his tick-like, swollen body became too heavy for his spindly little osteoporosis-inflicted legs to support, so they snapped like dry branches while, shrieking like a falsetto air raid siren, while his repulsive, claw-like hands dragged down anyone within reach. Meanwhile music just keeps getting more and more innovative: things are expanding rather than contracting, and new vistas are opening up for brave listeners the world around.

At any rate, you can imagine my disappointment when I found out that Om split up and the show was cancelled.

I bought tacos and beer with my $12.


Metapost: It's a Virtue

Dear Readers: I've been travelling a lot recently, and having too much fun to provide you with the quality content you've come to expect from The Little Black Egg.

Now, I've got so much quality content stuck in my head that it looks like I have hydropcephalus, and I can't wait to get home so's I can stick a shunt in my head and drain that quality content out for consumption by you, my beloved audience. I know that you are all possessed of that virtue that is patience, and are not annoyed at the time that elapses between posts. When my new content appears here, for free, I know that you'll be here with hands outstretched, ready to recieve it. Thank you and thank you kindly.

This can be assembled.