Circuits of Return

I swore to myself years ago that I would never write about music. At the time, I had started a project on some Brazilian music, Gilberto Gil I think, and after about a month of it I realized that I couldn’t stand to listen to Gilberto Gil anymore and this made me quite sad. Around that time, I had also been writing a blog, Jazz du Terroir (now defunct but still available to view here), built on a great concept: pair jazz albums to bottles of wine, a kind of blue sommelier if you just caught that reference. Unfortunately the more I got into it the less I listened to jazz for jazz’s sake and the less I drank wine for wine’s sake. On the back of my mind was always the blog, how am I going to write about this, how am I going to write about that. Is this Daou ’09 worthy of Coltrane or is it something of a lesser order, a Jimmy Heath or a Cedar Walton, great but not GREAT? I had submitted to the sovereignty of sign, when all I had to do, really, was pop open a bottle, put on Interstellar Space and live free. The whole concept had to be relegated to a state of coma lest I both the jazz and wine go braindead. One thing or another had to be induced into coma, that is, and I chose to let the good stuff live, free of whatever I or anyone else chose to signify or symbolize about it.

Lately the music-writing bug has been coming back. (Return of the repressed!) Mainly this has to do with my growing obsession for Luis Alberto Spinetta, which I have yet to explain to myself. (Return of the repressed! Or as Clarice might have written in Hora da estrela… BANG!) The uncanny thing about Spinetta for me is that his sound, particularly from the 1970s, goes straight back to the progressive rock and hard rock I grew up on, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Yes, a dose of Bowie, maybe a hint of Rush. Yet I have absolutely no nostalgic connection to Spinetta whatsoever. (BANG!) And it doesn’t sound at all the same as the music I grew up on. (BANG! BANG! BANG!) It’s progrock, but progressed into a whole other idiom.

I have the sneaking suspicion that rock nacional is a perfectly natural circuit of return, musically speaking. The introduction of rock into Brazil, for instance, was somewhat forced. I like Roberto Carlos and the Jovem Guarda and all, but let’s face up to its derivativeness. Early Roberto Carlos is derivative of US music, his critics were right; and they were wrong, too, because Roberto Carlos is derivative, wonderfully, soulfully derivative. The Tropicália was also forced in terms of its incorporation of rock; the beauty of Tropicália is that the rock clashes so sharply with national or local rhythms. I daresay that it’s not until Chico Science arrives that Brazilian rock seems at home with itself. Not so with rock nacional. It’s almost as if blues and tango come from the exact same source, such that the introduction of US rock to Argentina in the 1960s was more of a re-introduction than an importation. The bandoleón on Spinetta’s mid-70s albums with Invisible is perfectly at home there. Major Tom was floating in space, but Capitán Beto was floating above Buenos Aires. Tell my wife I love River Plate… she knows!

Which brings me to the real reason I’m writing this post, which isn’t Spinetta or Capitán Beto, but Zbigniew. There is such a natural elegance to Namyslowski’s Kujawiak Goes Funky, that is at once surprising and perfectly simple to explain. The album takes jazz fusion and fuses it back with the roots of jazz (one of its roots, at least) in klezmer and central European folk forms. You could do the same with tango and milonga. As if we had almost forgotten that dialogue (sometimes argument, sometimes war strategy) that began once people started flooding into cities (New York City, Buenos Aires), whether on trans-Atlantic boats or on their bare feet.

All these words to say (BANG!)… why don’t we just STFU and listen…


Canine Structure

I recently re-read Jakobson’s “Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances” for my graduate seminar. This is one of those intro to theory and methodology courses required for first-year students, which causes you to re-read items you haven’t re-read since the times (probably first-year graduate school) you thought they were particularly important to re-read. I’ve always had an affinity for Jakobson, and once upon a time I actually cited the aphasia essay in an article I wrote comparing Brasília and LA. By this point, though, today I mean, I’d rather sit down with him, Roman Jakobson that is, open a bottle of vodka and chat for a while, rather than analyze his structuralism yet again. Either way, I render Jakobson aphasic:  in the former hypothetical case, Jakobson would be unable to replicate himself as “Jakobson” within another object, another theory, and we can call this the “similarity disorder.”  In the latter hypothetical case, some “Jakobson,” far-away and now dead, only speaks to us only by means of a disembodied object, some disembodied article of theory, and we can call this the “continuity disorder.”

But this is not my point here. In between blog-posts, and truth be told, in between everything I do, I spend time with my dogs. And truth be told again, I really do whatever it is I do in between spending time with my dogs and not the other way around. And I’ll leave it for you to figure out how this last reversal of predicates works, before I start telling any more truths again.

The younger of the two, Teo (full name: Teofil Woloszynski-Read), has an unusual affinity for items of clothing, an affinity bordering on a fetish. He’s just barely old enough to be left alone when I’m out of the house. He no longer chews things up, he is certainly house-trained, and though he’s exceedingly happy when I come home, he does not appear to suffer any separation anxiety when I’m gone. He will, however, latch on to any piece of clothing he can find. Socks are his favorite. If he finds his way into my dressing room, or into the dirty-clothes hamper in the bathroom, he’ll snatch a pair with incredible speed and stealth. Oftentimes when I’m cleaning, I’ll find pairs of socks in some strange corner of the kitchen, lodged between the refrigerator and the cabinet, or in the living room behind one of the stereo speakers. We can call this misplacement of socks the “continuity disorder.” And other times, I’ll grab one sock to wear, but I can’t find the other. Indeed, the number of socks that have lost their twins over the past year since I’ve had Teo is alarming. I almost have as many singles as I do doubles, and we can call this the “similarity disorder.”

Teo steals to feed his fetish, but he is a careful thief indeed. He doesn’t chew on socks or sandals or shoes — his fetish tends toward the lower extremities rather than the torso or head. He doesn’t gnaw on them or put holes in them. He usually just keeps whatever it is he’s purloined on his front paws, holding it close to his snout while he sleeps. Recently — and this is odd — he’s taken to stealing a terry-cloth glove I keep by the sliding door leading to the backyard. The glove was designed specifically for rubbing dirty paws, cleaning the mud off of them when the pups come back inside, before they can track mud all over the house. They track mud and dirt all over the house anyway, but this glove is rather ingenious. The glove has six-fingers. And while you might think that this was thoughtful of the manufacturer, taking into consideration those consumers with genetic abnormalities, you would be wrong. The glove has two opposable thumbs, thus discounting your theory of genetic abnormality, since our six-fingered fellow humans typically have an extra pinky, but never an extra thumb. Everyone knows this to be true. In fact, thanks to the wonders of global capitalism, I can now go online and shop around hundreds of stores for the cheapest price on a piece of towel (80% polyester, 20% polyamide) assembled in Korea and cut-and-sewn into the shape of a mutant six-fingered and two-thumbed hand. Two thumbs so that it can be worn on either hand, wear it on the right leaving the rightmost thumb empty or flipping it over onto the left hand leaving the leftmost thumb empty, left or right, right or left, and left or right again, capitalism at its ambidextrous and bisexual best. We could call this disorder the “commodity fetish,” but I am writing here about Roman Jakobson and not Karl Marx — a Russian and not a German or a Korean.  Although technically, Teo is a German shorthaired pointer with a Polish name.

Teo has taken to this mutant glove like a mutant to a mutant glove. He’ll fish it out of the little basket that I fill with old towels and rags in my vainglorious/quixotic quest to prevent mud and dirt from entering the house. But Teo — and this odd — never pulls out any of the old towels or rags, just the mutant glove. You see, Teo needs something that has been physically connected to my body. It seems to give him comfort during those times he can’t actually sniff my body directly. We can call this the “continuity disorder.” Or perhaps the “similarity disorder.” It’s so hard to keep those two apart in my mind.

My older dog, Ziggy (full name: Zygmunt Woloszynski-Read), has several other disorders that could be named, too. He’s a dog, after all, and part of canine being is being disorderly. One need only look at the numerous muddy paw prints all over my floors to bear witness to this supreme fact. But no need to start diagnosing Ziggy now and naming all his disorders. After all, this is a blog-post about Roman. Not Lacan.


Dear Blog of Mine,

I haven’t been attending to you and writing about my work lately, since I’ve just been doing my work. But the least I could do for you, dear blog, is tell you what I’ve listening to while writing.  Today is the amazing eponymous first album by Invisible from 1975, featuring Machi Rufino on bass, Pomo Lorenzo on drums, and of course, Luis Alberto Spinetta on everything else. Definitely “on” everything else.

Enjoy. At very loud volumes, please.