The International Writers Magazine: Kulture shall eat itself
Politics of Boredom
Most people worknot
due to some innate passion for their professionsbut to make money.
In the film American Beauty, Lester Burnham discovers the ideal
job in a fast food hamburger restaurant. He is forty-two years old,
seeking a job with the least responsibility possible, an entirely appropriate
decision given the vicissitudes of corporate work. Now Lester can dedicate
the rest of his time to becoming the man he was in high school. He is
lucky and free.
Artists are lucky, too. Most of them become workaholics because they
dont have enough time to get everything done. It helps that they
possess their own means of production.
When art and entertainment merged through a self-perversion of Pop,
the resulting explosion transported Western society forward into the
past of a dada future where anything the artist spits is art. This is
good news because it provides the workings of a formula for living.
In fact, the issue might be better stated, Anything that happens
which is not done in the service of another is art; including spitting.
The satisfaction a person experiences from art-entertainment is predicated
on such independence. The false realities of nightclubs, sports, concerts,
movies, restaurants and museums exist so that the human psychic pummeling
can be stroked and re-energized it allow it to face its own futility.
For any who may consider all this to be a fantasy, consider that in
1977, Warner Bros declared entertainment a necessity, right up there
with food, shelter and transportation.
What WB did not offer, but easily could have, was the completed formula
for contemporary art: life equals work minus utilitarian value (L =
W - U). In the final years of the Twentieth Century, the most popular
applications of this formula were politics and rock n roll. Some ambitious
cretins actually combined the two, hurling up either crippled ideology
or lame music. Far more annoying and hence satisfying was the attack
on both from the brick-slinging hurricane of the Sex Pistols, the only
music group to use politics and rock in an effort to destroy the world.
Malcolm McLaren witnessed the Paris riots of 1968 from the vantage of
the Croyden art student that he was. During the city-wide revolts, he
became obsessed with Guy-Ernst Debords Situationists Internationale.
The SIs promoted world revolt against bourgeois happiness, survivalism,
the impoverishment of language, all manner of falsity, and particularly
against boredom. By the early 1970s, McLaren found employment
as the proprietor of a London fashion boutique, an occupation he reasoned
would allow him to synthesize his philosophy with commerce. Catering
first to Teddy Boys, then to bikers, and finally to the appeal of simple
negation, McLaren found himself attracted to an American band called
the New York Dolls. Malcolm let the band know he was their new manager.
The band had already seen its best days. Early 1970s American
pop music mainly walked the overload of the cult of Led Zeppelin or
the introspective sniffling dappy doo of California rich kid James Taylor
misanthropy. The New York Dolls music embraced the razor raw skinning
of Detroits MC5. Visually influenced by the glitter glam of T.
Rex, the aural effect reminded many of the rhythmic blasts of buzz saws
boring through active garbage disposals. Yet despite McLarens
use of onstage communist flags and agitprop sloganeering, he was unable
to secure the Dolls a new recording contract. The band let him know
he was fired.
Ah, but Malcolm remained the eternal optimist, so he surrounded himself
with thugs and petty crooks, namely Steve Jones, Paul Cook, and Glen
Matlock, a guitarist, drummer, and bass player, respectively. McLaren
kept his nose low in search of a leader for his boys.
One glorious day in April 1975, such a leader presented himself. Into
the boutique scuffled a nineteen-year-old named John Lydon. A childhood
case of spinal meningitis warped his spine, his chopped red hair shined
from the absence of a recent shampooing, and sores spotted his face.
Best of all, he wore a Pink Floyd T-shirt with the words I HATE scrawled
above the bands name. It was appropriate that the boys renamed
him Johnny Rotten. The Sex Pistols saw rock n roll future and set out
to amputate it.
aha ha ha ha ha! So cawed Johnny
Rotten at the opening to Anarchy in the UK. While the band
turned the air into liquid fire, the singer crowed paradoxes of immediacy.
Dont know what I want but I know how to get it! I wanna
destroy passersby! With production somewhere between murky and
nonexistent, the record revealed four guys ripping through sensory dimensions.
The guitar kicked open the windows, the drums shot down the front door,
the bass lifted off the roof, and in from the cool suburban skies peered
and leered the angry salivating snarl of Rotten, his taunting whine
demanding the occupants to resist all other sources of information.
Before the fade, the Sex Pistols shot back with God Save the Queen,
a non-tribute to Queen Elizabeths Silver Jubilee. She aint
no human being! She made you a moron! As critic Dave Marsh pointed
out, the only way for Americans to appreciate the political impact of
this record is to imagine Reagans second Inaugural punctuated
by blasts from the most popular song in the country calling the president
a Nazi. No future for you! Rotten moaned with glee.
A cheap holiday in other peoples misery! Rotten warned
as Holiday in the Sun began as the grandest pop art object
in the universe. Just as frightening as its predecessors, it remains
the most self-consciously schizophrenic song ever recorded. Here, Rotten
goes on vacation to the Berlin Wall, the new Belsen, and finds the divide
is a mammoth television screen. He is perplexed. At last he looks, and
to his horror he sees that on the other side people are looking back
at him, as through a looking glass. His mind scrambles. He will go over
the wall, through it, under it. Just as he is about to cross, he begs,
Please dont be waiting for me.
Anti-politics and self-destructing rock created the most powerful social
revolution since Phil Spector produced Megadeths homage to Leopold
and Loeb, the ninety-seven minute two disc opus, Cat Chew.
With so much of value being created around the Pistolsmost of
which was totally unbearabletheir impulse was to destroy those
who had robbed meaning from the music. So when Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart,
Pete Townshend or any other champagne-guzzling hustler released a new
album, it was invariably awful because those men had nothing to say
with or about passion. Making albums had become their job, one that
provided opportunities for a lifestyle alien to most of their fans,
a job without art. Listening in 1975 to Satisfaction, Maggie
May, or My Generation elicited aches of boredom and
irrelevancy. The time had come to strip rock of its pomposities, its
overproduction, and its molly-coddled millionaires.
Instead, disco sprang from the innocent fields of Philadelphia International-style
purity from groups like The Stylistics, The OJays, and (from Chicago)
the Chi-Lites. The commodity of music degenerated into fashion fascism,
an anesthesia from a boredom that had been endorsed at the corporate
levels of entertainment Mecca. Fun took on a utilitarian value all its
own, and assumed itself to be an inalienable right, a given attribute
of being American.
Art did not keep up with devolution.
© Phil Mershon June 2004
all rights reserved