24 December 2007

irreverence as art . . .

Posted by at 6:37 PM Read our previous post
"Aki no teto romba (tei chintes)."

The year was 1975. Punk was busy being born and dying at the same time (inevitable, really—oh, the irony!).

Picture this:
A tall slender man walks onstage on yard-high platform boots (this was a mere two years after KISS's first record, mind you), wearing not much more than a silver jockstrap and a wig of copious wavy blond hair. Thick campy makeup. A psychotic Goldielocks wielding an oversized guitar body which in retrospect reminds me of Prince's later auto-erotic showpieces.

The song was "White Punks on Dope," a paen to self-indulgent suburbanite teenage Americans. The band was the Tubes. They specialized in the parodying of extravagance in music way back then, before the lure of fame and riches got to them and they themselves comitted the cardinal sin called "selling out."

They understood the value of "shock".

It happened sometime in the late twentieth century. Post-modernism, inasmuch as it can be blamed, was bound to produce artists whose methods relied on "shock" to achieve an asthetic end. Irreverence as a primary color.

I've been thinking about this lately because my friend Rob and I were surfing YouTube videos and happened upon some old Andy Kaufman footage. This got me thinking about Lenny Bruce before him, and about Howard Stern after him, and about the continuity in that chain. These were men who pushed the limits with their appeals to brutal honesty. Such carefree honesty is traditionally reviled.
People were appalled by Lenny's temerity. They were simultaneously weirded out and indifferent to Andy's experiments in the absurd. Though Howard is seen as a kind of pariah by the communnity at large and is avoided by all who fear what being in the crosshairs of his acerbic scorn might be like, he is one of the most successful and highest-paid entertainers in history and has paved the way for countless comedians who now hone their vulgarity and innuendo skills to razor sharpness. In the many Improvs throughout the land, you can pretty much say whatever you want. This is a relatively new phenomenon.

Shock sells when once it didn't.

If the progression could be graphed, it would look like an exponential curve showing increased tolerance for what used to be unmentionable fare. We went from nearly zero to sky's-the-limit in a matter of a few decades. The world has changed so much that Lenny was pardoned by the state of New York posthumously (in 2003—thirty-seven years after the fact) of his indecency conviction (Governor Patakis at the time cited the state's comittment to the first ammendment as the reason for the pardon). It has changed so much that what seemed scandalous in those post-war years is an almost daily occurence, beckoning our passing attention only in extreme cases, like when Michael Richards, in a moment of uncontrolled rage, lost it and went apeshit on a heckler last year.

It's a post-hiphop, post-post-post-Norman-Rockwell world. I think this is a case of Pandora refusing to go back in the box. I don't watch television anymore (it's been a long time now—over fifteen years), so, for all I know, it's even worse than I imagine out there!

Hmm . . .

Anyway . . . in honor of Lenny Bruce, here's an obscure Randy Newman recording from 1968, when the memory of his martyred soul was still fresh in the minds of those that he inspired. I have a thing for songs that can say as much as possible in as short a time as possible. This one clocks in at less than two minutes.

Laughing Boy (realAudio)

Laughing Boy keep movin'
Keep movin', Keep movin'
Laughing Boy keep movin'
Keep movin', Keep movin'

Find a clown and grind him down
He may just be laughing at you
An unprincipled and uncommitted
Clown can hardly be permitted to
Sit around and laugh at what
The decent people try to do

Laughing Boy keep movin'
Keep movin', Keep movin'
Laughing Boy keep movin'
Keep movin', Keep movin'


1 comment:

  1. What I find fascinating is how the grotesque becomes co-opted by the market and becomes part of a loop that reinforces its presence rather than its exclusion.

    Take the Monica Lewinski scandal. Has the word "blowjob" or the phrase "oral sex" ever been such a natural part of our lives until that point? Nope. But now it is.

    Pornography used to be an underground phenomenon. Now - because the cat got out of the bag that it is a massive market when ex-pornstars went hip hop and opened up their own lines of revenue in production and clothing among other things, it is as mainstream as apple pie and NFL football.

    The beauty of sub-culture is that it remains sub-culture until it is marketed. Grunge was that way as is hip-hop. Those who were identified as "grunge" never even would have used any term to identify themselves other than hard rock fans.

    So watch the circle revolve with the latest sub-cultural boundary rupturing structure become popular boundary condition.

    What I like are those who to really hot and then went back to their roots eschewing popularity for brilliance. David Bowie, REM, Radiohead, kind of pushed back their boundaries by re-establishing them unlike U2 who decided to use their music as a platform to support Bono's causes and continue to play to the popular to retain that base.

    In film I find Jeff Bridges, Kate Winslet, Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Johnny Depp, and Naomi Watts among the more interesting actors in their body of work. They can get very popular when thy choose to, but their brilliant moments come in far more postmodern forms.


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