Thursday, January 8, 2009
come out to show them
Much as I love Camper Van Beethoven, somehow I've never gotten around to New Roman Times (lala), their 2004 comeback that never really brought them back. Probably just as well, because I had yet had the jeweled Pandora's Box of prog rock appreciation opened in my heart then, and I would have sneered that "Sons of the Golden West" sounds like a Cajun band trying to play Yes. Now I'm more likely to sadistically applaud such a thing, as well as their New-Music-nerd-boner-inducer of covering Steve Reich's 1968 tape phase piece Come Out.
A rather precious choice for a cover, but CvB has always worn their eclecticism rather smartly. On physical terms Come Out is an acoustic exercise in phase dynamics, but thematically it was written as a commission for a benefit for the Harlem Six trials. He utilized a recording of Daniel Hamm, one of the six youths accused of a murder that happened during the Harlem riots of 1964, describing how he had to show he was bleeding to prove he'd been hurt : I had to, like, open the bruise up and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them, with come out to show them double-channeled at slightly different speeds. The phrase becomes instantly maddening but if you stick it out for a minute, the warp and textures of the piece emerge and through that, the rage and hopelessness of the times radiates from it as well. After the full 13 minutes of this kind of pummelling, you feel purged, that everything has come out.
Much in the way Reich forces the subtext out of a text through physical process, Camper Van Beethoven did a similar thing running their realpolitik through the dizzying mill of free-for-all Klesmerisms, progressive workouts, and pastoral ballads. New Roman Times is supposedly a rock-opera about a disaffected teen, but I can't hear that specifically. Rather I hear it as a more holistic rock-tone-poem about disaffection, where tectonic pressures squeeze out the hope that lies hidden inside. "Come Out" far from the highlight of this exquisite lost record, but it speaks to Reich's interface with the greater whole of music, whether art music or pop music, and the dubious necessity of there being such a distinction.
P.S. Maybe they could have another band weekend at the cabin, like what produced their full cover of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk (lala), and work up a stirring Romani-hippie-dub version of Electric Counterpoint. It has been worked up by House group/artist Powerplant (lala) and classical guitarist David Tanenbaum (lala), and most most famously by The Orb.