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V. VALE’s RE/SEARCH NEWSLETTER #49, June 2006

WELCOME TO V. VALE’s RE/SEARCH NEWSLETTER #49, June 2006. HERE’S THE NEWS FROM SAN FRANCISCO… ALL READERS ARE INVITED TO SEND CONTRIBUTIONS AND FEEDBACK!

CONTENTS:

1.   Sat, June 10, 2006, 6:30pm Cable Channel 29 San Francisco. CounterCulture Hour featuring Dan Witz (NYC “Street Artist”), filmmaker Christopher Coppola, and the 4-1-06 St Stupid’s Day Parade and Mini-Service

2.   A Review of Blondie by Stephane von Stephane, ex-Search & Destroy staffer

3.   A Review of the RE/Search Beyond Baroque Event for the release of Punk ’77, 3rd edition, in Venice, California. (Edited by V. Vale)

4.   What We’ve Been Listening To, Reading, etc…Review of Jihad Jerry’s “Mine Is Not a Holy War” – an instant classic, new CD release from DEVO founder Jerry Casale

5.   Quotations

6.   Review of J.G. Ballard Conversations, from Graham Rae’s article, etc…

 

 

First, the commercial: Punk ’77 is here; order from http://www.http://www.researchpubs.com. A reminder: we still have **AUTOGRAPHED** J.G. Ballard Quotes book! (only 250 made). Order from  http://www.http://www.researchpubs.com  We highly recommend our J.G. Ballard Conversations. RE/Search’s rare autographed books include J.G. Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, Daniel P. Mannix’s Freaks and Memoirs of a Sword Swallower. You can still get the original Search & Destroy #1-11 tabloids (complete sets) only $50, archived since 1977!

Secondly, our classic William S. Burroughs T-shirt (“We Intend to Destroy All Dogmatic Verbal Systems” – photo by Ruby Ray) is now available in M-L-XL sizes — another great gift… It’s not available in stores; impossible to find elsewhere.

 

 

1.   Sat, June 10, 2006, 6:30pm Cable Channel 29, San Francisco only. CounterCulture Hour featuring Dan Witz (NYC “Street Artist”), filmmaker Christopher Coppola, and the 4-1-06 St Stupid’s Day Parade and Mini-Service in North Beach, San Francisco. [Note: Counterculture Hour airs 2nd Saturday of each month at 6:30pm; set your DVD recorders / VCR’s!)

 

Last month the above show never aired, due to “computer malfunction.” So set your VCRs and tape it! Street Artist DAN WITZ, referred to us by Silke Tudor (thanks, Silke!) tells why and how he does his quasi-legal “Street Art” in New York City. In the Punk Rock scene from the late ’70s on, Dan was a member of Glenn Branca’s touring group to Europe and picked up painting skills visiting Europe’s great museums and copying “masterpieces.” Since then he’s regularly “improved” the urban landscape of New York City with his classic-looking stickers, strategically placed at selected Manhattan locales.

Next, filmmaker Christopher Coppola unveils his plan to reach “the masses” with inspirational, independent art.

Third, Marian Wallace‘s “cinema verite” documentary of the (28th annual) April 1, 2006 St. Stupid’s Day Parade/Mini-Service is colorful and inspiring. Anybody can have a parade (if they apply for the necessary permits). About 200 of San Francisco’s finest Outsider Artists participated in this somewhat prankish march through North Beach, which ended at the North Beach Playground. A band, theStupids, played a fantastic mix of retro “classics,” and Ed Holmes gave a stirring “sermon” informing all present that they were already a member of the First Church of the Last Laugh. Why? Because all humanity is stupid! See www.saintstupid.com for more details. We recommend you watch this “variety show” episode of The CounterCulture Hour, hosted by V. Vale, and produced by Marian Wallace.

 

2.   Review of Blondie by Stephane von Stephane, ex-Search & Destroy staffer: Why Blondie still rocks.

 

A friend told me about a cool website called YouTube.com the other day. It’s the type of site that gives one hope for the Internet once again. It’s kind of ‘populist.’ People can post videos of themselves or whatever they are interested in and share them with like-minded folk. Having just seen a Blondie concert the other night I decided to see what was on YouTube about Blondie.

There are some great things that I had never seen, like the videos that H.R. Giger  did for one of Debbie Harry’s solo projects. And scenes from the Amos Poe movies ‘Unmade Beds’ and ‘The Foreigner.’ There is a fabulous video for the song ‘Sweet and Low’ (from Def, Dumb and Blonde) made by Stephen Meisel and Stephen Sprouse as a tribute to Andy Warhol.

There is an interview with Debbie (in bright red wig) where her one-word  monosyllabic answers are very Warhol, while Chris sits decoratively by on the couch looking like a beatnik Warhol Factory star himself. There are mash-ups of Blondie/other bands. The latest is a beautiful Blondie/Doors video combining ‘Rapture’ and ‘Riders on the Storm’. There is one with the unlikely combo of White Stripes-Jackson 5-Blondie-Creedence Clearwater  Metallica and Canned Heat. The great thing about mash-ups is that they are like the culmination of media overload, Future Shock personified, Koyaanisqaatsi time-lapse tidbits that perfectly epitomize a racing towards the END, (this bizarre collective unconscious apocalypse we all seem to be swatting away at like an annoying little gnat.)

One can leave messages commenting on the videos. There are usually three or four per entry. A couple of them struck me. One was a comment about a video of Blondie from last year on British TV show “Top of The Pops.” Chart-topping pop acts come on and play their hit songs. Blondie plays the hit ‘Good Boys’ from 2005’s ‘Curse of Blondie’ CD. Debbie looks great and is wearing a short dress and a tux-style army jacket. Her legs are amazing! So, this one guy comments: “Wow! That’s the first time I’ve felt a tingling in my loins for an octogenarian.”

Okay tingley-loins, if you’re going to go throwing around the ‘genarian’ term, at least get it straight: Debbie is a SEXagenarian. She has reached 60, not 80. But at the rate she’s going, looking as SEXY as she does we’ll be feeling tingley about her even then! As anyone knows who has ever had really good sex knows, it gets better with time. It is the one good reason for monogamy. The more you are with the same partner the more transcendent and psychedelic and spiritual the sex gets.

Advertisers and media folks are still, STILL pushing young bimbos at the supposedly most-valued target market of 18-24 year old males. Oh well, I guess I should be happy. That leaves the real treasure (older women) easier to find for us non 18-24 year old males. But back to why Blondie still rocks. The band Blondie has gotten better with time too, honed their craft. They are tight and right on target. No, it is not the exact same band as at the beginning, but Blondie never really went away… in some form or other Chris and Debbie at least have been working together since the start.

Another comment on YouTube was about an early Blondie video of ‘Union City Blues.’  A guy says, “From back when Blondie rocked!” Clearly this person hasn’t seen Blondie lately, ’cause like I been sayin’ and I’ll says it again: BLONDIE STILL ROCKS!!! They played the Mountain Vineyard in Saratoga, a beautiful venue I would highly recommend. Excellent intimate outdoor ampitheater, shielded from the elements.  And they played the Conocti Harbor in Kelseyville, a horrible venue with bad Feng Shui. The stage is up on a hill next to a lake. The lake is not really visible but the winds can be felt and seen as they blow the stage lights around dangerously. Example: At the vineyard show Clem tossed his drumstick way up in the air repeatedly and caught it every time; at the Harbor show the stick went up and blew away! Inauspicious chi!

The west coast part of the tour is over (rumored to be possibly the Last Ever Blondie Tour), but those of you on the other side of the country can still go see them. They played some older punkier songs like ‘Rifle Range’ and ‘One Way or Another’ and the hit songs like ‘Heart of Glass,’ ‘Rapture,’ ‘Tide is High,’ and some newer songs like ‘Maria’ and ‘Good Boys.’ Also, a killer new version of ‘In the Flesh.’

The thing about Blondie music is that even when singing songs about heartbreaking lost love, there is a good beat and you can dance to it. Just like in life, no matter what happens, the best thing to do is to just stay in the dance. There is just something joyous about Blondie music, and joy is good for the soul. And soul is why Blondie still rocks.

If you can’t go see them live, go out and buy the new release ‘Sound and Vision” – a compilation with audio and video. (Remember: music is the gravity antidote)

The New Cars [with Todd Rundgren on vocals and Prairie Prince (of The Tubes) on

drums] are the headliner. They play all the old Cars hits. Who can resist lyrics

like “I guess you’re just what I needed, I needed someone to bleed”? Certainly not me! – Stephane von Stephane

 

3.   A Review of the RE/Search Beyond Baroque Event for the release of Punk ’77, 3rd edition, in Venice, California

 

DEVO, SPK and RE/Search Spark Heated Discussion – By KRISS PERRAS – PCH Press – April 30, 2006 (slightly edited by V. Vale) – THANKS KRISS!

VENICE – Devo’s Gerald Casale, SPK’s Graeme Revell and RE/Search’s V. Vale sat on the same panel last night before a sold-out house where the Q & A created a heated audience discussion at the legendary Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center.

“I used to work in a mental asylum. That’s kind of where I started my band,” New Zealand-born film-score composer Revell said as the audience busted out laughing. “There was a black pill we used to have to give people with schizophrenia. It was called Oblivion. That’s always fascinated me. In our video they’re always referring to, we broke into a medical museum. They had all the corpses in the vats of formaldehyde. There was an artist involved, and in this case it was somebody who had carved out the faces of human beings, the recently deceased, and then signed the work. Similarly there is somebody sitting around somewhere thinking up names like Oblivion for major tranquilizers.”

“Corporations are no real surprise to me, I must say, being an old Marxist,” Revell said tongue-in-cheek. “My girlfriend who is 35 asked me yesterday, “What is Marxism?” And, it is not her fault. She went to normal state schools. When would she have ever been told? She didn’t go to college. And it is very sad that something as beautiful as Socialism can get a bad name… It is nice to know who the enemy is. It is about to be Iran, isn’t it?”

The panel spoke to a crowd that was eager for open discussion on Punk Rock cultural ideas. Many spoke in discussions by the book table, in the ticket line and around the  Punk photos taken by James Stark over the years on display in the gallery, about how it felt good to see and hear Punk Rock again. You could see youthful gleams in eyes that were definitely reminiscing.

To many, Punk was a way of thinking, a lifestyle, but it was mostly an underground  political revolution aimed at flipping-off the status quo. But the odd thing of the evening  was how “normal” everyone appeared. Nobody was wearing a Mohawk, a stark made-up face or even purple, orange or razored-out hairstyles that were so common during the revolution. Even Casale and Revell had short hairstyles that could have easily made GQ’s front cover.

But, the quips of the Punk generation were still present on the lips of both Casale and Revell. However, the youth in the crowd seemed to not get the points made so well when Punk was king of the underworld.

“Bush has a nuclear arsenal. Bin Laden, as the Punk agitator, the performance artist, he  knows how to tweak the people in the West with all the nuclear arsenals. And, he’s laughing as we take apart our own democracy,” Casale said. “Take apart the hand that would win for us. We could get rid of guys like Bin Laden easily if we went even back to what we’re good at. But, we threw that away. And, the religious right actually was the harbinger of throwing that away. It is all fundamentalism. Take your pick. Christian Fundamentalism, Muslim fundamentalism. They’re all psychotic. They’re all anti-democratic. And, they all want to lead. That is the greatest danger in the world today.”

During the very open discussion, the audience frequently shouted out their questions. And, the discussion became even more intellectually stimulating. One audience member said there was no Counter-Culture anymore.

“Why did The Clash come out with London Calling under this horrible archaic record company system, if what we  have now is so much better? Where is something half as good as The Clash?” Casale said.

The youth of the audience found insult in what Casale said.

“Sorry. I think it is a little bit irrelevant: about the distribution system on music. I think that music is part of the surrounding culture and not the things people are making it. I don’t think it is fair to compare the records with The Clash,” the youth said.

“So you are saying the purpose of music in culture is totally different? ” Casale asked.

“No, not at all. Give us some credit man. I’m sixteen years old. Have some faith. I mean, you know, I hate to say it but you guys are going to die in thirty years,” the youth said.

“Thank you for giving me thirty!” Casale said. And that broke the tension of the moment as the audience absolutely burst out in a huge common laugh, including the youths.

“So, we’re going to be here to pick it up. And it there is something of substance, then it will retain,” The youth said. “And we’re going to forget all this shit that is around here now. For better or worse.”

“I agree when you mentioned “MySpace.” I don’t get any of my information from “My Space.” I  know it is something that is recorded in the popular media. And I am glad you listen to them and know about “MySpace.” But, there is a whole bunch of other Internet stuff going on that is much more underground, and maybe you don’t know about it, that is not MySpace,”  another youth broke in and said.

“But plenty of other people use it and like and find it a useful tool. You seem   unpleaseable,” Another youth broke in and said.

“Unpleaseable? That’s not true. A few nights ago, my fiancee pleased me really well,”  Casale said with a grin.

The discussion was getting so silly that everyone was laughing, which was a nice break in the near-hopelessness of the previous tone.

“I am foolishly putting out a solo record called Jihad Jerry & The Evildoers – Mine Is Not A Holy War, which some of the guys of DEVO recorded with me,” Casale said. “A little record company is putting it out. And, I made an animated video, “Army Girls Gone Wild!,” for $7,500. We put it on YouTube and a few other sites. And, it’s gotten over 350,000 hits. But, this hasn’t translated to anything like in the real world. Any real press. I haven’t  surfaced above the water. Nobody wants to do an interview. No magazines. Nothing. Zero.”

“This is the new media. 350,000 and that’s not good enough for you?” Still another youth spoke out.

“How does the artist survive?” Casale said.

“So it’s about money,” the youth said.

“It’s about making the rent,” V. Vale said. “You are so young I don’t think you have to pay rent yet.”

“Gerry’s band was really, really popular worldwide. So, he thinks in terms of millions,” Revell broke into the discussion and said. “In my experience it was exactly the MySpace of the period where we never got more than 20,000 records sold of anything. And that was practically snail-mailed to everybody. That hasn’t changed. And, if you are truly underground you are cool with that. And, you are only doing for yourself, anyway.”

“I’m just wondering if there is sort of a generational battle going on here,” an older  member of the audience spoke out.

“I am wondering if someone in this room has a problem with at least trying to make your rent,” Vale said.

“That was not my point. My point was you were bagging on corporations for unbridled greed and you want to make money just the same as anybody else,” The same youth that spoke out previously said. “It is OK for you but not OK for them.”

The audience was in upheaval about the youth’s comment, shouting out No’s and shaking their heads.

V. Vale is from San Francisco and is the publisher of RE/Search Publications. The publisher has been around since 1977 and deals with countercultural issues. Their newest release is PUNK ’77, and is “a candid, shocking and mind-altering confessional that, while true to the Punk spirit, carves its own style of vandalism across the veneer of consumer  culture. It is told in a mosaic of anecdotes, rants, gossip, and self-aggrandizement by the prototypical punks, scenesters, musicians and artists who actually lived it.”

Search and Destroy–I started publishing it in 1977,” Vale said in a pre-show interview.  “Punk Rock was the last International art movement that was also a countercultural, political revolution. I call it the Punk Rock Cultural Revolution, because it was  completely cultural. In any aspect of culture creation — for me, culture includes publishing, posters like you make to advertise a show, the way the band looks on stage, the clothes they wear, the fashions, the hairstyles, the music they made, the records they produced, and movies too. Movies are an underrated aspect of the Punk Rock Revolution. There were a number of them made. They were low budget but they were made. And they’re still hard to find, because they didn’t get professional distribution. They stayed in people’s closets for thirty years.”

Vale explained how the Punk Rock Revolution was a Do-It-Yourself counterculture.

“The great thing about punk was nobody had any money. It wasn’t a corporate-marketed movement. It was like a brotherhood. I remember meeting people in 1977 who were into Punk who came to our office from Australia. After talking to them for about an hour, I said, “Hey, you guys can sleep in our living room. I mean, they were complete strangers. But, you could never do that today. It was an amazing time.”

Vale also spoke about why Punk is still relevant today.

“It’s like DNA. If you want corn you need corn DNA. Well, if you want Punk, you have to have Punk DNA. What is Punk DNA? For me, it’s like the fundamental principle is Do It Yourself. Don’t rely on anyone else. In every aspect. One of my principles is: Everyone is an artist. No matter what the media of expression is, you can do it,” Vale said. “In other words you are creating your own culture. You are not consuming. So, Do-It-Yourself. Everyone is an artist. Everyone can do it. And, the key other part: whatever you do, try and see if it can be against the status quo. You are doing it not just ‘art for art’s sake.’ You are doing it because you think there is a lot wrong with society. So you are an amateur social critic, too.”

Vale had his own encounters with the legendary poet Allen Ginsberg.

“Allen Ginsberg gave me money to publish, which was super-important. He gave me the first $100. And, I took that check and showed it to Lawrence Ferlinghetti and he matched it with another $100,” Vale said.” Ferlinghetti was a dominant voice of the wide-open poetry movement that began in the 1950’s, and founder of the legendary City Lights Bookstore where Vale worked.

“Then the manager of the bookstore gave me a twenty-five dollar check. And, I had another friend who was a Doctor, and he gave me $200. It cost $425 for the first printing bill,” Vale said.

Vale explained how the first Search and Destroy Publication came together, shamelessly admitting his imitation of Andy Warhol with a grin. “The format was a total rip-off of Andy Warhol’s magazine,” Vale said. “Same size paper. Warhol was very important to me, the early Warhol, the pre-Valerie Solanis-assassination-attempt Warhol. After that attempt he completely withdrew from underground types and just started cultivating high society types, because it was too dangerous.”

Vale said the first publication had a complete listing of every Punk publication all over the world, and the records that came out then too. “Because there were hardly any back then when that came out,” Vale said. “It took me three months to do it, because I’d never done a publication before.”

The evening was in true Punk spirit, perhaps even a spark of what may be on the horizon for International society once more. [end]

http://www.pchpress.com/local/devospkresearch4-30-06.html

Punk ’77 can be ordered direct from:  http://www.http://www.researchpubs.com

 

4.   What We’ve Been Listening To, Reading, etc…

 

() JIHAD JERRY: Mine Is Not A Holy War. New 12-song CD released by Jerry Casale, founder of DEVO. Sometimes a music album gets released that truly captures the zeitgeist of the time — in this case, Amerikkka under George W. Bush’s oligarchy. Bush effectively owns the mass media, the supreme court, the senate and house of representatives, and the executive branch of government, and he’s rapidly turning the USA into the USSR. That amounts to = death of democracy. To anyone who thinks the Wholesale Erosion of Freedoms in this country is a good thing, please write and take your name off this list!

Now, how do you judge any work of art (regardless of medium)? We’ve said this before, but here it is again: we think the “standards” can be condensed down to only one word: repeatability. A “work of art” has to be both “deeply meaningful” – i.e., you keep finding fresh insights, questions, paradigms, ideas, issues, and more questions every time you’re exposed to it. Secondly, it has to be “deeply beautiful” – you keep finding more “content” and “surface/formal” achievements to admire, that give you “aesthetic” pleasure and an emotional quickening. We have no guilt about admiring and appreciating “surface” and “form” – say, “the play of sunlight on a windowsill,” for example, as J.G. Ballard put it.

So how many times can you be exposed to the “work of art” before you stop getting new insights and aesthetic pleasure? We’ve had a huge reproduction of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” in our bathroom for a very long time, and we still keep discovering “new” provocations–it is, after all, a very complex work.

Tuesday night we put Jihad Jerry’s new CD on our stereo. Our “focus group” included two ten-year-old girls and (for just a half hour), Yoshi, who’s 25 and from Japan. The two girls, who are strong-minded and not-yet-beaten-down, dictated the evening. Cruelly, we kept two songs from them (the lyrics were possibly two “adult”) and just played the remaining songs as per their request.

First, we started with track one. “Do you like it?” “Yes!” … and basically the girls tried to sing and dance along with every song (while also working on their cartoon art). When we got to Track 8, they stopped drawing and got up and danced. We had hit what functioned de facto as a “hit single”:  “All She Wrote,” which is a wall-of-sound almost Phil Spector-ish production  – just gorgeous music, filled with all kinds of harmonic and melodic perfection; simple yet complex – topped with anthemic vocals (which anyone could identify with) pouring out all our pent-up anger against George W. Bush for practically bringing our world into total ruin.

A good-old-fashioned sing-along ensued, as we played track 8 at least 8 times in a row:

“Hey, what’s up? you stu-pid schmuck, Your mind is in a rut

I said, Hey, what’s up? well i guess you wouldn’t know,

with your ugly twisted head, stuck so far up your bu-tt (huge su-cking sound)

[note: the girls liked those “forbidden” naughty lyrics…].

I said, Hey, what’s up? You lit-tle putz, man you really s-uck!

I said, Hey, what’s up? You stu-pid schmuck, your mind is in a rut

I said, Hey, what’s up? well i guess you wouldn’t know,

with your boots stuck in the mud, and your cowboy brain’s been shut

YOU, playing master in-commander (turn around, turn around, stir it around)

YOU, little man with all the answers (work it in, work it out, work it in, work it out)

YOU, on a ship (?) you ain’t no dancer (circle down, circle out, circle down)

YOU, little man with all the answers (give it up, get it up, give it up, get it up)

(great brief solo, guitar?)

I said, Hey, what’s up? you lit-tle putz, Man, you really su-ck

I said, Hey, what’s up? you stoopid schmuck, your mind is in a rut

I said, Hey, what’s up? Well, I guess you wouldn’t know,

with your ugly twisted head, stuck so far up your bu-tt…

[note, this transcript may contain errors! Somehow, I doubt that SONG HITS magazine (if it still exists) would print the above lyrics, but you never know…]

Note that this is NOT the only anthemic song on the CD. The “hit video” of “Army Girls Gone Wild” is very funny – google “Jihad Jerry” to find it and more!

While I originally wrote much more about my stream-of-consciousness reaction to listening to Jihad Jerry, and the virtues of every single one of the 12 tracks, it’s too long to include here. We will say that Yoshi really liked “I Been Refused,” our intern Kiowa thought that “What’s In a Name” was THE hit single. At the end of the evening the 10-year-olds ranked the songs in this order: 1) All She Wrote 2) Beehive – a great blues number, 3) The Time Is Now, 4) Find Out… Did I mention that the vocals and harmonica playing by Jihad Jerry were “amazingly perfect”? And that the “arrangements” are full of 3-D little musical gems that slowly emerge, the more you listen. That’s why, in our opinion, this is a “classic”!

Anyway, here’s my last paragraph: –

“Mine Is Not a Holy War” is a totally great album which you can listen to repeatedly and keep hearing new little musical “treats” you didn’t notice before. And don’t let anyone brand this as a “satirical” album either – this is a classic. Tt’s the perfect blend between blues and strong rock with balls. but thanks to the fantastic girls-of-color singers, it’s got plenty of estrogen too! Something for everyone. I am most encouraged because the 10-year-olds loved it so much, and – at that age, they are extremely interested in those “naughty” lyrics – they really wanted to hear the (2) songs i kept from them … and they got a huge charge out of singing the most “forbidden lyrics” – you know, in “All She Wrote” – about that ugly twisted head/ stuck so far up your bu-tt”… that one line was maybe their biggest thrill, to sing along with! So you could have a “lure of the forbidden” appeal to a demographic you maybe weren’t even thinking of — like, KIDS, could really spread this one by word-of-mouth … in fact, one of the 10-year-olds said, “There’ll probably be a line of kids from our school lined up outside your door to hear this CD, cuz we’re gonna tell everyone about it!” After all, there’s a thrill in hearing something that maybe your parents won’t quite want you to listen to…

What **HASN’T** Bush trashed? Our education system, our global environment, our Health-care, our providing for Seniors, our Social Security, our affordable housing availability, our Supreme Court … while launching a ruinous war totally based on lying government propaganda with no accountability, no follow-up story, no ethics whatsoever, anywhere. Worse still, there is no powerful, widespread, unified mass movement against this tiny cabal of ultra-rich, mostly-white supremacists who have taken over EVERYTHING! And they are plotting now, using the legislative and court system they’ve stolen, to take away from us our Internet as we now know it! (And the Internet is perhaps our last hope.)

5.   QUOTATIONS

 

() “The Internet is a magnificent new way to distribute culture, and why sho-uld I be stopped because of my limited means? The Internet serves my generation the same role as the library did for previous generations. … I am eager and willing to compensate artists, but not at the rate that record companies demand. But as a high school student living with a single mother, I cannot afford much.” – 18-year-old boy quoted in New York Times, May 15, 2006

() Huge art projects by Jeff Koons, Mariko Mori, and others, involve dozens of “artisans,” computer workers, etc. “As art with high production values has become increasingly common, the role of the artist has evolved into something closer to that of a film director who supervises a large crew of specialists to realize his or her vision. But there’s a difference: in filmmaking, each individual…is acknowledged, if only for a few seconds when the final credits roll…”– [Mia Fineman]

Artists like Raphael, Titian, Rubens and Rembrandt had their own staffs of assistants who often did most of the “real” painting ’til the very end, when the “master” added his signature, perhaps changing hardly anything, or maybe a lot. “It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the avant-garde challenged the popular notion of the artist as a skilled artisan. In 1917, Duchamp famously displayed a factory-made urinal as a readymade; in 1923, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy ordered five enameled-on-steel pictures produced by a sign factory…Warhol’s assistants churned out silk-screened canvases that intentionally bore little  or no trace of the artist’s hand…Finally,] Sol Lewitt said that “the idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product [!]” – [Mia Fineman]

So we’re in an age where “conceptual” artists commission genuine, unknown, artisans to produce works of art which they sign and collect huge amounts of money for.

“We’re in a post-Conceptual era where it’s really the artist’s idea and vision that are prized, rather than the ability to master the crafts that support the work.” [Jeffrey Deitch] … “There is a real class divide in the art world between the art workers and the art thinkers.” [Katy Siegel] “Ideas are more highly valued than the technical skills required to execute them.” …”You come out of art school knowing how to make things, and then you get to New York and find out that that has nothing to do with your success as an artist.” [Patrick Barth]

“Art has two lives, the process and the finished product. What an artist goes through to make the work is not necessary for understanding the finished work. The work has to exist on its own terms for its own reasons.” – [Liza Lou]

We think it is quite possible that one of the best “art critics” on the planet is Mia Fineman, who along with Calvin Tomkins (and the entire body of Surrealist theorists) have given us the most clarity, as well as extended our aesthetics and appreciation of all that might be called “art”… We bring up again the Surrealist idea calling for “No Separation Between Art and Life”…

Now, last night (Thur, June 8) at The Shooting Gallery‘s opening of an “Erotic Art Show,” we met someone very unusual: Teodor Dumitrescu, who attended the Chicago Art Institute and now lives in Southern California. We spent almost an hour scrutinizing his water colors, which reflect a “perfect mastery” of late-19th-century Neo-Classical watercolor painting technique. At first glance, the 11 watercolors seemed soothing, ‘beautiful’ art with no hard lines — just soft, wondrously muted, satisfyingly-realistic (“this artist can really draw”) representations of children, people from an earlier era, an elephant, etc. But the titles were disturbing: “Heavy Rain,” “After the Flood,” etc.

We realized that while the manifest content was very pleasing to the eye of almost any beholder, once you began comprehending the details and reading the titles, it began to dawn on you that the latentcontent was deeply disturbing — these are apocalyptic, almost horrifically prophetic evocations of the future, where the air won’t be breathable (child with doll, both wearing gas masks); a huge flood has happened (people on an elephant, bearing portable, self-guided missiles), Jack and Jill sit frightened on top of a tall playground structure (“in advance of the broken crown” – a paraphrase of the correct title, which we neglected to write down), etc… Yet the actual work is so “beautiful” that you want to look at them again and again, just to admire “formal” and “surface” niceties and subtleties …

This kind of work must have required hundreds or thousands of hours of solitude, and (as opposed to “conceptual” work) definitely required artisanal mastery…if you bought one of these drawings for, say, $600, you know that it took the artist thousands of hours of “practicing” to be able to execute it, plus probably a good six hours just on any single drawing itself…

On the other hand, a huge work by Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, which is “made” by un-credited master craftsmen, still requires a huge amount of logistical planning and strategizing and problem-solving before the final work appears, shimmering, in a museum. So…we remain unresolved as to what’s what … well, since we think EVERYBODY is an artist (at least when they dream at night), we are still evolving our theories as how to “definitively” judge ANY work of art … and maybe that’s not possible, anyway. This is said by someone who used to hold Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst in a kind of contempt, but no longer…

We must mention the wonderful two erotic collages by Charles Gatewood, who remarked that one should never “varnish” a collage before photographing it – to avoid reflections. And our personal favoriteSHARON LEONG, from the ’70s Punk Days, had three great artworks in the show, including an erotic roulette wheel which we personally would love to own…

() Yet Again, we mention the blog from Mike Ryan, our assistant editor on the J.G. BALLARD QUOTES project: http://mikeryan.typepad.com/ – also check out Margaret Cho‘s blog.

6.   Review of J.G. Ballard Conversations, from Graham Rae’s article…

 

After recently goggling “V. Vale,” I just discovered the **full-length** essay by Graham Rae, writing about J.G. Ballard and V. Vale; there’s also an interview with the latter. This sounds a bit self-serving, but I recommend reading this! http://www.laurahird.com/newreview/jgballardinterview.html

What follows is just an excerpt:

“You know, I’d like to sit down with J.G. Ballard once, just once, and have a conversation with him. Imagine all the mad beautiful unprecedented brain-burner things the man would say to you, strange tyranny-of-tradition-trashing well-chewed poetic philosophical sound-bites that would set your poor overworked brain neurons and synapses brush-firing like a joyful technicolor conflagration in a fireworks factory. It would be wild, no doubt about it, and something you would never, ever forget.

Thankfully we have “J.G. Ballard: Conversations” to give those of us who will unfortunately never meet the man a decent flavor of just what sitting down and chewing the surreal intellectual fat with the Shepperton Seer would be like. Conversations is one of two books on Ballard put out over the last year or so by San Francisco’s renowned iconoclastic press RE/Search Publications, run by V. Vale, with the other being J.G. Ballard: Quotes.  Both are just-under-A5-sized books sprinkled with artistic photographs pertaining to the subject matter under discussion and both are extremely good-looking pieces of work.

Unsurprisingly enough, given the heavy content clue in the titles, the former is a book of transcripts of conversations with the man and the latter a collection of quotes of his drawn from decades of his work and interviews. And they’re both absolutely great (here I must thank Vale for the review copy of each book he graciously sent me), essential purchases for any J.G. Ballard fan, or for somebody just looking for something deeply intelligent and thought-provoking to read and ponder and delight and educate or even bamboozle themselves with.

V. Vale has long been an admirer, supporter and publisher of Ballard’s work. In 1984 he put out his seminal RE/Search 8/9: J.G. Ballard volume, an overview of the writer’s work and thoughts which helped immeasurably in raising the man’s profile in America. Vale looks upon Ballard as the world’s most relevant living philosopher, which I must admit is something I agree with him on. Whereas traditional philosophy has tried to focus against masses of contradictory historical evidence as man being a rational, thinking animal, Ballard has insistently consistently proved the converse. The early formative experiences in the Shanghai concentration camp which he underwent educated him early as to life’s hidden agendas and true madness trajectories, and he has provided a peerless psychological critique of humanity’s violent, psychopathological traits for decades now.

Once trained in psychiatry, the man is like a poacher-turned-gamekeeper who is now not above still stealing the odd chicken from its coop if he thinks he can get away with it or if it will amuse him, sometimes atrocity-exhibiting a harsh, teasing sense of buried black humor. This man knows people, knows the nasty side of humanity, has seen it firsthand, and he is not afraid to articulate unflinchingly what he sees. He is a truth-teller first and foremost and you can’t help but respect that, even if upon occasion you might wish he would say a bit more about love and trust and compassion and emotional bonds. But, given the harsh life he has led, his dark world-view is very understandable.

During Hurricane Katrina this year, reading disturbing reports of the devastated city, corpses rotting in wheelchairs by looted stores and shallow-buried coffins sailing grimly down newly created street-canals, I couldn’t help but think that the whole tragic nightmare was like something straight out of Ballard’s imagination. The man had seen capitalism-illusion-piercing intimations of natural destruction during WWII that the Western world would take decades to catch up on, caught up as we are in our comfortable electronic consumer ipods. Have to admit I sometimes wonder how entirely comfortable he is with the fact that he’s regarded in large part as a prophet and poet of devastation and alienation. But to regard him purely as such is to miss the point of a large part of Ballard’s psyche and thought processes in general. Because he’s clearly about much, much more than annihilation and nihilism, as any astute reader of his will know.

Conversations presents us with an excellent, illuminating series of conversations with or about the prescience friction, science fiction-writing mid-septuagenarian surrealist conducted by various people including V. Vale, Mark Pauline (of Survival Research Laboratories), Ballard’s Scottish archivist David Pringle, Joe Donohoe, children’s teacher Lynne Fox (who contributes a fine conversation about Surrealism with Ballard, whom she interviewed for her master’s degree thesis) and others.

These are dialogs from which all frivolous subject matter fat has been removed, paring them down to the intellectual bone, and are very far removed from the subject matter of most daily chats. Have to say it was nice to see a more domesticated, normal side of Ballard on display too, with his cooing over babies or cats during talks upon occasion, because that’s a side of him we don’t get to see too often and it helps humanize him a bit. But if he’s as shy as he says he is, perhaps him not talking about his family or domesticity in the past has been a way for him to maintain his privacy about an aspect of his life that is very important to him.

With a loose grouping of the most recent conversations (from 2004, but still bang up-to-date in many ways) as being about the End of The Age of Reason, Vale lists the topics under discussion at the start of each interview/conversation for ease of reference. Thus we have deep-dish Ballard extrapolations on corporate media, George W Bush (regarded by Ballard as a psychopath because of his supposed conversations with God) as a religious and “free” world leader backed by the neo-con rat pack, Hitler as a religious leader, Muslims vs Christians vs sanity, Internet terrorism, psychopathologies of all shapes and sizes, music, recreational drugs, William S Burroughs–and on and on and on, on any subject under the sun, seems to be fair game for the man to have an informed, or at least original, opinion on.

I have always loved reading interviews with Ballard because, even if I do not agree with every dictum he puts forward (being Scottish I don’t agree much with his waxing lyrical about the supposed aphrodisiac powers of industry-and-society-destroying insane ex-prime minister Margaret Thatcher, for example), I always come away with something new to ponder. Thus I found myself reading this book over a couple of nights on my living room couch, stopping every couple of pages in amazement or confusion to digest what I had just ingested, reading some of it to my wife Ellen and starting discussions with her about corporate psychology and hierarchy as occasioned by the book’s discussion of them during the first interview. This whole book truly provided a lot of food for thought. I mean, you’re reading away and you come across something like this, from P102 and a discussion about the galvanizing effects of the anti-sociality of religion with V. Vale (emboldened text is presented as it is in the book, for ease of quote reference):

V: What do you mean by “antisocial”? Do you mean that religions militate against a healthy society?

JGB: Absolutely. I was brought up in one of the very few societies on Earth which had no religious beliefs (and as far as I can tell, has never had any), and that is China. There’s a bit of animism and a bit of burning incense to ancestors, but there’s no belief in the supernatural–it’s rather like you and I talking about the spirit of Shakespeare–we don’t literally mean some sort of supernatural entity is floating around. When the Chinese talk about the spirits of their ancestors, they mean it as a metaphor–the Chinese have no religious beliefs. Confucianism is not really a religion at all, nor is Buddhism, and Taoism is not a religion in the strictest sense. There’s no supernatural element in any of those religions, which is why I like them. And the Chinese character is interesting for that reason.

It may be that the backwardness of China could be blamed on the absence of religion, because religions (whatever their faults) are energizing by virtue of the unconscious and psychopathic strains which enter into the individual�s mind and into the social mind. That is a very curious thing, that. Religions, for all they are to be campaigned against (if not actively despised) are vehicles for energizing psychopathic behavior. So it’s no coincidence that the fiercely Protestant countries of Northern Europe launched the industrial revolution and launched the United States, if you like. The Puritan fathers took that fierce Protestant work ethic with all its repressions and created the most dynamic society the world has ever seen.

So it may be that the absence of a religion in China acted as a sort of brake on that country’s industrial development–lack of religion may have had a restraining influence, turning China into a kind of event-less world. For something like 2000 years nothing happened! You read Chinese history, and nothing happened until 1910. There was this vast agricultural society run by a class of elite administrators who traveled around in sedan chairs–and nothing happened! Now and then they invented something like a moveable type of gunpowder or accurate timepieces, but they lost interest in them because there was no imagination to energize these discoveries. It’s very strange.”

Let’s face it, this is not the kind of conversation that you and I are likely to have with anybody we know! I read the above and put the book down, brain swimming in riptides of seditious intent and the inversion and perversion and subversion of a whole series of lifelong ideas about religion just lying in the dust, however briefly. Ballard may or may not be right here–notice his repeated use of the get-out clause “it may be” but extrapolative conversation like this is extremely useful, given the current cul-de-sac-insanity the world is in because of retro, Crusades-like religious views. New ideas and ways of looking at old things are needed and can be extremely useful, and Ballard’s simple inversion of received wisdom about religions being peaceful psychological entities shows us how to think about things in new ways, taking nothing for granted, which is utterly invaluable and also deeply entertaining too… [we recommend you go to website to read the rest of this!]

() Brand new J.G. Ballard interview in HARD Magazine, a beautiful new glossy-paged production from the U.K. Order from www.destroyhardmag.co, or mail@destroyhardmag.com, or from Dan Mitchell 011-44-1-787-705-8989. Highly recommended as a “work of art” – this magazine.

() THE WIRE June issue printed a “review” of our J.G. Ballard Conversations book – google “Wire Magazine” to order your copy, or go buy it at City Lights Bookstore! Chris Bohn, who we first read in the ’70s writing about Punk Rock–was it for NME or Sounds?–is very good at citing the cross-cultural-media interplay between J.G. Ballard and various musicians of the past three decades… Next month we will include it!

() Note: J.G. Ballard’s forthcoming new novel [Kingdom Come] is about how consumerism could potentially turn to fascism… Pre-order; it’s listed on www.amazon.co.uk

() Miscellaneous email from reader: I like trading live and audio punk shows; check my lists and send yours! Tons of shows! <http://ciberia.ya.com/deepfb/almudeno69.htm>http://ciberia.ya.com/deepfb/almudeno69.htm

() V. Vale interviewed by R.U. Sirius (2nd time) on http://download.rusiriusradio.com/shows/rusirius-033.mp3

() About RE/Search 8/9: J.G. Ballard, we found this on the Internet:

“The definitive introduction to the most incredibly prophetic writer of the 20th [and 21st!] century. Ballard’s imagination has no equal. Inspiring and essential. Ballard is the author of Empire of the Sun and Crash. Highly acclaimed as a science fiction writer, J.G. Ballard far transcends that label. Ballard has delineated an updated mythology and philosophy coherent for our times, ranging from his investigation of the psychosexual significance of the car crash (in Crash) to the barbarism latent in a new vertical condominium (High-Rise). In this strikingly illustrated volume, encompassing interviews and a wealth of rare selections from every aspect of Ballard’s career, introduce yourself to the advanced thinking of a major contemporary writer.http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/books/x/x1280.htm

() “Punk and industrial are intertwined like the strands of a rope,” says V. Vale, publisher and editor of RE/Search Publications, a San Francisco-based imprint dedicated to urban subculture. “Industrial actually is punk. It was just kind of a harder-core, more ruthlessly intellectual, mutant strain.” – (Industrial strength bands  – Ready or not, here they come: a new batch of unconventional, dark acts with a clangy edge – BY RAFER GUZMAN – Newsday Staff Writer – June 11, 2006) http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/music/ny-ffmus4773054jun11,0,1918057,print.story?coll=ny-music-headlines

JUNE 2006 RE/Search eNewsletter written by V. Vale & contributors. Newsletter and website powered by http://www.laughingsquid.com

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