This will probably win John Cale no new fans. John Cale is probably ok with that. He is not the kind of artist who goes courting for new followers. In fact, this isn’t even his most aggressively unapproachable work. Even for longtime fans, John Cale is difficult. But never not rewarding. If nothing else, he really helps clear out a party. If nothing else, John Cale is such a bad bastard that his fans become bad bastards by association. He could stick to melancholy piano ballads and make a pretty good buck doing so, but that would be beneath him, and us. We really need those last few artists for whom the concept of selling out still has meaning.
Here’s someone I haven’t played in a bit: Eek-a-Mouse. I wonder what that guy’s been up to. From the last time I checked on him, he’s been incorporating more hip hop and going for a harder sound on his last few records. Trying to stay relevant, I guess. I thought it wasn’t the best transition. But I’ve been listening to U-Neek since 1991 and don’t care about anything else. It’s the Mouse’s masterpiece, and nothing else will ever compare. Which, at the time, was the perfectly modernized reggae sound; more uptempo, more dancehall, even more hip hop, but still recognizable. It was, I guess, very much of its time; just check out the trendy ransom-note cover font. It’s a nineties classic.
Contrary to the title of his best-known album, Klaus Nomi was the opposite of a simple man. He didn’t live a simple life, and he didn’t have a simple personality. His music certainly wasn’t very simple. The eccentric range of his song choices reflect his wide range of interests and the contrasting worlds he inhabited. He could place this, a novelty space-cowboy song by underground superstar Joey Arias, next to compositions by John Dowland and Henry Purcell. Nomi left the German opera scene for the New York art scene, and he balanced his knowledge of European high culture with a fascination for the campiest dregs of American pop culture. Which made for a dazzlingly weird and dizzying musical persona. The Kabuki inspired Nomi persona belied the normal side of Klaus Sperber, a mild-mannered person who loved baking and hosting dinners for his friends. Like many gay men of his generation, Nomi vociferously enjoyed the sexual liberation of the 1970’s but didn’t have the interpersonal skills to build long-term relationships, and like too many, he became a victim of the AIDS epidemic. He was just too weird and multifaceted, in life and in art, to reach a wide audience or his own full potential. His legacy is anything but simple.
If at first you don’t succeed… maybe think about getting a better haircut. I have so much love for David Bowie’s eccentric early material, but I know it’s a hard sell for rock fans. Nobody was listening to music hall tunes in the 1960’s, but at least people knew what that was and could understand the concept. Today this sort of thing sounds more alien weird and out of touch than any Martian-messiah fantasy. I mean, are there people still alive who cherish the memory of old English music halls? Those cultural institutions were already dying when Charlie Chaplin was still a kid. As were boater hats and songs about going off to fight in the First World War. Also, nobody buys a David Bowie record for the tuba solos. Bowie is the definition of iconoclasm; he’s made his legacy on changing just ahead of what’s cool. This, on the other hand, is uncool in the bloody-minded manner of an aggressively pretentious arts major whose uncoolness is their only gimmick. It takes a while to learn the difference between being ahead of the curve and merely just outside of it. It is, however, very cute.
The world needs a band that can mimic the sound of corny 70’s era Europop, and isn’t afraid of fingersnaps or gallopy-horse sound effects. The world also needs a sensitive yet witty songwriter who loves English folk music and listens to The Smiths too much. That group is Belle & Sebastian, that songwriter is Stuart Murdoch, and they’ve made their career as the millennial incarnation of twee-pop. That made-up genre title smacks of our culture’s tendency to mock anything that isn’t sweating aggression, but it’s also descriptive of a certain aesthetic type. You know, the self-consciously anti-aggressive too-smart-for-the-mainstream types who wear cardigans and Wellies even when they’re not in the north of England. You’d call them hipsters except that that’s how they really are and they can’t ever be any other way. You (we) know who you (we) are.
To anyone who imagines the past as a cleaner, wholesomer time – it wasn’t. This is coming to you from The Clovers, who were better known for their harmonizing on clean and wholesome hits like Love Potion No. 9. Sure, it ain’t something that would fly on the radio, or even in stores, but the dirty blues flourished from the beginning of the recording industry until the 1960’s, when there stopped being a need for it. It makes you wonder what kind of things your granddad got up to in his day. I think he’d tell you that in his day they didn’t have your PornHubs or your RedTubes or your Adult Friend Finders and they actually had to leave the house and do some footwork to have a sexual experience that left them feeling filthy inside. That is, a lot went on hidden beneath the guise of outward wholesomeness, and a little evidence of it survives. Songs like this one, the oeuvre of Irving Klaw, the cheapo paperbacks known as pulp fiction: all point to a time of thinly veiled promiscuity, when every closet was filled to bursting with embarrassing predilections. It’s just that today we keep that shit out in the living room.
Just in case you were feeling good about something. Let Nico bring you down. Who knows what kind of internal purgatory that woman lived in, but it’s clear from the soundscapes she composed that she wasn’t a merry spirit. She made it a point to reject anything others might consider beautiful or life-affirming. Of course, she always insisted that what she created was, to her, beautiful and comforting. She also liked to say that she would be quite happy imprisoned alone in a dark cell. She didn’t reap much reward for those sentiments while she was alive, but she’s gathered a following of people who share her aesthetic. Lots of us like solitude, cold and dark.