How many soundtracks are needed for the end of the world? One ought to suffice.
There is a moment in Oliver Stone's movie The Doors, when Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) tells the rest of the band, "That's not bad for a bunch of guys who weren't even talking to each other the day the album was recorded." That might well have been the making of Last Rights, which because of everything from its very title through to the downright eschatological sound of the album seemed for a time like the last album the group would ever make.
Or the last album anyone would ever hear, given how determined the record seems to be a final will and testament to everything from its band to its listeners to the world that produced it. It makes Pink Floyd The Wall seem downright upbeat, since that was only about one man's implosion; here, the whole of human creation and experience is in the process of being wiped off the map. This wasn't just "music for the end of the world"; the band had apparently gone and recorded the act while it was in progress. Nobody Gets Out Of Here Alive, indeed.
The first full flowering of Ministry's foul ferocity, and possibly its best.
There was a time when the mere fact of an album’s existence seemed dangerous. Lester Bangs made an unnerving personal case for it with Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, when he reported how it wasn’t just the sheer sneering cynicism of the record itself, but the mood it inspired in people, both at large and up close. He and his friends would put it on and feel such disgust, such negative energy accumulating within themselves thanks to that music that they became genuinely frightened at how there seemed to be nothing to do with that black aura except be roasted alive in it. Even the Pistols themselves couldn’t survive being the source of such a miasma; the whole point of the group had been to create something horrible and unstable. After them it was difficult to imagine a group, or a record, released on a mainstream label, whose very existence implied its imminent destruction: it had to be a publicity stunt, right?
Give any cultural marker ten years, and see what the people raised on it will produce. Ministry was far tamer as a cultural phenomenon than the Pistols -- it never reached quite the same level of public awareness as Sid's Kids, and even at his most outré Al Jourgensen and the rest of his buddies could still be packed away as "just another rock band", instead of the most scabrous embodiment of a country's cultural souring.
On my first and pivotal encounter with a crucial if terribly-named band.
It was, I think, 1987. I was sitting on the floor in a friend’s room when he announced that a friend of his had passed along a tape from a band with the stupidest name he’d ever heard in his life.
I was sixteen at the time, but I was used to the idea that you could camouflage something great behind a terrible label. When one of the finest books I’d read up until that point had been named Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the notion that a band could be named “Skinny Puppy” didn’t exactly have me giggling, or reaching for the smelling salts. And having already experienced Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontakte courtesy of an LP at the library, I was no stranger to the idea that music could be about more than just mere entertainment. None of this was defense enough against what came out of those speakers and mugged me.
This one-of-a-kind jazz composition, originally in incredibly limited release, is now back on CD.
In John Cage's essay "History of Experimental Music in the United States" (collected in Silence), Cage wrote (in the context of a discussion of composers such as Elliott Carter and Henry Cowell), "Jazz per se derives from serious music. And when serious music derives from [jazz], the situation becomes rather silly." He made exceptions: William Russell, for instance, and Cage also had approving things to say about Harry Partch, whose train-jumping lifestyle and omnivorous ear made for compositions that still sound radical and striking today.
I know Cage was still alive and well when Intents and Purposes was first released in 1966 -- eight years after the above essay was penned -- but if he had any awareness of it, or reaction to it, I am unable to say. I suspect it would scarcely meet with Cage's stern standards for what constitutes "experimental", and he might well have been dismayed, if only in principle, at the way this serious music (as per the "orchestra" in the group name) derives almost entirely from jazz. It's records like this which convince me Cage, despite still being an idol of mine, held a stance was as naive and divisive as it was sophisticated (shilling for recherché).
This page contains an archive of posts in the category Music for the month of January 2013.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind