medium and message

I went to see the Soft Boys last night. I’ve always been a cockhead– one who loves Robyn […]

I went to see the Soft Boys last night. I’ve always been a cockhead– one who loves Robyn Hitchcock. I dig the music and I adore the surreal lyrics.

I was pondering his weirder stuff– music that, upon reading the lyrics made no damn sense, yet when you took it in uncritically you know what he’s singing about, even if you can’t articulate it very well.

Some of my favorite lines from his songs:

“some things go in, some things go out, next time ’round I’ll be a trout”

“a radio is playing in the darkness of a hall, there is someone standing near you who just isn’t there at all”

“sleeping with your devil mask is all I want to do, and when I stop it means I’m through with you”

Some lines are easier to understand–

“In agony of pleasure, I crumble to my knees, I lick your frozen treasure, You cup my furry bees”

and some are just plain impossible–

“She uncorked herself, teeth spilling from her nostrils”

He’s the John Ashbery of rock and roll, a man who strings together disparate images to create a genuine emotion– conflicting and peculiar as those juxtopositions may seem to be.

It seems to me that this style of art– I hesitate to call it surrealism– is not confined by the medium it is executed in: it doesn’t matter if the maker is a musicians or a painter or a writer, what matters is these works are created by smashing together strongly flavored disparate images. Roschenberg did it with his collages. Ashbery does it in What Is Poetry. Heck, San Francisco chef Elka did it with every menu she made at oodles: “chawan mushi with scallops, duck confit, gingko nuts, and shiso leaf ” indeed!

A Degas sculpture isn’t that different from a Degas pastel… I think of Picasso painting with light, with ceramics, with paint, with torn up magazines– didn’t matter much to him.

When I first got involved with the web, everyone around me felt they had to invent from scratch everything they did. There was no learning from past disciplines– the baby was tossed out with the bathwater. While it was very very true that many rules of print did not apply and there were many bad sites built by scanning a brocure and uploading it, we ended up going too far, and forgetting the basics of human communication. We chose to unlearn lessons about understanding the market (the users, the audience), lessons on taking the time to design the composition of the work, to create visual hierachies that lead the eye, to use language that engages and seduces. We need to relearn those rules while still understanding that the way people view and digest material online is fundamentally different–I suppose I’m trying to talk about how the medium is and is not important.

I have no idea why I’m haunted this sunday afternoon to try to get down this elusive notion. But I am… it’s overly simplistic to say: it’s nothing like print. or, it’s just another tool. It conforting to say, it’s business as usual, the revolution is over. It was exhilerating to say “throw out the old! we’re doing something completely different” Both statements are false. Both statements are true. Humans are the same, it’s the paper that has changed.

Anyhow, I’m interested in finding examples of artisits (or anyone) trying to use the web the same way as Hitchcock and Ashbery and Roschenberg.

And if you want a taste of Robyn Hitchcock, buy one of his “perfect” albums, either the Soft Boys’ Underwater Moonlight or one of his exquisite solo albums, eye or I often dream of trains Or you can fire up napster and try mispelling glass hotel.

p.s. ralph sent me the underwater moonlight site. cool.


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    i used to think my old boyfriend's poetry was clever too til i realized he was a totally talentless

    i used to think my old boyfriend’s poetry was clever too til i realized he was a totally talentless – but gorgeous – wad of unalloyed pretension. r hitchcock isn’t even as cute as he was, he’s just got a bigger wad of pretension.

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