Friday, March 31, 2006

Rambling About Scott Walker, Elvis, and the Twin Towers

Thom Jurek writes:

I spent last night being utterly confounded, unsettled, and blown away (in the sense of wondering just what I was hearing) by Scott Walker's new album, The Drift on 4AD--there's a jump eh?

While I know Walker's last excursion into dense, art-damaged experimentalism (Tilt, in 1995) may not be anyone's thing here; it did move me because of my interest in Cage, Feldman, Lester Bowie, Xennakis, Braxton, Crumb, Threadgill, Anthony Davis's "Malcolm X" opera, Roscoe Mitchell and Sun Ra. I listened to all 68 minutes in one sitting.

Anyway, there is a tune here called "Jesse," written in October of 2001. Rather than look at the the event reflectively, Walker looks at American power and its mythological constructs as a dream sequence. He uses a baritone guitar detuned to play the "Jailhouse Rock," sequence and undoes the drum riff by using whispered "Pow! Pow!"'s to signal the planes hitting the towers as three detuned basses roar like the planes themselves. He then has Elvis sitting under the Memphis moonlight whispering to Jesse about what it all means. Here is the gone-dead Elvis speaking to the stillborn Jesse about this now disappeared, mythical symbol of American power and commerce falling to the ground in ruins and speculates in short, clipped lines about the death of American myth as the death of America itself.

Is it pretentious? Hell yes. But it's compelling too. I played that track two, then three, then four times, and was just knocked out by its sound, Walker's gentle singing, as if he is encountering all these things at once, as it all happens in some nightmare. Hearing those "pows!" chilled me to the bone and I went outside looking for the moonlight, thinking about the new unmasked America, as some new myth was being attempted to be constructed from the ruins of the old. I then played "Jailhouse Rock" by Presley and found myself both angry at Walker for his use of a song I loved so much to depict something so horrible, and tipping my hat to him too; not because he was slamming Elvis, but who better to talk about American myth; to a person he supposedly trusted enough to speak to regularly, a mythical twin, yet never knew?

1 Comments:

Anonymous Matt Weston said...

Some of the arrangements/orchestrations/concepts on Tilt probably owe more to Bill Dixon's work than to Lester Bowie's or Braxton's (who themselves owed quite a lot to Bill Dixon's work)...and Walker's been more politically engaged than his dense experimentalism would initially make evident: "The Electrician", about CIA torture in Central America; "The Old Man's Back Again", probably the only pro-socialist/anti-Stalinist song to contain scat singing; "Patriot (a single)", about the first Gulf War; and of his contemporaries in the British pop scene of the 60s, he was *by far* the most outspoken against South African apartheid.

10:45 PM  

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