Monday, May 18, 2009
54. Selling Out Is Hard To Do (Pere Ubu, Cloudland)
Captain Beefheart tried. That's right. The guy who would rename his bandmembers things like "Neon Squid James" and "Corky Thatcher" tried to sell out. He didn't give a shit what you thought. He was gonna hit it big if it killed him. So he made "Bluejeans and Moonbeams," an album that exactly one (1) person (deaf chick in Iowa) liked and which is easily far more reviled than his knottiest album, which was of course "Trout Mask Dinner" and came with a side of big-eyed beans and a note from Lester Bangs excusing you from gym so you could go smoke schwag under the bleachers. And even unto the end of his musical career he was flabbergasted that it didn't work. He spent the rest of his career desperately trying to sell out. He went on Saturday Night Live and performed "Ashtray Heart" and the crowd loved it. Sell out achieved? Nope. Fuck critical acclaim, he used to tell me over blintzes at the Mojave kosher deli we used to frequent. Fuck critical acclaim, I just want to hear that coyote do a u-turn on my mother. I took that to mean that he was speaking allegorically again and I nodded and smiled and ate another Quaalude. It was the early 80's. People did that shit.
Jim O'Rourke sold out ironically. He deconstructed selling out. He considered the mechanics of the choogle on "Insignificance" and exact melting point of cheese on "Eureka." It didn't work, but Jimbo continues. Let's face it: what he wants is his own Japanese game show where contestants have to remix Bananarama b-sides and discuss the philosophical baggage of reverb while the floors get electrocuted. The show, called "IMPOSSIBLE PERSON-GUITARRING IRON CONFRONTATION," is currently in pre-production and Jimbo is getting laid, laid, laid and snorting shabu-shabu off the asses of fallen idoru.
Let's not discuss Courtney Love because every second she isn't mentioned somewhere she grows weaker and weaker.
Liz Phair tried to sell out. Unfortunately, you can hire The Matrix and beer-bong all the hot white cum you want, but if you're going to write a song called "Hot White Cum" chances are you're not going to get played on Disney radio.
Finally, Pere Ubu tried to sell out. Pere. Ubu. The band whose only constant was an ex-critic who used to call himself Crocus Behemoth and who looks like an Oliver Hardy after five weeks of severe cognitive dissonance... tried to sell out. They moved to Fontana Records and put out three or four pop albums. THEY MADE VIDEOS. They thought, what do succesful pop musicians do in 1987? They make videos. Which is how David Thomas (the living, not-as-famous one) ended up windmilling his bulk across the eyeballs of an America that was, uh, not ready for it. Not even the people who watched "120 Minutes" were ready for it. Every time the video for "Waiting for Mary" came on, five minutes later there would be a spike in calls to emergency respondants as people assumed that their pot had been tainted with meth. Oh, and that video? It's recently been removed from Youtube... none dare call it conspiracy, or even revisionism.
Now, are these good albums? I personally like the O'Rourke and the Pere Ubu albums. The latter, especially, are endearing; as David Thomas waddles in from the deep freeze of critics' academic appraisal, warbling "the bride waltzed barefoot there on the sidewalk, you could fry an egg"... well, you kind of want to hand him a blanket and some fuzzy slippers and buy the album for Aunt Ruth. Of course, Aunt Ruth thinks it's weird and takes it out of the CD player and puts on the latest T-Pain, but hey, you tried, and you can tell Crocus and now Crocus won't come to your house and spazz out on your cats.