Tuesday, 15 May 2012

"All the Holes in Your Heart"

Jesus christ, bank holiday Monday, where has it gone this weekend? Where has the week gone?
I started writing a review for you all of Diamond Suicide, the quad-disk octagonal album that Julian Cope, Prince and the New Power Generation produced in 1991 but I shattered my collarbone in a cycling experiment on Saturday afternoon and I can't change the records with one hand. I'm typing with one hand now which is more frustrating than in should be, plus the floating section of bone shifts every now and again. Codeine has shaved the pain off but it can't alter the sensation of bone not being where it should be which my brain interprets with a small finger of adrenaline inducing vomit through a hungry winding press to the sternum.

I can tell you that Diamond Suicide is a pivotal point for both artists, making the loss of self and the emergence of a collectivist attitude to music production. Amoeba-like. The New Power Generation ( a pan lineal horizontal and open grouping), Prince (a title with inherent becoming that we know with hind sight was approaching abstraction and various pseudo-deaths) and (mystic) saint Julian are ultimately concerned with a re-staging rite of various moments of the French Revolution. This action is the simultaneous rise and fall of the revolution, ((the real revolution) (the whole wheel) (the industrial hustle)), all factions enmeshed with all others. An eight sided collective record born of two twin cities split by the Mississippi and the Rhymney. (and again by the Mersey, the Seine and the Thames and so on...).

Poll Tax Riots; a point at which Idealism got smashed in the mouth by material reality. “Engine of history” as an image, doesn't cover it though,. What we have instead is just pure negation. A step too far to standardise vicious order over messy treacherous things like human lives. It's not like things swung round, not like it really changed anything, but it was a jolt all the same, a stall that brought attention to the engine itself, if only for an embarrassing few seconds from the point of view of the driver.

Proletarian fop-rock, Agnostic gospel turned back in on itself, a road of Christianity that skirts the authority of the church and dog-legs back on itself through the mystic's direct contact with the divine as a thing of expression (“look up in the air, it's your guitar”) and winds up somewhere pagan, glorifying the beauty of the ancient/modern/moment. 

Prince, like DeSade, a revolutionary out side of dichotomies of class, of sides, “struggle” as an intensity in itself. As I've said before, funk is about repression, symbiotic in its need for a thing to beat against, to be caught, to struggle. We can't have a smooth space without a little striation, just as can't have the space of a mine without a boundary of rock and wood, or architecture without the infection of the void.

It is quite telling that the liner notes feature a pair of pen and ink self portraits of Prince as Robespierre, one in which he is operating the guillotine and the other placing his head upon the block. The latin inscriptions in the background of each read "Emancipation through damage to the self" and "A mark on the jaw" respectively and one cannot read these now without feeling the foreshadow of later events in the artist's life.

“Clovius hoofus Cernunnos (-os)
I knew the devil before all o' this,
shake your body like a horny pony would,
shake your body like a horny pony would”

So who is Cope in all this? Some Jacobin Pagan?
Now would be time to try and wrest the Paganism of the revolution from its role as proto-fascist ignition, leading to the Berg Kino, the (worst applications of the) walks of Heidegger and pseudo-spiritual-nationalist-naturalisms. I'm clearly too ill informed for that mammoth task though. The ragged crack through history has on one side the universal access to an un-capitalised "nature", to the local seasons, to land running through all culture. While what is on the other side of this divide looks so very similar, but is always ever a front, a misdirection. Just as Social Darwinism hid one empire and just as Manifest Destiny hid another. That's the Nature with the capital N, the Science with the capital S. Cult anything you want, it will be still just be a cult, content doesn't matter to dogma. So how to separate "standing stones as beings" from "standing stones as symbol of Eternal Ideology"?  This question underpins most of the twenty tracks on Diamond Suicide and is largely the tension which holds the work together.

Prince, like Cope always struggled with the Ideal of identity, what it is for anything to be like itself. Moving closer to defining themselves. The walk on mic-stand, the questioning of how or why to be oneself. To mark that ground out and name, with the close label of a birth name, all actions under ONE. Yet at the same time the desperate design to be part of the community, the union, with another, with more than just another.

To be a generation is to be a lineal wave yet also a poesis, a spurting forth. To create new power. A power of what though? Sources suggest an abstract non-terran energy, the kind of deep abstraction that funk thrives on (an immaterial alien sentience from space, twisting and changing and always in between. Out there in the snow... The Thang). Outside both the physical and the space of language.
To protest, to be an (guitar) army. How to reconcile that desire for self-naming with the desire to be in a collective? Prince achieves it best, or at least as honestly as he can with the billing “Prince and the New Power Generation”. The self and the collective which is equal to the self. 1 = everyone else along side. Never going to be consumed, never going to loose one's self fully.
There is me and there is you.


That's really the tension that Prince struggled with the whole way through, it's what all the legal disputes came from, the fear even of his own followers which led to attacks on fan sites and the like. The rights to his image, to hold it out for all to see, to touch, but utter horror at the realisation of what that touch entailed.

Cope is someone different, and his influence mellows the record considerable, assists in keeping it grounded, a bit more human, a bit more Hume. Cope still has his demons to work out and his conservative belief to the power of the guitar as sacred tool is conflicted with an often shockingly banal attitude to actually playing the thing, we won't dwell on that though. Luckily on this record Prince's production takes what would have undoubtedly been some enfeebled constructions and buttresses them in all the right places while pulling out excess organs and putting a few more holes in the rear end. “Leperskin”, with its profound poetry on the subject of transformation, growth and abandonment uses many of the same synth+drum machine checkerboard constructions that made Dirty Mind some rigidly wonderful. A wall of brass smashes the left channel like a parade of baroque clowns for what seems a well-lived life-time but is actually only 8 bars of what is just shy of a 13 minute song. Legend has it that the record company very nearly insisted on bringing in Allan Moulder to produce on the session “Leperskin” was recorded on and one can only imagine the kind of shocking snake shit that would have resulted in. The story continues that the band simply stacked Hammond organs against the inside of the studio doors setting the furious Moulder on a week long bloodlust which only ended when he broke into Creation records and butchered the final track of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless.

As it is fate has decided that the refrain “Mutantazoid, caucazoid, white cave bitch” chanted by the Sounds of Blackness Choir over staccato hits of a tape sample burst of distorted and hand manipulated orchestral noise is one of the most frightening pieces of sound ever arranged. A monument to the dying days of Neanderthal culture it expresses the true horror of death in a landscape of unimaginable scale, based in part on a story of a fleetingly mentioned character in a Jean M Auel novel. Listening to this one track now, 21 years after it was recorded one cannot help feel regret that Julian Cope chose to follow the misguided belief that stone circles and atavism had a lineage that led to the the sound of an electric guitar alone. “leperskin” showed most clearly that the feeling of stone and the whispered protest against annihilation that constitutes the ritual moving of such stone, is something far more rhythmic than it is textural. What Cope failed to understand later was that it isn't the sound of electric guitars the drive Funhouse (though they are sublime) but the rhythmic arrangement of any sufficiently brutal parts. 

This is not to say that Diamond Suicide is not ultimately a guitar album. The 2nd side of the 3rd disk contains just one track which is dominated by the droning noise of electric guitars (and two sitars). "Surf of Thunder" is a near solid bar of sound, layer upon layer of reverb means that shifts are never felt except in their passing. "Surf of Thunder" is glacial, punctuated by cycling manta's (which mark the only true Prince and Cope duet) and what should feel like guitar solos yet is simply momentary groupings and swirlings of noise, like a fossil curled in rock echoing the form of the great (bloody) tidal Apocalypse that the song predicts.

 "You don't have to be afraid now, come and save your soul tonight"

Written as a reflection on the Reign of Terror from the point of view of the scaffold itself "Surf of Thunder" was originally meant to be the final track of the album (which explains the record is double-grooved on the final turn, meaning that like Sonic Youth's Evol, which the album's artwork explicitly refers to, Diamond Suicide will continue to play a disjointed repeating noise endlessly until the stylus is lifted), however an error in labeling meant that the disks are ordered out of sequence. As it is the title track is what closes the album, which despite its name is perhaps the most optimistic point of the whole twenty songs. A sonnet over phasing kick drums detailing the love triangle of Corday, Marat and David, "Diamond Suicide" is almost too sentimental but thanks in no small part to the sincerity of Sheena Easton's whispered choruses the subtext of collapsing skin and intimacy, of the group and self which has run through the entirety of this album crystallizes in the final moments perfectly.

"Turn the lights off, strike the candle,
No one you have ever known, knows how to handle,
All the holes in your heart"


Greyhoos said...

Absolufuckinglutely wonderful, this.

David W. Kasper said...

More please!

ralph dorey said...