The Rectification of Errors & Strategies Against Negative Tendencies
(contributions towards a critique of the Grey Album) by Jim Hayes
The Grey Album by DJ Dangermouse is one of the greatest albums of all time. It’s such a great album, it’s not even an album as commonly designated, The Grey Album exists as a recording. The Grey Album exists as a series of MP3’s. It is a code within a code, dots and numerals transfigured into sound, into a danceable platter. It is greater than great for this action alone. It is a commercial for technology and found objects. It’s an advertisement demonstrating what can be achieved by utilizing pre-existing artistic conditions and transforming them into a new hyper-commodity. Like the mythological Delta bluesman that made guitars out of cigar boxes and cat guts; DJ Dangermouse strings together two long playing records into a bloody drag trail. He traces elements of “found” music into the skidding silence of lawsuits, denunciations and the hum of CD’s being burned coast to coast. The archaic hand clicks mice, pages are pulled up and volumes become adjusted from library cubicle to college dorm to car stereo. The rafters shake and the heads nod in a unison of musical cartographers-the hip hop ravers meet the scribbling scribes. Bartleby the scrivener adjusts his flares and pulls his headphones over his eyes. Our culture constantly retreats from the value of the individual in the conglomerate of pre-packaged video icons, images that tessellate into advertisements, publicity people and fortresses of law. DJ Dangermouse (our hero) reacts by taking splinters of cultural collateral and turning them on themselves as entirely new forms. The forces of cultural imperialism demand that music be consumed passively, a ticket, a DVD, a compact disc-the fan relinquishes his power once the money is in the till. DJ Dangermouse reverses this trend by making the music come alive with his own interaction within it. “Flash is back, flash is cool.” The Grey Album features a unique mix of music and social currency. The nature of its release defines “cool” into several categories: I got it, I downloaded it and I changed the file into a form that can be burned and shared, that can be a scorched earth policy. The listener is “cool” because s/he “owns” a selection of cutting edge music, determined by the sound and the medium. Not only is the “owner” cool by enjoying DJ Dangermouse (your “hero”) the owner is able to distribute the music to others. (Do I wanna score? Score! The soccer scores are coming in from the capital…) Why is it acceptable that music makers can resell their songs to television commercials? Oh they “made” the music; they “created” the music, more importantly they own the music. They have the choice to decimate the listeners’ experience (initial purchasers of the music) by dissolving personal memories into hat racks on a night like this… DJ Dangermouse is taking back this relationship. The Grey Album has appeared because there is a need for it to appear. People feel powerless and immune before any shavings of ecclesiastical power, DJ Dangermouse reveals himself to be a technological performance artist priest. A site specific piece that now has a web site and a lawsuit naming dozens of Jane and John Does for the horrible (federal) crime of sharing music. The tons of legal paperwork flair out into a bottomless bell of performance, shuffling, bowing, scarping and filing. DJ Dangermouse is no mere DJ, he is an occult manipulator that has set forces into motion he does not understand, nor control. Only a legal expert can explain the difference between Robert Johnson singing in 1937 “squeeze my lemon until the juice runs down my leg” to Robert Planted singing the same lyric in 1969. From Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) singing “lots a people talking, mighty few people know” to (again) (sigh) Robert Planted singing the same thing in 1969. The 1981 issue of “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash On the Wheels of Steel” is the first ancestor of the Grey Album. On this mind boggling 12” Grandmaster Flash collages the records of Chic’s “Good Times”, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”, The Sugarhill Gang’s “8th Wonder”, The Furious Five’s “Birthday Party”, Sequence & Spoonie Gee’s “Monster Jam” and Blondie’s “Rapture” (“Flash is back, flash is cool). This record was the first popular instance of sampling and meshing and mixing. It ends with a child’s voice, “Daddy, tell me a story;” which links it up to the mother’s voice on the Grey Album, “Shawn was a strange child.” Not to forget the 1987 album by Culturcide “Tacky Souvenirs of a Pre-Revolutionary America” out of San Antonio. These Texas pranksters, these un-idle satirists sang post-situationist lyrics exactly on top of songs by Bruce Springsteen, Huey Lewis, Michael Jackson et al….the heart of rock and roll is the cash…vocalist Perry Webb takes an ironic look at rock and roll as by taking away the irony. “The heart of rock and roll is the cash,” he sings atop Huey Nuisance. In the same time frame comes the Iowa City pioneers the Tape Beatles. The Tape Beatles were a group of art punks from Iowa. They used analog cassettes to chop up various Beatles songs into new arrangements and alternate mixes. Now they live in Prague. The non-commodity fun of file sharing. A voice mail message asks me to burn another copy for a recent parent. It seems her brother stole the “original” I made for her. How can someone steal something that’s free? How can someone steal something that is already stolen? My memories of the original Beatle songs are false; they were planted by the endless cylindrical calendar and the pseudo-holiday celebrations extolled on television. DJ Dangermouse has no right to reinterpret these recent events. The Grey Album represents a spirit of creative freedom that inspires. It is a candle that burns on both ends that one can use as a cigarette lighter. Unlike plenty of “experimental” music that is more fun to read about than actually listen to (The Residents come to mind) the Grey Album is fun to listen to and its hand shake welcomes the listener to make it for themselves. So far, a connoisseur has crossed Jay Z with Pavement’s “seminal” album which has created a forgettable mix. But it is, of course, the idea of such an anonymous collaboration that makes it interesting (cue Residents music here)…100,000 downloads in several weeks, the bootlegs have appeared featuring covers with Beatle in-jokes to appeal to the rabid Beatle collector/hoarder (Moptopicus Loserosus)…Bowie, “decides” he is going to offer a contest devoted to the best example of “mashing” his work. Didn’t Duchamp mash the Mona Lisa? Isn’t Michael Moore mashing Debord in 9-11 is a Joke? Didn’t Flavor Flav know what he, uhh, meant? Is twilight language the ghost of contempt?
Bastille Day 2004 Marietta, Georgia; United States of America (Jim Hayes is a former writer for the publication Flipside) (Exclusive content for Kingblind.com)
The Rectification of Errors & Strategies Against Negative Tendencies