the troubadour arrived unheralded
the mood sullen in the crowd
he had the reputation of trickster
hat and cape & concealing cowl
he played the part of wise man
tried to bend them to his will
but his magic was much diminished
it only made them ill
he rallied his most stalwart
minions to the King
the others were left abandoned
denied a song to sing
confused and upbraided
filing from the flickering hall
no one there to guide them
catch them should they fall
the troubadour was untroubled
he’d been paid in brightest gold
fools were they who lamented
he’d grown so tired and old
for our idols owe us nothing
evince scorn for our trusting ways
in their eyes we are dupes and fools
refusing to turn the page
put your faith in butterflies
follow their aimless flight
but beware of traveling minstrels
who vanish into the night
* Completed following the Bob Dylan/Mark Knopfler concert, Credit Union Center (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)
the troubadour arrived unheralded
the mood sullen in the crowd
he had the reputation of trickster
hat and cape & concealing cowl…
* Poem to be completed following the concert
I’d heard that Trent Reznor had included a couple of mood/ambient pieces from his Ghosts I-IV album in his live show. How would that go over with the banger crowd?
To their credit, the youngish (compared to me) audience listened in respectful, if not exactly rapt silence, as Reznor slowed things right down about a third of the way through the concert. During the spacey instrumentals, the lighters came out and most of the of the people around us sat down; even the mosh pit subsided into good-natured jostling.
It was a courageous move on the musician’s part. Rather than play a standard greatest hits package, he touched on all aspects of his career, from the commercial highlights to his experimental side.
The new material stood up well: The Slip is a fine, accomplished album.
The stagecraft was topnotch: the layout fairly standard, providing good line of sight. Metal partitions descended at various points, serving as screens for projected visual effects like rain, shapeless abstractions, things on the verge of coming in to focus…
The musicianship was unbelievable. These are guys Reznor hand-picked to help spread his misanthropic gospel to the great, brainwashed masses. The chosen ones. Guitarist Robin Finck is a wonder and Josh Freese provides thunderous accompaniment on drums…and then there’s Reznor himself, stomping about, whirling, howling; a ferocious performance. It was a form of shamanism, there’s no other way to describe it.
Professional, polished? Yes. Carefully considered, manipulative, rehearsed to the nth degree? Undoubtedly.
But you can’t choreograph stage presence, sheer magnetism. Reznor has it, baby. So does Maynard Keenan (in spades). An unmistakable aura, almost otherworldly in its vibe. It radiates from them and electrifies a crowd of thousands, tens of thousands. How much power does that take?
Reznor has his critics, of course, those who are unimpressed by his music or persona. They call him a phony or a poser–my buddy Chris King had one of the best lines ever:
“Trent,” he snorted. “What sort of fuckin’ name is that for a metal guy?”
“So what’s a better one?” I challenged him.
“Glenn Danzig,” he replied without hesitation and with that we both collapsed into a fit of laughter. Because he was right, of course. Glenn fuckin’ Danzig.
But I think even ol’ Chris would have been impressed by the show T.R. and his lads put on last night. No effort or expense was spared to present Reznor’s fatal, poisonous vision of the world to a very receptive audience.
We were off to the side, terrific seats overlooking the stage–and we could also see the incredible computer control centre the stage crew monitored and operated to keep everything in synch. It looked like something out of a science fiction movie or a missile tracking station at fucking NORAD.
Trent Reznor is at the top of his game right now, his artistry evident in every track on The Slip. He is a man thoroughly in control of every aspect of his music and, clearly, thriving in that environment.
His aesthetic has expanded in the past few years especially and with it his range and depth. Whereas someone like Al Jourgensen (Ministry) will go to his grave shrieking and raging, Reznor’s psyche and sensibilities allow for far more variation, subtlety and virtuosity.
His bleak worldview is enticing, alarming, convincing; all the more so because the soundtrack is constantly changing as the skies darken and the wind begins to rise…
Equilibrium and tranquility have been restored to my life, the pleasant, assuring illusion of balance and order.
All hail the return of my Yamaha GX-500 mini component stereo! This office has been as quiet as an Amish disco for the past month, owing to a malfunction involving my usually reliable Yamaha unit. We took it in to Saskatoon and Chris, a service guy at Audio Warehouse, had a look at it but his initial prognosis was grim.
Sure enough, when he called me at home later in the week, the news wasn’t good. The required part wasn’t available, the system no longer in production (it was nine years old, after all), Chris gave me the part number and I spent one entire morning on-line, trying to track something down. Finally came across a place in New York that was selling exactly what I needed, a traverse deck for a Yamaha GX-500. But in the midst of finalizing the sale, we ran into a slight snag: the company didn’t ship to Canada.
Now, there was no freakin’ way I was giving up on that part, not when I had it in my claw-like grasp. Then I remembered my pal Mark in southern California and gave the operator his address, charging every thing to my VISA. They ship the part to Mark, he ships it to me. Might take a little while longer but at least I’ll have the part and my troubles will be over. Music, that universal language, will once again play on…
Ah. Or so I thought. The part shows up, I get it into Chris at Audio Warehouse…the deck still won’t work. At that point I utter one or two unpleasant words, growls of frustration more than anything else. Chris promises to do what he can but I can tell he isn’t holding out much hope.
What the hell, I decide, go for broke. When I get home, I compose a two page letter to Yamaha Canada and fax it to their head office in Toronto. I suppose at that point I could’ve gritted my teeth and bought a new system but part of me resisted that kind of thinking. It’s this weird culture we live in, where everything is disposable and replaceable and upgradeable. Where getting something fixed costs so much you might as well buy it new. Call it my curmudgeonly streak. My wife says it’s just that I’m cheap.
I didn’t expect a response to my letter but at that point I had gone more than two weeks without music in my office and wasn’t thinking too clearly. I was astonished when I received a call from a very personable fellow from Yamaha h.q. (yo, Matt!), who said he’d do what he could to help effect repairs on my unit. No promises, just an (apparently) sincere promise to try.
I guess somebody at Yamaha called Chris and they were able to dig up a crucial part that finally cleared up the bug…and now my beloved Yamaha unit is back where it belongs, blaring out a cut from the latest in Dylan’s “bootleg” series.
Special citations of merit and resounding huzzahs to Chris (Audio Warehouse), Mark Miller, Matt and the folks at Yamaha Canada for providing exemplary service and/or lending a helping hand. Thanks, folks!
Having music again has inspired a fresh outburst of creativity, granting me the state of mind necessary to leave Earth Prime, contemplate and create vast, new universes of my own. It’s remarkable the effect music has on me, my work; it accompanies every word, every comma I commit to paper.
So what’s on the turntable these days? Turntable? Jesus, when was the last time I had one of those? Really dating myself, aren’t I? Turntable…
Okay, okay, what on the playlist then, what’s on heavy rotation here at Radio Free Albemuth circa the end of November, 2008:
M83: Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. Shoegazer music? Ambient? Dunno what you call it but it sure is fuckin’ great to work to.
The Clash: Just about everything in their discography. London Calling still resonates across the years.
Jesus & Mary Chain: before BRMC there were the naughty-not-nice Reid Brothers. Psychocandy and The Sound of Speed have been making my walls rattle. Sometimes I wonder how this old house stands the strain.
Two Cow Garage: ordered one of their disks after reading about them on PopMatters.com. One of those whims that turns out to be serendipitous. Three is a delight and let me draw your attention to one track in particular, “Should’ve California”. What do you call it? Southern rock? Alt country? How about: great fuckin’ music…
Metallica: Ride the Lightning and their latest, Rick Rubin-produced effort, Death Magnetic, which at least sports some decent licks. But the lads have a long way to go before they recapture the power and greatness of those first four or five albums. Not sure they have it in them any more.
Explosions in the Sky: currently my favorite music to write to. All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone and The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place are melodic, epic, suggestive, multi-layered and thoroughly evocative.
Muse: fans of Radiohead will find much to like here. I found the self-titled 2003 disk in a discount bin; a stroke of pure good fortune. Looking forward to nabbing Black Holes & Revelations in the near future.
Interpol: Yeah, I know I’ve raved about these guys before but I think I have pretty much everything they’ve released and, no shit, this is one of the best bands kicking around these days. Grab anything you can by Interpol, they’re as good as it gets.
Grandaddy: eccentric, unique, too good to last. They released a few albums, could never seem to break through and finally called it quits. Too bad; their disks are, each one of them, original, funny, wise and personal.
Other music that has been serenading my ears of late: The Eels (Shootenanny), The Brian Jonestown Massacre (BraveryRepetitionAndNoise), Jimmy Eat World (Chase This Light), Air (Pocket Symphony), Mogwai, Modest Mouse…
Crazy, eclectic shit, as always.
And…coming up December 1st, music of the live and in person kind. Driving in to Saskatoon with Laird to see Nine Inch Nails at the Credit Union Centre. Whoo hoo! We’re talking about an evening of fine entertainment. Every time I think about it, I get a surge of anticipation—hopefully Trent will be in fine fettle.
Playing a lot of NIN stuff lately too, natch. Really grooving to With Teeth. And there are two fantastic instrumental cuts on The Slip (“Corona Radiata” & “The Four of Us Are Dying”) that I’ve played any number of times. Beautiful stuff, hardly the sort of tunes one would associate with “Mr. Self Destruct”. The Slip was released through Reznor’s on-line label; it is the kind of fine, unclassifiable music eschewed by corporate types. Cutting his ties with record companies, becoming an independent musician, has made T.R. a more well-rounded and far-reaching artist. The Slip is an exceptional piece of work.
Sounds fucking great coming out of those cherrywood Yamaha speakers too. I’m grinning again. I can’t help it. I can barely hear myself think with Dylan’s raunchy live version of “Cocaine Blues” thundering away overhead.
And so now back to work: researching, jotting down lots of notes, photocopying, gradually immersing myself in the warped world of my new novel. But it all starts with music, a soundtrack that precedes what is to come. The overture. To set the mood and “open wide the mind’s cage-door” (Keats)…