Once, in a moment of breathtaking bitchiness, a former boss responded to an online review of band that I had written (and which she had asked to see) this way: “I’ve always heard that writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
“Interesting,” I said.
I replied this way for two reasons: 1. Clearly she was trying to take the wind out of my sails (we did not write about music at this job and she is a notorious bully) and 2. I really did think it was interesting.
Because a dance about architecture? I would see that dance.
Nobody knows who first uttered this unintentionally masterful piece of wisdom. I had always heard that it was Elvis Costello, with his knickers in a twist after receiving an unflattering review. I was happy to believe this because, while I love his music, he was once obnoxious to a music store employee who I happen to like a lot. And live with. But never mind. Elvis Costello did not originate this quote to such an extent that there is a (fluorescent!) website devoted to tracking down its origins.
Regardless, we can probably assume that both the original sayer (and many subsequent sayers, including my former tormentor boss) were not commenting on the exhilarating artistic and intellectual potential of multimedia collaboration.
Let’s take a moment, shall we, to feel sorry for those self-limiting naysayers.
I’ll grant you this: There is a certain leachy something about some critic-artist relationships, but that depends entirely on the artist, the critic and the intentions of both. You know who I mean.
All of this is to say, the new Destroyer album came out today! It’s called Kaputt, which is German for destroyed, which is what it does to me. I’ve been listening to it on Grooveshark for a few weeks and we ordered the LP, which arrived over the weekend. It’s been compared to Roxy Music’s Avalon and other soft rock from the ’80s. But I hate those things and I love this album more than I’ve loved any album since…possibly, and this is going back to 2002, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. I understand the comparison though.
My current favorite song is called “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” (go listen to it now). It starts off with soft, ambient noises for a while, right up until this smooth jazz flute starts in. And then after a while, there’s this trumpet… Well, you’d know if you were listening to it. Dan Bejar’s lyrics are notoriously impressionistic, some might say obscure. The lyrics to “Kara Walker” are too, but they were mostly written by, uh, Kara Walker.
Walker is a provocative African-American artist who works mostly in paper cutouts and silhouettes. I love her work, which manages to be incredibly beautiful even when it depicts horrifying scenes of violence. (Like, truly terrible situations.) Several years ago, The New Yorker profiled her and I thought she seemed like one of the most talented and fascinating ladies I had come across in a long time.
It never would have occurred to me that Walker, an artist from California, should collaborate with Bejar, a musician from British Columbia. But I’m so happy they did.
Bejar’s songs, as far as I can tell, seem to be highly personal interpretations of scenes and stories, real or imagined. But how could he ever truly imagine what it is like to be a black American woman? He can’t really and he doesn’t have to, because Kara Walker already knows. So he can sing about “the harmless little negress,” a recurring character in Walker’s art, and be neither inauthentic nor racist–both of which totally suck.
So, former boss, see? These two artists have managed to not just dance, but to make a fucking ballet about architecture, as it were: Walker, a visual artist, writing lyrics about a character of her own creation; Bejar, a musician, writing music to interpret the words.
There is nothing that I find more inspiring than this sort of magic that only happens via multimedia collaboration. It’s something that I aspire to. A few times, I’ve felt close–sometimes when editing somebody’s important but terribly expressed ideas, sometimes when I know I’m taking really great pictures of a band I love. Sometimes when writing about music I love.
But not often enough.