November 30, 2006

air does not like you

Posted in books tagged , at 2:54 pm by placeinthestars

I’m meandering through Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader, mostly on my abbreviated lunch hour, and yesterday at lunch, I opened the book up to the essay he wrote about Blondie and new wave and how it’s all pallid and soulless, and that since the main reason we listen to music in the first place is to hear passion expressed, what good is this music going to prove to be? (to paraphrase, and also remove the ALL CAPS he used).

I am not going to write about that right now, though it’s burbling away in my brain somewhere, the vague parallels between (pre-new wave?) rock-n-roll and fiction as subcultural emotional outlets, the false dichotomy of raw=good/emotional v. skilled/polished=soulless/dead, and a lot of stuff that I think that particular discussion touches on, especially in terms of my own (god help me) growth as a writer.

I’m not going to write about that right now because today, as I ate my pizza, I read the next essay in the book – and while I think Bangs’s writing so far is interesting, if not a little too self-consciously provocative and over-the-top, hey look at me, how cool am I? I think the essay on David Byrne is pure gold. Possibly it helps that I know the music he’s talking about (some of the jazz stuff and some of the older rock bands he writes about I’m not familiar with), but I don’t think it’s necessary to appreciate this essay.

Fear of Music might as well have been called Fear of Everything. Show me an item extant sentient or otherwise in the world we share and I’ll show you a clinically certified list of reasons why proximity to said items should be considered risky if not downright lethal. Under such circumstances, you have every right to be wrong. McLuhan missed it: we’re not a global village, we’re a global OUT-PATIENT CLINIC, and the life force itself is most fully embodied in a frenetically twitching nerve. But even with that on your side there is one thing you must face: YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS ANYWHERE. Nothing and no one. Also, NATURE IS PERVERSE. E.g., air and new Heads tune of same title: it’s not just cigarette smoke or auto exhaust or the pollutants factories chuff out–it’s air qua air that’s out for your ass. Because in this most richly diversified of all possible universes, it just might happen to be the case that AIR DOES NOT LIKE YOU.


The truth, as Byrne points out, is that animals, besides having no intelligence beyond brute fear reflex, are a bunch of smug little bastards who are laughing at us just because we keep drawing diagrams across a universe they knew was chaotic in the first place.

Which brings us to David Byrne’s basic philosophy of existence: To feel anxiety is to be blessed by the full wash of life in its ripest chancre–everything else is wax museums. Having rejected drugs, animal husbandry, jogging not to mention breathing itself, towns, cities, and whole continents in his search for some little nook where he can relax for even one instant, Byrne finally lays it on the line: “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”

Every state but zero cool emptiness, every place on the map but Nowheresville, spells anxiety under a wide assortment of brand names. Once yanked, nerves never forget. You are going to be driven crazy by all of this, no, wait, you ARE crazy BECAUSE of all this, or maybe JUST BECAUSE PERIOD, and you always will be as long as you live. Crazy is simply your birthright, signifying citizenship in the human race. Those furshlugginer animals never go crazy. Air doesn’t go crazy. Only you. That’s because as Misterogers [sic] has been trying to tell you for years, you’re a special person. Isn’t it wonderful?


The closer you get to whatever you’re terrified of, the more it and your dread begin to seem like old friends, ergo terror decreases. David Byrne seems to be a sort of dowser’s wand for neuroses and trauma, and as darkness looms over all of us, he strolls down its maw, placid, bemused, humming little tunes to himself. Sometimes I think Fear of Music is one of the best comedy albums I’ve ever heard. Which doesn’t mean the fear isn’t real. Byrne just reminds you that it’s something you’re going to have to live with, so you might as well get a kick out of it while you can.

~from “David Byrne Says, ‘Boo!'” by Lester Bangs, in The Village Voice, August 20, 1979

*dies laughing*

How awesome is that?

Even if I think everything else in this book is overblown Beat-imitating gasbaggery (I don’t, but I could), it would be worth it for the joy this essay has brought me.