Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, April 19, 2004


Thinking further about Robert Christgau’s aversion to cliche after posting last night, I'm convinced that he works so hard to avoid commonplace expression from a devotion to his craft. And you gotta respect that.

Also, it was unfair of me to implicate Christgau with effete-ness on the basis of his aversion. He’s a genuine populist, the only grand old rock critic from the ‘60s that I know of who’s still open to new music including teen pop, and his writing reflects a healthy engagement with lust & wrath & the rest of the 7 deadlies that rock & pop so exuberantly convey.

After last night’s writing, I did take one of Christgau’s volumes off the shelf and poked around in the introduction, curious whether I’d find any cliches, which I did. Which proves my point: if your style has any intersection with conversational tone, Martin Amis’s “war against cliche,” like the war against terror and drugs, is doomed.

The cliche I found? “On the other hand,” Christgau said, without first having established that he was employing “hands” metaphorically. An unexamined metaphor-turned-cliche. And nothing wrong with that.


“One never knows, do one?” asked Fats Waller, echoing Walt Whitman’s magnificent line, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Fats’s “one” is, grammatically, both singular and plural. The paradox of personhood being both unitary and multiple. Brilliant man, as well as large & multitudiness, that Fats.


My Mom’s birthday today -- happy birthday Mom! The transcontinental phone call, and a belted rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” by me & my beloved spouse. We sang it traditionally, like it’s meant to be sung, starting out in separate keys but somehow ending up together.


The U.S. military is using music as a psychological weapon in Fallujah, blasting recordings of the Australian classic metal band AC/DC from enormous speakers. The U.S. did this in ‘89 in Panama too, trying to annoy the crap out of Manuel Noriega. Military music goes way back, of course. Charles Ives’s father led a Union band in the Civil War. I worked one summer with a Vietnam War vet who’d since turned pacifistic Buddhist who said one day, “Bagpipes would be great music to go to battle,” with a battle-lusty glint in his eye. He turned Buddhist, I think, because it scared him how much he enjoyed soldiering. According to poet W.S. Merwin’s introduction to his translation of the medieval Spanish “Poem of the Cid,” the first time anybody heard drums on a European battlefield was in October 1085, in a battle between Spaniards and Moors; the thunderous sound the Africans made scared the crap out of the Spaniards, who thought the earth was shaking.

The first piece of heavy metal music was Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” “Make it loud,” said his patron the czar. “OK,” said Tchaikovsky, who brought cannons into the orchestra pit.

Now, of course, we use recordings and loud speakers in war. USO tours are dodgy enough without dragging the bands onto the front lines for psychological operations. My only question is (besides the rapacious and pitiless folly of Bush’s war), why do we still fund military bands? My information is out of date, but I remember reading about 20 years ago that military bands had a larger budget then than the National Endowment for the Arts.

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