Thursday, 24 June 2010

Tradition | Music | Goddam Motherfucking Hippies and the Bòrdan of Cnuimh-shìoda

Monday of this week having been the first sunny solstice in yonks, and having spent the weekend jawing organic falafel at Leamington Spa’s actually-quite-rowdy-this-year Peace Festival, I have been inspired (for truly, that is what happens to one at a Peace Festival) to write about something I know notalot about, about something that is less about tradition than it is about hyper-tradition, but about something that possesses its own consistently-active wee corners of both music and literature (particularly poetry – and often interacting with one another) and is therefore a more-than-valid discussion-focus, I think, for Music As Reading, whatever its more laughable qualities…

About goddam motherfucking hippies and, more specifically, what goddam motherfucking hippies listen to and read. And its supposed roots in, and interaction with, cultures ranging from the ancient to the archaic. And what those of us who have listened to New Age zen-drone or to a chap intoning a ‘contemporary epic’ about Camelot accompanying himself with bodhrán and come away thinking surely, SURELY that was a joke can learn from this most easy-to-parody manifestation of music and words.

(Incidentally, do ‘counter-culture’ men and women of other nationalities similarly evoke their locales’ respective ancient traditions in order to make sense of their fringe-position within modernity? Do affluent modern-day Egyptians adhere to the laws of Isis or Osiris at weekends? Has anybody come across a gathering of Bacchae in contemporary Greece? I suppose now is not really the time to start talking about organised religion…)

(Also, a disclaimer: people of any actual expertise, apologies in advance. I suspect that, due to this aforementioned ignorance, my understandings of such disparate adjectives as Celtic, Arthurian, Zen, Runic, World, Panpipe, Wicca, Earth, Druidic, Drum, Gaelic, Pagan, Pantheist, Chai etc. etc. etc. may bleed into one another below into a, yes, somewhat generalised conception of what goddam motherfucking hippies listen to and read. I am of course aware that, say, Gaelic culture is a subdivision of Celtic culture, and that both constitute richly significant facets to both historical and contemporary understandings of the geography of the British Isles, its traditions and so on – especially where both music and literature are concerned, indeed. I am allowing such a blurring to occur, however, because doing so reflects the nature of home counties, upper middle class, goddam motherfucking hippies – willing, in my experience, to toss together valid, interesting, important traditions, movements, ideologies and lifestyle-choices like so much transcendental salad – to the point that things’ proper meaning, significance gets swamped. Good things, like environmentalism, food activism, a genuine understanding of British tribal- and folk-history. Who needs all that when we’ve got our dreadlocks to worry about? and so on and so forth)

Without any more ado, then, five lessons Music As Reading can learn from goddam motherfucking hippy culture and its intersections with tradition. Which from henceforth shall be known as The Tablet of Silkworm. No, actually, The Bòrdan of Cnuimh-shìoda is a little more appropriate, it shall be known as that (I can’t be arsed to translate the grammar, as you may have guessed).

Lesson the First – Costume and Character.
With the help of a costume, the Wiltshire air and, probably, a decent helping of psychotropic drugs, men and women like King Arthur Uther Pendragon (pictured above) quit pretending and actually become, legally and everything, the figures with whom they are obsessed, from whom their truth and ancient mysteries come. They share a relationship with the characters and history which dominates the content of their work of an intimacy that more mainstream poets and songwriters could only dream of – dressing, drinking, talking, dancing the same, together. For them, merely doing a Nick Cave, say, and resurrecting a traditional form (the murder ballad), or a Robert Browning and recreating the voice of a famous dead person isn’t enough. They are method-writers and -musicians a la Andy Serkis’ approach to method-acting – and for that we must respect and learn from them. Possibly.

Lesson the Second – Shamelessness.
If a writer of music or words is ever going to take the writing- or performance-risks that produce great avant-garde work, they require a certain shamelessness. They could do a lot worse than to learn some tricks from these guys. Be a fifty year old man. Have a beard longer than your hair. Wear something like a dress and, ideally, accessorise with a ‘wand’. Talk, at length, about being present at the third marriage of the ‘Earth Mother’ while a dwarf plays a flute. A relationship with tradition of this nature has the potential to be far more radical than a studied relationship with contemporaneousness. 

Lesson the ThirdReading with Drum/Singsong Intonation
One of the most striking aspects of the my limited, oh so limited experiences of witnessing goddam motherfucking hippies read, and play music, is their frequent use of an unflagging accompanying metronomic drum-pulse – which gives their work, particularly the poetry, an extraordinary strength-of-rhythm, a sense of metre that only music can teach words and, in turn, tradition teach the free-verse decadences of modern-day reading and writing. Let us read with drums. Let us write with drums. Like the oarsmen of Ancient Greece. And these guys' intonation – it's makes massive-crowd-drawing reader Dylan Thomas's rumble sound like a mumble. See, the thing about spells is that they're amazingly fun to say. Possibly that's why spells were conceived in the first place, y'know. Language as spellcasting catharsis: it's something every musician and-or writer should try.

Lesson the Fourth – Nudity.
We’ve all seen The Wicker Man – nudity is both a quintessential facet to the ancient culture of our Great isle, and, so long as Britt Ekland is involved anyway, fucking sexy. Goodmusic once made an effort to tap this, back in the glory days of Iggy Pop getting his knob out and Peaches doing – well, doing horrible things to herself. And will, surely, again. But literature? I’m not just talking nudity in performance by the by, why not also nudity in writing classes, while writing alone, why not life-writing alongside life-drawing. Heaven's sake, it's what our forefathers did to find their voice.

Lesson the Fifth – Meditation.
For a couple weeks some time in the future, something that I will be calling The New Meditation will become a principal focus of Music As Reading – because though all-too-frequently the site of dreadful music and idiotic sentiments, I'm pretty sure meditation constitutes one of the most common manifestations of people in this country already using music to read. Using music as the tone with which to find new meaning in words. Using the words to explain the music. It's a potentially very exciting exchange, just currently full of gimps. So: to be continued...

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor

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