A Summer of Listening, Part 3
When I got home, in the middle of June, I decided to listen to one band for the rest of summer. (This plan lasted for a week.) I chose King Crimson because I wanted to listen to a band with full-bleed musicality, a band that played itself to the extension of what could be done. I wanted to listen to music where everybody involved was filling it to the brim. Every band probably thinks they do just that, within their idea of the possible. Maybe I just wanted to hear something from my teenage years, something that I’ve gone in and out of listening to, that might lead to my reclaiming an idea from an earlier time that I could levy against a more recently valued idea. “Whatever I think” was an area I needed to dismantle and reject. So King Crimson embodied what every day could feel like, the surface towards which I pose the question: “Do I like this? How would I even know if I liked a thing? What part of my feelings are worth paying attention to?”
I understand that the idea of “more” or “fullness” is tricky, because you could plausibly argue that a band playing without any structure or predetermined plan would be the most full and most free, and that might be something like this.
Or you could posit that authorship itself is the problem and you need to hear music where the performance is the only traceable intervention between silence and sound because the text is hundreds of years old and anonymous.
I chose King Crimson because of the quality I perceive as a collective sense of responsibility, what I hear as an investment in playing a certain kind of hard in order to make King Crimson King Crimson. What I ended up listening to was the album Red, usually while riding a bicycle. It was good for processing anger.
As I listened, I realized my choice was dishonest on at least at one level. I really never had any trouble with King Crimson’s playing, all of those wrapped-up graph paper hairlines and county county figures with fingers. What I struggle with is the singing, really, and this is maybe why I went back. The singers are where the band is weakest, both in the sense of being aesthetically out-of-step and also being vulnerable. “Fallen Angel” is allegedly about someone asking his little brother to join the Hells Angels, which doesn’t work out because little man gets stabbed to death. This lyric does drive me batshit—the scenario isn’t that complicated, so the indirection is pointless.
I still like “Fallen Angel” because vocalist John Wetton is the right kind of hammy—he bleeds so you don’t have to—and I drink in that lack of cool. The progressive rock nonsense works better on “Starless.” As with “Fallen Angel,” the lyrics were co-written with some bing bong named Richard Palmer-James. The words contain “ice blue silver sky,” OK, and also the twice-used phrase “starless and bible black,” an Anglicism for describing a night, and fucking beautiful. They move through the vocal melody, which is long and dusty and sweet, and then they go and invent Slint in the back half. Fair play!
A friend sent me this short piece by John Berger about swimming, which contains this:
Later I swim on my back and look up at the sky through the framed glass roof. A vivid blue with white cirrus clouds at an altitude, I’d guess, of about 5,000 metres. (The Latin for “curl” is cirrus.) The curls slowly shift, join, separate as the clouds drift in the wind. I can measure their drift thanks to the roof frame; otherwise it would be hard to notice it.
I imagined John Berger walking through the streets of Antony (in France, not obviously), thinking about swimming, and not going to the pub. His gentleness interacted with the gentleness of Masahiko Togashi, the Japanese jazz percussionist, who I discovered this summer. He lost the use of his legs in 1969, and kept on drumming.
I love the tenor of Seventies politics, the combination of practicality and loopiness. To raise environmental awareness, some lil buddy put a bunch of pushpins in lettuce. Sunshine, you can’t pin meat to the wall!
And then there is Nathy Peluso.
We saw her American debut this summer at SummerStage. Here she is in her shimmering chicken outfit:
Nathy Peluso is a singer from Argentina who lives in Spain now. The term entertainer seems best for her, and she might be our truest living link to the Seventies. Heidi says Nathy is Charo—you want to watch this—and I think she’s right. Nathy really is Charo. Her accent is unstable and on stage she sounds like she is doing an impersonation of someone else imitating a native Spanish speaker, as Charo did. Is she making fun of us for listening to her, or herself?
Some of Nathy Peluso’s songs sound like Erykah Badu, some sound like they might be rap, some draw from a variety of Latinx traditions, some, like “La Sandunguera,” are all of these things (although that song announces itself as “Latin jazz”). She also does covers, like “Bang Bang,” for one. This is Nathy’s Primavera set from June, a month before the New York date, and it’s more or less identical to the set she played here. I discovered her in February when Rosalía posted a photo of them standing together.
I don’t think you need to see Nathy Peluso live unless you have lots of free time. What you need to do is follow her on Instagram. Do you want a new best friend, someone who will sing you to sleep and remind you how much you love pizza and ass, maybe your own? That friend is Nathy, who loves filming herself singing and dancing along to music more than most people like doing anything. I think she is one of The Positive Digital Natives, the Wave 3 cohort destroying the notion of the artifact. This cohort includes Lil Nas X, Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, and Charli XCX.
Wave 1 of computer people seemed to want only the light in the box. If they weren’t hiding from view, they were people who avoided it. After that, Wave 2, the Myspace wave, was people who were happier in the box but occasionally willing to come out.
The now generation, Wave 3, finds peers on the internet and also enjoys the flat world. This is somebody’s dream, I think, that the internet could foster wild and unchecked interactions that also happen in the world. These aren’t hiders, they are tenants of two planes, optimists using a nihilist’s tool.
Charli wrote my favorite line of the summer—“Pour me one more, watch the ice melt in my fist.” And then Lana Del Rey put out the perfect album to take us from summer to fall. Has an album ever pivoted so well between seasons?