[This post is meant as a companion piece to “Blood, Belts, Ric Flair/Rod Stewart, Poetry, Sex,” which first appeared this AM.]
Andres Serrano, 1987
If we did not know it was cow’s blood and urine,
if we did not know that Serrano had for weeks
hoarded his urine in a plastic vat,
if we did not know the cross was gimcrack plastic,
we would assume it was too beautiful.
We would assume it was the resurrection,
glory, Christ transformed to light by light
because the blood and urine burn like a halo,
and light, as always, light makes it beautiful.
We are born between the urine and the feces,
Augustine says, and so was Christ, if there was a Christ,
skidding into this world as we do
on a tide of blood and urine. Blood, feces, urine—
what the fallen world is made of, and what we make.
He peed, ejaculated, shat, wept, bled—
bled under Pontius Pilate, and I assume
the mutilated god, the criminal,
humiliated god, voided himself
on the cross and the blood and urine smeared his legs
and he ascended bodily unto heaven,
and on the third day he rose into glory, which
is what we see here, the Piss Christ in glowing blood:
the whole irreducible point of the faith,
God thrown in human waste, submerged and shining.
We have grown used to beauty without horror.
We have grown used to useless beauty.
Attack on ‘blasphemous’ art work fires debate on role of religion in France
When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion.
Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an “anti-blasphemy” campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon.
The violent slashing of the picture, and another Serrano photograph of a meditating nun, has plunged secular France into soul-searching about Christian fundamentalism and Nicolas Sarkozy’s use of religious populism in his bid for re-election next year.
It also marks a return to an old standoff between Serrano and the religious right that dates back more than 20 years, to Reagan-era Republicanism in the US.
The photograph, full title Immersion (Piss Christ), was made in 1987 as part of Serrano’s series showing religious objects submerged in fluids such as blood and milk. In 1989, rightwing Christian senators’ criticism of Piss Christ led to a heated US debate on public arts funding. Republican Jesse Helms told the senate Serrano was “not an artist. He’s a jerk.”
Serrano defended his photograph as a criticism of the “billion-dollar Christ-for-profit industry” and a “condemnation of those who abuse the teachings of Christ for their own ignoble ends”. It was vandalised in Australia, and neo-Nazis ransacked a Serrano show in Sweden in 2007.
The photograph had been shown in France several times without incident. For four months, it has hung in the exhibition I Believe in Miracles, to mark 10 years of art-dealer Yvon Lambert’s personal collection in his 18th-century mansion gallery in Avignon. The show is due to end next month, but two weeks ago a concerted protest campaign began.
Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianize France, launched an online petition and mobilised other fundamentalist groups. The staunchly conservative archbishop of Vaucluse, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, called Piss Christ “odious” and said he wanted this “trash” taken off the gallery walls. Last week the gallery complained of “extremist harassment” by fundamentalist Christian groups who wanted the work banned in France.
Lambert, one of France’s best known art dealers, complained he was being “persecuted” by extremists who had sent him tens of thousands of complaint emails and bombarded the museum with spam. He likened the atmosphere to “a return to the middle ages”.
On Saturday, around 1,000 Christian protesters marched through Avignon to the gallery. The protest group included a regional councillor for the extreme-right Front National, which recently scored well in the Vaucluse area in local elections. The gallery immediately stepped up security, putting plexiglass in front of the photograph and assigning two gallery guards to stand in front of it.
But on Palm Sunday morning, four people in sunglasses aged between 18 and 25 entered the exhibition just after it opened at 11am. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object, thought to be a screwdriver or ice-pick. They also smashed another work, which showed the hands of a meditating nun.
The gallery director, Eric Mézil, said it would reopen with the destroyed works on show “so people can see what barbarians can do”. He said there had been a kind of “inquisition” against the art work.
In a statement, he said the movement against Piss Christ had started at the time of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party’s controversial debate on religion and secularism in France. At a record low in the polls before next year’s presidential election, Sarkozy has been accused of using anti-Muslim and extreme-right rhetoric to appeal to voters and counter the rise of the Front National.
[T]here was a climate of tension, with protesters insulting museum staff of north African origin. One guard said he heard: “I’m going to pour donkey piss on the Qur’an.” An email to the museum talked about “plunging the diary of Anne Frank in urine”.
Rule 42 re: Rod, Greil and “Forever Young:”
My reaction in 1988 every time I heard “Forever Young” was “Doesn’t anybody remember the Bob Dylan song that is a very obvious rewrite of? Why didn’t he just cover it?” Twenty years later, knowing that there was a negotiated settlement, I can concentrate on the Artistry of Rod.
The most famous line about Rod Stewart’s career belongs to Greil Marcus: “Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a talent as Rod Stewart; rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely.” (Marcus continued his essay in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll for quite a while in this vein; the next line was “Once the most compassionate presence in music, he has become a bilious self-parody–and sells more records than ever.”
Honky Magic Affirms Greil, Asks Whatever Happened to Rod?
I’ve been thinking about Greil Marcus’ claim, speaking about Rod Stewart, that – a rough paraphrase here – rarely has a singer betrayed his talent so completely. And that’s a wonderfully perfect statement. It’s pure rock criticism, and, it’s in its purity that it achieves perfection.
It single-handedly and in one stroke obliterates an entire segment of a man’s career, purely because the speaker takes issue with it.Takes everything a man has done, everything a man has become, after some given point, and labels it betrayal. Deems it worthless.
It positions the speaker as superior, as omniscient, as he who is capable of true sight, of true hearing, of true understanding, of cutting through all the bullshit of headlines and advertising. It makes the speaker, the critic, just as important as the performer.
And it’s right.
Because Stewart, with the Jeff Beck Group, with the Faces, with the loose, wild backing on his first three solo albums, was, honestly, amazing, capable in his best moments of embodying, even only as an act, everything that the male rock star could be: fun, hurt, macho, sensitive, a little drunk, boorish, in love with the world around him even as he recognizes its capacity for pain, and with a voice that could ache simultaneously with fragility and whiskey.
Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story is the greatest rock & roll recording of the last ten years. It is a mature tale of adolescence, full of revelatory detail (Rod combing his hair a thousand different ways in front of the mirror), and it contains the only reference to the Dreyfus case in the history of rock. It is also hilarious, and one of the friendliest pieces of music ever recorded. It is rock & roll of utterly unbelievable power, and for most of its five minutes and fifty-eight seconds that power is supplied by nothing more than drums, bass, acoustic guitar and Rod’s voice. Mick Waller should have received the Nobel Prize — in physics, of course — for his demolition work at the end of the first verse; Martin Quittenton’s acoustic guitar playing is well beyond any human award — for that matter, it is beyond human ken. John Lennon once said he wanted to make a record as good as “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On”; Rod Stewart did it.
– Greil Marcus, Rolling Stone, 12/15/77.
Because he’s tawdry enough to revel in stellar pop-and-flash, Stewart can refine the rock sensibility without processing the life out of it. His gimmick is nuance. Rod the Wordslinger is a lot more literate than the typical English bloozeman, Rod the Singer can make words flesh, and though Rod the Bandleader’s music is literally electric it’s the mandolin and pedal steel that come through sharpest. A smash as huge as “Maggie May” must satisfy Rod the Mod the way a classic as undeniable as “Maggie May” does Rod the Artist. But it’s “Mandolin Wind” leading into Motown leading into Tim Hardin that does justice to everything he is. A+
– Robert Christgau, Christgau’s Record Guide, 1981.
Cracked gets it re: Christgau, rock criticism’s “Dean,” no shit:
You might call him venerable. But in this case, “venerable” is synonomous with “pretentious old man who thinks new music is worse than old music.”
In the mid 80’s, Christgau provoked the ire of Sonic Youth by labelling them a “pigfucker” band (signalling their raw, abrasive sound), and giving them a bad live review. In response, Thurston Moore renamed their song “Kill Yr Idols”. The new name? “I Killed Christgau with my Big Fucking Dick”.
Christgau got in trouble after John Lennon’s assassination, when he quoted his wife, saying Paul McCartney should’ve been shot instead of John.
Oh, you know, I call him a PIGFUCKER in the book, you know. I mean, literally, I use that term: pigfucker. (laughs) And I say all these things about him, and ALL he responds to in his piece is, “Well, technically I wasn’t the editor of the Voice from ’67 to ’74; oh well, I guess I could have passed his name along, like I did with my dear friend Tom SMUCKER, whose work I loved! But it really wasn’t until ’74 that I was in a position…” you know — and so he picks that, that’s like the easiest thing he can refute, that he can even MENTION. I mean, he doesn’t talk about — I call him a SCHOOL MARM. He doesn’t deal with any of that stuff. He doesn’t deal with the fact that Lester, Lester — he told Lester, you know, “I went to Dartmouth, you didn’t graduate from college — you’re not as SMART as I am.” I mean, he says a lot of things. He’s quoted being an asshole by many people, and yet, he just talks about a little technicality. I mean, truly, I used to ask him, I’d go to press parties and I’d say, “When can I write for the Voice, Bob?” “I’ll TELL you when you’re ready.” He literally did. And I talk about how I remember the day he turned 30, I ran into him on 14th Street in New York, and he was just, he was like, DESTROYED, y’know. I was probably 27, 28, he was 30, and he was very upset about it. And that was when Chuck Berry had a hit with “My Ding-a-Ling,” and it was like he had to, from that moment on — and the Dolls were happening — he had to champion the music of KIDS, because otherwise he was an old man.
Scott: I can’t argue with what you’re saying, but I think in his piece — I just find it hard to believe you still think he doesn’t actually like your book, or like your writing.
Richard: Uh, well, I imagine, yes, he likes some pieces, but as far as the entirety of the book, I think the book, if anything, is an INSULT to him.
Richard: (laughs) So why would he like it?
Scott: Well, you can be insulted (laughs) and still like it as writing, I mean…
Scott: If someone wrote…
Richard: He mentions one piece there in particular, he’s talking about how, uh, “Oh, look, do I really want to TRUST what this guy has to say if he was wrong about those seven years?” And he just lists a few things, he doesn’t really SAY anything about them, and he mentions my Eric Dolphy piece, and he says (in parentheses) “I’ll grant you half on that.” And that was the piece where he and Gary Giddins ganged up on me (laughs), and so I imagine what he means by that is he’ll grant me the half that is Gary Giddins, you know, like let’s blame Giddins. But that was really incredibly traumatic for me at the time. I mean it really was, I had to SUCK up to Gary Giddins or never write for the paper again. I mean, Christgau — I didn’t even mention that once upon a time I wanted to review a Jackson Browne album. The last thing I wrote for Rolling Stone, I did a feature on Jackson Browne at the time that his first album came out, because I knew him in ’67 in New York — he was living with Nico, and he was playing at this Warhol club, the Dom, and he was something of a PUNK. And so I did this piece about that, and Jackson hated the piece, and not only did he hate the piece, but David Geffen, who had Asylum Records at the time, hated the piece, and basically they had me kicked out of Rolling Stone. Landau kicked me out of the Reviews section, and from that point on I couldn’t write for the paper. And so, years went by — that was, like, ’72 — somewhere about ’77, ’78, for some reason I was gonna review a Jackson Browne album, and he finds out the whole cast and crew has changed, I mean, Geffen is long gone — it was Atlantic Asylum, now it’s Elektra Asylum — and somewhere on a computer somewhere it says “Meltzer is not to write about Jackson.” And Christgau told me, “We can’t have you review this or we will lose ads.” You know? Mr. Integrity. I didn’t even put that in the book, but he was essentially a corporate — a cog in the wheel of, uh — he was always as big a shill and a — what is the word? — a LACKEY. And I don’t even use those words in the book for him, but basically I COULD have. And so it seems to me that his applauding my book is just because he sees it as: rock ‘n’ roll goes on.
PSF: How did your war with Robert Christgau start out?
Well… I think what must have really came first was that he would write really negative stuff about Sonic Youth in the Voice. In fact, it was just stupid. And so when we (Forced Exposure) did a single with them (Sonic Youth) in ’85, it was “Kill Your Idols.” And so, without them know it, I retitled the song: “I Killed Christgau With My Big Fucking Dick.” And he was really not amused. And I guess I can understand why, although you know, why anybody would really care… It was just sort of funny, I thought. And it was a “OK, you killed me, I’ll kill you” sort of thing. And then I actually recorded an anti-Christgau spoken word thing also that came out on a 7 inch.
The whole ‘Dean’ thing rubbed me the wrong way. And the fact that he thought… His Consumer Guide was extremely useful for a lot of stuff. But I always thought “Who cares about this mainstream shit?” I don’t give a fuck about most of that stuff, at all. And at that, I was writing a lot more reviews than he was. We weren’t reviewing any of the same records, at all. I just thought that the (Guide’s) format was interesting and the short review thing was good and he obviously knew… But who CARES about an Ashford & Simpson record or something like that? It just didn’t resonate with me at all. So you do a couple of things like that and you get on somebody’s bad side… So he wouldn’t let me write for the Voice when he was music editor. Although when Doug Simmons became music editor, I wrote for them pretty regularly for a while. But then when Chuck Eddy came in, I was out again. And he sort of encouraged Eddy to sort of go after the Forced Exposure aesthetic- that big ‘pig fucker’ story. That kind of stuff is fine…
It’s like that Ernest Borgnine-Lee Marvin movie Emperor of the North Pole. Who’s gonna be the king of the fanzines or the king of the rock critics or something like that? And it’s NOTHING. You’re king of nothing! Dean of Rock Critics? It’s like being Dean of Shitville.
Christgau used “pigfucker” to describe SY and antagonized the best music of his moment. As quoted from Chuck Eddy’s rad-looking book:
Pigfucker, n. 1. Perjorative used to label participants of any in several strains of obstinantly noncommercial, abstract yet noncerebral, post-hardcore art-rock, characterized by peculiarly structured intentional dissonance (typically loud, often unconventionally-tuned electric guitars), mechanical and/or funkless rhythms, subtle textural shifts, violent lyrics addressing taboo subjects, and a general quest for assumed “extremes.” 2. Fan or apologist of this subgenre.
[Coined as music term by Robert Christgau in The Village Voice
3 March 1987; from pig and fucker,
compounded in 1967 by Hunter S. Thompson to describe Hubert Humphrey]
Wait, maybe this is Eddy formalizing Christgau’s coinage?? I better read the book. Clearly this Eddy deserves a shot: check out this hand-typed list from decades ago of exactly the sort of band I’m currently busying myself searching after (except his list is superior.) The proper definition, which I’m convinced is Eddy’s now, is taken from an essay entitled “Slime is Money (Bastard)” that appears in his now thrice plugged Rock n’ Roll Always Forgets.
But then there’s this, thanks rockcritics, from the 1974 Creem:
Personally I think the 1974 usage is an example of a perspicacious word awaiting its embodiment: what 1974 band would you call Pigfuck? The Stooges broke up by 1974 and I still wouldn’t really say that’s who they were. Then again, the man at Last Days of Man On Earth is on to something when he offers up Eater as a pigfuck John the Baptist:
The story on Eater is that they were really, really young kids when they recorded this stuff. The drummer, Dee Generate, was only 14. They made some press back then by saying in their first interview that they thought Johnny Rotten was “too old”, which is pretty damn funny when you think of it. Shades of Max Frost? Their sound as you will hear, is kinda cool. They definitely were a rock-n-roll band (they wore their glam influences on their sleeves) but they had a youthful energy which today makes the stuff almost sound bubblegum or something, which is also kinda funny when you consider they used to throw pigs heads from the stage and had a song called Get Raped. So clearly they were the world’s first pigfuck-bubblegum© band.
Funny, I kinda feel like the Hozac-Sacred Bones-Goner axis is producing the impossible genre I wanna call “no wave power-pop.” But, I believe Pigfuck was a 1980s phenomenon carried into the 90s and fading out of the “zeitgeist” (ha!) around the time Touch and Go and AmRep had lost their definitive rosters and/or their currency. That said, that band The Men, whose music, whose publicity and whose place within a larger genre I have been compelled to contemplate twice now, were recently celebrated by Maura Johnson of the Voice for leaving behind “the abrasive contusions of nu-pigfuck.” Scarring bruises, indeed: scorching burns. I know not how this nu assignation riding shotgun on punk’s obscene frontiers will help The Men reach the cultural nirvana or Nirvana status I’ve been compelled to address in the above links, but luckily my only wish is for continued good records from ’em. Hozac’s Fey Gods also win the designation “post-grunge, pigfuck, visceral trash” from Agit Reader. Anybody wanna argue that pigfuck lives or is enjoying a renaissance among the genre I keep calling Killed-By rock?
Prisonship favorite OneBaseOnAnOverthrow reminds me of that Truman Capote shit, “A Christmas Memory,” when he relays a stirring yarn of teen vulnerability, the inevitable teen-man identification with Paul Westerberg that culminates in a showdown with a bully Chicagoan. The dainty yarn goes well with milkshakes beside the fire and some of the great solo Westerberg material. It’s entitled I Killed Albini With My Big Fucking Dick:
Displaying the usual teenage penchant for useless gestures, I actually called Steve Albini’s home phone once. Albini used to write a regular column back in the early 80’s for Matter, a really bad glossy ‘zine outta Chicago that must’ve paid writers a little bit of money, because occasionally top-notch guys like Gerard Cosloy and Byron Coley would contribute. Albini’s column was called “Tired of Ugly Fat?”, and sometimes he’d give out his phone number, probably because he had no real reason to give a shit.
Anyway, Albini slagged “Let It Be” (which would place this around ’84), and since the Replacements were my favorite band at the time, I called the number– as if I actually had a chance to get him on the phone and have a discussion or something. Really, the only interesting thing that happened was I got to hear Albini’s answering machine message, which went, “How can you tell how many Hitlers are in the room? Count the number of balls, and divide by one!”– I swear to God. I mumbled something stupid about how I thought he was a jerk, leaving my own number to show that I wasn’t a pussy, and hung up.
Since I disliked Albini as a writer before I ever heard Big Black as a band, it took some really awesome records to sway me back to the other side, and “Atomizer” and “Racer-X” were those records.
Great records, indeed. Of course, I’m of a half-generation after, and Shellac are my motherfuckers. They’re more curmudgeonly than offensive and they seem to have figured out a basic algorithm to rocking and rendered it herky-jerkily in a manner, a la Slint and the Jesus Lizard, that still “rocks.” We could wonder all day if offensive behavior underwrites the outward-bound spazz-noise that underwrites “Pigfuck,” or if its merely a stylistic flourish that ensures the alienation of women and secures a space for sickly-laced inside jokes. I’ll never understand why I love the offensive when I do or how I don’t when I don’t, but the “this is art” excuse washes less every day.
Brushback was quick to notice the emergence of what Coley once called “rockism” but is now the province of Oberlin coeds’ abstinence-only boyfriends. The symptom par excellence? The 7″ of Kraftwerk and Cheap Trick covers, betraying both humor and a tendency towards rock historicism:
At the time, it seemed weird to me that Albini would like Cheap Trick, but they’re both from Chicago so I guess it makes sense. This single was my first clue that Albini had more up his sleeve than just acting all dark and scary, and that he actually had a sense of humor– slight as it might have been. A couple of years later Albini was covering ZZ Top and talking about how great their first three records were, while producing records for the Pixies and eventually Bush and Nirvana. I think it woulda been better had he stopped at Cheap Trick, but what do I know.
Regular readers – and there are no regular readers – will note that I’m all over those ZZ Top lps lately like flies on solid excrement, but I can let this pass. What’s interesting, besides Brushback’s willingness to provoke imaginary Albini by bestowing “production credits” on the king of “recorded by,” is a larger pattern the blurb above suggests: after pigfuck, rock. Actually, we could say there was plenty of rock inside of pigfuck, and that’s something Christgau didn’t get. Perhaps it’s because he came from NYC and was most specifically challenging Sonic Youth and maybe Swans? Obviously it wasn’t wrong before Sonic Youth weren’t just quoting but were redefining rock. Obviously the Thalia Zedek era of Live Skull was about rock, just as we’ve discussed in terms of Big Black’s evoluton. Finally, when my wife had grown tired of hearing Blue Cheer and more obscure hard-psych-blah last night, she suggested we spin the Jesus Lizard and I must say, especially after extended exposure to Presence, I believe their “Zeppelin thing” is real. Now, whom would you add to this rocking pigfucker list, people?
On to my favorite idea of the hours’ of pajama-wearing research (I’m a winner! I do stuff!), supplied not unusually by Jay Hinman (of Hedonist Jive, tumblr’s Hedonist Jive and formerly Detailed Twang) from back in the Agony Shorthand days. The hypothetical, off-the-cuff notion occurs in the context of a 7″ review: HOSE : MOBO / GIRLS / ZOO” 7″EP:
I farmed it on this one — a few weeks ago the mp3 blog Mystical Beast posted a great overview of (and interview with) early 80s sludge/dirge noise group HOSE, and included the ability to download their one and only single, “Mobo/Girls/Zoo”… As the article and reminiscience makes clear, Hose were the east coast FLIPPER, and fashioned themselves as such. “Girls” — all 20 seconds of it — is pure fake hardcore, the sort of blistering speed demon played by large men who are clearly “taking the piss”, as it were. But “Mobo” is a big, ugly throbbing whopper, one that the DUST DEVILS soon covered on their “Geek Drip” LP. And even the kids’ song “Zoo” holds up well. My roommate had their 12″EP as well, and I remember a great track on there called “Only The Astronaut Knows the Truth” or something like that. When someone finally puts out the Bloodstains Across the Pigfuck Scene comp, that thing needs to be front and center.
I really want Bloodstains Across the Pigfuck Scene to exist, but the closest stuff to anything obscure I’ve got is Die Kreuzen. Indeed, that suprisingly noisy Slumberland mix tape I plugged recently helped more than you’d think. I didn’t fucking know who Terminal Cheesecake was! I scour the record stores and I find dick. It’s much easier to track the pigfuck-or-just-indie-or-harcore > math-rock development of my emo 90s than it is to plot pigfuck or find the canonical and, best of all, the obscuro entries in the canon. Maybe when the proposed Forced Exposure anthology’s unleashed there’ll be an accompanying Numero Group release, but how do we know that won’t be all Japanese Noise and AMM outtakes? From the Perfect Sound Forever Coley Interview
PSF: Have you ever thought about doing an anthology for Forced Exposure?
Yeah, we’ve talked about it extensively but… What we’d really like to do is The Complete with a lot of additional interviews and articles. So it gets into a real size quandary ’cause it’s like 1,000,000 words.
PSF: You could do it in volumes.
I know. We’ll get something worked out. You know, people have a process about different things. At some point, it would probably happen. There’s some people who really don’t want their stuff reprinted for a variety of reasons. For some of it, their juvenilia is embarrassing to them for whatever reason. But yeah, we’d be entertained to do it. I did a thing where I got all of the reviews in alphabetical, chronological order. I could reformat that stuff ’cause we used to have embedded, HTML-type code formatting for everything. You know- ‘turn on bold, turn on italics.’ This was early word processing stuff.
Maybe I deserve to linger in dissatisfaction for the sin of comparing pigfuck to tea parties or daring to mention a certain white privilege involved (‘got fucked up in the comments for that one, maybe rightly), but I can honestly say that my sociological interests lie firmly elsewhere. A bifurcated, maybe stupid division of labor has been resurrected in which music maybe just means shelter from the gross shit I do regularly ponder from a political place or a personal one. Pigfuck is merely and grandly a necessary elixir, the soundtrack and emblem of one white nerd’s self-contempt and contempt-contempt.