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I’ve never read any of these posts after I’ve published them. I know better. They’d be dishonest otherwise, as far as reflecting my thinking in the moment. If I combed back through them, I’d undoubtedly revise, reconsider, discover repetitions, delete, replace, and be embarrassed or horrified. It’s safer to just let the words go and cover your ears if they come back to haunt. Just like the music. Making it is such a torturous process, that when I can live with the results in the moment, I force myself to wrap it up and move on. Of course, those moments of final decision pass quickly, but I just have to live with the knowledge that nothing is ever good enough for me. Otherwise, nothing would ever be finished.
It’s obviously been a few months since my last post. This is a reflection of why the Bandcamp/Soundcloud descriptions of Funhausen state that the project “was over before it even started.” This wasn’t just playful nihilism, it was merely pure fact. Realistically, at this stage in Funhausen’s availability to the outside world, there’s not much more for me to say about it. I’ve exhausted the subject in this forum, and any future posts will probably be few and far between. But the dearth of new words here will never mean there is a corresponding dearth in my activities. Only if I leave the earth.
When time avails, I plan on folding the Funhausen site into an umbrella for all my work, past and present, and probably not just music. No firm date for that yet. The competing tides of obligation and building self-expression are in endless battle for dominance and balance. I’ve gotta stay afloat.
I recently stumbled on the playlist and mixcloud audio for a show on FSK Radio Hamburg called Ausflug. The curator is Horst Petersen, who operates under the pseudonym Jetzmann, and he’s an electroacoustic musician with a pretty impressive body of work of his own, such as scoring dance productions, various collabs, etc. During this particular set, he did something very logical, simple, and effective: he played Fun House tracks and their Funhausen derivations back to back. First “Down on the Street,” then “High in the Attic.” Later, he reversed the order, and “I TV I” was followed by “TV Eye.” Listening to the contrast reminded of the great emotional divide between music sculpted on a computer and music propelled in real-time by moist human hands and feet fucking up wood, wires, metal, and plastic. I never set out to duplicate the spirit of a band playing full-on and primal with Funhausen, but still, the fact was made plain by Jetzmann’s juxtaposition that cyber-dependent construction can rarely match the passionate delivery imparted by human beings blasting full volume and united in the fucking moment. On a visceral, elemental level, Funhausen sounded puny next to the unrestrained violence of The Stooges.
I’ve worked in the alternating arenas of isolated electronic expression and band-based instrument wielding for some time now, but I came to the former after years of doing the latter. At this stage, I’m not a loyalist to either method; there’s things about both modes that I find rewarding, and I’m glad I can move between them. But I tell ya, the spirit will rise much quicker when buffeted by a screaming Ron Asheton fuzz-wah guitar eruption than if cradled by a low-end, plug-in distorted noise sheet (not that I don’t like that… Jeez, I can be a contradictory motherfucker).
I’m not going to get into the nuances of this argument (I have a life, believe it or not), except to say that I’m well aware that there are all kinds of options when making “electronic music” (such an inadequate catch-all), and that the physical manipulation of devices and self-made instruments has a long tradition in various sub-genres thereof. I myself attempt “playing” rather than looping as much as possible in my solo work. Even with Funhausen. For example, for “Soiled” I sampled Dave Alexander’s “Dirt” bassline, isolated the notes as much as possible, assigned them to different pads in my sampler, and played what became the “Soiled” bass line with drum sticks on the pads back into the computer. The result is far from metric perfection, but it was fun. That’s right, fun. Remember that?
So, thanks Jetzmann, for reminding me of the everlasting potency of The Source, and of the reasons I started trying to play music when I was a kid. You gave me a back-to-earth moment, and we all can use that from time to time.
As of this post, Funhausen has received 403 downloads on bandcamp, 322 of which are of the entire playlist. Such a reaction is not something I take lightly; though the despicable, needy part of me wishes such interest were an everyday reality. But it isn’t, and I must thank all who have allowed their devices to expend their electro-energy shifting those audio files from the Hallowed Virtual Morgue into the World of Flesh, Desire, and Consequence. Someone asked me recently if I would do something like Funhausen again. My response was immediate: Only if my fantasies were granted substance, like Bill Laswell contacting me and saying, “Hey, would you take the first Last Exit record and give it a Martin Denny makeover?” Yep, something ludicrously improbable like that could cajole me into treading the same ground. Nothing else. Maintaining the requirements of survival in the real world (y’know, being responsible and all that other potentially soul-crushing shit) demands an artistic escape valve, no matter how potentially disappointing, so I always have projects happening. Since patting Funhausen on the head and kicking it out the door, I’ve been working on material that is as diametrically opposed to that stuff as I can manage, though it does have a manifesto of method. At this stage I’ve assigned it the moniker of Blind the Thin King, and am aiming for restrained minimalism, total excision of my penchant for distortion and jarring aggression, and painting a blend of melodicism and menace, the pretty and the discordant. For me, the name evokes images of a patrician, dissolute, emaciated, and murderous autocrat gradually being suffocated by rose-scented pestilence, famine, and the equally cruel will of a disaffected and already-dead populace. Wow. One person’s pretension is another’s expression, I always say. Hold on… Maybe I should just call Elton John and ask if he needs a new chauffer.
There was much internal debate as I was making Funhausen: How should I present this stuff? Should I come clean, or just stay mum? Either way, the result could easily have been the same. No reaction at all, or very, very little. Just seven lonely tracks accompanied by some bullshit text adorned with asinine tags devised by mercantile, implacable, authoritarian bureaus. I knew, and am still convinced, that the Fun House derivation that sits at Funhausen’s core could have gone completely unnoticed by anyone who cared to listen if they weren't cued to The Secret. Only people who really knew the record, and I mean knew it to the degree that they could identify Ron Asheton’s final wah wahed chord at the end of Dirt, or could peg his brother’s drum fill that signals the end of the middle guitar freakout on TV Eye; only those people might’ve thought, “Hey, that sounds familiar.” Deep down, I always knew that the project’s true value for myself and potential listeners that might actually give a fuck would be that I had taken great, sacred music that was not my own, and sculpted it into something that only I could have done. So, I consciously left clues, both sonic and textual, as to The Source, but worked very hard to take The Source into alternate territories.
I’m not afraid to be honest with myself (well, maybe a bit), so I must admit that I also knew that the (slim) chance would increase that people would listen and maybe even (gasp!) go through the trouble of downloading Funhausen if I told The Truth. The last thing I cared about was challenging copyright as a political/aesthetic statement. Are you serious? The Stooges made an everlastingly kick-ass fucking record that will never, ever be equaled. They OWN that shit, motherfuckers, and they deserve every fucking dime they never got for making it. If the universe were equitable, all the riches amassed by hugely successful whitebreads like U2 would be redistributed equally between Iggy and the estates of Ron and Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander. If by some miracle I had been given the chance to release Funhausen legitimately and do what was right by Iggy (predicated on the probably fantastical notion that people might be willing to buy it), I would have done so joyfully.
On a related note, Funhausen is not plunderphonic in the classic sense of the term. “Plunderphonic” requires the immediate distancing mechanism of ears identifying the typically insipid and profiteering source material. By being instantaneously recognizable, the subsequent sabotaging wrought upon the original work had much more weight. Funhausen was never intended as an act of ruination, though the context is essential to fully appreciating Funhausen’s story. To be candid and brutally frank, my motivations were also self-serving. Maybe people would actually listen this time.
To be clear, the use of “hausen” in place of “house” was never intended to conjure images of Stockhausen’s imperious visage blotting out the sun while The Stooges sloppily approximated Kontakte. The textual substitution is funny, at least to me, and immediately telegraphs an oppositional absurdity: the visceral and primal, instinct-driven Dionysia of The Stooges vs. the maxi-cerebral, post-war avant garde theoreticism of which Stockhausen was emblematic. I wanted to be celebratory, not conservatory. However, I do have an abiding respect for the scientific, studied dissection of sound(s) that Stockhausen and, more significantly for me, people like Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry undertook in the 1950s and 60s. I deeply admire those figures from the past that chose to endure hours upon hours of rigor and onerous exactitude, editing and manipulating tape, sometimes taking days to realize mere minutes of final audio that they often couldn’t predict with any certainty would end up being useful. Now, that takes passion and a type of unbreakable devotion, which The Stooges had for a time as well. And, my own humble process for assembling Funhausen, despite being stitched and jigsaw-puzzled in a digital environment, required a similar tenacity and ability to take the pain. There's the link.
Perhaps through infernal or divine intervention (take your pick), Funhausen has received a full-page review replete with photo in the August issue of The Wire. When the editorial office contacted me a few weeks back, my adrenaline raced. “Funhausen is on heavy rotation in Wire HQ” the email said. Holy shit! I was on vacation and they needed a photo. Luckily, I happened to have a flash drive in my backpack that ensconces various ephemera from the last few years of my life, and dug out an image of my current band in which I had to disappear my band-mate via Photoshop. Then, I began tamping down my exultation big-time, and actually got to the point where I dreaded reading the review. You see, I have a thick skin for creating art in an unforgiving and typically disinterested world, but a thin skin for bearing the opinions of others about the work. Praise often makes me uncomfortable, and the underscoring of shortcomings by outsiders initially makes my face hot. As it turns out, The Wire review is a mixture of both, and I suppose I should be gratified that it was reviewed at all by what has been for me the most influential publication about music(s) bar none.
Which brings me to another story. I tried to be a music writer once, and actually had a brief stint writing CD reviews for The Wire around 1992 or '93, something like that, I have the issues in my archives somewhere. I had mailed some clippings of reviews I'd written for a local mag to Tony Herrington, the editor at the time, and he literally called me on the phone from the UK. He said, "Sure, you can write for the magazine." I was in shock, definitely a case of be careful of what you wish for. So, over the course of 3-to-4 issues, I wrote reviews of things like Boredoms, Zorn, Gate, Dirty Three, etc. Frankly, it was a terrifying experience. I felt such overwhelming, self-imposed pressure to match the magazine’s erudite and ultra-knowledgeable style related to all things off the beaten path; to appear that I knew what I was writing about when, in fact, I was still learning about all of these wonderful sonic options that had eluded me during some very dark years of drugged out isolation and bad craziness. So, I over compensated, and each review I wrote became more and more abstruse and indecipherable, as if forcing the hapless reader to read sentences over and over to figure them out was the mark of sound and cogent criticism. Finally, Tony himself emailed me that my reviews were becoming too esoteric. I thought, "Wow, too esoteric for The Wire? There's a dubious accomplishment for sure." So, I stopped submitting with great relief, and haven't written a critical word about music ever since. I don't relate this out of any type of recrimination. Absolutely not. I needed to stop doing it. I couldn't handle being that type of writer. It had also gotten to the point where I was much too self-conscious when doing even recreational listening, ruminating, "Hmmmm, what is this referencing? What lineage is this part of? What metaphorical angle could I use to describe it if I had to?" Every once in awhile I pull out one of those reviews, read it, and ask myself "what the fuck was I trying to say?" A very bad sign.
And now, all these years later, things have come full circle.
I've had two encounters with Iggy Pop. While the first was cast in the red neon of what the popular imagination would consider true iggy-ness, both events were equally momentous for me (of course, are you kidding?), and he was more generous than he needed to be. His signature to the left is evidence of the second, from a letter to me dated Feb. 26, 1994. Funny, in this forum it just doesn't feel right displaying the complete letter, though it's certainly innocent enough. I was working at an Atlanta club called The Masquerade at the time, doing their flyers and print ads and such, and Iggy was scheduled to play. I think it was the American Caesar tour. For some time, one of my enduring rock 'n roll fantasies was to play drums in Iggy's band. So, I put together a cassette of different things I'd done up to that point, and put it in a manila envelope with a letter stating my love for his music and my, uhhhh, availability. The night of the show, stripped of any nerve to get backstage and do it myself, I asked one of the security guys I knew to give the package to Iggy. Then I watched the show, the third of four times I've seen him perform. As always, he was a fucking live wire, the true, living King of Rock 'n Roll. Later, the security guy claimed he'd given the envelope to Iggy, though I didn't really believe him. Well, sure enough, about two weeks after that, Iggy's response arrived in the mail. Unbelievable. I mean, seriously, how many legends would do something like that? He actually took the time to politely write me back. My note had mentioned meeting him on the Tampa stop of his 1982 Zombie Birdhouse tour, one of the most gonzo evenings of my life, and in response he recalled the wildness of his Tampa memories, though he made it clear that such wanton dissipation was behind him. He signed off by writing that while he had a drummer right then, he'd listen to the tape and keep me in mind. I have a little wooden, memento-keepsake box a friend got me at Graceland long ago, with gaudy, glued cutouts of Elvis circa his jumpsuit Vegas days sloppily emblazoned on it. There the Iggy letter sits, safely tucked away, half buried in miscellaneous detritus from various life phases, always ready to give me a smile.
The strategy governing public notice of this project negates simple definitions of what it is, because plainly stating what it is without nuance defies the polices and procedures of entities like music posting services. Such organizations do not evaluate on a case-by-case basis. But, I'm fine with that. I despise and loathe the promotional apparatus that one must navigate to get the word out about your work. Having to masquerade as deserving the world's attention when much of global culture is sinking under the weight of mega-saturation is something that I can't do anymore, and in fact haven't been able to do for some time. Don't get me wrong; I absolutely want affirmation and validation, and I do some of the same shit everyone else does to try and get it, but only so much. It's a time issue and a pride issue, and I'd rather spend what little time I have making art instead of begging to be ignored. Will this render much of my work, including Funhausen, invisible outside of my tiny, immediate world? Probably. Am I at peace with that? No, and very well may never be. But this truth doesn't stop me, and I hope it never does.
Last night I was trawling around the net and made a startling discovery: Funhausen is not a unique moniker. It appears that Starfuckers, an Italian out-rock unit active in the nineties that has since changed their name to Sinistri, released their debut "Metallic Diseases" on Holy Mountain in 1990, and were classified by the label as "Funhausen" (i.e., Funhouse meets Stockhausen, which is exactly my reference). Stumbling across that obscure history made me feel an unwelcome reality check sucker punch. Of course, now I have to listen to that record. My later attempts to sleep were continually interrupted by dream or near-dream states where I was trying to explain my Funhausen to people, acquaintances as well as strangers, and they either didn't get it or just didn't give a fuck. I'd wake up, tense and disillusioned, drift off again, and the encounters resumed until the alarm shrilled me into the morning.
Death was a meta-presence throughout creating Funhausen. Original Stooges bassist Dave Alexander died in 1975 (basically drank himself to death, only 27), and a heart attack took the incomparable Ron Asheton out in 2009. Then, shortly after I had started working on the project, there was a night in March 2014 when I had just finished doing my best to isolate and reshuffle a Scott Asheton beat. As I was shutting everything down, my wife called out that she had just read that he had also passed away. Talk about eerie. I had barely gotten started, and another one down. As months passed and I continued to struggle with Funhausen, characterized by two steps forward, six steps back, I became more and more consumed with the fear that Iggy would die before it was done. In 2015, saxophonist Steve Mackay died, and the spookiness magnified. Thankfully, obviously more for his sake than for mine, Iggy's still with us as of this writing. What did happen, though, was that just when I started working on the last track, "LA Blooze," Bowie died. One of my artistic touchstones since I was 15. I loved him, or to be more accurate, I loved my personal image of him, my personal Bowie. I've known true grief in my life, and weirdly, I felt it for several weeks afterwards. I love my mythical picture of Iggy Pop just as much, and the historical connection between Bowie and Iggy, my fascination with that connection and what came of it, and the fact that Iggy now stood alone all blended into an inspiration to shape "LA Blooze" into a type of lament. A fucking tall order, and one that I had to finally abandon. Instead, I settled for working with the few snippets of Iggy's vocal that I could grab that weren't over the top, and made the kinda Steve Reichean, gamelanish piece that "LA Blooze" became. Unlike the effect of "LA Blues" on Fun House, my version closes out the Funhausen collection on a relatively controlled, calmer note compared to the other tracks, though it is a skittery motherfucker. The one shred of my original intention that remains is that it feels like Funhausen's last words.
Now that Funhausen is done in terms of construction and kicking it out into the world, I can actually listen to Fun House again for pleasure; at least I hope I can. From the beginning to the end of building the tracks, the only time I heard the source material was when I was pulling bits and pieces out of it. For one, I didn't want my reconstitution's to just be alternate versions. Instead, I hoped they would gain lives of their own, as if the original songs had mated with some adulterant, some type of bacterial invasion, and birthed a mutant hybrid where the parent genes had been twisted and bent into new shapes by the intruding cells. The second, more banal reason is that as the project wore in, I would intermittently get sick of it, feel maximum burnout, and struggle with the compulsion to abandon it. The last thing I wanted to do, or would've been able to do, was listen to Fun House for, uhhhh, fun. Still, it's probably gonna be awhile before I can play it, which is perhaps the ultimate sacrifice.