May 14th, 2007

  • pgdf

Martin Denny

Perhaps readers might recall, from my post on The Magic Numbers, that I have a stack of old vinyl, purchased at 3-for-a-dollar (or the iconic RPM speed of 33-1/3 cents apiece) awaiting my listening pleasure. Well, last night I pulled down Martin Denny's EXOTICA SUITE (1960) and was instantly transported to--well, to somewhere unique that never really existed.

Which is the goal of all fiction, isn't it? And particularly SF and fantasy?

This album features a gatefold, that portion on the left bearing the title, hinged to cover about a third of the real front. Do you know what that brown rectangle is? An actual piece of burlap, glued to the cover, to indicate either a particularly tactile music or primitivity or both. How wonderful is that? Try gluing a piece of burlap to your next CD or MP3 release and see how far you get.

You can read about Martin Denny, his career and his invention of the musical genre known as "Exotica" at either Allmusic:

or Wikipedia:

It's a fascinating story drenched in nostalgia for the Fifties and early Sixties, and full of cultish appeal--an appeal perhaps already passe, as consumers of what's hip move on to other areas. Exotica, Space Age Bachelor Pad Music, Moog Music, and Incredibly Strange Music have all been recent hot topics among hipsters. Check out this site for a fun appreciation of these genres:

But what intrigues me now is 1) how the music holds up; and 2) why it seems impossible anything like Exotica could happen again, and what that says about both gains and losses in our modern world.

First, the music. It's technically superb. All the musicians are craftsmen. It's alive, it swings, it seeks to repay the listener's time with, well, exotic aural landscapes. You can play it as background, or focus on it intently, because it has a certain complexity or info-density. It's not bathetic or corny, but a genuine expression of something its creators felt or sought to evoke. This latter statement leads us into the second topic.

Exotica resulted from an interpretation of native or aboriginal settings and culture by outsiders: Westerners co-opting non-Western modes and themes and instruments. In a sense, it was akin to Orientalism, the controversial study of the filters the West uses to view the East:

Nowadays, it's generally felt that Orientalism and similar mindsets are destructive, obscurantist, counter-productive and should be forbidden. When "foreign" cultures are observed and documented and ushered into the marketplace, it should be in the most objective and scientific manner possible. For instance, the treatment accorded the Tuvan Throat Singers:

It's hard to argue that forcing any culture into a mold not of its own making is not hurtful. But is that what Exotica was really doing? Weren't Martin Denny and his peers really just daydreaming, fantasizing about a neverland that hewed closer to the heart's desire than the reality they often knew quite well? John Clute has argued that the process of "misprision" is essential to criticism, and I'd add that it's essential to creativity as well. To reimagine reality as something counterfactual, as more "exotic" than it really is, lies at the core of what all writers and artists do. We're not anthropologists or diplomats. We're trailblazers into realms that never were.

The price of journalism

So I'm working on this article on the fighter I'm doing and, as part of it, I have to call this woman, a good-looking blond who once was involved with the guy and is supposed to be his friend. She's sort of a singer, does these breathy quasi-raps, a D-list, D-cup celebrity who appears on reality shows and hosts cheesy awards that. Anyway, I call her and everything is going good. I'm getting her opinions and some info, and then she asks me if I know a certain song. Turns out it's a song off her album, but I don't know this seeing as how I mostly listen to music, not processed dogcrap. I say, No. And she loses her mind. I don't know what she was going to tell me about the song--maybe how it was their song or she wrote it for him. It doesn't matter. She starts out by saying how dare I come to her for an interview without knowing every little thing about her, or words to that effect. Don't I know that her turds spell out I love you, ___, every time she takes a dump, they're so grateful for their time in her colon? Then she proceeds to cuss me out. It was kind of awesome, really. She must have majored in profanity at whatever grammar school represents the upper reach of her education. Then she hangs up.

I guess I should feel blessed to have been chewed out by her doubtless unaugmented pouty lips. Wisdom precludes me from mentioning her name, because she might stumble on this site and sue my ass for telling such lies. You probably never heard of her, anyway.

Celebrities are so much fucking fun.

Here's another review of Softspoken.