by Scott Pinkmountain
Renowned Bay Area songwriter, Michael Zapruder, has just released a highly ambitious project titled Pink Thunder, which involved him setting 22 poems (written by excellent contemporary poets including David Berman, Valzhyna Mort, Matthew Rohrer, Bob Hicok, and Noelle Kocot) to music. Beyond the straight-forward release of the musical material on pink vinyl (The Kora Records), Black Ocean has put out a hardcover book containing a CD and beautifully hand-lettered copies of the poems rendered by Arrington De Dionyso. Zapruder also created a series of what he calls “portmanteaus,” small sculptural objects that function as digital music boxes that play songs from Pink Thunder. The project, which was 6 years in the making, originated with Zapruder joining the Wave Books poetry bus tour for a week, meeting and working directly with the cream of the crop of young, innovative poets. [Also see this article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian]
Full Disclosure: While I had nothing whatsoever to do with the making of this project, I have known and worked with Michael since 2004, and I wrote the introduction to the Pink Thunder book. However, I found the scope of this project to beg greater creative and cultural concerns than could be fully addressed in the introduction to the book.
Dear People of the Future,
With your lightning powered aggregators, your nanomembranophones, your hydrolytic isomer skin-suit apparatus, it will require an imaginative leap wider than the great San Andreas Canyon that separates The People’s Republic of California from the once great nation of the “United” States to conceive of the cultural landscape in which Michael Zapruder’s Pink Thunder, which I recommend you ingest via light pulse array, was created.
This is a little difficult to explain, but for a brief aberrant cycle in the history of human civilization, a violent minority of militaristic nations operated according to a spurious system based almost exclusively on the degradation of spirit via mass production and mechanized standardization, and on the pacification of the majority populace by reducing their access to education, nutritious food and health care, and increasing their access to pleasure-center stimulants. Weird, right? It’s likely you’ve never even heard of this cycle as its ideas were surely so overwhelmingly disproven and unanimously rejected as to be expunged from the annals of history.
Needless to say, this system had some strange repercussions on what we called “The Arts,” and what I assume you people simply call “The Skills.” There was a bizarre and reductive practice of measuring the merit of an “artist’s” (or “skilled maker” in your lingo) worth in economic terms, which fostered an environment where skilled makers were pressured into narrowly defined roles of limited practical function (painter, dancer, writer), because we found it much easier to commodify, market and monetize people and things which can be simply identified, labeled and thus branded. I apologize for the use of jargon that is likely incomprehensible to you, the entire epistemology of Late-Era-Cynical-Genocidal-Capitalism being (one hopes) gibberish to your ears. Maybe your Native Onboard Ingress Glyph-erator App will help you blow through this section?
Michael Zapruder was one such skilled maker whose vast creative identity was squished down into the horrible moniker of “songwriter.” Even typing the word makes my skin crawl and it’s better than many others because it incorporates both music and words, though its generally accepted domain is smaller than either of those individual realms. You likely know of Zapruder’s work as it allies with the inevitable values of your evolved civilization – one in which human creativity is appreciated and respected, one where skilled makers are encouraged to cast their visions far and wide across a spectrum of ideas, mediums, tasks, materials, one where invested scholarship, dedication, practice, ongoing questioning, deep listening, humility, quietude, skeptical faith, servility and mortal appreciation are esteemed above all other qualities; a civilization that has decoupled creativity from commerce in order to unfetter the range and capability of the human mind driven by the belief that the infinite and the unification can only be accessed/achieved through unbounded creativity.
Dear People of the Future, you have it good! What you need to understand is that essentially none of this was in place during Michael Zapruder’s era. So his skilled labor, though it has all the elements you are familiar with – fundamental cross platform integration, individual core identity with simultaneous off-the-charts collaborative authenticity indices, cosmic philosophical interrogatives, poly-genre divagation, virtuosic technical execution in the material/vibrational sphere – was virtually unprecedented in its period. The Pink Thunder project in particular was a first of its kind, though I assume this will be nearly impossible for you to accept given the universality of its influence.
The period in which the Pink Thunder project was created was a short blip in Western culture when people widely believed that the making of music and the writing of songs was something that required absolutely no training, no experience, next to no investment of time, effort, energy, really nothing more than forty-five minutes and an electric guitar (eventually something called a “laptop”). This is not to be confused with the so-called “untrained” practice of folk arts, which is where generally the most skilled, most invested, most virtuosic and heartfelt, handmade, laboriously crafted work was created. What started as a populist notion of personal connection with human creativity, quickly degenerated (due to the intoxicating cultural ether of aforementioned Genocidal Capitalism) to a sort of widespread entitlement or belief that said creativity needed to be not only documented but packaged, sold, and widely disseminated (to the social and financial benefit of the non-trained musician creating it).
This era or tradition (the “Punk” age, which, at the time of this writing is roughly forty years old) initially had tremendous value of course (as a reaction to technocratic tendencies and as a revolutionary reclamation of the means of cultural production, etc…), but it had the negative effect of distracting people from the tradition to which Zapruder belonged; one that was roughly between forty thousand to one hundred thousand years old. That tradition being the devotional mystic tradition, which, I assume is the only tradition of great significance and familiarity to you Good People of the Future.
Zapruder’s adherence to the devotional mystic tradition allowed him to see beyond the artificially circumscribed limitations and boundaries of genre and medium (musician, writer, visual artist, inventor, raconteur, showman, scholar, etc.). It also allowed him to side-step his time cycle’s obsessive system of containing music in controlled standardized formats for easy and lucrative commerce, which is why he hand-crafted individual objects like the portmanteau sound-sculptures that accompany and deliver Pink Thunder. Other creative sonic conveyance platforms such as music boxes, travelling sideshows, strolling balladeers, wind chimes, children’s song, ambient environmental saturation spheres, psychic serenades and car horn orchestras were either mechanized, commoditized and mass produced or dismissed as “untenable” forms and pipe dreams. (Pipe dreams also being one of the great Lost Mediums of musical conveyance). They were too difficult to capture and reproduce identically, and thus eluded market control, so they had to be co-opted, emulated in the grossest, most broad-stroke form, drained of meaning, reduced to signifiers, mass produced in a foreign country by child labor, cast in non-degradable materials, adorned with bright, eye-catching colors or panty-clad women, sold in bulk and, very shortly thereafter, landfilled.
But as Zapruder’s example demonstrates, there were always renegades and bandits, fierce outlaws operating under a separate moral flag, a completely unrelated vision of what the world could be. Like a country within a country which drew its boundaries based on the deeply held belief that mortally invested human creativity mattered, inherently, whether it was witnessed solely by the devoted spirit generating it, or by an entire galaxy. It didn’t need to be legitimated by being in service to a “god,” (the whole god thing, which I’m sure didn’t survive the rigors of history in its current form, is a really long story, not one I can totally get into now, but suffice it to say, there were some weird ideas floating around for a while), or to a commercial Industry with a god-sized sense of its own self-worth, or even a subsidiary of that industry that believed itself to be modest and earnest in contrast but was sadly operating (perhaps unknowingly) as a shadow arm extension of the Industry.
These bandits were probably not unlike their descendants with whom you would be far more familiar – the Hackers who disrupt the government and corporate control of your interpersonal global commerce-communication systems, the Smashers who flow from the hills late at night and destroy the for-profit broadcast studios and mediated message disseminators, the Scramblers who intercept the soundwaves of politicians and pundits as they speechify propaganda, hysteria, fear, lies and deception, the Sirens who make unadulterated devotional human creativity freely and widely available to the public while supporting the labor of other skilled generators through their coordinated network of donors, gifters, charitable aids, and volunteers.
But sadly, in our time, these bandits were viewed as chumps.
Have sympathy for the non-bandits of our time. They had no way to predict the calamity, violence and utter fucking stilted boringness of an art-free society. I know it’s too little too late, but let me personally apologize for the thousand-year art drought. We got a bit mixed up in our priorities. We kind of lost touch with history and hadn’t noticed that no society ever survived without a thriving non-commercial creative culture. And that there was a direct correlation between unfettered pragmatic observation of, and creative elaboration on the daily lived experience (what we used to call “art”) and the health of a person, society, planet. On behalf of the people of my time, allow me to recommend Pink Thunder both as joyful celebration of the shared values between your civilization and our underground resistance, and as evidence that we were not all completely insane, that the seeds for your peaceful and creative society had been planted long ago.
Rebel Bandit #M611974
Scott Pinkmountain (aka Rosenberg) is a musician and writer living in Pioneertown, CA. Recent work of his has appeared in The Rumpus, Pank, The Conversant, BombSite, and other publications. He has released more than 20 albums and has recorded and performed with Anthony Braxton, Sam Coomes, Nate Wooley, Eugene Chadbourne and many others. He is currently working on a book of interviews with Indie Rock songwriters. (more info at www.scottpinkmountain.com)