Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Après les Dorks

I said to Friend "X" the other day, maybe it’s just me, but my feeling on indy rock bands is that they draw the wrong inspiration from Led Zeppelin. They got the part about burdensome accents on the beats, distortion, and dull repetition, and missed the part about burdensome accents off the beats, fluid bluesy technique, distinctive melody, and singing your ass off.

Friend "X" confirmed: It is just me.

Spurred by a need to reassess, I took my judgmental ass and Housemate "D" over to Dorkfest 2 last Saturday night for a sampling of the current scene. It turned out to be a like old home week for us longtime Durham folks. Rockin’ Robin was in the parking lot, just leaving, heading over to some new club across from the Durham County Health Department with one of those trade union names (“Local 306,” or “Formula 409,” or whatever) where, she said, one of the two bands in town worth hearing was playing. (The other was Bombadil playing at Dorkfest later in the night, and she would be back for that. All I could do was roll my eyes at the Tolkien reference. What a bunch of dorks.)

Inside,Clang Quartet was wearing his hood, warming up with his noise making electronics and his metal contraptions. A former student of mine was videotaping him, and we spoke briefly. Student "C" said he was making a documentary about Clang. I thought this was interesting, since part of my reason for coming that night was because I had seen another documentary about Clang years ago, Armor of God. I could not imagine what more could be done in a new documentary about Clang, but I kept my council. Student "C" is taking classes to become an underwater welder, one of the highest paying, and the most dangerous, professions. After 5 years of that work, he says, he can retire and start making movies. What another dork.

I ran into Friend "B" whom I normally only see when out-of-towners are visiting. He remarked, “You’re here, and it’s not even a wedding!” He turned to his friend and said of me, “You know that house I keep talking about being ‘The House?’ Well, he still lives there.” I introduced Housemate "D," and Friend "B" said to him, “what number are you? Number 37?” I had to explain to Housemate "D" that I recently had made a list by rooms of the names of all the housemates I had had in this current house. The number of housemates at that time was about 34. So really, by now, Housemate "D" would be higher than 37. Seems like there’s always somebody deciding to leave.

After Clang, another band took to the stage, played a warm-up song, and asked the audience if their levels were okay. I was reminded of a recent weekend when I worked on a low-budget movie, and the director kept asking the collective crew, loudly, during setups, if we thought the script was okay. We remained bent to our tasks and did not answer her. Finally the director of photography said, “Aw, don’t ask them.” That’s right. We’re just here for the yuks. You don’t want to know what we think. At Dorkfest 2 that night, most of us were wearing ear plugs. Any band could have cut back the volume a little, saved a little energy, sent less money to terrorism. But no. Like the Mackie mixer manuals say, “they always want it turned up.”

Idiom Savant fell up in there, wryly representin’. I’ll never forget the time when we were at Tift Merritt and she encouraged the audience to be less tame. I find it hard to "let go" in any respect when urged to do so, so I looked to Idiom, who was standing next to me, for guidance. He shrugged and muttered, “I’m doing the best I can. I’m slouching.”

Archer Pelican, who took the picture to promote Dorkfest, did a bait and switch on us. He did not show up. It’s like, he took the picture, sent us all there, then went somewhere else, like maybe the park or the lake or something, which was extra-tranquil that night ‘cause we were at Dorkfest.

Véronique Diabolique did it’s best to understand our American concept of “dork.” Normally these are the folks that put the “thick” in “gothic,” but this night, they were chillin’ with relatively minimal makeup. They’ll give us the goth again in their own time, but that night, there was no need to prove anything. Or maybe there is a crack in their otherwise eternal aura of mourning for their missing family members. I’ve always marveled at how these remaining members of the Diabolique family, when they decided to channel their sense loss and become a goth band, knew exactly what to do. They didn’t just smear on the eye shadow and feign sickness to stay home from school. Each became something very specific: Angry Goth (Solange), Voldo-Him Goth (Jean-Luc), Mime Goth (Didier), and Gallery Owner Goth (Dominique). It’s like, they put on the makeup and found themselves.

After Véronique's set, a woman came up to where Idiom, myself, and some other friends were standing. She said she was doing a documentary on Véronique Diabolique, and could we offer comments?

Another documentarian! Or should I say, "dork-umentarian," since, after a little probing, she revealed that she used to earn a living doing henna tattoos at Renaissance Faires. Nowadays she is a protégé of another former student of mine who teaches audio documentary work at the Center for Documentary Studies. Idiom and I also know the director of the Center. Having established our back-channel ties to her superiors, we were ready to entertain her questions.

I said that it was interesting that Véronique had appeared without much makeup, like John Mellencamp without his “Cougar.” Idiom said that they were the Citizen Kane of French goth bands. We talked about how all this gothism could be traced back to the legendary Halloween parties that Jean-Luc had held when he lived at the house that I have continued to live in, with 37+ others. Nowadays, I said, the partying is up to the grad student housemates who just get a keg, strap on a mask, and call it “art.”

The documentarian asked if Véronique had started back in our house, and we said no, back in those days, it was a band with the name that was really just a sound, "Blll." But another band alive and very well today, Trailer Bride, did give one of their first performances in our basement and pretty much cleared the place out. One audience member, the future wife of Jean-Luc, felt compelled to stay and listen, just because it seemed like someone should. Nowadays though, it is Trailer Bride who is gracefully tolerating us and our banal adoration.

And remember the time when Jean-Luc had the rubber suit for dressing up as The Crow at parties? He discovered the trick to removing the suit after it had become bound to one's own skin by a monolayer of sweat accumulated over a night of techo-dancing: get in the shower, peel back a top edge of rubber, and let the water fill the suit. Then you can step out of it.

Idiom said that French is the universal language of rock and roll, and we agreed that French is just like English but with the distortion turned up. Turn it up farther, and you get to German, farther still and you get to Arabic.

I was moved to tell a story about one time when I tried to speak French. I was walking down a sidewalk in Marrakech with a savvy traveling companion, and this white woman walking in front of us dropped her scrunchie without realizing it. We got to the scrunchie and I picked it up and thought maybe I should be helpful in this strange land, you know, cause I was so often the one needing help. So I opened my mouth to call to her, and had to think real fast, what should I say?

“Mademoiselle,” I said, and she paused for a moment, probably asking herself if she had really heard what she thought she heard, this word spoken so ineptly, in this country where anyone can be understood in his own native language. She turned, and I could not bring myself to say any more. I just held the scrunchie out to her, and she took it. My companion remarked at what an American accent I had, and I said, “What the fuck kind of accent am I supposed to have?”

The documentarian stood there with her recorder pointed at me, expecting my point to follow. Outside, dork clouds were gathering; a flock was coming to fill the trees with its screeching.

“What a nice story that was,” Idiom said.

I said I had thought, a moment ago, that it was going somewhere.

“I always like the scrunchie story,” he said.

"It was cobblestone that it had fallen on,” I offered, weakly.

“Well okay then,” he said.

Dorkiness had come back home to roost.


Jerry said...

An excellent summation of Dorkfest. Although I don't think I said that French was the universal language of rock (ULOR). What I said -- or, at least, what I intended to say -- was that it didn't matter that VD sings in French, because they're really using the ULOR. But it was noisy in there; who knows what I actually said.

I have a bad habit of calling anything that I like the "Citizen Kane" of its genre. It's a fallback witticism, not one I'm particularly proud of. I should have retired it after I called "Duel" the "Citizen Kane" of homicidal truck movies.

Our acquaintance Ian Williams has proposed a "Rock N Roll Noise Reduction Agreement." Since everyone at a rock show wears earplugs, clearly it's always too loud for everyone. Why not just turn everything down?

I don't remember that Tift Merritt anecdote. Not saying it didn't happen; it certainly sounds like something I'd say.

In conclusion: exemplary post, sir.

Housemate D (#37) said...

"Having established our back-channel ties to her superiors, we were ready to entertain her questions."

I witnessd this shameless self-fondling of ego, and it was so non-dorky that I became confused as to where I was, which was supposed to be dorkfest. I must say it rendered helpless that poor enraptured dorkumentarian.

Jenny said...

I felt bad for missing dorkfest, especially cause I told jerry I was going to go. Luckily I got the recap HERE!

Stew said...

Is it bad that I commented on this already and was going to try to comment again?