“Brazil” (Esquivel)

Concrete/ambient tour of the city street, and of the many bar bands which each play a variant of the self-tropicalization standard, “Brazil.” This is, then, Esquivel’s take on the figure of the flâneur, or walker in the city. Baudelaire, for example: “His passion and profession are to become one flesh with the crowd.” Esquivel charts the stakes of this desire to fuse into community and registers its necessarily violence in the club fight which erupts at the end of the track. Which doesn’t have to amount to the retrograde Benajamian position on the crowd or the mob: “Brazil,” it’s clear, is each time different (musically multiple and variegated, “within” itself).

 

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“In My Own Time” (The Patterns)

The first verse of this International Artists track (penned by the Bee Gees) remains the most interesting: singer once received an “invitation” to come to the “United Nations,” but “that was when I was somebody.” Being somebody in the international community involves a temporal recognition/leveling: one cannot participate so long as one remains “in my own time.” There are no singularities in the family of nations, and no figures not judged present (i.e., precisely co-temporal with the “modern” and the “civilized”; cf., Justice William Johnson’s concurrence in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia [1831]).

 

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“We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” (Queen)

In his review of Queen’s Jazz (1979), Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh famously wrote that the two-year-old anthem “We Will Rock You” “is a marching order: you will not rock us, we will rock you.” “Queen may be the first truly fascist rock band,” separating out “who is superior and who is inferior.” (Marsh’s straight-faced critique predates Pete Wylie’s more tongue-in-cheek approach toward “rockism” by two years). As others have pointed out, however, this trax and its linked partner, “We are the Champions,” are just as easily read as barely-coded gay insurgency. The timing is certainly right: in England in 1977, workplace rights for gays and lesbians were on the agenda for the first time at the annual Trade Union Congress, and the International Gay Association was founded in 1978. Both trax evoke the comic book ad figure of the ninety-eight pound weakling having sand kicked in his face. (The Rocky Horror Show’s “I Can Make You a Man,” from 1973, covers similar territory.) “We Will Rock You” comes with a promise of being “rocked” by the sound of an arena’s stomping and clapping, and perhaps being turned into a piece of granite. From now on, according to the song, you will be hard—hinting at the rise of the muscled, mustachioed Castro clone, and prefiguring Freddie Mercury’s adoption of the look in 1980. Today, the emergence of the figure of the clone is frequently criticized as foreclosing a more diverse, queer seventies community. On the other hand, there’s no doubt a practical side to the practice, since the clone was less vulnerable than the queen on the street. “We Are the Champions” continues the basic theme, but with the added barb that got under Marsh’s skin: “no time for losers.” So are Queen on the verge of genocide? Perhaps it all depends on the status of “we’ll keep on fighting ‘til the end.” If you’re in a fight as part of a community, then of course there’s “no time for losers.” You have to stand up and pick a side, and if you can’t do that you should just go home. If fighting and its necessities are fascistic, then we’re all fascists. Every community and every state is grounded in an unprecedented act of original violence, in “us” and “them,” in risk and sacrifice. And every older community would like to bury this knowledge, and imagine that only the latest dust-ups are existential threats.

 

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“Dark Was the Night—Cold Was the Ground” (Blind Willie Johnson)

On September 12, 2013, Voyager 1 became the first Earth-made object to enter interstellar space. Perhaps more importantly, the “Golden Record,” curated by a Carl Sagan-led group, is affixed on its outside, offering what has been deemed a “global anthology” of Earth life as conceived in the early 1970s. Containing images, sounds, music, and “spoken greetings” in fifty-five languages, the LP was also meant to serve as a document of our shared “cosmic loneliness.” And the contents of the disc (folk-ed trax, especially) parallel the problem the record was to solve: how to bring people together by transcending difference that redeploys difference in order to communicate our “diversity.” Along with “Melancholy Blues” by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven, Blind Willie Johnson’s piece represents the blues on the disc. Marked by forlorn humming and at the edge of speech, Johnson’s trax resists what Jeffrey Carroll deems the “directly expressive [and ‘wordless’] . . . rhetoric of the interjection” (When Your Way Gets Dark: A Rhetoric of the Blues). If one invests in the “emotion” of sound, what’s abandoned is the articulation of abandonment that emerges from a homeless wanderer. And this isn’t Simmel’s “stranger,” who serves as a marker of and diagnostic for group belonging, but a manifestation of isolation articulated toward the other. “Meaning” isn’t present as such. What is: the disturbance of being at home in this world. Or: the alien-ness that comes from (punishing) relation.

 

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“Karma Police” (Radiohead)

Today, mere bad vibes amount to a dangerous misstep, and an unwillingness to staightforwardly communicate (post-Nietzschean buzzing, white noising, talking “maths”) is the paramount crime. Criminalized bad karma, then, as a break from a  mandated sensus communis, as the police are decoupled from a limited Law. But, in the coda, singer associates the Big Brother-style turning in of cultural refuseniks with a “lost” “self,” suggesting that if we find our true being, singularity might be freed. Actually, this is all backwards: the lost need not be found, nor become founders of some (always retro) polity; rather, one might begin from original foundering (communications breakdown: it’s not always the same).

 

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“Let’s Organize” (Organized Konfusion)

The only organization going on here is to break through the “battery” of “flattery” which promotes rap for affect-ive community building. This is “straight coffee” that can make everyone act like an “army brigade” because it only takes an “ounce” for “you to bounce.” Much too powerful for anyone, track revels in its ability to both “lynch” the listener and “jack off wack MC’s”; the less pity, the better. Theory of organizing: the bigger the game, the less we have to “toke” for our minds.

 

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“Soily” (Wings)

At the height of Wings’ fame as a live act in the mid-70s, Paul McCartney would end stadium shows with this unreleased “Live and Let Die”-style, brassed-up rocker from 1972. It’s a call to the audience to look at everyone around them, left and right, and figure out what sort of a makeshift group they might constitute. McCartney calls out some ostensible social identities: doctor, lawyer, artist, farmer, priest. There are different national and geographic identities, too: Italian, Indian, and “jungle chief.” And then a parade of oddballs: “Hitler’s son,” a “commie with a Tommy Gun,” and a “plumber with a fattened hog,” for example. Their commonality, according to the singer, is that they’re all “soily” and “oily.” Soily: dirty, no-account, or crusty. Oily: parasitic, drunk, smoking, and sweaty. Yup, that about covers it. We’re in the muck up to our necks. All of us “born deceased.” Weak, violent, untrustworthy, and utterly soiled. It’s a mortal storm out there in the cheap seats, and not nearly as posh as one might expect for a concert involving rock royalty. As for the “cat in satin trousers” who chimes in, it’s no doubt a nod to glam and the satin togs of Bowie, Bolan, Roxy, the Sweet, and Slade. But it’s also McCartney himself, who’s wearing black satin pants in the video clip and clearly wants to position himself nearby this community of mud without ground.

 

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“Unlimited Capacity for Love” (Grace Jones)

After the loving community—an insomnia-induced incarnation desiring a prenuptial agreement for inclusion—hits the “floor,” singer wonders how one can “add another to love” without inheriting “classic” community’s exclusions. Lacerating kick drum and staccato descending bass figure point the way, repeatedly; it’s the rest/pause which can admit the rest of us (without worrying about dividends). In the reverse: apart from “hope” and “without pressured expense,” one should only fret about how to expend love without short-changing.

 

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“Amen, Brother” (The Winstons)

Urgent, celebratory, and kinetic, this trax—the second most sampled in history—is trans-temporal, extending backwards and forwards. Most known as the vessel or container for the “Amen Break,” it’s also a participant in citation as well, incorporating musical figures from previous songs. This “groove robbing,” as Kodwo Eshun deems it, runs in a deeper, more sustained way than we’re led to expect, too. It goes back to “Amen!,” the gospel tune, which can possibly be traced back to The Presbyterian Hymnal. After that, things get murky. The key is whether we dutifully follow the tendency to work against the secularization of the song. After all, it is testimony. The Winstons’ addition, however, of “brother” in the title issues a challenge: must a profession of faith be directed infinitely outward or can it be shared, agreed upon, enjoyed while avoiding a consolidation into an aspirational grouping? Yes, but only if such an agreement eschews the power to confirm or elect.

 

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