“Liberty Calls!” (Mike Watt)

Liberty appears in so many ways that it’s easy to forget how self-contradictory it is. As a civil institution, liberty is an entitlement undergirded by the power to shape and condition (y)our community. It serves as a concept in thrall to oligarchic interests (e.g. the Tea Party movement) and as a foundation for various strains of Occupy movements and libertarian causes. In rare and outdated usage, it can also mean that which goes beyond propriety or, literally, a district beyond one’s border that is still within its jurisdiction. For B. Traven in The Death Ship, it means shore leave, forced servitude, and the “opportunity” to be stateless. And Watt’s sailor’s opera/concept album equates the concept with the same boiler men Traven focuses on. Liberty here is secular, unwed to state-based aspirations. The sailors enjoy shore leave since they can escape the “hell-ride” in order to “learn” and to “take on fuel and burn!” Expenditure redirected, they visit “other lands” with “our” liberty. Constantly shared and appearing intermittently, we catch a glimpse of what liberty could mean: a “need[ful]” thing consisting of “histories” and “mysteries” that we simultaneously “figure” and, more positively, “trip” out over.

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“Home Security” (Trans Am)

Though the perimeter can be secured safe enough, it’s on the edge/fringe where intrusions happen regardless of the setup/theorization. Synth-bass double-time sections intensify, with shifting snare timbre emphasizing more maniacal attempts at a total lockdown of the home. Half-time outro (with whole note bass accompanying riffing, drums at home in the security state) never repulses the synth hum: the outside lives with/in the borders and the nation.


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“Strange Things Happening Every Day” (Sister Rosetta Tharpe)

True! First, this electric guitar blues and its solo qualify as strange for 1944 (and prescient in rock’n’roll retrospection). On another level, “strange things,” closely read in Sister Tharpe’s lyrics, are ongoing conversions to “Jesus” from the realm of liardom. But “strange things” refers to the Bible, too, where, “Thine eyes shall behold strange things, And thy heart shall utter perverse things” under the influence of wine (Proverbs 23:33; ASV [1901]). And what strange things are these? The King James Version narrows matters to “strange women”: foreign concubines, prostitutes, adulterers. Perhaps Tharpe takes wine and women and song to heart at the seeming border between the secular and the sacred. Indeed, the border itself is at stake in the very idea of the “strange” more broadly considered as the foreign, alien, different, external, extreme, exceptional, queer, rare, uncommon, singular, and surprising. Advocating a posture of lubricated wonder and welcoming toward the other.


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“East-West” (The Butterfield Blues Band)

From the liner notes: “‘We’re gonna get together and hate the notes.'” Difficult to know which ones. Attempted hybridization of musical “worlds” results in slurring, sitar-like guitar and feedback, while drums anticipate growth of Fusion. But droning bass ostinatos allow Bloomfield to glide on the foundation for the middle seven minutes, sliding evenly between multiple nodes. Still, the problem lies in hemispheric penetration and the production of worldliness. Kind assimilation, but (buried) glimpses of borderlessness.


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