“Hey Hey Guy” (Ken Laszlo)

Primo Italo disco from 1984, and easily mistaken for an early Pet Shop Boys trax, unless you are listening to the long version with the spoken word introduction and interlude. The scenario involves gay “love for hire,” arranged over the telephone, with a whiff of both the anonymous and “dangerous.” One suspects that none of those involved here—Laszlo, Marco Torre, and Gianni Corianni—is proficient in English, but this can’t explain why the phone conversation sounds like two spies using secret code. Neither side seems to be responding to the other: “Oh dear, you have a phone,” says the rent boy (which is truly odd since he seems to be making the call). The French trick replies, “Yeah, hey guy, tell me about your menicure” (some neologism for a male manicure, and trimming what exactly?). You won’t get your answer here. And on and on, the oblique non-sequiturs never stop: “It is the true.” “Don’t fool out, it’s dangerous.” “Everything is same as all.” If you don’t understand this conversation—it’s hinting tone without clear referents–then perhaps you don’t belong. Delinking from the realm of the straight and straightforward.

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“Brotherhood of Man” (Robert Morse/Company)

From How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: there already is a club where membership is a foregone conclusion (you’re always already “in,” and it’s “free”), and where everyone is in the space of endlessly “giving” toward the other. It’s called corporate fratriarchy. So, brother, you are “in” (right here, where the theatrical “company,” in choral moments, meets the wicket company).


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“That’s Me” (Theo Beckford)

One can easily conjure the scene. It involves one of the inventors of the ska rhythm—the man whom Skatalite Tommy McCook called “Skavoovie”—a pianist who hasn’t been paid for his last record date and subsequently confronts his producer and draws a line in the studio’s dirt floor. “That’s me,” on this side, and “that’s you,” on the other. We’re not the same, and therefore you owe me: “I want my money” and, when you’re ready, “call me about it.” One might call this trax crass and materialistic (and perhaps it’s no more than a studio afterthought, since it ended up as a b-side), but there’s also something about this crude form of spacing that cannot be wished away. If we could replace “me” and “you” with just “us” or “one,” we might be able to eliminate the daily dilemmas of communication, obligation, and economy. But “we” remain differently-related: even as “I” try to indebt “you,” “I” remain fatally dependent upon “you” to hear my call. Our mortal differences, no matter how slight they seem, are not expungeable, and even when “me” and “you” converts to “I and I” a decade later in rasta-talk, attempting a drastic and equalitarian pronominal reduction, each speaker still necessarily leaves some space open for the conjunction and the second iteration of “I.”


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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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“Killing an Arab” (The Cure)

Robert Smith says: a condensed moment from Camus. It works this way: singer is the political “stranger,” and the man at his feet is “Arab.” Singer “alive” and “dead” at same time, at a moment of decision which turns the whole world and decisionism itself into “absolutely nothing.” Eliminating the other decimates the self because, in the realm of identities, there are two (at least), or there are none at all.


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“Super You” (Boredoms)

“You” already exist in speed–alternately, in the moving-towards another–yet bi-partite structuring of the social (1st/3rd, white/non-white, etc.) slows everything down. Initial pulsing drones speed up and travel left-right via tape manipulation; then: power trio alternate major minor sustained riffs, only to be violently accelerated with all directions and sonic anchoring points confused. Final staccato section offers up an everyday, banal version of the “you” (which can only be constituted in by traveling through the spacing toward the other) that refuses the third parties that insure “justice.”


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“Magic” (Olivia Newton-John)

This trax fits well with Newton-John’s tradition of disarming. Elsewhere, it’s in confessions of love: “I’m not trying to make you anything at all.” Calls for action: “I wanna get animal, let’s get into animal.” Analyses of the other: “Now, you’re not hard to understand.” And in tacit condemnations of the head/heart divide—after each speaks in “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” listen for the vocal acting-out/mockery of affect. Here, with ELO’s minor-key undulations, we have an interlocking four-part argument concerning the future. With a properly imagined—hence provision(al)—future in mind, there must be a commitment to work. There’s no time to waste; “dreams” begin to exist with the thinking. The other is always “guiding you” and not the other way around. Finally, you are “home free” already, save for the traps and follies of manifest life. “You,” eventually, will be evacuated on nobody’s authority.


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“The Hungry Intruder” (The Small Faces)

Stan, who’s on a quest to discover the meaning of life (or, at least, the missing part of an evening’s half-moon), explores the outermost limits of hospitality. During his travels, a fly alights on his shepherd’s pie, and asks for a bite: without it, “I could die.” The fly is an “intruder,” and in his hungry haste has overstepped the boundary marking the limit of the stranger. And, of course, flies are often considered pests, as well as carriers of parasites, bacterial disease, and viruses. Stan might be tempted to swat it quick, since the meal may be tainted. But his rejoinder is surprisingly open to the other: “Take your fill, take nothing less.” (Mind you: the fly can’t have it all, because Stan needs to eat, too.) Stan’s reward is a flight on its back to visit Mad John, who may know the world’s secrets. But one already has been revealed: “living” alongside others involves taking your chances. A plague of flies is no fun, but worse would be an ecology without them.


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“Man-Size” (PJ Harvey)

“Man” and “lady” as unresolvable concepts, at war. To find one’s inner man would be to set fire to a girl-self “douse[d]” with “gasoline.” Man-ness calculates woman-ness out of existence, temporally and spatially. Extreme loud/soft dynamics mimic sheer masculine voluminousness. One size omits all (others).


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