Author Topic: DISFIGURED NIGHT (Project of the Week for 1st of May)  (Read 135 times)


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DISFIGURED NIGHT (Project of the Week for 1st of May)
« on: May 01, 2017, 09:20:04 am »
Silly Billy bought his breakfast from a fat old man...

this was actually going to be the PotW a couple of weeks back but sometimes stuff doesn't work out perfectly.
"All our lives we love illusion, neatly caught between confusion and the need to know we are alive."

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Quote from: Disfigured Night
Devastated by the shock of feeling death and pain,
Billy began to understand what he had lost and gained;

Like an oblique quotation from God In Three Persons Silly Billy wanders around the world feeling what others feel. A catharsis incarnate. Silly Billy was, in the history of clowning, a stooge. Unlike Tweedles, Silly Billy was not so much stalking the experiences of others as surviving their passage.

The historical costume of Silly Billy were short, white trousers with a long white pinafore, white shoes with a strap around the ankle, red sleeves, a ruff around the neck, and a boy's cap. A wig was arranged to stick out behind the ears. Daubed red face emphasised with two smeared black eyebrows. Performances required multiple of trousers. Women liked to tease the clown by smearing gingerbread or sticking pins into his legs so that they bled staining the trousers.

Sometimes, something is just a sketch. Which is not a bad thing - it gives an idea of the Residents as something other than Musicians. Disfigured Night is something like the Fever Dream of Roger in The Bunny Boy. A pared down and almost archetypal heroic figure having a small adventure. The detail of the storytelling is almost absent. A narrative that sits on top of a gush of noises and a splash of images.

In London Labour And The London Poor, Henry Mayhew (1812 -1887) described some of the songs a Silly Billy might sing.

Quote from: Silly Billy
he, higgety ey ho!
Billy let the water go!

A couplet about letting water out of a water butt.

Quote from: Silly BIlly
Ain't this wet! Ain't it dry!
Cut my throat if I tells a lie.

A couplet about the lapidiary arts of the Cutler and the Cobbler - both trades given to working with knives. The Silly Billy Character was good for decades of work. Associated with such songs as Clementina Clements

Quote from: Silly Billy
You talk of modest girls
     Now I've seen a few,
But there's none licks the one
     I'm sticking up to.
But some of her faults
    Would make some chaps ill;
But with all her faults,
   Yes, I lover her still.
Such a delicate duck was Clementina Clements;
Such a delicate duck I never did see.

The story meanders on, telling how Clementina faints at the sight of a Dutch Doll with no clothes on, that she does not like table legs - shocking things, some Victorians believed - and would not walk over a potato field because they have eyes. Which is all very close to the experiences of Disfigured Nights

Even closer to the Disfigured Nights experience is the Clown and Silly Billy Mesmerism Act. Clown arrives in a tall white hat, with a cloack on and announces he is the the Great Doctor Bokani - the most celebrated mesmerist in the world.

Quote from: Doctor Bokani
Look at me
Here I am
Ain't I mesmerised elephants?
Ain't I mesmerised monkeys?
And Ain't I going to mesmerise him!

And there then follows the business of Silly Billy taking on the feelings of the Audience in various ways. Doctor Bokani manipulating Silly Billy for giggles and innuendo and to keep the Audience in high spirits. Much of the time is taken in having Silly Billy flirting.

Which is where Disfigured Night seems to be performed for the international audience in Koln. It is not a studio work. It is a sketch. One filled with ideas that are mixed together as though improvised. There are hints of The King And Eye and Tweedles and even premonitions of Animal Lover but none of them are so fully developed that they slpt together like a jigsaw.

Silly Billy undergoes a journey with the Monkey in search of the Girl. This is a Hero Quest and is structured the same way as, for example, Gilgamesh. Unlike the classic Hero Quest story, Silly Billy encounters the mundane and discovers that, everywhere they go, the mundane is pain. The endless, uncontrolled purging of the World into one person. No longer a cathartic experience, Silly Billy has become an anode: endlessly storing the fantasies and the life stories of people. An endless, overwhelming river of humanity - almost A River of Crime in microcosm.

The Journey with a sick monkey gradually changes Silly Billy; much like the examination of the life of New York Clown David Friedman - known as Silly Billy - who, in his late 30s, was earning six figure sums performing at the birthday parties of the New York elite. The constant examination of the world becoming a burden to Silly Billy with the truths of the world increasingly hard to bear. The real world scandal surrounding Friedman followed, long after, Disfigured Night but the coincidence shows the value of sketching: Tweedles followed as though Disfigured Night was a premonition.

Which, inevitably leads to the apotheosis: the transformation from Silly Billy into the Golden Girl and the horrifying realisation that the one legged woman has simply been reproduced by the Hero Journey: nothing has changed as everything is, in essence, become a death and resurrection show.

Which makes the strange version of We Are The World a strange commentary on the morality of music. As a charity single, the original song was described as being a Pepsi advertisement by Journalist Greil Marcus. Placed against the first four parts of Disfigured Night it becomes a complex narrative around the ethical nature of the Music Industry: endlessly recycling the pornography of suffering for unit sales; the privileges of musicians such as Michael Jackson - whose connection to both We Are The World and monkeys is well documented; the insinuation of racism.

It is a sketch and so the narrative does not flesh out a complicated and finely tuned narrative about race. But the use of the word monkey as a term of racist abuse cannot have been lost. Silly Billy endlessly keeps the song of the Golden Girl as a background to the journey. Until it eventually vanishes. Whereupon, Silly Billy transforms into a one legged girl. Not simply reproducing the possibilty of some new Girl-Monkey relationship but also the perpetuation of the same sort of sneering about monkeys. But it is a sketch which puts claims of that sort beyond the definite.

Yet the parallels between Michael Jackson and Disfigured Night allow the kind of reflection that comes out of that. Unlike the original We Are The World  the Disfigured Night version has arisen from actual suffering: the journey with the Monkey, when taken allegorically, outlines that Silly Billy will be transformed by racism just as much as the Monkey will be killed. It is a thuggish allegory but one that makes a perverse kind of sense. A disfigured sense.

The total story begins in bliss - unlike most music careers which begin in relative poverty - and ends in pain - unlike the 'successful' who become enriched as Croesus. The version of We Are The World is an artistic mirror held up to any Musicians who would want to contemplate their place in the world. It inverts the supposition of a desirable course of a music career and foreshadows the real suffering that We Are The World omitted by its overproduced and oversentimentalised presentation to the world.

Which is why the Residents are not musicians but Artists. Musicians, for all their creativity and talent, very rarely criticise themselves. They make astounding music but suffer from a need to "Please check your egos at the door.". Which the Residents seem to achieve by creation in obscurity. The sounds for Disfigured Night are not the greatest music in the world; falling far short of things such as Black Barry or even Stars and Hank, Forever. But the music sketches something bigger. Packing the possibility of a critique of racism and a hero journey into something that was created, it seems, as a performance before moving onwards, is an ambitious - like Giotto drawing a circle with a single sweep of the hand.

Which is why the music of Disfigured Night takes a secondary place to the images created by Steven Cerio. In a serendipitous turn, Cerio, a musician and artist, was raised in Liverpool, New York and so allows oblique reference to the ongoing Residents-Beatles narrative. Disfigured Night illustrates how it is possible to be discontent with the accidents of something while caring for the substances. The core of Disfigured Night is the imbalance between what can be seen and what must be experienced. Much the same as racism, Silly Billy cannot experience being The Monkey not through lack of empathy but because individuality and a sense of identity prevents it for everybody. In essence: Silly Billy experiences the Satrean Hell that is other people directly and comes to a state of empathy bordering on identity without actually being other people.

Which all suggests that Silly Billy might actually be Autistic - unable to cope with the barrage of stimulation that is social existence and unable to concieve of other minds - yet having a final insight into The Golden Girl which, in fact, transcends that of ordinary people. In the sense of some Buddhist teachings, Silly Billy manages to still the mad monkey. Unlike the real world where We Are The World sought to point at suffering yet entertains, Disfigured Night, in a strange and perverse way, points away from suffering yet fails to distract.

Such is the power of the sketch.
Not altogether reliable for facts.
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i recall first stumbling upon Disfigured Night and feeling utterly overwhelmed at how much of it i loved (all of it).

it's really got everything: clowny costumes, a protagonist with an involuntary hyper-empathetic sort of ability, a shocking story and of course, The Residents.

i don't really have much to say in terms of interpreting the story, because it sorta comes at face value for me. Silly Billy learns to care for the Monkey and through that caring, he finds himself on a slippery slope of caring about all the pain the he used to see and feel so differently. the pain that flowed so easily and comfortably though him stuck to him as he lost what little he had. and of course, from this, he finds a way out and has a revelation- that he can care for others without being hurt or something like that.

but there's a liveliness to Molly's mostly wordless performance. she makes excellent use of body language! plus the costume is super cute and i love the little freckle thingies on her face and the white gloves. Singing Resident, as the monkey, seems to frame Silly Billy's motions throughout a majority of the performance. he may be telling the story, but it is by no means about him. the story of Silly Billy is merely brought to us through him, just as the most horrific experiences of others are only visible to us through Silly Billy. (bit of a reach.)

i feel like a piece of the story is also made clearer through the Icky Flix rendition of We Are The World, Just For You. the lyrics become joyously spiteful and selfish. it's a sarcastic reflection of the original song, and an expansion of the first rendition of it by them. where the "me"'s of "you and me" are repeated, the basis for Just For You are laid. the seemingly charitable behavior proves itself to be, in actuality, deeply motivated by a desire to seem generous when in reality, they are being done by someone who recognizes their own selfishness, their own greed, their own... horrible-ness, really.  one little bit of the song that always struck a chord with me is...

But if my words of wisdom fall underneath your ears, I'll try to find forgiveness in me, just for you.

i don't think it's a song about Silly Billy, nor is it about the monkey. instead, i think it is pointing out the improbability of Billy's journey ending in any sort of care without ulterior motives. it is only possible for Silly Billy due to the fact that he is defined, until the point where the monkey changes him, by his lack of suffering. he experiences the suffering of others without understanding it, and believes that by experiencing it, he frees them from it. his contact with others is so fleeting that he cannot possibly come to understand or care. and when he does, he is stripped of that joyous innocence. but he returns from it, still having a warmth to his soul. and that just ain't likely in many other cases. a pleasant thought, sure. but Just For You is harsher, more realistic outcome.

still, Disfigured Night has a dreamy quality to it and i can get behind that. a favorite for sure.
"All our lives we love illusion, neatly caught between confusion and the need to know we are alive."