Author Topic: DEMONS DANCE ALONE (Project of the Week for the 11th of September)  (Read 154 times)

moleshow

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DEMONS DANCE ALONE (Project of the Week for the 11th of September)
« on: September 11, 2017, 10:41:09 am »
and so it begins once more.

to get us back in the swing of things, here is an introduction from CH for DDA.

Quote
Demons Dance Alone is a 2002 concept album by The Residents about the emotional effects of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The album is a tryptich, "Loss", "Denial", and "The Three Metaphors". Preceding the tryptic is "Tongue", interspersed are tracks without titles. In a tryptich, the central panel is, generally, the largest. The "Tongue" of flame is symbolic in Christian Iconography of the deity as spiritual inspiration.

Demons Dance Alone is a 2002 concept album by The Residents about the emotional effects of the 11th of September, 2001 attacks. For some Americans, even that subtle shift to European Style date notation is an affront.

It is sixteen years since the events. America seems to have found no language that describes anything other than the raw emotional impact of what happened. Anybody seeking to explain without howling becomes demonised. Stockhausen is a case study.

'What has happened is - now you all have to turn your brains around - the greatest work of art there has ever been. That minds could achieve something in one act, which we in music cannot even dream of, that people rehearse like crazy for ten years, totally fanatically for one concert, and then die. This is the greatest possible work of art in the entire cosmos. Imagine what happened there. There are people who are so concentrated on one performance, and then 5000 people are chased into the Afterlife, in one moment. This I could not do. Compared to this, we are nothing as composers... Imagine this, that I could create a work of art now and you all were not only surprised, but you would fall down immediately, you would be dead and you would be reborn, because it is simply too insane. Some artists also try to cross the boundaries of what could ever be possible or imagined, to wake us up, to open another world for us.'
(Karlheinz Stockhausen, Hamburg, 16 September 2001).


".... The journalist in Hamburg completely ripped my statements out of a context, which he had not recorded in its entirety, to use it as a vile attack against my person and the Hamburg Music Festival.
This whole situation is regrettable and I am deeply sorry if my remarks were misconstrued to offend the grieving families of the brutal terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. I will continue to keep the victims of this outrage in my prayers." (Karlheinz Stockhausen, September 19, 2001)

Stockhausen was pilloried and translations of his words do not communicate exactly what he said. Hunting down different translations serves to illuminate how different the world has become since Stockhausen felt able to juggle metaphors. Like the three ball cascade, the three metaphor conversation seems to be unfashionable.

Which makes any interpretation of Demons Dance Alone almost impossible for an American Audience. The next President of the USA will be elected by people who were not born. Their lives will have been lived in the twin shadows of Denial and Loss. There will never be a time when they were not living in the tryptich. Every single sound, picture and word from that day has become a metaphor and the Electors will be fed those metaphors in return for votes.

The Residents have provided a wunderkammer of emotion in Demons Dance Alone. It is not selling or persuading or demanding or even proposing anything.

When Bob was asked whether he held his tongue because he was a fool or for want of words, he replied "A fool cannot hold his tongue". (Plutarch A.D.46 - A.D.c.120)

The Residents are not foolish. A wonderkammer of emotion has far more resilience and value to the serious historian than any amount of demands for truth. As though truth were to be some commodity purchased by weight from the Verity Chandler and rushed home before the sell by date turns the words foul. The Residents hold more than their tongue. They hold a key to approaching the History of Emotional Experience.

Demons Dance Alone.

"I had hoped to fill my years with
 More than melancholy tears
 But the demon makes me dance alone."
« Last Edit: September 12, 2017, 07:17:00 am by moleshow »
"All our lives we love illusion, neatly caught between confusion and the need to know we are alive."

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TheSleeper

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I'll be honest - and this is probably part of The Residents' intent as well - the 9/11 attacks never really come into my mind when I put Demons Dance Alone on. It was clearly inspired by those events, but I feel like it could apply to any other major cause of grievance (not even necessarily a public event), and still hold the same strength to it. I find tracks like "Make Me Moo" and "Honey Bear" to be of a much wider relevance (case in point, I find the WoW version of "Honey Bear" to be even stronger in emotion).

But this is probably obvious enough to most people. That the September 11 event didn't directly inspire DDA but simply opened up an ocean of emotions that were simply waiting to be liberated and targeted at anything that was big enough. I've noticed that a lot of albums by other artists that were released around a year after 9/11 manage to release emotion in a similar way to DDA. Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Ween's GodWeenSatan: Live and Quebec, etc.

But personally that event has nothing to do with my relationship with DDA. It's not my favorite track from the album, but "Make Me Moo" resonates with me with an intensity that probably shouldn't be usual. The innocent lyrics, the adorable yet worrysome melodies, its placement in the album, it's all very emotional to me. Even the fact that they never play it in the live show suggests just how heartfelt it is. They could never replicate the feeling in that live setting. The will to just give up. To live in a different world in which you don't have to deal with these things. These childish desires never truly leave us. None of the grievances and desires in these songs will ever cease to be part of us.

Hell... even the album artwork seems almost like a personal outrage. The image of a heart multiplied all over the canvas, the closed fists raining from the air, all the severely distorted portraits of the band members (my favorite is the one with the glasses and witch-like nose), I think visually it's the best Residents album.

I find it sad that it's so jarringly underrated. But it's like C.H. said, Americans don't understand why The Residents aren't trying to write another The Rising or why the singers aren't howling (even though Randy's scream at the end of "Neediness" is all the emotion you need). A shame, really. I feel like The Residents were aware of that.
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CheerfulHypocrite

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Erratum
« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2017, 07:15:48 pm »
The words "subtle ****" should actually read "subtle shift".  Apologies if that caused confusion.

I suspect it was because I was writing faster than I ought to. I suspect a lot of things between my brain and my fingertips. But this time I suspect there was some software seeing excrement where there was only a gear stick; or a capital letter.

I may have something more useful to say by t'end o' t'week.
Not altogether reliable for facts.

moleshow

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fixed that typo. thanks for pointing it out.
"All our lives we love illusion, neatly caught between confusion and the need to know we are alive."

CheerfulHypocrite

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Quote from: Robert Graves Goodbye To All That
"Since 1916, the fear of gas obsessed me: any unusual smell, even a sudden strong smell of flowers in a garden, was enough to send me trembling. And I could not face the sound of heavy shelling now. The noise of a car backfiring would send me flat on my face, or running for cover."


Nobody is genuinely honest about their life. Autobiography is the most polite lie. This is not an attempt to deprive Graves of a legitimate acknowledgement of his experiences in The Great War. Graves knew it as The Great War, since the Second World War had not happened and reformulated his life in service of History. Graves created an extensive mythographic body of work. In the final decade of his life, his memory was dissipating:


He spoke confidently and with conviction about his experiences with increasingly vast gaps in what he could say. Graves approached silence from tragedy over a lifetime by simply going on living. It was an aphasia of living.

Graves saw that War as being the change in Wars. In Good Bye To All That he began to speak of War as the accumulation of atrocities. He was not the last. For many people, of a certain age and a certain place of birth the stammering of Derek Jacobi delivering the words of Claudius were an introduction to Graves. It was a production that was rumoured to be cursed with multiple deaths in the real world. Graves was, it seems, stalked by an unsatisfied Death.

Graves had been declared dead. His lung and thigh and head injured from ordnance. His family had been told of his demise and it was only later they read in the Press that he was alive. Death was left unsatisfied by this, it seems, and stalked him until his dying day. He spent his days writing. Influencing the course of Modernism and generally not being given a Nobel Prize because Ezra Pound was alive. Of the sixteen War Poets commemorated on a slate stone on 11th November 1985, Graves was the only one living. On 7th December 1985, there were no War Poets left. Just a plaque which reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."

As a biography of Graves, Demons Dance Alone is thoroughly unreliable. While there are marvellously accurate references to Cows in Make Me Moo, for example, there seems little reference to real or metaphoric terror. Then, perhaps, all the songs unfold into the half formed cries of Demons, all dancing. Which, in Classical and Ancient Greece, was always a moment where the Deities would do something that compromised the mortal.

In Norse Mythology, Authumbla was a primeval cow:

Quote from: Snorri Sturluson Prose Edda
Then said Gangleri: "Where dwelt Ymir, or wherein did he find sustenance?"

Hárr answered: "Straightway after the rime dripped, there sprang from it the cow called Authumbla; four streams of milk ran from her udders, and she nourished Ymir."

Then asked Gangleri: "Wherewithal was the cow nourished?"

Harr made answer:
"She licked the ice-blocks, which were salty;
and the first day that she licked the blocks, there came forth from the blocks in the evening a man's hair;
the second day, a man's head;
the third day the whole man was there.
He is named Búri.

Demons Dance Alone is a parade of demons, all howling without really saying why. They are supernatural beings and owe nobody an explanation. Why would they: when explanations are given there is nothing but discord. Why would the Residents ask more of a demon than a dance. The danger, in summoning demons, is that you ask too much and they do deliver. They are the Cows of Pandemonium.

Like Robert Graves who seemed to be stalked by Death bearing a grudge - and unable to collect on the deal - until almost fifty wars later. The world becoming more and more capable of delivering corpses to Death as a mass production. Death, it seems has lost the nerve to simply swing the scythe:

Quote from: Ghost Child
She was neglected
But no one expected
She'd hold her breath for
Ever and ever

But not able to cull a single poet. Which is where the world changed - some time between the glorious wars of "History" and the vile atrocities of the present day. Which returns to a theme of Pandora's Box that recurs in the work of the Residents: the horrors are released and Hope is always, somehow, imprisoned. Perhaps to dance alone. Imagine a world in which Hope is not the cause of seeking a future which is desirable but simply opium tea to allow the amnesiac passage from Wartime to Poets' Corner without too much trouble. That World might find more in the dancing of demons than in the platitudes of words.

Which is where Demons Dance Alone invariably leaves me: contemplating why the howling emotions of one set of people is heard while that of another is silence. As though sound, itself, had become a Pandora's Box into which we lock the hopes of everyone but ourselves. It is not some kind of diatribe against America but against all those who would not listen to someone else. Who reduce the entire world to watching the demon dance.

Quote from: Make Me Moo
Why can't I
be a cow
Anyhow

Cows
never
cry

Which is where I always seem to end up with Demons Dance Alone. It is not there attempting to tell you what to think about the world. It is telling you to feel. Which could be, if feelings are genuine, far more difficult. Stoppering Pandora's vessel could be far harder and far more devastating when the Box is filled with emotions. The only emotion captured might not be related to Hope at all. It might be a demon.
Not altogether reliable for facts.
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moleshow

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since DDA was my entry point into the RZ (around this time of year, 2 years ago), it is really, really special to me. it does this cool thing where it just makes me cry like a baby. the track that made it all start to click into place was The Car Thief. it was the live version- the slow sadness in Molly's movements with that mask grabbed me by the heart and threw me face first into the pavement. my entry track, though, was Baja. that one took 2 tries over 2 years and man... it weirded me out. red demon man (why is he red? and naked?), holding an eyeball with a top hat (why an eyeball? why the hat? why is it bleeding?), on a background of fists (???). but that confusion drew me right on in.

while i am not fully capable of understanding a pre-9/11 world (since i was mostly preoccupied with eating and sleeping at that time), the album still manages to strike a chord with me. the feeling of disconnected sorrow runs through every track, manifesting in a different form for Loss, Denial and The Three Metaphors.

Loss

all the tracks on this section are marked with a dreamy pessimism, a hazy sense of futility. which is fitting for loss as a concept.

Mr. Wonderful is all about "if"s. he does not actually think that there is any hope for his life to get any better, despite how little he expects. his life is at a dead end, but his disappointment is curbed by the fantasy of a life that would be, in his eyes, wonderful.

The Weatherman is more directly pessimistic, with a slow-ish beat, strange guitar, and violin that sounds almost as if it is crying. it sticks out to me as a sign to the listener that, no, none of the album will be directly about 9/11 itself, but about the feelings that came from it.  this track calls to mind Inner Space from Animal Lover which, considering the circumstances under which these albums were made, sort of makes sense. the lyrics here seem more helplessly tragic, though. the two share the common point of referencing specific imagery.

Quote
You're always calling me, but I'm never needed. I'm needy, I'm needy, I'm needing a new home.

Ghost Child strikes me as being a part of a 3-part story, told in reverse. it is the end of the tale told with it, Mickey Macaroni and Make Me Moo. the interpretation feels grim, but fitting, to see this track as being told by a child trying to navigate the afterlife, unable to move on. there is something that has happened to her that she cannot move on from. (the fact that the child is referred to as 'she' seems irrelevant to the 3-part story, since i am more focused on the position taken up, and that position is simply 'child'.) the child is in a purgatory of sorts, and since no harm can be done in it, no healing can occur either. it is purgatory, it is nothingness and the lived experience of it and its inescapable nature. it made me very sad when i realized that when the Singing RZ's voice is saying "She'd hold her breath for ever and ever", the child is saying "I'd hold my breath for ever and ever". that disconnection and helplessness is simply tragic. the observer and the victim are incapable of interacting- though i wonder who is who.

Caring is moody, but OH SO CATCHY. it, like The Weatherman, calls to mind a track from AL, Mother No More. the story in this one is really... i dunno, weird. this shows up in other tracks on the album, where the story is sort of unclear but the feeling is definitely there. this is a song about betrayal and preoccupation. the narrator tells that story, and tells us that those two aspects lead to an inevitable withdrawal into nothing. things became "too much", maybe.

Honey Bear, in all its forms (specifically the WoW version), is heartwrenching. right from the start.

Quote
Tell... me... why... I... am... so... scared?

AAAAAUGH. that one just stings. it's like they cranked up the dismal outlook of Mr. Wonderful to 11. the need to be loved, to be worth something again is powerful on this track. the narrator- he was someone, and he has experienced Loss with such clarity that it seems to have wrecked him. everything around him needs to be fixed or rebuilt in some way, but his fear of staying where he is and never being someone who is loved withholds him from moving on. he will take anything he can get.

Quote
Now I wait for you to gag and grease me. Now I hope you'll hold me by the hair.

The Car Thief. where do i even begin on this one. the narrator (who, at this point, i will just call Ms. Wonderful), has experienced Loss in her own way. it seems that she has escaped a physically abusive relationship and experienced the loss of that individual who had hoped to render her passive and weak, but through her anger seems to have found relief from this in destruction. the burning car being compared to a shooting star is a particularly interesting image. setting it aflame contained her wish. she is refusing to carry the burden of her pain any longer. she may be bitter, but she knows she is not in the wrong.

Neediness brings us the first mention of the Demon, though it is present throughout the whole album. Mr. Wonderful, here, had made the strange choice to attempt to embrace and befriend the complicated being that is the Demon. staying in the cycle of grief and all it entails is not a good thing, but he believes that the Demon can be brought to the light and change, while never having to leave! for its own good, at that. in reality, he is begging the issue that got him in his current position to help him to not have to leave it. the cycle has become so familiar that he cannot imagine leaving it. he triggers his own Loss- by convincing himself that the Demon (which he believes can be known and can feel, act, and think as a person would) is leaving him.

i hear the singing at the end in two ways- "We need someone who needs someone," and "It's all gone wrong and it's all gone". the latter is probably correct, but it makes for interesting interpretations.

Quote
We all need someone who needs us.

that phrase, after the pained yelling of Mr. Wonderful sums up the issues in Loss pretty nicely. for some, that someone is a specific person. for others, it's anyone. or, it could be the world as a whole.

Denial

the track that opens this section, Thundering Skies captures the idea of this section really nicely: let's ignore the fact that we have crossed the rubicon- the present and past are a confusing mess of events that we cannot help but look away from! nothing could possibly get worse, no.

Mickey Macaroni is the 2nd part of the story of the Child. at this point, the Child is clearly unaware of the severity of their situation. soon, the Child will go home and learn all that was unknown before. the Child expresses an angry innocence- Denial- about anything going on around them. they want whatever will call to mind a sense of familiarity and safety before they have to go "home".

Betty's Body is weirdly voyeuristic. Mr. Wonderful clearly longs for Betty, but Loss haunts him. he longs more deeply for Mother. his experience of Denial is that he does not face the fact that he misses her deeply, and he denies himself the possibility of Betty reciprocating his feelings- he cannot even imagine such a thing. he is more than shy, he's lonely. Betty reminds him of these feelings. so, he could never be her lover, or so he thinks.

My Brother Paul is, in my eyes, one of the most mainstream-sounding RZ tracks. ever. it has that vague storyline aspect that Caring has. they both seem to detail an experience of betrayal, but through different lenses. in this case, Mr. Wonderful experiences Denial by refusing to acknowledge the fact that, as far as i can tell, his brother was killed by someone he trusted, for that person's (possibly financial) gain. and he is being forced to accept that he has been betrayed.

Baja is silly skeleton island music and it threw me for a loop when i first heard it because i couldn't tap my foot to it. 10/10


The Three Metaphors

one would logically wonder where Anger, Bargaining and Depression lie in this album? well, here, i assume. they're all out of order and they all contain traces of each other.

The Beekeeper's Daughter would appear to have the withdrawn appearance of Depression. Ms. Wonderful focuses on the event that has made her so, so upset- a situation that she seemed to have been powerless in. the background has a chorus singing "Run, Daddy, run"- this sounds to me like her internal monologue as she reflects on it and possibly even relives it to no end. she experiences Anger here by trying to shut out others and bargaining by telling of how her father escaped his situation with a song- not something that seems realistic.

Quote
Leave me alone, I'm on the phone. I wish you'd only leave me alone.

she is not looking to work through what has happened. she wants only to be left alone to experience it in her mind in the hopes that she would be able to relieve herself of her sorrow.

Wolverines is a little bit more vague in nature, but still seems like it could be Anger. the description of children having their fingers bitten by seemingly harmless wolverine puppies evokes images of Anger, for sure. the adult animals trying to protect their young and failing due to those vulnerable members crying out invokes psychological imagery of attempts to protect the wounded self. but the wounded self, too, is not powerless or harmless. But to cause harm to either of those is not justified. through Anger, it may seem so. thus, Mr. Wonderful begs for forgiveness- placing the blame on something or someone else- the feeling, and by association- the Demon. and he experiences Bargaining through this. the experience of Depression is sung by the chorus:

Quote
No one succeeds if they scatter their seeds where the wind and the weeds are pleased.

there is no hope, apparently, for the wolverines. they have done just that- but so have the out of towners with their children.

Make Me Moo- here lies the beginning of the story of the Child, for us. something has occurred and the Child is now trying to find a way out of the hurt. that attempt, through wanting to be a cow, is the Child's experience of Bargaining.  the Anger and Depression are harder to trace on this track- though the former could hypothetically be found in the demanding tone of the chorus of the track and the latter can be found here:

Quote
My heart was broken, broken. Cows are so open, open.

it seems as if things only get worse from here on out for the Child.

Tongue

of course i would not neglect to mention Tongue. the story has a cyclical nature- similar to the cycle of grief. the same wound continues to be opened, allowed to heal, and reopened again. Tongue attracts people that, in the end, seem to be destroyed by his presence. despite this, he falls in love over and over, to the point where he does not know what to do. he is powerless in the face of the Demon- both his ability to attract and the inevitable death of those who he draws in.


Demons Dance Alone

this final track fits comfortably as an end to Neediness- the perception of the Demon as harmless, kind, almost sweet causing a painful, humiliating downfall. grief does not just leave if you play nice and treat it as a momentary experience- it seeps into every nook and cranny. and through isolation and confusion, it overstays its welcome. Mr. Wonderful tells of the hopelessness of his situation. in ignoring the truth of who and what the Demon is, it laid claim to his life. and so he dances alone.

"All our lives we love illusion, neatly caught between confusion and the need to know we are alive."

moleshow

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i lent the album to someone and she made some really interesting points about it. she said that she interpreted Make Me Moo as being spoken by the Elemental Cow, and that to have a child singing for that role made an interesting statement in terms of how we tend to view creators or powerful beings. we tend to see them as wise, old men. she noted that this is visible, for example, in Renaissance paintings of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. they gave the child an adult's face. this was to communicate his knowledge, his holiness- even as a baby, he is wise. but to have the Elemental Cow be a child makes the creation of the world and the happenings within it inherently innocent. characterizing ultimate creation, the all-powerful as innocent also makes a statement about art. children create art removed from expectation, ideas of what makes art good or bad- those sorts of things. they make art wholly true to themselves.

so i thought that was cool.
"All our lives we love illusion, neatly caught between confusion and the need to know we are alive."