Monday, November 2, 2009


with stick and stone this beat was forged
without a god man’s soul was born
and no biped could ever dispute
that nature functions without a mute

and we took our time
with these tools designed
to manipulate vibrating molecules
such genius from fools

I’m the first instrument
took my cue from the winged
and I can’t catch my breath
my gift is persistence
when talent is scarce

from imitation to patterned speech
we cultivated our morning shriek
by the midday skin, wire, wood and brass
could be employed for a gentle whisper
or violent clash
by the evening we stripped our fingers
and vocal cords
for tomorrow my muse
my bane
must be stored

and this is everyone
and this is everywhere, all shapes that we take
count it down
these waves will shake the air
until these drums break
shines light on our place in nature
cuts down these deity’s ladders
hell and back to resurrect my baby
sang my song and touched the hearts in Hades
this time I ain’t looking back

cut out my sex so we’re elevated
cut these piano legs so my hearing’s aided
stand up, stand tall on innovation's shoulders
yesterday’s tune will loop at dawn tomorrow
over and over

morning whistles spawned our symphonies
while wind coerced applause from the trees
same current that's hummed for centuries

50,000 years ago an understandably uncongenial ancestor of ours decided it would be fun to imitate the sounds of the birds that called to her/him from the trees. She/he was pretty good at this and, since it was fun and sounded good, it caught on. Thus music was born. Of course, no one knows that this happened for sure. Or rather, how it happened. It's just a pretty good theory. As a singer (or a close approximation of) I'm quite partial to it. It also could have started when some bored ancestor of ours absently beat on a rock with the stick she/he had been picking their feet with. For reasons of ego and artistic license I have adopted the voice theory over the rock theory for this song.

Regardless of how music was born, the place of its origin is fairly certain - music began in Africa....the same place where humans began. Why did it happen? I have no idea. Maybe we just like the sound. Perhaps we are innately musical. It was with us long before we began writing things down, and subsequently its complexity, as well as the tools we use to create it, have evolved with us. At first music was produced internally, with the musician's body as the only instrument. After a while we began incorporating different external tools, inventing and altering them as our tastes expanded. We beat sticks against rocks, carved wood into flutes, stretched the guts and skins of animals, and shaped metals in order to make different, more challenging music. Not only did we figure out that we could manipulate sounds with our body, we figured out how to manipulate objects in our environment in order to make structured noise. We are built to do this. And we are built to enjoy it. Most importantly though, we are built to share it. Like the tools that become an extension of the art within us, so becomes the actual art as it extends to those listening. Music, like all sound, penetrates and interacts with the listener, regardless of whether or not they are paying for a ticket or calling the cops to complain about a neighbor's party. Hearing is a physical reaction. Sound waves vibrate our eardrums, causing chemical and electrical reactions in our brains, all of which leads to physical and emotional responses. We either tap our feet and bob our heads, maybe just awkwardly mouth the words we don't know, or we tense up our muscles, screw up our faces and ask, "Who put this shit on?"

In so many ways we are made for song, and entire genres are based around our sheer physical capacity. The opera singer requires a hyoid bone, a flexible diaphragm, and healthy vocal cords. A broad chest cavity doesn't hurt - all the more room for the sound to reverberate from. (Don't take it as a fact, but the way I see it, opera and gospel are the only current genres that encourage a female artist to be heavy). Through trial, error and rigorous practice we have turned the art of singing into a science. When you do it right there are no problems....when you do it wrong you get nodes and cysts on your vocal cords and a very short career. But we keep doing it because we love it. And for this love there have been casualties. A million voices lost. A million ears deafened. Carpal tunnel syndrome all over the place. And a million artists ripped off or exploited. At one point young boys were volunteering to have their balls cut off so they could sing higher. (A great number of these boys had castration forced on them, but that doesn't work too well with my argument so we'll just forget I brought it up.) Singers, drummers, guitarists have been fucking up their bodies for years just to experience the joy of playing. That kind of drive can't be forced.

My lack of musical ability, combined with my love of music is what led me to join a punk band. There were other factors too, but mainly it was my shittiness as a singer that got me this gig. The thing that drew me to most of the bands I listened to as a teenager was the fact they made it seem like anyone could do what they were doing. The Ramones weren't technically proficient. Ian Mackaye's voice wasn't beautiful. What made those bands good, however, was their style and their passion. In my mind, blitzkrieg bop, in all of its simplistic glory, was far more urgent and compelling than anything I was hearing on the radio. And if those four pasty creeps could do it, than so could this one. In punk rock, talent is eclipsed by passion. And while it may be true that this is nothing more than an arena for the tone deaf, lazy and undisciplined, it serves to illustrate that music is more than just a form of entertainment within our species - it's a compulsion. One so intense that even when we lack the ability, we still find a way to sing and to play.

Our physical capability, and our drive to stretch beyond our limits, is matched by our technological capability. Considering the great number of musical styles and genres that have been built around technological innovations our capacity for invention is staggering. Rock N Roll wouldn't exist without the electric guitar. Hip hop was born when some guys in New York realized that the turntable (a tool that had been exclusively used for playing other peoples music) could be transformed into an instrument.* Countless musical subgenres grew out of the vast array of sounds provided by foot pedals, noise gates and computer programs. It blows my mind to think that this varied pile of shit and genius came from one forgotten and seemingly insignificant human doing her/his best impression of a bird before anyone even knew how to write. We went from one method and one genre to thousands of methods and thousands of genres. We went from a dude doing a bird impersonation to Beethoven, Chuck Berry, The Clash, RUN DMC and Wolf Eyes. We went from having only one Friday night show to having a show almost every hour of every day. More songs exist on the average person's portable music player than a human could ever dream of producing. Last time I checked the player on my computer had something like a week of continuous music.

Like the cave paintings that they served as the soundtrack for, these idiotic and brilliant songs have haunted the imagination of our species for centuries. There is no culture on the planet that is devoid of music. Working with a limited number of notes, every culture in the world has produced music unique to its people. It showcases our differences, and in doing so highlights our similarities. It is the sound of our story as a species. And while differences in taste may divide us on small levels, a natural byproduct of music is unity. From a song's inception it is meant to be heard, the musician may have given it life, but it is through an audience that it breathes. In most cases musical pieces require many different hands, if not to create it, then to perform it. Without the other members of Hostage Life COTU would be an acappella release. In order for the album to exist, the five of us had to work together. Unity within the medium is not just an aesthetic pursuit, it is a necessity.** Great music often arises out of conflict - think of all the great songwriting teams of the last century and the legendary battles over artistic direction that most of them endured. But those arguments, those struggles took place because the artists involved were drawn together to create. It is an art form that binds us together even when we disagree. And we can't agree on all of it. Why would we want to? Most, if not all of us, have tried to educate some wiener at a party about the merits of a certain composition that made us feel complete as a human being. Or we have tried to convince a similar wiener that their favourite 'tune' was trite, contrived and boring to the point of being insulting. Both times, we have had completely engrossing and fulfilling moments, because one of the great things about taste as it relates to music is that we get to be fucking nerds about it. We get to defend it and attack it. And most importantly share it. And we'll continue to do so because it is in our blood. It is one of the many things that make us what we are. To limit it and try to silence it would be a crime.

Carrying on with this theme of music as a force that unites, we enlisted the talents of our buddy Paul for a second drum track for this song, as well as the talents of his band mate Chris to do some singing. Both did a great job and helped to make this song one of my faves on the album. Go buy their band’s new 7 inch.

Below is a clip of Alessandro Moreschi, The Last Castrato***, singing Ave Maria. Witness the creepiness:


* Debate about the invention of turntablism rages on in some circles. I’m no expert on the subject and admit that this information may be incorrect.
**Sure the typical band model can be subverted by technology, but this does not take away from my point.
***The last singer to literally have his balls removed in order to fashion a musical career.

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