Thursday, September 8, 2011

Venus Bogardus

Music and not religion is now opium for the masses. 

During today's dissertation we will cover the differing motivational factors between so called "punk rock music" in the United Kingdom and the United States. The political climate and the American state of mind is now closer to that of the U.K. in the mid- 1970's than ever before. That period of "England screaming" was the cultural fallout of a nation in a state of flux. And it most certainly left its mark on subsequent generations of American musicians. 

Punk rock in the U.K. was all piss and vinegar, the product of angry white youth who had no plans to accept the inevitable without kicking someone in the bullocks.  The Sex Pistols at first appearance were seemingly capable of unspeakable acts of depravity and violence. Johnny Rotten and company seemed willing to push the limits of propriety, even if they were destined (with the exception of Sid) for middle age conformity like the rest of us. At the other end of the spectrum, The Clash were a study in controlled anger, but unlike the Pistols, they directed their spite (and spit) into the music rather than onto the audience. 

Elvis Costello was and is a pissed off little prick, who got punched in the mouth by Bonnie Bramlett for calling Ray Charles a nigger. Thus learning the hard lesson of what most Americans view as socially unacceptable behavior. Eventually Costello and so many other musicians would use their anger like taunt barbed wire to maintain a buffer between themselves and music journalists.

This wasn't the case stateside, our punk rockers didn't seem to be mad at anyone. The Ramones were goofy, their songs were straight up looney tunes. The Heartbreakers were sloppy and if they were angry it was only because they had no more drugs. The other New York bands (Talking Heads, Blondie, Television) were so cool that they disdained anger or pretty much any kind of emotion. Intensity was not the American way, cool detachment was more our style. 

The second wave punk bands from SoCal (Black Flag, Bad Religion etc) tried so hard to capture that "I'm so fucking fed-up rage of British punk bands." They were reactionaries, their angry message was based on their belief that the status quo was eroding away. (which it was)  The hardcore Southland punks while preaching non-conformity wore their ideals & beliefs like a uniform. Southern California took up the banner of dissatisfaction and carried on with it long after it was no longer fashionable.

"Blueprint for an arthouse dance craze"

"But!... Professor... what the fuck does this have to do with Venus Bogardus?"  
"Put your hand down you inquisitive little bastard."... 
"The answer is simple... it has nothing and everything to do with them."...
"Venus Bogardus is the purgative impetus that will flush us free of complacency" 
"Now shut the fuck up! and let me continue." 

It's easy to get lazy without someone around to point out that we don't have much  going on here. Isn't that the driving force behind both marriage and music?, the need to get something going.  The music scenes in Albuquerque & Santa Fe (such as they are) have constantly renewed themselves through the influx of ideas and talent from outside the state. So, who better than a Brit and a Texan to set us straight when it comes to no wave, post punk music and literature. 

James Reich is a British ex-patriot..I apologize, he may well be a patriot, but for the moment he lives in Santa Fe. James along with Hannah Levbarg (who hails from Texas) have been together since 2002, they started up as Venus Bogardus ( 2005) in Bath, England. Beside being the name of a character in an Ann Bannon novel, Venus Bogardus is also an experimental collaboration between two acclaimed writers and musicians who are causing ripples of excitement across the small pond that is New Mexico.

"Minarets of the occupation - Lost journals of the destination"  

I could tell you that they sound like early Killing Joke or mid-period Killing Joke. I could even say that they remind me of The Velvet Undergroud, Wire, The Gang of Four or Sonic Youth. You, however won't really know until you listen for yourself.  Venus Bogardus revolves around James  (guitar & vocals) and Hannah (bass and vocals.) Luke Carr a native of Baltimore learned to play drums so he could join the band as did Annie Gardiner, their original drummer in the U.K. Drummer Obaro Evuarherhe came over with James & Hannah from England, but has since returned to continue his studies. David Wayne, a jazz drummer joined the band for a few shows this summer. For now, James & Hannah are planning to use a drum machine, which means, they'll never have to say goodbye to another drummer. 

The impending release of James's first novel "I, Judas" has drawn plenty of attention their way. We all have Judas in our genetic makeup, the betrayal, the remorse and the suicide. "I, Judas" seems to examine the thought process behind suicide, the final moments when a point is reached and there is no turning back. Having not yet read the book (I've ordered a copy from Amazon, you should do the same) I can't really say much more about it. 

Suicide is entrenched in our mindset, as James explained on Facebook: It's the American West ideology of  "saving the last bullet for yourself"  It's Ernest Hemingway having failed to drink himself to death, finally blowing his brains out. It's Hunter Thompson killing himself because all the drugs & debauchery in the world couldn't do it for him. It's Jim Jones blathering on with his sick twisted mumbo jumbo as the believers lined up to drink the potion. It's George Armstrong Custer standing atop a hill looking down on a swarm of men intent on putting his light out. It's the American way and it haunts us in every way possible. 

"Through the mist she gazed at the street, 86 floors below. Then she jumped." 

For "The End of Being" (a literary blog based in Albuquerque), James Reich recently wrote about the very public suicide of Evelyn McHale. A young New York woman, who dove off the Empire State building in 1947. Her fashionably attired body crushed a UN limo below, a scene that Robert Wiles photographed. The resulting photo was published in Life magazine, and Evelyn was forever immortalized in the throes of her final act of defiance.

As part of an ad campaign for Neiman Marcus, Giorgio Armani and Norma Jean Roy recreated the scene with Drew Barrymore mimicking the part of Evelyn McHale. It's a fine line to walk for all involved as James Reich explains "The allusion to Wiles' 1947 photograph intends something more and exploits something darker" to James  it's quite obvious "The image evokes the so-called jumpers from the towers of the World Trade Center." 

James goes on to say. "I believe that this is deliberate and perverse"  It's an attempt to make light or exploit a very dark moment in our history, one that ten years after, we're still in the process of grieving over. Reich describes Norma Jean Roy's visual details surrounding Ms. Barrymore as "an image from the lipstick index"  it's a smearing of lines, not for art's sake but simply for ad revenue "an image of luxury in the shade of annihilation." Both Giorgio and Norma Jean may well burn in hell for this, as for Drew Barrymore, I think the overall effect would've been better if they had actually dropped her off the Empire State Building.

James Reich is tuned in to the American thought process, his political writings show just how well he gets us. Yet at times you get the feeling that James and Hannah play along to get along, be nice, don't piss off the natives. James explains in the accompanying radio interview that Venus Bogardus, doesn't really belong to any one place, they are transient. Which means that they'll leave us someday and those of us who are anchored to this land of enchantment will miss them dearly. 

Venus Bogardus radio interview on KSFR  

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