Pageant of the Transmundane

9 May

Lately I’ve been listening to an assortment of Les Claypool’s projects.  During my adolescent and teenage years, I heard Primus pretty regularly on the local hardrock station without ever really appreciating them. I find it odd that they were once something of a big name among mainstream rock/alternative acts.  They’re like hillbilly funkmetal for sociopathic jazz snobs.

So far what I’ve heard from Oysterhead has been disappointing, especially given that I’m something of a Phish fan and an admirer of Trey Anastasio’s guitar playing.

The live clips I’ve watched of Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, however, are pretty rad:

Also, it has come to my attention that Claypool published a novel a few years back. Cool.

This all brings me to what I had originally intended this post to be about.  Listening to Primus leads me to contemplate Gen X’s particular fixation on the demented, retarded, and socially freakish. I’m thinking of ‘My Name is Mud’, ‘Mourning Glory’ by Ween, ‘Dumb’ by Nirvana (cf. also: “I feel stupid/and contagious”), ‘Loser’ by Beck, ‘Mmm, Mmm, Mmm’ by Crash Test Dummies, ‘Creep’ by Radiohead, Beavis & Butthead, that freak show that toured with Lollapalooza The Jim Rose Circus, Ren & Stimpy, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, Sling Blade…I know Tom Green came a little later, but that he was ever popular seems related to the aesthetic I have in mind here. I’m aware that (Anglo-)American pop culture has given us plenty of songs and shows about the mentally handicapped and the socially outcast before and since, but there seems to be something distinctive about the way freakishness, mental abnormality, and loserdom were paradoxically valorized and made chic in the early-mid 90s. I’d be curious to hear comments on this from people who were over the age of 10 at the time.


One Response to “Pageant of the Transmundane”

  1. John Zorn (FG) May 10, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    So, to see if this causes any discussion, here are a couple of thoughts:

    Considering that cultures have an element of going in cycles, after a mainstream 80s of a lot of Glam figures it’s natural that there would be a reaction of abandoning the Glam and elaborate aesthetic of the time, and go for anti-star anti-elaborate style.
    And the anti-star attitude caused the popularization of being just regular dumb person, who didn’t care that much and would pass as “socially freakish”.

    Further, I think this had a catalytic potential because having idols that look like just some flawed imperfect person (though mainly guys were at the forefront of this “dumb” attitude) made it appear that anyone could be popular, therefore making more regular people trying to make it that way.

    Also, the popularization of outsiders and feelings of awkwardness are typical teenager attitudes, and that was also a time where pop culture industry shifted their target demographics to, precisely, a younger audience.

    Finally there is also just an element of randomness (that I think often gets too little credit). So, if some band/movie/whatever with that attitude becomes popular, then suddenly it’s cool to act that way, and you got a self-reinforcing cultural phenomenon.

    That’s what I can think of.

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