On Company Time

ISSUE I (Sept/Oct 2006)

_ Blade Pitch Control Unit
_ A CROCK REVERIE / A Crock Reverie
_ Before and After Mallarmé
_ The Descent of Alette
_ Real.izing the Utopian Longing...
_ The Unconditional
_ Begetting Textile
_ Stretchers


Jeff Hilson (Reality Street Editions, 2006)
Available here.

Reviewed by Claire Jones
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When Black Oak Arkansas’s[1] first album[2] was released, I made the mistake of listening to it one time and writing a fulsomely imagistic review while under the influence of amphetamines[3], praising it to the skies. A bit later a very good friend of mine called me up long distance and said: “Well, Lester[4], I just bought the Black Oak Arkansas[5] album[6] on the basis of the review you wrote, and I just wanted to tell you that they suck!

A few months ago I saw them[7] with Grand Funk[8], and while I felt that the lead singer’s twerpy attempts at Dr.John[9]-ish mumbo in a wretched pseudo-Captain Beefheart[10] voice were godawful, the three guitarists and rhythm section were full, exciting, dense and driving all the way. By the time this album came out, however, I had become so sick of this wimp dubbed Dandy’s growly pullulations that I could hardly stand to listen to it and only half-jokingly suggested to somebody that “I wish somebody would shoot that fuckin’ lead singer in that group[11].”

Okay. Record[12] reviews start to get precious and self-aggrandising when they become too autobiographical, but the point of all this is that I have listened to the record some more, and while I still think Dandy[13] is just about as obnoxious[14] as he can be I’m starting to like it, and not just for the instrumental work either. I read a story once in Atlantic Monthly[15] where the faculty at Yale[16] or someplace were meeting up with this bunch of student radicals led by Mark Rudd[17], and one professor was heard to remark, “Why, that Mark Rudd[18] is so obnoxious I can’t stand to be in the same room with him,” and another professor, who sympathised a bit more with Rudd and the Ruddniki, said, “Yes, but you could have said the same thing about Tom Paine[19].” So I say the same thing about Dandy[20]. There is a point where some things can become so obnoxious that they stop being mere dreck and become interesting, even enjoyable, and maybe because they are so obnoxious.

Eric Burdon[21] is (was?) a good example of this. Certainly Eric[21] has been since he switched from the straight blues[22] of the early Animals[23] to art rock[24] one of the most pretentious, mawkish, ballooned burlesques of a singer-songwriter[25] in human history[26]. But with the exception of his merely bar-bands-boring work with War[27], he has always managed to put together good bands[28], write interesting songs and, more than that, be infinitely entertaining for precisely the bozo he is.

Dandy[29] doesn’t have Eric[30]’s gift for brilliantly gauche social commentary, but he does come damn close. Keep The Faith[31] (subtitled “The Teachings of Black Oak Arkansas[32]”) continues and amplifies his juju-hosannah riff, and comes complete with ancient leather volumes of the Bible[33], The Bhagavad Gita[34], The Teachings Of The Buddha[35], and Hesses[36]’s Siddhartha[37] depicted on the cover, and if the music didn’t sound so much like the raunchier side of Springfield[38]-Grape[39] folkrock shot full of crank and turned into a crazy mechanical guitar loop, the lyrics would almost make you think it was 1967[40] again, what with lines like: “We’ve just got what you need, good solid wood. We’re your power to make evil curl, together we’ll make and shape our new world. We’re God’s children so don’t forget, paradise is just around the corner and we’ll get there yet. Then we’ll give ya all our love; we’ll try our best. For after all, our love is what we want to give[41].”

But it’s not 1967[42] at all, it’s uh, it’s a new day so let a soul man come in and do the popcorn, I mean something new is blowing in the wind: “We’re your freedom, we’re your son. We shine a light for everyone. We’re your happiness, we’re your joy. Your Revolutionary All-American Boys![43]

Yes, the times they have a-changed. At the Free John Sinclair Rally[44] in Ann Arbor[45] last December, John Lennon[46] said, “So flower power didn’t work, so let’s try something new[47],” and when Big John[48] says it you know something’s going on. Black Oak Arkansas[49] certainly don’t[50] sing about dipple-dappled crystal leaf-vein patterns in the dewy spiderwebs of your mind—they sing about “Fever In My Mind[51]” and about earthquakes[52]. In “The Big One’s Still Coming,[53]” the hot shot of this album which has so much strychnine[54] in it it’s like an acid flashback all by itself, Dandy[55] takes the apocalyptic motif running through all of the songs here and turns it into a vision of imminent natural catastrophe: “We’re havin’ an earthquake / We’re goin’ insane / A California earthquake / Has been shakin’ our brains.[56]” Fortunately, however, he also recognises that all these seemingly horrific cataclysms and disasters can be turned around into something resembling a real cool time, if you think about it and exercise the proper karmic manipulations (“But mystic thoughts can only fly to another plane”[57]), can be harnessed and ridden cross the crumbling spires of Babylon to glory: “California earthquake / Shakin’ our heads / Yeah we’re havin’ an earthquake / On our waterbeds.”[58]

And that’s kind of how I feel about this album[59]. It reminds me of the scene in Billy Wilder’[60]s One, Two, Three[61] where the Commies[62] in East Berlin[63] torture and brainwash a captured spy by strapping him into a chair and forcing him to listen to Bryan Hyland’s “Itsie Bitsie Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”[64] 789 times played at 78 rpm with the spindle through a hold punched in the record just a half-inch from the center, so it gives out with a mind-destroying back-and-forth whine, sort of like a wah-wah in fact. After listening to all the psychedelic, studio-artistic, ecectronic, filtered, altered, phased and played-backwards music of the past six or seven years, with Black Oak Arkansas and Dandy’s[65] tattered toenails capping it all, think that I could tell my old high school civics teacher[66] that I would be immune to at least this form of Communist[67] brainwashing. I would probably tap[68] my foot[69].

1. Jeff Hilson’s
2. A Grasses Primer
3. Martinis
4. Lorine
5. Hilson
6. Volume
7. Hilson
8. David Miller
9. Seamus Heaney
10. Ian Dury
11. Pub
12. Indeed, all
13. Hilson
14. Obnoxious
15. Quid
16. Roehampton University
17. You decide
18. ________________
19. ________________
20. Hilson
21. Sean Bonney
22. Suprematism
23. Malevich
24. Constructivism
25. Songwriter-singer
26. His own lunchtime
27. Andrew Lloyd Watson
28. Dinner parties
29. Woody
30. Leadbelly’s
31. Stretchers
32. Jeff Hilson
33. P.G.Wodehouse
34. Mark E. Smith
35. Zukofsky
36. Steven Davis’s
37. Hammer Of The Gods
38. Lorine Niedecker
39. Jack Hargreaves
40. 2005
41. “kicking is the bug (fuck that / phrase honest content / o to o to be o to be old / mans organs / in aluminium / lakes of d & c”
42. 1986
43. “I just / shine up my very bud in / the rolls & curls & let him / have a day out in my mouth”
44. J.H.Prynne Memorial Luncheonmeat Picnic & Bar Mitzvah
45. A corduroy jacket
46. Steven Rodefer
47. These Are Not Catastrophes I Went Out Of May Way To Look For
48. Jean Calais
49. Jeff Hilson
50. do
51. the lexicon for elf-lock
52. the tall thin ladies
53. …I (binger) with my din
54. Nivea
55. Hilson
56. “things are heaped / back (pull yourself & get it / in the glory hole”
57. I am not a cat
58. I live in a trough / in the uk & I am fed / nuts
59. HRT
60. Mac Wellman’s
61. Dracula
62. Prefects
63. Lunchbreak
64. Minge Badger’s “High Pink On Chrome”
65. Jeff Hilson’s “Stretchers”
66. Professor Olso/en
67. Onanistic
68. Ride
69. Magical fairy-car instead

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Posted October 15, 2006