In one of my earlier posts I mentioned my dislike for the term “musical genres” (and the resulting use of quotation marks for the word) so this week I will pause upon the work of an artist who completely shat on the notion of “genre” and all expectations affiliated with it. Marc Ribot is, at the moment, one of the most celebrated and sought-after guitar players in the world and you are sure to have heard him playing on the tracks of one of the many musicians he has collaborated with over the years, artists such as Tom Waits, John Zorn, T-Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards, Brother Jack McDuff, Wilson Pickett, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Chuck Berry, Soloman Burke, Marianne Faithful, Arto Lindsay, Caetano Veloso, Laurie Anderson, Susana Baca, McCoy Tyner, The Jazz Passengers, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Cibo Matto, James Carter, Vinicio Capposella (Italy), Auktyon (Russia), Vinicius Cantuaria, Sierra Maestra (Cuba), Alain Bashung (France), Marisa Monte, Allen Ginsburg, Madeleine Peyroux, Sam Phillips, Joe Henry, Allen Toussaint, Norah Jones, Akiko Yano, The Black Keys, Jeff Bridges, Jolie Holland and even friggin’ Elton John.[i]
He is an artist I have always affectionately called a “mercenary” and he has probably dabbled in any musical “genre” you can come up with and probably some that don`t even have names yet. I remember a few years ago when my significantly younger brother-in-law had just ventured into more serious musical territories, leaving behind the likes of Eminem and the Black Eyed Peas, never to be revisited again. Instead, he borrowed my old Offspring albums and even started listening to some Tom Waits but, whatever it was that he was relishing in at any given time, whenever he`d wanna talk to me about it the first question would always be: Ok, but what genre is this? Is Offspring punk? What about Tom Waits? Is he even rock? At first I`d laugh at this (before it started getting annoying) and then I`d try to explain to him that you don`t always have to label music in order to understand it, that in fact, the better approach might be to swear off those constricting “labels” and “genres” altogether for a better understanding of the music itself, which takes me back to Alexi Murdoch and his reluctance to answer the question “so where are you from?” in interviews, fearing that this geographical and cultural approach might limit people`s perception of his music.
The concept of giving up his genre-driven “filing system” for music was very alien to my brother-in-law and I kept trying, though to no avail, to exemplify this approach by looking at the work of Tom Waits, a man of the most radical shifts in direction when it came to sound. I might have used Miles Davis but I doubt my then-teenage musical Padawan would have taken the time to listen to Miles. I do feel sorry now though that at that time I wasn`t yet familiar with the work of Marc Ribot so that I could have presented my brother-in-law with all the bands that Marc had been active in and have him tell me afterwards what “genre” Marc Ribot the guitar-player would be. Well, this year he is headlining the Jazz Festival in Garana (that`s in Romania, by the way, and pretty close to my hometown too) with his decidedly not-Jazz band Cubanos Postizos (here, have a taste http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGSI8CuH1nQ) He was also part of musical projects like Rootless Cosmopolitans, Ceramic Dog (my favorite!) and Shrek (before the animated movie was cool) under which banner, so to speak, comes the live outing Yo! I killed your God which I`ll be taking a look at right now.
First of all, let me start by telling you that Marc Ribot isn’t your daddy’s guitarist. If you are like my brother in law and desperately need a label in order to get started, then here you go: this is jewish-american-avant-punk-noise-jazz-pop-scooby-doo-bop and you haven’t heard much else like it. On the record Marc combines the sound of Shrek, Rootless Cosmopolitans, Cubanos Postizos and, at times, even hints at his future project Ceramic Dog. All songs (with one exception) have been recorded live between 1992-1994.
The over seventy minutes long record finds Marc and Co (the Co being, depending on the track, fellow guitarists Chris Wood, Roger Kleier, JD Foster, bass players Sebastian Steinberg and again Chris Wood, and drummers Dougie Bown, Jim Pugliese and Christine Bard) experiment nervously and, at times almost schizophrenically, with the concept of music as pure sound spitting defiantly in the face of what a large portion of music-lovers would consider melody. Most of the time, the instruments, and occasionally Marc`s tourette-like vocals work side-by-side to create a planned chaos held together only by a thread of ideological and (in)aesthetic coherence.
The record opens with the interestingly-titled I Fall To Pieces (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUWDwklizmY) and the listener gets a sense that, from this point on, indeed the music falls to pieces and the audience gets to witness that freefall. The lyrics and the use of Marc`s voice in general only serve to make the listener uneasy, which seems to be a theme throughout the album (“Somebody`s walking in my house”) as every time Marc has something to “say” he does it in a somewhat cynical and sarcastic tone of voice seeming to kind of mock the concept of lyrics altogether (sing along everyone: “1,2,3,4..1,2,3,4,5…1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8…1,2,3,4” – from the song Fourth World which is so “underground” I couldn`t even find it on goddamned Youtube) like he does on the title track Yo! I killed your God (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F03EH3yDJlA – “why do you always leave it to your retarded brothers in the KKK to say the dirty words I know you`re all thinking”) or Clever White Youths (“Skinny white boys with nice haircuts satisfy our entertainment needs, playing their electric guitars `til their little finger bleeds”).
But for most of the record Ribot keeps his “singing” to a minimum with the notable exception of his clever but unrecognizable remake of The Wind Cries Mary one of the album`s highlights in which he turns everything on its head from the sound of the instruments to the lyrics themselves (“Somewhere a king is weeping/ Somewhere a queen has no wife”). Though interrupted at times by tracks of a more classical musicality like Jamon Con Yuca, Mon Petite Punk and Softly as in a Morning Sunrise the albums true strength lies in the delivery of the unorthodox, chaotic tracks in which the band seems to attempt to destroy its instruments in the most innovative of ways (“I`ve just fried my fourth amplifier of the month”). Tracks like Human Sacrifice, Expressionless, Pulse, Requiem for What`s His Name and especially Fourth World and Change Has Come are the ones that this album was recorded for. It`s in these very long (usually around 8 to 10 minutes) in-aesthetic, borderline-psychotic and unhinged cries of release that Marc and the band deliver their musical message in all its manic, schizophrenic and avant-garde glory and it’s these songs that hold together the structure of the album and probably keep it from collapsing in on itself. No doubt this record is not easy-listening and I wouldn’t play it at a family dinner. Still, if one were to desire exploring the philosophy behind creating music in search for the nihilism that often has to be accepted as part of the creative process, I present to you: Yo! I killed your God by Marc Ribot. Enjoy!
[i] All these names I got off his website marcribot.com lest you think I made this up myself