Friday, January 12, 2018

Tagged under: ,


TPQ gives a yes to Christopher Owens' Review of No.

Striking cover. Striking title. But will the content match up?

Before going into the review, a little context.

Emerging in the mid 70's under the stage name NON, Boyd Rice is a pivotal figure in the history of industrial music. While Throbbing Gristle made music from noise that could be both ugly and pretty, and Cabaret Voltaire crafted psychedelic dub records (as much influenced by William Burroughs as it was by Funkadelic) that helped shape the future of dance music as much as industrial music, Rice pushed the noise to the front and made it much more dissonant, much more violent and, in some case, much more Dada (his first 7' has two spindle holes, giving the listener two differing listening experiences).

Always a man for controversy, his use of fascist imagery (the Wolfsangel was his logo for years), association with highly reprehensive people such as Charles Manson, American Front founder Bob Heick  and Anton LaVey (Rice was a senior member of the Church of Satan for many years) as well as his appearance on Race and Reason, a US public access show hosted by former KKK, John Birch Society and White Aryan Resistance founder Tom Metzger.

Rice himself feigns disinterest of such matters, and supporters take the view that he is a wind up merchant, poking an eye at conventional society and the art world. I, personally, take the view that he is a Social Darwinist (which could be construed as a minor form of fascism) whose actual beliefs are hard to pin down and obsession with fascistic imagery has fossilised him to a certain degree (and also a tad kitsch, which he'd undoubtedly love).

Regardless, I still love his music (2012's 'Back to Mono' and 2002's 'Children of the Black Sun' are two of my favourite albums ever). His writing can be hit and miss: Standing in Two Circles (a kind of autobiographical collection of essays) suffered from inconsistency, but Twilight Man was an entertaining look at his last ever "conventional" job in San Francisco.

First published in 2009, No is a collection of Rice's musings on the various issues and contradictions that we encounter in everyday life. Each chapter (most just over a page long) deal with such an issue, such as rebellion, equality, keeping it real and no free lunches.

As you can gather from that, the issues veer from the iconoclastic to the vacuous. One wonders if this was deliberate on his part or a genuine insight into his thinking (bringing to mind the infamous Terry Eagleton quote about how "nihilists and buffoons are allergic to the slightest hint of significance"). Whatever, it makes for a inconsistent, almost lightweight read.

Let's start off with the mundane. His discussion about no free lunches (relating to a line his father used to denote how the world worked), is actually a concise way of demonstrating how it's possible to work within the means you're given (stealing food from supermarket bins, running scams in restaurants). Admittedly, the writing isn't the most intellectually stimulating, but it is well reasoned.

His demolishment of the phrase "It's all good" consists of listing several horrendous situations such as school shootings, molestation of young children and so on, before ending with "It's all good. Know what I'm sayin'?" Wow. I'm overcome with the philosophical and intellectual rigour of that argument. I was half expecting an essay on how this represents the increasing insularity of modern society and it's reliance on consumerism to sustain it's perceived barrier. But it was not to be.

This laziness is a thread that runs throughout. In fact, there's even one chapter where he extols the virtues of laziness! So it renders some of the more serious discussions as inert and, at times, lifeless. Take, for example, the chapter dealing with police state. Here's the concluding paragraph:
People who imagine the U.S as a harsh political landscape, have obviously never ventured beyond its borders. Most, perhaps the lion's share, have never ventured beyond their parent's house or the confines of the university they attend on student loans.

Utterly lazy and soft targets have been employed to emphasise this point. If he'd put more effort in, he could have (as he does elsewhere in the book) use this as an example of how (in his view) people who consider themselves liberal/left wing don't hate the things in their life that they should hate, and instead use straw dogs as a way of feeling better about themselves by saying that this person/idea/whatever is bad.

When he actually makes an effort, his writing can be compelling: the section on rebellion and it's intricate links with capitalism is entertaining and thought provoking and his thoughts on what passes for transgression in the arts today made me laugh:

Every now and again you'll hear of a performer who strips naked and smears himself with shit, blood, or some disgusting's sorta been...stock-in-trade for the last three or four decades...If you see a homeless man on the street inserting a Barbie doll up his ass, it might be genuinely disquieting; see the same man doing it in a gallery and you ponder the possible subtexts of such an act. On stage it ceases to be real, passing instead into the realm of abstraction. And advocates of transgression very often deal in abstractions.

Not exactly the most illuminating of books. And, considering Rice likes to portray himself as a thinking artist, that's disappointing. What we're left with is the impression that Rice is a nihilistic, self centred arsehole who wouldn't do a hand's turn unless there was something in it for him.

Which isn't a big surprise, but the lack of weight behind the discussions is a big surprise.

Boyd Rice 2017 No, Create Space Independent Publishing Platform ISBN-13: 978-1976392771

Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212