Monday, May 30, 2011

Only Partly about Music: White Zombie

So, as of late, I've been writing a lot about different musical groups, primarily alt rock. You'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a music blog. I suppose, it is partially. But, primarily, it's my pop culture blog- operative word being "my"- which for those few who know (I think that's maybe 3 people at this point) means that I don't see the arts as discreet separate entities. Sometimes, the best part of a film is the soundtrack, sometimes the best part of a book are the pictures, sometimes a band looks cooler than their music is, sometimes a comedian is a better dramatic actor, and so on. It all blurs together, for me. To give you some concrete examples, let me present today's subject: White Zombie.
Primarily, they were a band. At times, they were a great rocknroll band. However, if you subtract the graphics, they're greatly diminished. If you further strip away the psychotronic poetry of their endless pop culture references embedded in the lyrics, they're getting to be pretty insignificant. On top of that, if you remove their remixes, they've got only about 60 minutes of decent music. Then, if you want to straight jacket them only to the Alt-Metal sound they popularized, you're left with a handful of singles. So, to appreciate them for what they really were, you've got to re-align how you define the Arts- they were a performance troupe, playing music, making graphics, doing disguised pop culture criticism, constructing sideshow dramas, and creating personas.
So, If I'm going to talk about them, I've got to not only talk about the music, I've also got to talk about the T shirts, the stage show, the references, and so on. For example, the point of their apex, musically, is mixed : some of Soul Crusher, when they played noise rock, is right up there with the Birthday Party and Sonic Youth for skronk with a purpose, and much better than better lauded peers like Live Skull and Pussy Galore. It wasn't until Astro Creep that they matched the musical vision, albeit in a different genre (by now, they were more definite, and played a metallic boogie rock, like the Allman brothers, minus swing but on steroids)Graphically, however, they never topped out- though I think there are several weak points, musically with their breakthrough record "La Sexorcisto..."- graphically, it's a tour-de-force of what we can call "Zombieland", a strange carnivalesque pastiche of Rat Fink, classic Horror flicks, psychedelia, professional wrestling, punk rock, and 1970's tabloid exploitation, and exceeded only by the addition of the dystopian scifi elements of Astro Creep. What I am saying is that I don't think I'd go out of my way to get the CD, but I'd pay decent money to get one of the T shirts from around the Sexorcisto era.The real deal, though would be the live show- a zombieland combination of Kiss and Gwar with a large amount of American sideshow.
What brings it up is that I'm reading Sean Yseult's "I'm in the Band". Like most musicians, Sean is no writer. At her best, she reaches a "teen Beat" style of gushing, and she relies a lot of testimonials from others. However, she's a gifted photographer, and there's some really great photography. Also, her more cartoon-y take on Zombieland is charming, almost cuddly. The graphics are actually much more communicative than the writing: I'd almost prefer to see this as some kind of a PowerPoint presentation, sold on a thumb drive, or something...
So, that got me to dig out the CD/record collection. Yes, Astro Creep, and Supersexy Swingin' Sounds are just as amazing as you probably remember, but I am struck by how complete, and devastating Soul Crusher is. It's truly under-rated: from the weird biker-movie homage-montage of the cover art ( it's like cramming "Wild Angels" into a photo)to the pioneering use of samples, to the completely unhinged vocals ( Rob never sounded quite so psycho, again) to the ramshackle chug of the tunes it neatly sums up the early 1990's... in 1987! The next two records are really tame, by comparison. Make Them Die Slowly is metallic in all the wrong ways- it sounds about like how it would feel to try to actually eat the CD, and the songs are artsy-fartsy fanboy attempts at Thrash metal. It even looks bland. La Sexorcisto, looks amazing. From the super-groovy tattoo flash graphics to the glow in the dark translucent vinyl (yes, I have the vinyl) Yes, Thunderkiss is a great mash up of Kiss and Pantera. But, most of the songs meander about in search of a hook. The guitars sound very shiny and clean, which betrays all the supposed psychotic babble of the lyrics. It's just not right. The EP "Nitecrawlers", allows Sascha from KMFDM to correct the musical flaws, and he (rightfully) turns White Zombie's sound to a kind of metallic disco stomp, which suits the dichotomy of creamy guitars with twisted lyrics. I think it was that lesson that allows them to make Astro Creep- which is a stone classic, and you should already own it.I don't think main man, Rob Zombie has topped Astro Creep until he went into films. So, rather than talk about his solo career, I'd prefer to talk about his films- and by "his Films" I mean House of 1000 corpses and The Devil's Rejects. (Again, see what I mean about how I don't see White Zombie as being complete if you just talk music?) House of 1000 corpses is a fantastic slasher film, that takes a left turn in the last third, into a surreal monster movie. Honestly, I cannot think of another movie quite like it. It's structured just like a classic grindhouse slasher film, until the real mayhem gets unleashed, and then it gets crazier than a Jodorowsky film. You've got everything from respirators to bunny costumes to zombies to mutants, to fields on fire to hallucinatory sound montages. Absolutely amazing. The Devil's Rejects is yet another amazing mash up- this time between Revenge movie (Billy Jack, Standing Tall, etc) Slasher Film ( I spit on your grave) and outlaw biker flick ( think Hell's Angels on Wheels) There are moments in it that are genuinely disturbing (the scenes with Bill Mosely and Priscilla Barnes come immediately to mind) and some moments of beauty not seen outside of Westerns in American films.
See, again- it's not about one form, it's about finding those artistic moments that appeal to you. That's what I'm about. I might concentrate pretty heavily on music, but that's because it's the form that speaks loudest to me. Heck, keep in mind, I'm a trained Cameraman, in addition to being a sound engineer- in fact, I think that there are those who'd argue I'm a better videographer than anything else I've done. As should be obvious, here, I also am not unfamiliar with the English language so I can write, too. Ergo, why would I put all my eggs into a CD basket? That'd be a real Zodiac Mindwarp. (hehehe)

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