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Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Return of Black Tape for a Blue Girl

I was interested to learn today that one of my favorite bands, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, will be playing in New York in a week. I don't know if I'll go to see them; I would have to do so on my way to work, go alone, and once again suffer the awkwardness of being in a whole crowd young enough to be my children. (Or that is how it felt, at least, when I saw Black Tape at the Projekt Records music festival back in the late 1990s, and I feel much older now. Though maybe a crowd specifically there to see Black Tape will be older too, considering that a couple of members of the band are at least around the age of 40 themselves.) In any case, however old I get, I don't think I'll ever lose my affection for this band.

Black Tape's music, as I said over at Living on Less back in November 2003, travels through a unique and beautiful sonic terrain somewhere between Eno and Dead Can Dance. But though these influences are definitely audible in their music, I would hardly use those words to describe Black Tape exclusively, because that wouldn't do justice to the individuality of their sound. They start with those influences, then go to a new place somewhere further into the forest.

One thing that really impresses me about Black Tape that might not be so evident when listening to them is that they are also politically conscious and probably quite politically inspired. The overt subject matter of their lyrics seems to range from psychological introspection to literary and artistic Dadaism or Surrealism (most prominently, I've seen references to Duchamp and Kafka), but it's always been clear to me that they were coming from a world view that is not, shall we say, pro-capitalist by any means. This hunch was greatly confirmed by some words that I read, written by the band's founder and main composer, Sam Rosenthal, in a June 30, 2003 post to the Projekt [Records] Mailing List:

i think about what karl marx wrote about the working class basically giving their lives to be animals for the moving of things for the rich (did he say that, or am i making this metaphor up in my sleep-deprived delirium?). or like in the matrix where humans are batteries to keep the machines running. we are definitely cash-earning batteries, with the sole purpose of keeping the corporations running....

[ googling, i find what marx wrote in the communist manifesto: "the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and consequently, all charm for the workman. he becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for his maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. but the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. in proportion therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases... not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois state; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the over-looker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself." ]

I should add that these comments are all the more surprising because Black Tape is not a proletarian punk band; they are ethereal, "dark wave" goths. Goth musicians - especially the ethereal kind - are typically stereotyped as being kids with their heads in the clouds (or in the dungeon, as the case may be) who wouldn't dream of connecting to politics. I remember once talking to an acquaintance named Flint, whom I met in a couple of workerist groups a few years ago, about the trouble of finding goth bands who are political... Flint, who was (and probably still is) an anarchist workerist as well as a goth, was trying to start a listserv devoted to anarchist goth music, but he sort of couldn't find any, so this listserv eventually became much more focused on the industrial side of underground rock. I suppose that it would be very difficult to find overtly political goth lyrics, unless we're talking about Brecht as covered by Dead Can Dance. But I wonder if any listserv, magazine or Web site devoted to political musicians might include bands that don't have overtly political lyrics but do have an approach/outlook that's inspired or informed by certain politics. Personally, I think this kind tends to make more interesting music anyway.

More recently, looking at Sam Rosenthal's posts, I see that he has been rooting for John Kerry in the debates. (No need to quote that material - nothing very interesting there.) Apparently, he's gone a little overboard in the Anybody But Bush department, like many politically progressive people in rock music (and everywhere else). But I'll forgive him for that; at least he hasn't been obsequiously fawning over Kerry the way Moby has. (The shocking thing about Moby was that he was doing this even in the primaries, though five years earlier, at least, he had seemed so much more Green.) Besides, I think I know now what kind of philosophical/political thinking really inspires Sam and Black Tape for a Blue Girl...and, as I'm sure Sam Rosenthal would agree, it simply isn't on the American presidential-political stage.

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