The Haunting of Toby

I have gained an hour's sleep only to lose countless more to these hauntings.

Location: Northeast, United States

I live in a haunted house with one dog, one man, and many, many, restless souls. I am wandering through the halls of academia trying to figure out what to do with the degree I have and what one I want to work towards next. Mostly I just like the wandering.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Spoken Skeletons

One of my favorite spoken word recordings is The Ballad of the Skeletons. Ginsberg, McCartney, and Glass combined Ginsberg's words with music to create a recording that is as profound as it is redundant, provocative, and evocative. Produced by Lenny Kaye (who also plays bass for the project) in 1996, the year before Ginsberg's death, the project is full of kind of big names, but it is Ginsberg's words that still stick in my mind even when I have not listened to it in some time.

The imagery of a skeleton, a speaking skeleton, reminds that what we consume, our culture, our politics, our private lives, is deeply connected to the body. With all of the conflicting voices in a litany that includes: "Said that Gnostic skeleton "The human forms the mind!'" followed by "Said the Christian Coalition, 'No its not its mine!'", and "Said the down-sized skeleton, 'Robots got my job!'", and "Said the Ecologic Skeleton, 'Keep skys blue!'" followed by "Said the Multinational Skeleton, 'What's it worth to you?!'" Ginsberg captures the cacophony of value systems that leave the "couch potato skeleton" saying "What me worry?" and the media skeleton signing off with "That's all. Goodnight!" All of images are revealed as a cadre for the body in the skeleton, but the act of speech itself comes from stereotypical signifier of a construction of the body. The most powerful aspect of this ballad, to me, is the reminder that discourse, in the speaking, is tied to an organization, in the skeleton, of the body.

This ballad is all refrain, and has no refrain at all. The same lyrics are never repeated in their entirety, rather it is the structure, the rhythm of speech, that is repeated. It becomes somewhat idiomatic in its structure, if that makes any sense I am not sure. The story takes place in the refrain, which is very much a refrain in that it is repeating the same imagery for what might seem, to some, ad nauseum. At the same time it resists being a refrain in that it does not follow the assumption that a refrain is identical in each repetition, instead it operates as a supplement for the refrain.


Blogger abuliac said...

You describe it so wonderfully that I must listen to it!

10:12 AM  

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