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33 1/3: The Drowned and the Saved

[Editor's Note: In honor of our 33 1/3 salebuy two new (not used or sale) books from Continuum Books' 33 1/3 series, featuring critical writing on seminal albums, and get a third free — we're pleased to feature blog posts from some of the people behind the 33 1/3 series.]

Looking back over the process of writing my contribution to the 33 1/3 series, I find that I did not have the expected problem — how do I come up with enough stuff to say about an album to fill an entire book?

Instead, I have struggled terribly with the problem of when and how to shut up about it. Writing a book on Throbbing Gristle's Twenty Jazz Funk Greats has given me a rare indulgence; the opportunity as an adult to re-enter an all consuming adolescent obsession, but this time armed with the scholarly rationale that I was not simply wallowing in nostalgia but critically kicking the tires of the aesthetic that once held me in thrall. The trouble with this kind of acutely emotional investment is that one can get lost in a forest of treasured arcana in which every tiny fact, every comparison, every possible reference and allusion feels essential. Surely the fact that the album was tracked and mixed on rented equipment previously used by Sir Paul McCartney says something significant about the pop aspirations of this self-recorded effort?

Could it be an accident that the recordings were completed on the same day as the anniversary of the declaration of World War II? Sweating the details is all very well, but too many private reveries about the precise frequencies of certain highhats can alienate and overwhelm the more casual readertoo many private reveries about the precise frequencies of certain highhats can alienate and overwhelm the more casual reader. Such folks may need a bit of persuasion in order to immediately grasp the tight conceptual relationship between the Throbbing Gristle song "Still Walking," in which four vocalists recite the same lyrics slightly out of synch with each other in order to render them deliberately unintelligible, and the occult practice of casting a spell by creating a "magic square" that superimposes the same invocatory text upon itself in the four cardinal directions, a common practice in the calligraphic artwork of 1960s Tangiers expatriate Brion Gysin, an acknowledged influence upon the band. TG's work is low on form (sometimes it is only tenuously musical, if at all) but high on content, and the archive of references and connections between this album's artwork and lyrics and a promiscuous cast of occultists, filmmakers, painters, novelists, criminals and assorted kooks has had to endure some tight squeezing in order to fit within its back-pocket-sized volume.

After confessing to my editor that I was already 15,000 words over the limit for entries in the series and had not yet written the last three chapters, I began to panic. If I ever wanted to reach the farther shore of publication, it was now time to toss some stuff out of the ship. Out went unruly adjectives ( I was using "limpid" incorrectly anywayI was using "limpid" incorrectly anyway), out went some infra-thin shades of nuance, out went diplomatic comparisons to more obscure fellow travelers in the English industrial and noise music scene of the late 1970s. Gone are close-readings of Margaret Thatcher speeches whose rhetoric eerily resembled certain Throbbing Gristle slogans, and gone is an extended reading of the 1968 Hammer horror film The Devil Rides Out.

At the time that I wrote it, I felt that there was something deeply significant about the fact that a primary character in the film shared the same name as the dog of Throbbing Gristle's lead singer Genesis P. Orridge: Tanith. With the deadline approaching and a need to make some major cuts, suddenly I wasn't so sure. The result is, hopefully, a compromise between private obsession and public user-friendliness. It is my sincere hope that, while still packed with content, I have avoided giving someone a major case of T.M.I. RE~TG (Too Much Information About Throbbing Gristle). But I still miss some of those adjectives.

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Author of the 33 1/3 volume Throbbing Gristle: Twenty Jazz Funk Greats, Drew Daniel is one half of the acclaimed electronic group Matmos — successful in their own right, and also as collaborators with Bjork. Drew has taught the history of electronic music at the San Francisco Art Institute and a sound art seminar at Harvard. He has just moved to Baltimore, where he now teaches in the English Department at Johns Hopkins University.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Throbbing Gristle: Twenty Jazz Funk... Used Trade Paper $7.50

Drew Daniel is the author of Throbbing Gristle: Twenty Jazz Funk Greats (33 1/3 Series)

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