[Edited and revised: now includes, inter alia, some sort of conclusion.]
Starting point: the Eagles of Death Metal response to the Paris attacks of 13 November.
Now, some folks online have said mean things about this video and its intents, purposes, veracity, and sincerity.
That upset and angered me.
This post is intended for people who maybe aren’t into this kind of music, who don’t know much about it or like it. If it doesn’t speak to you musically, that’s cool: music’s a matter of individual taste, on an approximate scale from “not music” via “roughly recognisable as such” and “yes, this is music” to the eerie electric divine revelation of “my heart is pounding, I can feel every nerve ending in my body, time has stopped, and if anyone touches me right now I will explode.” I have eclectic tastes in music. This kind of music is one of them: it does “it” to me, that’s all.
So here is some context. It’s subjective, for which I am unapologetic. Subjective is the only way to go here, the only appropriate fitting way; being human, human to human.
[Some content may offend; up to reader responsibility. Contains music, of debatable taste; nothing will force itself on you by playing automatically, there are “play” buttons for everything. Here endeth the warnings.]
EODM is a musical group one of whose characteristics, and one of the characteristics of whose music, is satire.
Parody, pastiche, piss-taking. A band with a joke name coined in friends’ banter. A band of craic and gas. They make joke songs and play around. Some songs are serious; some are both; some move around. Audience attention and good reading are required.
And fun. Did I not mention fun yet? Sheer unadulterated joie de vivre.
Their interviews in the past have been brilliant hilarious piss-takes too, long-distance feats of pure sarcasm, straight-faced diversions of questions, riffing on any possibility of double-entendre or surreal redirection, off their ****s or just messing around, unpredictable, sometimes unreadable, and always fun.
Bear in mind that these are individuals and musical collectives who are alternative, indie, anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment, anti-music-business (see, for Josh Homme, the 2014 Grammy award débacle), anti-commercial-commodified-BS, pro-music, pro-fun. They’re punk rocker subversive anarchists, FFS.
One might have certain expectations of any video interview by them, given these things.
I read the 25 November video as being sincere.
Completely, utterly, painfully, pathetically sincere.
Agony to watch. Agonised people–Eden Galindo, Jesse Hughes, Matt McJunkins, Shawn London, Julian Dorio, Josh Homme–in an agonising situation, making themselves recall, remember, and retell a horror. Each does so differently, of course; as expected, with individuals and individual experiences. That, the retelling, is how storytelling and historiography happen; to make out a bigger whole, see all angles, try to make sense, cohesion, coherence out of an extra-dimensional nightmare; hoping, as happens throughout human history, thereby to learn and be consoled and find peace; and to help others through that interactive communitarian act, the consolation of shared and exchanged storytelling.
What EODM do in this video is what people all over Paris and around the world have been doing. It’s not just about being individually therapeutic, though that is of course a factor, and a good healthy one, for anyone: one could after all just write a private diary or talk to a therapist in privacy. No: this is about compassion (as opposed to murderers’ individual “passions”), suffering and grieving together, healing together, solidarity, community. This video is a social act while trying not to be political (fitting this band and its members), offering up six individuals’ own suffering to others who suffered on that day, doing so like anyone else who survived the Bataclan massacre.
Message: liberté, égalité, fraternité.
I’ve watched the video all the way through twice now, and I have the same reactions and comments (I monitored myself by taking notes while watching) every time. I could do a close reading frame by frame, down to motion and gesture and breath, and it might add more or it might not; I suspect that it would add nothing that wasn’t blindingly obvious or that was more than a tedious trivial detail. But it would hurt. So I won’t do it. There are limits to interpretation and analysis, and to the interest and attractions of geeking out, unless you’re a professional psychologist working with trauma survivors and PTSD. I’m not; as in dealing with traumatised students, know your limits. They’re not the limits of human empathy (which I hope and trust are limitless) for others; they’re limits in relation to yourself. Here is one of these limits: if your subject or subject-matter hurts you, if you can’t see what you’re reading because your eyes are blurred with tears: stop.
Sure, it’s a well-documented phenomenon that seeing someone crying will set you off; but if these guys are acting, based on what I’ve seen of them in other interviews (such as the examples above) and performances, it’s a dramatic change in style and beyond Oscar-worthy. Well, that’s not saying much, and could backfire if this were a pastiche double-cross by anti-Hollywood-corpse types now lost in a liar paradox infinite regress. So let’s ask, more appropriately: is this acting above and beyond the higher César standards? No. I don’t think so. Still trying to deal with this as reading–and that’s hard for me, I usually deal with long-dead and/or fictional material–it can be observed that these are people who feel, have been hurt, care about each other, and care about other people. Who care and have cared for years about music and music-lovers. This video is for fans, for musical friends and metaphorical family, in musical friendship. Tears are with them and for them.
This is rock and roll.
Yes, choking up and breaking down and crying in public is rock and roll. Yes, it’s pathetic. Pathos is human. Rock and roll is human. We hold these truths to be self-evident.
Admission: I like EODM and am, well let’s say keen, on all things Josh Homme. It was the voice that got me first. Next, any self-respecting redhead’s Venerables is enriched by the addition of a giant ginger god complementing the lesser shorter Toby Stephens and Ewan McGregor. The unholy ginger trinity would later turn unholier pentatheon with the addition of Michael Fassbender and Sam Heughan. And then there are other more and less obvious reasons shared with many other people.
This next video is an exemplary beauty, and its comments offer a nice sample of even trolls revealing and revelling in their own “Hommesexuality” (in some cases a new-found revolutionary surprise), such is the effect of the man:
(And on Henry Rollins no less.) That’s cool, as in all forms of love, if a sharing caring community of taste and enjoyment trumps and hopefully beats possessive obsessive jealous destructive solitary types. Another side of compassion versus passion. One would like to live in hope.
Reactions and responses to the events of 13 November could be complicated for any fan by wondering what happens next to the music. What happens when artists are traumatised and then their usual creative pressures are aggravated by this “what next”? Will they never create again?
If they do, what will it be? More of the same in resistance? A change to introspection or in the other direction, outwards, in direct comment on what happened and its bigger picture? What if they get it wrong or mistimed or it gets exploited by the wrong people (which includes the music industry and themselves)? What if they turn into U2? What if they get it right? Would anything except option 1 (resistance) constitute failure, a loss of that innocence, of irreverent independent free-spirited free-thinking fun?
Is there any possible “what next” that can get it right?
Maybe songs without words.
Oddly, this calamity couldn’t have happened to a better / better-suited band, being one of those farthest from commercial considerations and economic obligations to churn out Product. Their compositional and creative processes, insofar as these are talked about, are complex, varied, and simply take their own sweet time in their own sweet way. These people tend to avoid talking about such matters and go into piss-take mode, understandably so with the stupider and more scripted of journalist questions probing new releases, next releases, production and productivity. Artistic process is an area that is reserved, preserved, private. That having been said, Josh Homme does talk about it a fair amount by talking around it, in curious–OK, often intoxicated–ways.
Privacy expresses itself as best it can through lyrical opacity, in making polysemic open texts that feel familiar to anyone who works with medieval lyric. Individual inspirations and contributions to the music are distilled, abstracted, and interwoven into the whole sound-tapestry. Coming in from personal experience. From images: see how analogical and metaphorical Josh Homme is in interview, images always coming very fast and immediate–some images stick and get reworked, comedian-style–as contrasted with opaque lyrics. From imagery, and you don’t get much more individual than dreams and hallucinations, the personal mythscape. From interiority: these are highly emotional and emotive songs, even–especially–the sardonic satirical or parody ones that try to express that which can’t be approached directly because it’s too hard and close.
What makes a rock god is the complexity and courage to transcend macho expectations and stereotypes. Just like superheroes of this century and the end of the last one, from Buffy to the Marvelverse: going beyind machismo not so as to become superhuman, but to be human. This anti-macho humanity is something that has been there from the start of Queens Of The Stone Age in their naming (with the usual caveats on Socratic irony). And the human intelligence and maturity to be a wise-cracking smartass basass sentimental fool for love. None of which are incompatible or mutually exclusive; a fluidity and hybridity that’s rather feminist when you look at it more closely. Further indicators that we’re not dealing with “either/or” attitudes? Being in three (very different) bands at the same time–one of which has had a fluid revolving-door membership for nearly twenty years (including members returning after differences)–while also maintaining various sorts of working relationships with other musicians. Juggling a spouse with their own musical life and two kids and doing one’s share of their care might also contribute. Vive la différence in justice and fairness.
An example of EODM wit: a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred lines” … nearly ten years prior to the latter:
With all Homme bands and songs there’s been a refusal to discuss original intention or to give any direction to audience reception, from the very start of this free-flowing collective. They’re anti-authority anarchists, FFS. Up to the audience to make sense of lyrics as they will; to put into them what they want and make them their own; to take from them what they will; letting the music live free. Homme will talk about releasing doves here and there, with variations on bad jokes. Open songs, open to interpretation and–as you see at the end of the November 2015 EODM video–open to reworking and continuation.
And now for some medievalism.
Here’s a thing. I’ve been working on–or rather, trying to figure out–trobar and the delicate balance of sincerity, self-consciousness, self-conscious irony, and satire in love-lyric and other literature for almost exactly as long as I’ve been listening to QOTSA. Returning again recently to investigating the balance of sincerity and satire to be found–the trobar of reading–in crucial moments of ambiguity, polysemy, and paranomasia. Finding the cardinal moment at the heart of a poem, its live beating heart that pulsates as senses alternate; resisting sentimentality while raw sentiment squirms and flickers behind clenched teeth and through the thin armour of a curled lip.
Interested in or currently teaching or otherwise trying to explain and understand trobar leu & clus? There are some nifty parallels with QOTSA and other Hommia; QOTSA lyrics are essentially in the same poetic mode as trobar leu … but with intermittent clus metaphorical complications and/as satirical comment. (Carter USM provide an extreme example of trobar clus.) In fairness, universalising leu (for better or worse, richer and too often poorer) is in plenty other Young People’s Music of the last century and more; and in radical alternatives from the Beatles, Hendrix, and Zeppellin onwards. As discussed, through histories and communities of taste and related topics, for example in the Arthur “MUSIC IS NEVER WRONG” 2009 interview with Them Crooked Vultures.
A parallel: cross Bernard de Ventadorn with Marcabru.
Parallels for colleagues in medieval and French literature: we’re talking the same spirit and kinship-continuum as Renart, Andreas Capellanus, Marie de France, Marcabru, Raimon Vidal de Besalú, Jean de Meun, Rabelais, Montaigne, Molière, Diderot, Baudelaire, Apollinaire, Camus, Gide. Add in Frank Zappa, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Alabama 3, and The Divine Comedy. Think Baudelaire if you’re faced with ignorant fools who think they’re dealing with death metal and devil-worship (and confuse the latter with satanism, which Baudelaire could have told you was a different thing, an avatar of anarchist resistance). See, there’s a lot of that about, in all the foolish camps: fundamentalists of all stripes, people who don’t like “modern popular music” on principle, everyone who doesn’t get satire and sarcasm and makes that a matter of pride, anyone who has failed the Humphrey Lyttelton Principle: “never lose touch with silly.”
But I digress.
One of my favourite QOTSA songs is one of their least semantically opaque ones–being as it is more of the overt persuasion–until you realise that it’s still ambiguous where it really counts in amorous lyric: it’s open to any genders.
This piece has never been performed live, to the best of my knowledge. For good reason: it would lead to dancing…
Love-lyric for anyone, anytime, anywhere:
“Skin on Skin,” Lullabies to Paralyze (2005); lyrics here with the caveat that, as with all love-lyric, the words and their rhythm and resonance are only part of the song as a whole soundscape and physical performance, including in this case smoking at the very end.
And here’s the QOTSA music that first made me sit up and listen in the aforementioned eerie electric divine revelation.
Item the first, and I remember it taking me several listens to get through growly throaty guitar magic and past that wonderful voice and into the words:
Secrets, opacity, individual interpretation.
To be paired with item the second which shows another side of free-thinking. Sparse on words, simple to the extreme, kicking the establishment and the music business/industry in a near-accidental joke of a release that turned ironically into promotional gold through censorship and stations’ refusals to play it. This was LOL on first hearing, and returned to mind when I heard EODM’s “Complexity” fifteen years later:
[Edited to add item the third, thanks to my gig companion P of way back then for the reminder; he reminds me that this caused exuberant dancing at the time though I thought I’d heard this later, on a recording, in the Princeton D-Bar. I did remember the dancing though. See? Exchanging stories is how you maintain memory, remembrance, commemoration; and storytelling is how history is made:]
Now, return to that EODM video of 25 November. Put yourself into that agonising situation of retelling and reliving the stuff of nightmares, when nightmare and wildest psychedelic imagining leach into this world; engulf; threaten to drown. That’s a large number of frightening things all rolled into one. Now add in lots of experience-enhancing, mind-bending intoxicants over many years. And being imaginative.
Would you ever want to revisit 13 November again? Publicly? Recorded and archived? Commented on by thousands of strangers?
And then when you do it? you break down, cry, need to take time out, cry again, and force yourself to keep going. You can only hold it together so far, so everything is single take with breaks when needed, and you know you may get things wrong or not get the right things out; and you care about getting words right. But there are no right words. You come out with deep truths about humanity and love that sound like truisms, banal inanities in the wrong light. Video like this can’t be edited and barely produced: the most that could be done would be cuts, preferably for reasons of humane mercy; the only aesthetics would be making those cuts so as to leave their raw edges.
Add in loathing, despising, and mocking interviews and interviewers; what with all the commercial music business crap; and what with being a professional piss-taker. You’re supposed to be a respectably tough dude in the harder punkier edgier part of the rock spectrum. And yet you make that video and agree to it being released freely. It’s like the worst-ever “naked in public” dream coupled with the worst-ever public relations nightmare. In other words: crying openly in public and telling people you care about them is exactly what rock gods ought to do. In humanity, with humanity, for humanity.
How to make sense of that EODM video from a few days ago? Scholarly arts and humanities people can help. Making sense of words is what we do. Diachronic and synchronic research. Historical and philological work. Literary criticism and commentary. Sensitive close reading, balanced with awareness of a larger whole. Reading text, subtext and supertext and paratext, intratext, intertexts, and in context. Contextual reading for stylistic and thematic elements helps to make sense of a thing.
Here is one of the earliest Josh Homme interviews, when he was with Kyuss, from back in 1992. (I’d first heard of Kyuss around ’92/’93 and heard some of their music but didn’t see this interview till recently.)
Everything of import that matters in the rest of this post above is already there then.
Needed now: Les Enfants du Paradis, recast for 2015 infusing 24 Hour Party People, The Boat That Rocked, and Serial. Epic heroic music is already here, anytime, anywhere, for anyone; but it needs to be air-dropped and infiltrated behind enemy lines. Old-fashioned radio may be an answer, and its modern descendants.
Needed now: Resistant parallels that conflate Barenboim’s West-East Divan Orchestra with jazz in occupied Paris. The great enemy “American rock and roll” does not exist; that term makes no sense, the “American” being vastly diverse and “rock and roll” being another diverse thing that includes within itself a rich history of confluences and fresh refashioning, of improvisation and jamming, and infinite potential for future creative derivative ingenuity and fusion. Part of its eternally-youthful exuberance is irreverence, and part of that is the open potential to include ever more innovation and diversity.
“Rock and roll” is universal and, as we’ve seen, quintessentially human. It always has been: all publicly-performed popular music–folk, opera, “early” (European), traditional, ancient, religious, festive, ritual, all that is humanly-internally-moving–all such music is and always has been rock and roll.
There’s already rock in the Near East, a great scene in the Lebanon and (under threat or in danger of extinction) in traditionally cosmopolitan multicultural centres: Beirut, Damascus, Cairo, old Baghdad, and secretive remnants persisting in Tehran. Near Eastern music has long influenced rock elsewhere, and vice versa. Back and forth and mingling in maritime currents and on trade winds. Back in the medieval world moving on Mediterranean commerce-and-exchange routes, and from Al-Andalus into Occitan lyric from the early multilingual Fleury alba (and onwards, and doubtless before) and via Guilhem IX … and through Orientalism in western European classical music … via the cosmopolitan interwar Paris jazz scene and Django Rheinhart … to the ever-exemplary universal culmination of all that is: Jimi Hendrix. Let’s add in another transmission route from Al-Andalus after its transition to “reconquered” Spain: Spanish colonisation results in Near Eastern music coming to be in Josh Homme’s guitar and voice, via Mexico.
Rock is universal because it is post-colonially global. It is world music.
In an ironic mirroring of the USA’s “war on terror,” Daesh has declared war on music. It’s one of the few things they’ve said or done that makes any sense. Music–and/or rock and roll–is their greatest enemy and a similar kind of abstract universal insidious pervasive Great Opponent to terrorism itself.
Needed now: support for music in terrorist territory. Music from there that is there, music from elsewhere, musical performance that might not immediately obviously feel rock and roll–Sufi song and other forms of Dhikr, Hilali epic, Karagöz–and keeping music alive and free and open for the future.
There, ladies and gentlemen, is a fine and noble quest; perhaps a mission or a side-project for The Sweet Stuff Foundation? Maybe add Billy Bragg and Damon Albarn into the mix? And a Francophone complement: MC Solaar, IAM, Manu Chao, Stromae, and Grand Corps Malade would fit well. Alas that Les Négresses Vertes are no more, they would have been perfect. EODM are the right people to be behind this sort of thing in the right–crowdsourced, fanbased, free, anarchist–way. They are surely, some of the few musicians around who can be relied on not to inflict a repeat of Live Aid (which drove me decisively to alt/indie music) on us.