Something unexpected happened in my conversation with David Ivar Herman Dune, when he expressed an admiration for the darkness of Jonathan Richman. Certainly it was true Richman had never spared addressing darkness throughout his career, but I’d always thought of him as someone able to transist that impulse into something better, as in Franny Glass’s understanding, in the Salinger story named for her, that a real poet must leave something beautiful on the page to earn the name.
“One of the keys to his poetry is to understand that he IS sad, but he still loves life,” says David Ivar. “I love [Because Her Beauty is] Raw & Wild. I love the darkness in [his songs].”
The album in question, released in 2008, featured songs like “When We Refuse to Suffer,” protesting human culture’s seeming preference for additives and assistants over endurance and adaptation, and “Our Drab Ways,” diagnosing the human preference for numbing routine over galvanizing shock, and well bore out Yaya’s observation.
“Most people can’t take continuous work, they need a limited period upon which to gauge someone’s work. Which is convenient of course. That’s why VU, The Stooges or The Beatles are perfect to have an opinion. It takes more effort to appreciate people like Bob Dylan or Jonathan. Because it doesn’t stop. There is no era. But to be honest, who really has time to grasp all of someone’s work? Take Chuck Berry. Every record I’ve ever bought of his has the best songs ever written on them. But who’s even aware of genius records like ‘Bio’?”
‘Revolution Summer’ have you heard it? Jonathan Richman soundtrack to movie.”
“Nope, see. There is something strange in the fact that, say, T.Rex is considered a legend with really one album, and to be precise, two songs on that album, and others like Jonathan produce constant landmarks . . . the way Culture has to be told in small bites, in clips, we can’t grasp the spectrum of things.”
I think he was talking about Tyrannosaurus Rex. Same band, different version. I like T. Rex okay, but point taken. As a lit student, I’ve often found myself stuck in conversations with people who’ve formed giant grudges over one or two books this or that prolific author wrote as if they were that author’s thesis, meanwhile singing the praises of somebody else who only wrote one book.
Herman Dune has recently reformed, following a breakup and a transitional period, during which David Ivar wrote “angry sad songs” as the leader of an outfit called Black Yaya, releasing its first new video, “Crazy Blue,” with footage of a naked rollerskater, a few days ago. The song is NME’s pick for “Song Of The Summer 2017” and Rolling Sone US’s “Hottest Summer Video.” Playboy also has it on its “Folk Music Best” list of the decade. Fans can buy it on iTunes, or listen for nothing on Spotify.
This whole series began with a piece about Cindy Lee Berryhill with an emphasis on her Brian Wilson influence, then in part one of this piece, I said comparison to bygones is not consideration, but here I am doing it again. I think it says something about David Ivar Herman Dune that, while I haven’t drastically revised my impression of Richman as being in some way, better than darkness, his comments caused me to remember the number, “I Can Hear Her Fighting With Herself,” from Richman’s I’m So Confused album, which astounded me, when first I heard it, for its apt reflection of being in love with someone who has a mental crisis, showing absolute comprehension of a condition I was experiencing with my own romantic partner at the time.
To give them honest consideration, free from comparison or contrast, what do these two think of the question of art versus politics? There are some who feel that to be truly artful, a piece of art must be better than mere activism. Others believe it must have a social effect to be worth anything.
Says Lewis, “I do write some political songs, I don’t feel like it is the best thing I do, but sometimes some of them are okay. I have already written about 6 -8 songs about Trump, but there are only about 2 of them that I feel like are good enough to play live. Usually when people write a political song it sounds a bit fake, because if you really cared you would be doing something more serious than writing a song. To really fight for something requires you to risk your time, your money, your health and safety and reputation and security. It’s much easier to just write a song that says you ‘care’ about something, but you almost automatically sound like a fake, because how can you say you ‘care’ about something, if all you are doing about it is writing a little song about it? Still, I do think that culture has a lot of power, it can teach or reinforce different perspectives, and it can provide a mental architecture for how to think about things, even when it’s something you already think and feel, a work of art allows you to put how you think and feel into a conveniently accessible mental form.”
Excellent point. As obvious as it is, it took me many years to stop thinking of artistic accomplishment as tangible assistance or acknowledgement.
Qualifies Yaya, on much the same tip, “There’s a good bunch of things involved here. First, I am an artist, I am a man. Both are the same me. I have a political presence, I am somewhere on the spectrum. Whatever permeates of it in writing is there, no doubt. Anyone can pick it up. But sometimes I write outside the boundaries of my consciousness, sometimes somehow outside of my moral compass. Let’s say I am against looting, stealing, but I want to write a song where I’m a burglar, with great detail, with all my fantasies about robbing. I know I won’t restrain myself. So in a way that’s where the political Me and the artist Me shouldn’t be one and the same. Because I don’t want to have to stick to everything I write even outside of my songs, whereas in real life conversation I like to think I can account for what I say a little bit.”
Exactly what I was getting at. I wouldn’t like my artistic volition to feel incapable of investigating every perspective, yet I don’t want to further any negative social or psychological trends with my political alignments.
“Another point is that, although I have a lifelong commitment in building a philosophical stance for myself, gathering a moral, ethical and political thought that I truly feel about, I ought to be aware that no one asked me about it. I mean, passed the joy of voicing an opinion, and I hope an original one, I am aware that no one is really seeking advice in me. So I question, outside of what I use in a piece of art under the artistic impulse, I question the endeavor . . . I’m sure you can find a lot of lines in my songs that speak for the political stance I forged for myself, but also a lot of lines that don’t. And so as to define that stance, I don’t think my songs will do the job, and nor should they I think. As to sharing my thoughts and opinions, until I write a book or an essay that I feel proud enough about to discuss in a historic and societal way, I feel like it wouldn’t be a lot more than wind blowing through a strainer.”
What about good versus evil? Have these social and spiritual institutions and verities and transgressions lost their meaning in the modern muddle?
David Ivar treats of these as alchemic quantities in his answer, saying, “Eros and Thanatos? True and False? Spiritual or Debased? That’s what comes to my mind. I’ll answer by saying that the art that moves me is Erotic or Spiritual, sometimes both at the same time. The Erotic and the Spiritual energy turn into Magic for me, and by Magic I mean good songs, of course.”
I couldn’t agree more, having so far been galvanized, more than anything else, by recent objectively unfavorable events outside this apartment.
Similar neutrality is displayed by Lewis in his answer to this left-field question of mine, which may have given him the impression I was coming from a religious perspective in asking it. “In the Swamp Thing comic book in the 80s when Alan Moore was writing it, Swamp Thing encountered many horrible monsters and murderers and then finally he goes to hell and then the powers of ultimate evil grasp him and ask him about evil and the only answer he can think of is the words that he heard the old trees tell him in some previous issue ‘a bug eats a leaf, and a bird eats the bug, and a fox eats the bird, etc, and where is evil in all the woods?’ or something like that.”
Sorry to put you on the spot like that. I could tell you that question was the leadup to some clever point I was trying to make, as it once may have been, but I’ve since lost the plot in the swirl of rousing events. Thanks a lot, guys, for your patience with me in this article’s production, please keep in touch, and I hope you enjoy it, readers!
Read Part One
- Zack Kopp
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