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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2001/12/19
by Jesse Jarnow

BRAIN TUBA: Dude, Yes-And My Shit!

1. A New Language
A common joke, at least among the geeks I run with, is to write emails which
transcribe their lives as if they were shows. "Wake Up, Shower, Coffee* >
Late For The Bus > Late For Work > Coffee reprise (* With "Too Hot!"
tease.)" There is a common understanding implied in the segue marks, one of
a fluid transition between events. My brain operates with the idea of the
segue as one of its central metaphors. I figure out my plans through this,
and smile and am pleased with myself when I pull off good transitions
between events. It is a subtle art that I could never hope to communicate to
anybody who didn’t share my geekery. It provides for a nice stream of
The dialect of a show can (and often is) used to break up time, at least in
my mind. I often mentally chunk things – events in my life – into Set I and
Set II, with a setbreak in between. I think in terms of slow builds that
develop logically and blossom into fuller realizations, possibly while
hinting at other events. If I were a punk kid who grew up going to CBGBs
instead of Wetlands, I might break things into myriad shorter segments,
often beginning with a yawped "1, 2, 3, 4!"
By being conscious of his own methods of communication, one can interact
better within his sphere of existence, and consequently further his
understanding of his role as an individual. This, predictably, is present in
the jambands scene, just as it is present in numerous other subcultures. Any
special interest naturally lends itself to a way of describing it.
2. Dude, Yes-And My Shit!
Tommy and Ryan used to have a saying – "dude, ‘yes-and’ my shit!’" – that
described a routine they dropped into during various social interactions,
usually when they were trying to impress their importance upon a member of
the opposite sex. "Yes-and" is an improv principle.
On a simple level, it is used to create a tacit understanding in an improv
scene; it is used to build a world. One actor will say something like: "I
have here an apple", miming his hand into a cup-like shape to indicate the
fruit’s weight. The other performer will respond with something along the
lines of "yes, you have an apple and there is a hole in it." It is up
to the second actor to agree to the fundamentals: that the first actor has
an apple. This is all a manifestation of the first rule of improv: no
denial. The second performer should never, under any circumstances, say "no,
you don’t have an apple, you have a pygmy watermelon".
The way Tommy and Ryan would put this into action was pretty simple: when in
the presence of someone they wanted to fascinate, they would agree with
everything the other said. "I think Lou Reed is fucking brilliant." "Oh,
obviously, Lou Reed is a goddamn genius". Though the yes-and covenant
they would, theoretically, make each other look swell.
The next step of the idea comes when people agree to entire ideologies by
yes-and’ing. This is kinda what I’m interested in right now: that two people
in disagreement over something specific can still be yes-and’ing each other
in the broader sense. Because of that, different kinds of agreement lead to
fundamental differences (or similarities) in the ways of perceiving the
world. In improv, one is forced to be conscious of what he is yes-and’ing.
This is because he has nothing physical to work with. The characters on
stage must create everything from thin air.
In real life, one yes-ands so unconsciously that he usually tunes out people
who don’t yes-and his shit. If one is actually holding an apple,
short of philosophical loopholes, it is impossible to deny it. Things get a
little trickier when fact begins to meld with opinion.
An example of "yes-and" arguments in the everyday: It is one thing to say
that a Grateful Dead concert tape is terrible because the band plays a
subpar version of Dark Star. It is another thing entirely to say that
the same Grateful Dead tape is terrible because the Grateful Dead themselves
are terrible. The former is an example of yes-and’ing: being in basic
agreement over the validity of the Dead. The latter is an example of denial:
questioning a fundamental rule of somebody’s reality. I don’t think it would
be unfair to say that, for most Deadheads, listening to a Dead tape doesn’t
require that they reevaluate their opinion of the entire Dead oeuvre.
I can’t help but think of the principle, as well, when thinking of the
incredulity that some respond to the anti-war movement with. In the media,
we are presented almost entirely with points of view that accept the
existence of the war and base their arguments around that: we should bomb
site A vs. no, we should bomb site B. That kinda point/counterpoint. Or, as
Raymond wrote in an email: "It’s like the debate has been narrowed so the
two ‘opposite’ extremes represented are those who support the current war v.
those who want more war. And anyone who doesn’t fall within those
boundaries doesn’t exist, and their complaints are not ‘viable’."
In other words: the superficial "extremes" still yes-and each other’s shit,
accepting that the war should exist and deal with the reality from there.
3. Practicality versus Abstraction
The idea of yes-and can be pushed in several directions, into a state of
practical reality or further into a mode of abstraction. In the case of the
former method of thought, it can be exploited into vaguely commercial
prospects. In the case of the latter, it borders on what Tommy tells me is
some variety of Nietzchian discourse, though I’d prefer to write it off to
further rambling.
The existence of a language is a boon to marketers, and there is a language
inherent in every subculture. Once something is codified, it can be sold.
Language naturally births some kind of classification system which can be
converted into a tangible form in order to appeal to a group’s interests.
The basic tenet of improvised music implies that every show a specific band
plays will be quite varied. If there is improvisation in the instrumental
passages, why shouldn’t there be variation in the setlists, as well?
For a fan of improvised music, it is only natural to wonder about what a
band certain band might play on a given night. The Box Scores section of is a natural employment of this idea. It is a feature that
might not make sense on a site devoted to, say, a hip-hop artist. This is
all dangerous ground which creates sketchy gray areas between intent and
authenticity. In an increasingly commodified scene, language is a dangerous
The concept can also be pushed deeper into the realm of academic abstraction.
Saying that people "yes-and each other’s shit" is just a fancy way of saying
that they share an opinion. True as that may be, one must moreless accept
that his reality is made up of a series of tacit agreements. This, in part,
is where language stems from — the impulse to create something concrete.
Language allows for something firm and almost immutable. It yes-ands on an
almost primal level through the instatement of concepts.
Through an extension of this, it might also be true that though language
yes-ands to some degree, it also denies something else, something off the
stage of life. The Grateful Dead example shows that it might be possible to
disagree very differently about the same Grateful Dead tape. If that is
true, then it might be possible to fundamentally disagree on something even
more basic. Binary opposites may be used to describe toggled stages of
certain things. For example, on and off (or life and death) are binary
opposites. They describe opposing states. However, they don’t allow for
anything in the middle. Heady. Language is as simultaneously restrictive as
it is open.
What is the value of pushing a concept in one direction? What is the value
of pushing it in another? There is clearly a large gap between the immediacy
of practicality and the infinite of abstraction. Both must be good for
something, and is there a middle ground? Does practicality yes-and the
existence of abstraction or does it deny it? And just what the fuck does it
mean to be "practical"? Is it just a homespun synonym for "profitable" or,
at least, having value? There’s an interesting void.

Jesse Jarnow just doesn’t know any

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