The Infinite Improbability of the Boognish
BRAIN TUBA: The Infinite Improbability of the Boognish
Watching a DVD of Ween play at the Wetlands circa fall 1991 was odder than I thought it would be, and not necessarily because of the admittedly very odd music. There are plenty of bands now, in 2007 that do roughly what Ween did 16 years ago. Wander around Brooklyn on an early autumn Friday, and there will probably be at least a half-dozen loft parties starring flamboyant duos screaming over drum machines in varying cocktails of novelty and musicality. But head home from any one of those hypothetical parties and one will discover the difference: all of these bands, to a decimal, have MySpace pages, embeddable YouTube videos, a free mp3 or two (if not entire albums), and a list of upcoming gigs.
Maybe you wandered into Wetlands on that October night in 1991, saw Ween in their hour-ish opening slot for the Dead Milkmen (man, what a bill!). Maybe you were even intrigued by the little dude with the floppy hair gesticulating like an acid freak, occasionally playing an acoustic guitar, and belting with the funny accent. But maybe (just maybe) you got a drink or two and forgot to check the merch table, and headed home with only the band’s name in your head. Then what? If Ween achieved their intended effect — and given that they are still around in 2007, with a not insignificant following, suggests that they did — the answer was to think something along the lines of "what the hell did I just see?’ and then ponder that for a while. As a listener, that was all that was expected of you, and maybe to poke around at a record shop, and watch the listings for the next time they played.
It is one thing to a jump around like a lunatic, tape it with a cheap cam, and upload it. It seems totally natural in this day and age to self-promote using every tool at one’s disposal. It is an age in which people show off, in which people urinate on dying women and exclaim "this is YouTube material!’ It is another thing to jump around like a lunatic, tape it with a cheap cam, and stay in the wilderness. It is not that Ween were intentionally obscure. They were, after all, only a year away from signing a major label deal with Elektra. In fact, psychological profiling aside, it’s probably not even a leap to say that the exact reason they were jumping around to begin with was to get some kind of attention.
To jump around in the wilderness was a bold thing. To follow bands for jumping around in the wilderness was bold, too, a real gesture of allegiance. But, now, there is no wilderness, very little chance of some weird little micro-scene recording four-track epics and staying entirely inaccessible for a decade or more. It is both wonderful and daunting, for musicians, listeners, and anybody with any stake in culture at all. Is it good? Does it make the world unlimited because a musician can do anything and get it out there? Or does it do the opposite, becoming confining, because seemingly everybody is already doing everything?
What is this world that now opens up for musicians or writers or filmmakers or painters or playwrights or anybody, knowing that the discovery of a doppelganger, somebody covering the same creative ground, is very probably just a few well-phrased Google searches away? Nothing will be destroyed, of course. Will it just drive people to more bug-eyed obscurity? Newer, more glittering forms of novelty? Will they band together and flail around together, so to speak? Will the weirdoes just find new ways to be obscure? In the infinite improbability drive that is the internet (to borrow from the late Douglas Adams), everything is not only possible, but probable.
Jesse Jarnow blogs at wunderkammern27.com