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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2009/01/24
by Jesse Jarnow

Song of the Refrek

BRAIN TUBA: Song of the RefrekDean:
The culture here in this valley does something very interesting when a societal change arrives. They wash their walls clean. Completely clean. And it doesn’t matter what kind of walls they are. It could be a yurt stretched from refrekelt, it could be a simple wooden huxyyk chamber. If it’s a surface they can burn, they burn it. If it’s one that requires an acidic compound of, I dunno, berries and shit, then they make that. It is a community effort, and the women sing sweet, old songs that are only aired during these periods of transition, and act as a sort of bridge between the old culture and the new. This is what I hear, anyway. How they remember the songs during periods of stabilization—usually between 20 and 30 years each—I haven’t figured out yet. They certainly aren’t recorded.
Mostly because the drums here are so big—they take up entire rooms in special huts—the people here consider the surface of these instruments to be walls, too, and those have been covered in paint and sweat and occasional splatters of refreklood (which is a corrosive orange). So when they wash it off, the sound of the instrument totally changes, thins out, because the surface has become way looser. The old rhythms won’t work anymore, getting cancelled out by the massive sound waves that go ricocheting around the drum-skin when struck with warm refrekone, still dripping with muscle. So they need to start from scratch. They’re about 14 years into the current epoch, so I probably won’t get a chance to see a regime change, unless I stick around for a while.
Which I do intend to do, Dean, though maybe not that long. What’s going back home is certainly of interest. And certainly it seems like The Onion has jacked all the feeds, spiking them with good news, but—holy shit, man—the damage has been done. It’s going to be hard to undo, and I’m not talking about Gitmo or health care or the economy. Because, ultimately, those are institutions—if not in legal practice then at least in thought—and are subject to policy decisions. I’m waiting for Barack Obama’s global karmic bailout to come to cable. Because, this is a revolution that needs to be televised. If I get home and people are still buying into reality shows and gnawing celebrity gossip and all that, well, that’d be a real bummer.
Jerry Garcia used to use the term "high" to describe a certain state of turned-on-ness in people, and about 75% of the time, it’d be totally unclear if he meant it literally or spiritually. (In a lot cases, I suspect, I’m sure he frequently meant both.) But, Barack Obama? He’s, like, pretty high, and probably not literally. But he does seem authentically open. Like, if some head managed to present himself calmly and reasonably to Obama, he’d be able to have a real conversation with the Prez about, I dunno, the linear tides of the cosmic plane and the celestial songlines that bind together periods of eternity (as they believe here, described above) and Obama would be able to relate in some manner approaching understanding. Or maybe he’d just have the dude hauled off. Who’s to say? I’m still going to roll with the belief that the Prez would at least nod.
And—while it’s possible that Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton would’ve done this—I’m waiting for it to trickle down. Will having a president who takes himself a little more seriously on an intellectual level have an appreciable effect on the culture at large? Because, strange as it is to say this out loud, I think we could really use some unofficial hegemony.

You are perhaps not surprised, Dean, to find out that this is how it works here. In fact, it is an official policy of the society, which I suppose makes it more like a tradition than policy. Each leader has his or her own means of expression that he/she prefers to be manifested itself in all art (the matter of how is still a choice of personal choice). The late Srruthh, who vibrated back into the songlines 14 years ago, was fond of the simplest forms possible. He wasn’t anti-intelligence so much as about primitive elegance, but it meant that the music created under his watch was of a kind with his thought: symmetric beats, arranged carefully. The current leader, a woman named Llllllllllf, is slightly more ornate. That is her official policy, anyway, though there have been public signs she has regretted that decision, which has made for an interesting type of public music, descriptions of which will have to wait for another time. I’m still collecting the tapes.
Let me know how the culture reform goes. Keep an eye out for it.

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