synaptic-disunion

Category: Semiotics

His name was Johnny Virgil… : Kevin Gilbert’s “The Shaming of the True.” A Review, and Response: Part 2

Note: It took me a long time to finish this.  I sincerely hope this isn’t a portent of how often I’ll be able to update this blog, but I fear it may be.  That’s ok, I suppose.  I have full time responsibilities outside of this that frequently take priority.  The needs of the others, outweigh my own personal needs, always.  Anyway, on with part two, and the conclusion of this review and response.

When the opening notes of a concept album, or any composition, are dissonant, the composer is trying to convey a feeling.  This is easy to see. It’s no different with the opening notes of this album.  But how do we interpret this opening unsettling sound, this ear disturbing mismatch of tones, as it slowly congeals together into a pleasant chord?  What is the composer doing here?  Are we, as the listener, drifting from dissonance, that is to say, disorder, chaos, feelings of being adrift and lost, into something more pleasant and ordered, supposed to use these auditory signals as an allegory for something that is to come later in the piece?  I believe so.  Our hero, the central character in this opera, Johnny Virgil, is an aspiring singer, songwriter, rock star…at least that’s where his heart is…he has desires of greatness, he has a song in his heart and he wants to share it.  The lyrics clearly say he’s been listening to Dylan, he’s been listening to the Dead.  A parade of people who have come before him, who he venerates, these are the saints of the past, guiding the devotees of the present, in to the future. These are some of his influences, and he’s found a path down which he wants the saints above to help him walk, and it brings him something pleasant, ordered, a chord of existence for which he was searching for during the chaos of dissonant notes just moments ago.  He has decided what he wants to do.

As he traverses this path, he comes across someone who has already been down this path, and returned to the nothing from which they came.

The attendant at the Texaco saw the guitar case in my back seat
And decided to impart his tragic tale
He said: “I used to play in a band like you
We even made a record too”
And sang a bar that hardly rang a bell

He doesn’t want to see this as an omen or a portent of his own future, he looks away, tries to disengage in, he wants to go to the city of the sun, in this case, Sun Studios comes to mind.  Musicians have their holy places, as many orders to.  Sun Studios is one such place, Abbey Road another, Tupelo Mississippi yet another, and so it goes, as someone else once said.

From this place of uneasy hope, our hero, Johnny Virgil, has a series of adventures both amazing, and disturbing.  The song Suit Fugue (Dance of the A&R Men), is a musical piece of genius, in this reviewer’s humble opinion.  In round form, voices of these marketeers bespeaks the amazing things that are in store for Virgil, the lights, the money, the women.  This schmoozing, is all almost too much for him.  He tries to maintain his autonomy, until these front men convince him that he is the focus of their pocketbooks, their priority, and hand him over to the image makers in the industry, who create, through him, a character that can be packaged, marketed, and sold to the masses…and then the video…the music video.  Remember?

Some time in the late 90s, MTV stopped being Music Television, I think, in favor of some sort of Lifestyles of the young X’ers on the West Coast station.  My generation.  We were the generation of the transition between traditional music industry, and this new whatever industry it is now.  During the 90s, we watched the decline of MTV, bemoaned it…but did nothing about it, save get more piercings and tats…or focus on our internet start-up job in the brick-walled loft we called an office.  But the “industry,” that machine that pooped out music for us to consume, was changing, and we barely noticed.  But that’s all gone now, water under the bridge, where we kept our porn magazines, before we could just see it online for free, without worrying about being found out.  Those were our plans, those were our halcyon days, after Lewinsky, and before the tech-bust of the early 21st century.  Those were the days of our best laid plans.

Virgil’s plan went awry, as so many do, as so many of ours did.  One day you’re dreaming of pursuing a dream, a decade later, you’re still dreaming, but as a wage slave to your accidental career, just trying to make ends meet, while engaging in the fringes of what would have been your dream career, from your armchair, or as a gas station attendant.  Virgil lead his life almost like you did.  He was in front of crowds of screaming fans, loving fans, fawning fans.  Singing his songs, grinding his hips, owning the stage, with the excitement of a black gospel choir, sweat dripping off him, fervor of dedication to music and energy, sending it all to the crowd, who injects the experience like a drug.  This is the high point in the arc of our hero’s story…then comes the drop.

He becomes empty, surrounded by smug name-dropping psuedo-art types of dubious intellect.  The drugs flow, the parties are nonstop, he lives in a constant state of altered mind and consciousness, until he is a shell.  He becomes as empty as a Ken doll on the shelf.  He delivers what people want, what they need, and he is alone.  Somewhere along this dark corridor, he hears the tiny sound of his own mind, screaming in it’s tiny way, for release, for reality again.  He searches the emptiness within himself and tries to find his way back home, home now being his own self, who he wanted to be, who he wishes he was, who he thought he was going to become but for the redirection of others.  During this transition, he has to destroy the person he’s become, and becomes the archetypal bad-boy rock star.

Still, he knows he’s talented, while at the same time being used by others to line their pockets.  He’s a tool, nothing but a product.  So aptly put in this bit in the song “A Long Day’s Life,” toward the end of the album:

Three nights running now I’ve had the most unusual and disturbing dream, where I’m a 19th century French painter with a pallet and paint brush and beret and an ill-fitting black suite and I’m painting perfectly rectangular white lines on an endless snaking desert highway and people are yelling at me “you missed a spot.”

He wanted to be so much more, but this is what he’s become.  He had…still has…so much potential and talent, but his drive is gone, his will is broken, his love for his dream is lost.  It’s the end of all this now, he’s slipping into nothingness, obscurity, sliding down, letting the water close over his head and breathing in the cool liquid of nothingness.  He’s lost his way, he’s at the end of his days.

Just as we think the end has come for Johnny, we find that he is a survivor of sorts.  He moves on, he is crucified by the industry, and rises again, but he realizes that we are all prisoners of apathy and fear, and we’ve lost the way back home.  All of us, each of us is drifting though this life only to find that there are no simple solutions, no last judgement day, there is only the trying, the journey, the way to our homes.  That home is our peace, our comfort, a place we’ve found where we are as we want to be, a place where we can be who we are, express what is inside of us in whatever way we need.

This ending is melancholy, true.  Johnny’s last song is in his own mind, contemplative, and mournful in a hopeful sort of way.  He has traveled this road, left a mark on the world, and faded into obscurity.  The last track on this album, it is said, was recorded in one take, on the back porch of the studio, real rain, and the serendipitous sound of the train…it wasn’t planned, the universe just aligned that way, at that moment, for the mother of all endings…the train is the world moving on without Johnny, the rain is rejuvenating and calming, as he slips back into nothingness, having completed a real life bildungsroman, in secret.

As can be seen, I connect with this album, for whatever reason.  Truth be told, I connect with alot of albums I listen to, but really, none like this one.  There’s something deeply personal about it, for me.  Maybe I’m still in the middle of my own personal bildungsroman, or maybe my story is still unfolding.  I do know that I sometimes chase dreams, though others may find my chasing useless.  Something in me keeps me driving, hesitatingly, forward, nonetheless.  Perhaps one of these fits and starts, will lead me to an ending of my own.

Kevin Gilbert: The Shaming of the True Wikipedia article

Complete Lyrics from LyricWiki

Purchase the album here:

another beginning, of sorts…

I wanted to write again, I don’t know why, or to what end.  I have things I sometimes want to share, about what I listen to, about what I read, about what interests me, and I suppose I need an outlet, of sorts.  One thing is for sure, I want it to be simple.  There is so much clutter in our lives, so much vying for our attentions, alerts, emails, calendar invites, facebook comments and posts, twitter feeds, news, news, news, an endless barrage of content hammered into our senses, that sometimes it’s hard to find what’s important, between our ears, and behind our eyes, and send it out into the world through our mouths or our fingers.

I want this to be simple.  Clean.  I want it to be thoughtful, intellectual (if I can use that term without sounding elitist), and maybe even graceful.  I want to write about the things I enjoy, that’s really the thing.  That’s really the only thing.  I have a number of things I find interesting and enjoyable, and hopefully someone else will find these things interesting and enjoyable also.  Some of those things are, in no particular order:

Music:

I have always enjoyed music of many types, with very few exceptions.  To be sure, I find some styles more appealing than others.  Modern Country music, for example, does not appeal to me, nor does much of modern Pop music.  However, from my perspective, leaving those two out is like leaving two salt grains out of the ocean, and enjoying the rest.  They have very little meaning to me, in the long run.  I guess you could say I enjoy listening to things that were made to be listened to, not made to be sold.  I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone but me.  It probably, again, sounds elitist, maybe it is elitist.  I can’t tell.  I enjoy what I enjoy, for my own reasons.  I hope people can appreciate some of the same things I appreciate.

Anthropology:

In 1995, I completed an undergraduate degree from the University of North Texas, in Denton, Texas, labeled Bachelors of Applied Arts and Sciences.  I did over 98 credit hours in Anthropology, covering all of the sub-disciplines in that science, Archaeology (I was in the only Archaeological Science class in the nation, at that time, that had a Lab component), Linguistics, Cultural Anthropology, and Biological Anthropology.  I rounded out the rest of my BAAS in Film Production, Music Theory, and Sociology.  The BAAS was a catch-all for those of us who could never really decide what we wanted to be when we grew up, the result of which was, most of us never grew up and are still students today, as I am.  Since 1995, I have taken Hebrew Language, more Linguistic courses (both sociological and anthropological), and advanced linguistic courses such as Rhetoric, Narrative and Discourse.  Additionally I have taken Medical Anthropology, along with Myth, Magic and Ritual.  You could say I know a lot about Anthropology, for not actually being an anthropologist, but I would say, the more I learn about Anthropology, the less I feel like I know, and the more complex the human species seems to me, but perhaps I’m just overthinking things, I have that tendency.

Semiotics:

Semiotics is, well, the science of signs, symbols, and analogy.  Questions  like “why is a stop light or sign ‘red’?” is asked by semioticians.  How did it come about that the color ‘red’ has the meaning it does?  I came across semiotics during the coursework in Anthropological Linguistics, and found it fascinating.  Ferdinand de Saussure is hailed as the “father” of semiotics, but I’ve recently been reading books by many others in this field, Barthes, Eco, Guiraud, Foucault, and etc.  Semiotics appeals to my inner need to overthink things, and make things much more complicated than they probably need to be, in order to discover why mankind thinks, acts, and cognates the way he does.  I’m odd that way, I suppose.

Film:

Film.  Of course film.  Film was my other major in college, and I always love to talk and pontificate about good cinematography and creative story telling.  In film, I can blend all the above areas I enjoy, (music, anthropology, semiotics), in to a cohesive whole.  Film is sometimes where all these elements meet.  Sometimes those elements blend well together, marrying and creating a child of beauty, and sometimes they bump into one another, fight mercilessly with one another during the course of a film, and eventually fall apart leaving the viewer empty.

For the time being, that covers most of what I find interesting in this world.  Of course I am a political person, but I will be actively trying to disengage myself from any and all political or religious discussions in this venue, especially with the 2016 election cycle beginning in earnest, and people choosing sides, and the media spinning up their blitzkrieg-like coverage of the minutia of each of the candidate’s lives, successes, failings, ideas, clothing, hairstyles, and so on.  It’s not that I’m not interested, I am.  I want my candidate to win as much as everyone else wants their candidate to win, but I don’t want this venue to be the place for that.  I need an escape from that, I think we all do, from time to time.  It seems to me that we often times need to be reminded that we are citizens of the world, first, and our home country, less so.

Thanks for reading this lengthy opening post.  As I’ve indicated, I have no idea where I will go with this.  I have a few ideas.  Some prose from the past I might dig up, from previous lives.  I hope at least one or two of you check in from time to time.  Thanks.