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Today I thought I would share with you some more of my aesthetic influences and instead of relying on a purely literary source, this time around I felt that I should also put forth some of my cogitations on music which has influenced me both as a musician and as a philosopher. The artistic maven whose work I wish to illustrate these contentions with is the writer, musician, and spoken word iconoclast Micheal Gira. Throughout the rest of this article I will reference him simply as M. Gira which is the moniker most people know him by. Out of all of his creative endeavors, he is perhaps best known as being the founder and vocalist for the band Swans whose artistic heft was quite prodigious within the musical underground from 1983 to 1997. I have always considered Swans to be a cult band as they were consistently shunned by the musical mainstream while always maintaining a small but loyal and fanatical following. Yet, what I feel is even more salient about this band was the fact that they were a musical outfit who were most appreciated and admired by their fellow musicians. Speaking as a musician myself (I have been playing the guitar now for 21 years) I can think of no greater compliment for any creative individual than to garner the most respect for one’s work from one’s own peers. But before I start to opine on the band’s musical contributions and influence, I would like to instead focus first on M. Gira’s talents as a lyricist and writer. Surprised? I hope not.
I whole heartily believe M. Gira to be one of the greatest living existential lyricists. Those who are already familiar with his work in Swans will know what I am talking about and for those of you who are not familiar with this band I can only say that you should seek out their albums immediately. Yet as much as I have been an admirer of his music, I did not become fully aware of his talents as an existential writer until 1994. This was the year in which he published his first book of short stories entitled The Consumer through Henry Rollins publishing firm 2.13.61. It is in this book in which you can not help but notice his ability to articulate experiences which are only found in the more penumbral reaches of the human mind; experiencing the predicament found in existing while searching for meaning in a meaningless universe, no small feat present here. Gira has always had the uncanny ability to fully eviscerate himself through a process of ego deconstruction and dismemberment, whether on stage or in print. I have always seen him as a fellow navigator of the stygian depths who fully understands the crisis faced by those of us who abhor every aspect of our corporeal being and existence. He also devastatingly informs us of the fact that the quest for existential self actualization can be a harrowing one rife with hallucinatory vicissitudes. Effective examples of this ontic imbroglio can be found throughout this book, but I will use an extract from the stories The Boss and The Sex Machine to help elucidate the prosaic quality that I am describing:
He feels like he needs to be alone, needs to sequester himself, needs to remember exactly who he is, but he can’t find the place where he exists alone, without the interference of me in his mind, rearranging, shaping. What he needs is absolute isolation, sensory deprivation, to remove all stimulus, or, to repeat a predictable set of stimuli endlessly, until he’s floating in a thick liquid pool of his own unconsciousness, convinced now that he doesn’t really exist, drifting in the tide. (pg. 170)
The disco music enters the stalls through a speaker in the ceiling. The enclosed closet-like space acts as a resonating cabinet for bass frequencies, adding to the already claustrophobic confinement of the stall. The sour metallic smell of semen thickens the air just beneath the more immediately acrid odor of disinfectant. The men take this smell down into their lungs, where it’s diffused and absorbed into their bloodstreams and nervous system, poisoning their perception. The potential for murder and perversion, normally suppressed, is fertilized and intensified. The certainty of anonymity opens the door further. If one of the women were to enter the stall physically, as something more than an image seen through a screen, she’d certainly be disemboweled, cannibalized, mutilated. The men are incapable of self-control. They all have a repressed need to taste blood. When they masturbate, beneath the benign and childish fantasies they conjure up, the real thrill of potential violence is always the true erotic secret. ( pg. 83-84)
The other integral manifestation needed to better understand M. Gira’s genius in exploring the existential quandary is resplendently exemplified by the Swans 1987 album Children of God. Swans fans will already be keenly aware of the importance of this album within the spectrum of their discography. I see its extreme gravity as partially stemming from its marked transitional quality which bridges the early more heavy, torpid, and stentorian style of the band from the later more ethereal and numinous style. It also happens to be (at least for me) the first album in which M. Gira fully traverses the existential inquiries that I have highlighted. His use of language to educe existential anxiety combined with the beautiful and eerily affecting melodies and crushing rhythms truly make this album a creative juggernaut which still is highly revered by musicians of all types and is fully deserving of all of its accolades as few albums are.
This album is also of note for me due to it being the first album by the band that I heard back in 1988 and it is not at all hyperbolic to say that the experience changed my creative life. I came to realize, even at the age of eleven, that this group exerted a creative force which reverberated (and continues to reverberate) with many other musicians; musicians that would also turn out to be influential to me, such as the groups Godflesh and Pitch Shifter. As with any other musician, it is a near insuperable task for me to choose any clutch of albums (least of all a singular one) as bringing me the most transcendence and delectation. But also like any other musician I can site certain albums as standing out staggeringly with their influence and originality. For me, Children of God stands as one of those coruscate aural monoliths and not just for its aesthetic worth but also for the existential insight which issues from M. Gira’s words.
To close this brief panegyric I will concede that the initial impetus for this article was to simply pay homage to a man who I feel truly deserves to be hailed as an artist and who has also had a profound effect on my own creativity. But I also hope that my distillation of M. Gira’s creative ventures will entreat anyone reading this who is not already familiar with him or the band Swans to be intrigued enough to start their own inquest. It is an inquiry well worth pursuing I assure you.
Very interesting review, and not ignoring how refreshing it is to find someone with an absolute command of the English language.
I came across M. Gira through Angels of Light’ via Tears of the Moosechaser , who may appear they are just beginning, however their lyrics are somewhat exceptional.