Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I've seen your repulsion: an ode to Courtney Love's phlegm

I encountered the brilliant all-queer Hole coverband BUTTHOLE (wonderfully low on gear, songs dotted with irreverent punk rock screwups, singer sporting ratty blond wig and Courtney's signature fuck-you snarl) last week at Live With Animals Gallery. Since then, I've spent some days listening to Pretty On The Inside. It's not as good a record as Live Through This, nor does it stake as much emotionally, nor is it as just plain beautiful, but there are many moments I feel are worth talking about, and one specific disturbing, gorgeous phenomenon.

Listen to the first track, "Teenage Whore." Listen to it on headphones. You can hear the mucus, the way it rattles and snaps back. It becomes percussive. It is impossible to ignore.

The reason I find this example so compelling is that the phlegmy voice says Body so aggressively. There is no voice without a body to propel it, but especially in music, the voice often becomes vaporous or, at the very least, disembodied. (See Amy Winehouse; see the easy way we, her audience, were able to separate her otherworldly talent from her body's obvious crumbling. See any Big Voice Singers that have been subject to body scrutiny. We separate the two too easily.) The voice lives on after the death of the artist. But sometimes the body is so dearly intertwined with the voice, as it in this song.

Physiologically speaking, the voice exits the body and then enters the ear of the listener. Prior to and during the Early Modern era, medically speaking, experts believed that sound was actually composed of particles that would enter the ear (and so the head) of the listener. So the relationship between sound and ear became a kind of analog for penetration. Of course we don't believe this anymore -- we know that sound travels in waves, not teenytiny pieces -- but in the relationship between musician and audience, sound is still the doer where the listener is the one being done to.

So what happens when the body is present in this analog? Specifically the secretions of the body. Isn't it kind of like unprotected sex, if you think about it? Hearing the phlegm makes for a visceral reaction because by the time you hear it, you've already understood it, it's already in you, and all of a sudden it's just that personal, and you recognize that, and it makes you recoil a little, but it also makes you give in a little.

1 comment:

Miss Thing said...

i love this post, yes yes yes. courtney's voice on POTI and LTT is so throaty and full and absolutely dares you to even try and not notice her anger and sorrow and confusion. i don't know that i've ever heard rage spewn the way courtney did it. it makes your heart beat hard just to hear it; i can't imagine what it must've been like to actually propel those sounds from one's body.