I’ve been reading “Sonata For Jukebox” by Geoffrey O’Brien, which is a pop memoir of sorts, but more importantly outlines ways in which we (we?) live inside music: how it’s not just to soundtrack our lives, it’s the place where our memories live, the place where we keep our remembered feelings. That’s part of what it’s about, I think. I haven’t finished it yet.
David Blandy is a pasty-faced, lank-haired British on a mission, or a series of missions. That might mean walking NYC in his bare feet or hiking Lakeland mountains with a portable record player, dressed in Shaolin monk suit and spinning the sixties soul. He’s a barefoot pilgrim and he’s inserting himself into pop fantasies right and left.
At first sight, it looks like he’s filled Aicon’s basement with a collection of stuff which the artist thinks is cool: messed-with arcade games, comix, kung-fu movie posters, kung fu movies. “Space Is the Place” seems to be playing. But then you notice that he (TBLP, Blandy, both maybe) are in all these things – he’s speaking some of Sun-Ra’s lines, he’s learning the way of the warrior.
He’s also drawn himself into in a series of home-made imaginary answer records to Mingering Mike, the home-made imaginary soul superstar alter-ego of some unnamed kid, created and discarded, and then found and loved and published by some crate-digger. (This in itself is a great story, by the way, but now’s not the time.)
The best bits of the show are a series of films in which Blandy / TBLP essays a series of quests. In one, he is “searching for the soul of the lakes” by trekking barefoot from a record shop in Keswick (he picks up a Motown 45) to another in Borrowdale (the only vinyl for sale is up on the wall – he buys a framed “Black and White Minstrels” LP). In another, he’s padding around the five boroughs playing site-specific soul and hip hop records (“Across 110th St” on 110th St; “Brooklyn Zoo” by the only zoo in Brooklyn, you get the idea) and recording choice reactions from the locals. These films are engaging and sometimes hilarious and they leave a question pleasingly unanswered: what does DB/TBLP learn in the ‘00s by playing “Ain’t It Hell Up In Harlem” up in Harlem, in a kung fu suit and no shoes?
Kung fu – sci-fi – soul – hip hop. It’s hardly a new set of connections being made. But this adds up to something, something about a music fan fantasy world. Blandy knows, just as surely as Geoffrey O’Brien does, that we invent ourselves using the things we love and we live around.
He seems to be getting at something else, as well – at a desire to write ourselves into the things we love, to be a part of them, as close to the source as possible. That’s an impulse I recognize very well, though I’ve no clue whether you do. The feeling comes as a package with the certain knowledge of failure, especially if pop’s grab-bag has given me a package consisting of sci-fi, martial arts, heartfelt vintage soul and old-school hip hop, and I’ve decided to try to keep it real.
I remember being in Tennessee, awed and fascinated by the surviving scraps of the country and soul and country-soul I love so much. I wasn’t barefoot in a judo costume, but I might as well have been. I can own as many original versions as I like, I still can’t get to the original version. But I can be there, at least, even if I can’t be then, or them. That’s something, right?
I’m not sure what David Blandy has to say about authenticity or identity or fandom and that’s the strength of the show, really – I end up identifying with him, too, thinking myself the barefoot pilgrim.
[This is part of a group show called “Royale With Cheese” only runs until April 3rd, so you don’t have long, but it’s free and really worth a look.]