. issue VII : ii .
“It was a double record set, it cost 7 dollars, it was too much, but Frank Zappa’s name was on it so I bought it. I took it home and put it on. It was the worst dreck I’d ever heard. I said, ‘They’re not even trying! They’re just playing randomly,’ you know? But I thought, ‘But Frank Zappa produced it, so maybe if I give it another play….’ And I thought, ‘It sounds horrible, but they mean it to sound this way.’ And about the 3rd or 4th time it started to grow on me. At about the 5th or 6th time I loved it. And the 7th or 8th time, I thought it was the greatest album ever made, and I still do.”
— Matt Groening on Trout Mask Replica
And therefore, the reader is charged with listening to Rudimentary Peni’s Cacophony at least seven times. Cacophonous it is, but more properly, it’s hypostatically polyphonous: frontman Nick Blinko assumes dramatis personae with relentless, revolting limberness, catatonically flexible — the boneless dissolution of self — but frantically motile. (The instrumentation is equally unfettered and fickle. And composition? Forget it! For instance, one seconds-long song — “A Return to Victorian Values” — consists only of Blinko stating, “Henry was giving his mother a good f-cking.” And so the most that can be said is that (the) Cacophony persists for 43 minutes. But goodness-gracious, …if that isn’t the least of it.) If Beefheart pursued the consummation of the blues tradition, Blinko is pursuing the mental anthropology of humanity, our curse cosmogenic in scope, and the underbelly of the psyche, which, as Heraclitus once said, “lusts to be wet.” Blinko’s near-complete derangement (he was committed for a symbolic seven years (great) after Cacophony spewed itself into the world) is the midwife of this psychological riposte of an album, supersaturate with by Blinko’s advanced vision, keen denunciation, and thunderbolted ‘word salads’ as epigrammatic as Heraclitus but strung together freeform in a slipshod cocoon. Mental dissolution results in (or, perhaps, is conjugated with, steeled on by (re: Ahab)) the total refusal of all barriers — “What’s the use of looking if you don’t see ’em?” intones Blinko in “The Horrors in the Museum” — and permits a terrible clarity. Not uncoincidentally, this is Heraclitus’ ‘upward-downward path’ in teeming tender unity, ponderously fecund; this is a Cacophony, in which Rudimentary Peni (Grant Brand, b-g; Jon Greville, d; Nick Blinko, vox and e-g) make a totally reasonable racket for all those ms(s)-in-a-bottle(s) so-long sealed (one striking snippet: “They took my father, today, 1697”).
But what do these ‘30’ ‘songs’ mean? This cacophony is beyond that, perhaps, as when Blinko claims himself “Anti-anti- / Don’t even believe in nihilism anymore / The problem of induction.” If there is a hermeneutics here, it’s induced but not inductive, instead, forced to be the enfleshed sum-total, overload though that might be. Whence the hypostasis, and hence the connection with H. P. Lovecraft, early 20th-century horror writer of deservedly notorious repute, who understood the human epistemology as one of uppity mythmaking and tough-shelled but vulnerable viscera-frail capacities (“Things have learned to walk that ought to crawl”) in a universe of arcane forces — the Lovecraftian Pantheon — far exceeding human comprehension. It’s Blinko’s fascination with Lovecraft that is the white-‘n’-shining skeleton of Cacophony and the vehicle for his presentation, the torque of his incisive tongues. Blinko identifies himself as the incarnation of the hermeneutical import (“To Nyarlathotep, Mighty Messenger, must all things be told / And He shall put on a semblance of men, the waxen mask and the robe that hides”), the teller of all things to whom “must all things be told.” The very real toll of the project on Blinko is illustrated by the faux-reportage in “New Dark Age” —
“Hello, and welcome to Inconclusive Arguments. In today’s conference, we have a psychologist, a guru, an athlete, a freak, a scientist, a dictator, an Anarchist, a mass murderer, a composer, a human vegetable, and a complete outsider. Let’s open the discussion with you, er, what gives? That look of revelation on the athlete’s face: the complete outsider is the center of attention — Just what is the human vegetable doing to the psychologist? The freak is eating up the mass murderer. Oh my god, terrifying vistas of reality and our position therein are being opened up to us all. This is the worst thing that’s happened to mankind, and in the studio they’ve opted for a new dark age, but your commentator has gone stark raving mad.”
Blinko, the complete outsider (elsewhere he calls himself “one semi-unacculturated”), is forced to expropriate all actors in order to engorge <> disgorge any remotely accurate ‘message.’ This may sound like some historiographical early-Decemberists piece, but no; it’s gone far past the ‘roll.’ Blinko has the entire script, and Cacophony is the vessel. He’s also conscious of being the stage, assuming Lovecraftian characters with page-turning flippancy, yes, but also singing, stammering, ranting, cavorting, retching, defecating, emitting ghastly vibrato, gnashing his teeth (“A Great Gnashing of Teeth” — no kidding), and purring (the memorable “Cat”). The performative quality of Cacophony is grotesque; with Blinko so far beyond the event horizon, this is ruinous realism where the actor is a victim and the audience are bystanders. Blinko conflates himself with Lovecraft in telling terms (“The sickliest bodies produce the greatest thoughts / Fourth generation teetotaler / Memory man, muscleless man / Hear a Lovecraft ccccrying / I am a tasteless, unsophisticated yokel / I ain’t no gent / You are a yahoo / I ain’t no gent / You are a yahoo / The last of the line with the strangest decline / Lovecraft baby”) — “memory man,” a powerless repository of cosmological and anthropological awareness. But he’s also keenly aware of himself as an inheritor in the Conradian sense, saying he’s “fondling the master’s skull” — the hard-to-define inappropriateness of the verb tunneling through foramina — and capitalizing on another’s legacy (“One of his coffin nails / For one hundred dollars”). But perhaps this capitalization is a way for the “herd” (“the herd laughed at my writing”) to stomach — not digest — Lovecraft’s works, and Blinko provides commentary on Lovecraft’s legacy that’s both derisive and peculiarly ashamed: “Lovecraft lives in Del Rey books / Lovecraft’s rock follies.”
But those selfsame ‘rock follies’ are decried by a fogey of a headmaster (perhaps?) in “Twitch,” and so with a sleek, effortless reversal, Blinko conveys what’s admirable about Lovecraft — the integrity of obsession; just as ‘passion’ and ‘passive’ are both from the Latin ‘to suffer, to endure, to submit.’
——————————————————————————————beyond the Tanarian hills.
“Howard Phillips Lovecraft, heaven knows, had a talent for writing which was of no mean proportion, only, what he did with this talent was a shame and a caution and an eldritch horror. If he’d only gotten the hell out of his aunties’ attic and obtained a job with the federal writer’s project of the WPA, he could have turned out guidebooks that would have been classics and joys to read forever, only he stayed up there, muffled up to the tip of his long gaunt New England chin against the cold which lay more in his heart than in his thermometer, living on 19 cents worth of beans a day, rewriting (for pennies) the crappy manuscripts of writers whose complete illiteracy would have been a boon to all mankind — ah, but life is a boon — and producing ghastly, grisly, ghoulish, and horrifying works of his own as well: of man-eating things which foraged in graveyards, of human/beastie crosses which grew beastlier and beastlier as they grew older, of gibbering Shoggoths and Elder beings which smelt real bad and were always trying to break through thresholds and take over; rugous, squamous, amorphous nasties abetted by thin, gaunt New England eccentrics who dwelt in attics and who were eventually never seen or heard from again. Serve them damn well right, I say. In short, Howard was a twitch, boys and girls, and that’s all there is to it.”
Howard (Lovecraft) wasn’t/isn’t the only ‘twitch’ in the room, though Blinko is more shivered than twitchy. Cacophony is not a ‘pretty sight’ — but it is a sight; check. And as with repressive-headmaster-Blinko, we see opposing personas relieving tension, reconciliation a la Heraclitus. Compare the humorous pith of the headmaster in eliciting the charm from a grim subject with Blinko’s authentic capacity for wiping the smile off of the universe(s)’ face, to bottom out even cute puppies or sunshine in the pit of one’s stomach. Case in point: “Gentlemen prefer blood in this day and age, well, really,” and “Everyone wants to kill someone, but they don’t,” and, of course, instructions for parenting titular “Lovecraft baby,” “Feed it reg’lar / How it grows!” And compare the headmaster’s ginger-beer-sipping “ah, but life is a boon!” with Blinko’s sobering appraisal, “The grave is god’s dying plan.”
The peculiar thing is that the obviously unraveled Blinko unleashes psychological aptitude basically unequalled by even Machen or James or Nabokov, forget Lovecraft himself. His incisive social commentary is simply terrifying in its perspicacity: “But science foils our phobias / Noiseless faceless / For faces frighten neighbors.” His reconnaissance of the human psyche is always from an evolutionary perspective (so, with Lovecraft): “Origins unknown out of Africa skin change psychesame fresh prejudice / Collapsing cosmoses dreaming of adrenalin deathrush cosmology / Early earth atmosphere ancient death atmosphere happenstance.” “Macabre Heritage” — a sort of split-personality roll call — ends with “Poe,” … but it begins with “Cave art.” And “Zenophobia” aptly connects social terror and hate (that “psychesame fresh prejudice”) with the concretized fear of the unknown — the lack of illumination — the dark, eulogizing or notarizing or celebrating (how you would), “We are gathered here today to pour scorn on inhumanity’s weaknesses and foibles / A fear of cellars, crypts, and caves / Underground hollow evacuated lecture theatre / Shadow strewn interior / Abandoned gas house / Topomaniac genophobia dispophobia gymophobia philophobia / Scholophobia phenophobia panophobia / Our leader fears the dark / Have a nasty night!” Blinko’s sagacity intends to himself, too, sympathetically accounting for his enfeebled mind (“You don’t need pot to see Pan / You don’t need pot to see Pan / I’m a little girl I’m a little girl I’m a little girl I’m a little girl / And I formed a dislike for killing things which could not fight back”) and yet unapologetic for his inappropriateness (“Rudiments of genteel behavior / Hairy wig / Yak! / You have hit a nerve, Sir”) even though it’s, at the root, a tragic self-consignment (“Send her to Bedlam obnoxious to strangers”).
The political commentary may be how we know Blinko is still … ‘rational.’ Rudimentary Peni’s anarcho-punk roots are deliciously unfurled in lines like, “What do you want the nouveau riche house of Windsor / The jaded sentimentality of the uninvaded people person,” “Sickle star hammer stripes stripe sickle stars hammer star corpse / Knighthoods, lands and refinement for yesterday’s bullies’ derision,” “Alienists alienate alien alienists alienate alien nations,” and “O America, we are not a gun-boat for your lack of diplomacy / As we were now so shall ye be / Government by the people by the people fool the people.” It’s jarring to realize they’re — and we, the listeners — in 1987, Common Era, whoopdeedoo, at Southern Studios; Cacophony feels ancient. There’s even a snide ‘chronistic,’ nay, timely politico-Bardic moment in “Jabbering/Raucous Squawk, Harsh Cackle/Sir Algovale Was Right The Bastard Faulconbridge Speaks” (that’s the song title) from Shakespeare’s King John: “This England never did, nor ever shall lie at the proud foot of a conqueror / But when it first did help to wound itself / Now these her princes are come home again / Come the three corners of the world in arms / And we shall shock them / Nought shall make us rue if England to itself be true!” (V.vii) …cue the re-election of Thatcher.
But it’s not the politicization that governs Cacophony — it’s the cosmic casuistry. The central question, and its cacophonous answer, is whether Lovecraft’s provision is safe now that he’s dead — for Blinko, the mouth is the only sphincter, whether wrought (wreaking) through ‘song’ or ‘Del Ray.’ And in “The Loved Dead,” Blinko narrates, “They’ve taken Lovecraft’s lantern jaw off and are embalming him,” concluding that “the adoration of dead personalities [is] safe fantasia.” Could Blinko believe this? Cacophony documents the unmitigated collapse of his haggard, sweaty mind. But the last line clarifies what, exactly, is safe, and for whom. As with Lovecraft’s witless scholars who have their conception of the cosmos irreparably shattered, mortals don’t touch what’s on the shelf, and there’s never an exception — surely not “memory man” Blinko. Instead, vindicated is the “immortality of the unobtainable.” For as Heraclitus said, “Immortals are mortal, mortals are immortal: each lives the death of the other, and dies their life.” But the unobtainable? That’s forever.