Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Celebrating the Absurd!

Q: What's the difference between Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus?
A: They both have beards, except Mickey!

That's my dad's favorite joke and one of the few jokes I can ever remember, so by default it's one of my favorite jokes and also the cornerstone of my appreciation for the absurd. I remember hearing this joke several times as a kid and not "getting it" and then one day I "got it", meaning I finally understood that it's not supposed to make sense and that's why it's funny, though in the case of this joke it's humor is still debatable.

Having moved form New York City to San Francisco, one of the first things I noticed about the cultural difference between the cities had to do with San Francisco's sense of humor. For instance, as democratic, liberal and anti-bush as NYC is, New Yorkers would NEVER bother to "waste" their energy on something like this. Absurdism is an investment. You have to really stand by your joke and see it through to completion and maybe even have to explain it to people who may take it too literally. Sometimes the joke actually develops into something more serious like with San Francisco's proposed renaming of the Sewage Treatment Plant after our Lame Duck du Jour President or with Telex's farcical 1980 entry to the Euro-vision song contest.

The electro-pop band entered the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest with a cheerfully mocking song titled "Euro-Vision." Telex's stated goal for Eurovision -- to finish last -- was thwarted by Portugal, who for reasons not entirely clear, awarded them 10 points. You can watch their underwhelming performance here.

The Eurovision audience seemed unsure how to react to the performance, and after the band stopped playing there was mostly stunned silence, with scattered polite applause; Marc Moulin took a photograph of the bewildered audience. The band walked off amidst sounds of muttering. A mark of the confusion caused by the performance was when vote-counting began, and Greece awarded Belgium three points, the announcer thought she had misheard and tried to award the points to The Netherlands. (Wikipedia for Telex)

Band leader and the reason for today's blog post, Marc Moulin, famously said, "We had hoped to finish last, but Portugal decided otherwise." Marc Moulin passed away on September 26th after a long battle with throat cancer, leaving a long legacy of music as a solo jazz artist, as a member of the Belgian Jazz-Funk group Placebo, as well as one of the founders of Telex. I came to hear about him not much more than a year ago having been tipped off by some crate-digger somewhere about the band Placebo. Sure enough, Placebo's albums are rare as hen's teeth, but worth the hunt for their stark production, emphasis on weird keyboard effects and heavy drums. In a nut-shell: Herbie Hancock meets Can. Listening to these tracks you can hear similarities to the arrangements and production of David Axelrod and even get a sense for why hip-hop legends DJ Shadow or Madlib might be attracted to Marc's musical legacy. I've picked out two favorites of mine from a CD (I have yet to see a Placebo LP in person) called "Marc Moulin: The Placebo Sessions 1971-1974"

Placebo - Humpty Dumpty
Placebo - Balek

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