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Monday, April 12, 2010

25. "Hips and Abdomen" by Cathi Stout

The battle between irony and sincerity continues unabated.

The problem in choosing a side is that both ethics are correct at times. Sincerity has the virtue of being pure and heartfelt, but there are things which are clearly bunkass, and being sincere about such things is worthy of ironic derision. On the other hand, irony as a kneejerk response to everything is just plain reprehensible. And the war rages without so much as a ceasefire.

All of this is by way of saying that it can be very confusing to enjoy "outsider music" as much as I do. That's largely because the term is slippery and best, and the people who collect and present this kind of stuff (curators, I suppose) have any number of agendas. All of us are interested in recordings and compositions outside of the mainstream and all but forgotten. Some of us are scholarly, some of us semi-professional nostalgists, and some are doubtless just looking for laughs at the expense of the people guileless enough to commit their odd, odd selves to tape (or similar). For me, the rewards come when I can be both amazed by the sheer weirdness of a piece and yet still emotionally relate to the impulses and desires behind its creation, and be moved in a profound way. It's a thrilling feeling and it does my favorite thing, almost, of all: challenges my ideas of what songs and recordings can be, what kind of things can touch us. Of course, sometimes I snicker, too. And don't feel great about it afterward. But the rewards are many.

Anyway, what we have here is an excerpt from... well, a 1970's Gospel excercise record. It may well have been put forward with a slightly condescending smirk, but at the same time, it's a sound whose like might never have been heard again and it has some anthropological interest. I decided to play it... sincere. Ignoring the exercise bit, I focused on the sort of cut-rate Oak Ridge Boys-style backing track, which is apparently pretty obscure-- can't find any references to it online anyhow-- and tried to perform it in a style that seemed to me more visceral. Which it certainly really isn't, and perhaps ironic derision is the proper response to my take on it. And the fighting goes on.

Final note on the oddity of this process: my recording seems to be of a song called something like "By Faith" or "Step Out Upon the Water", but because of the source from which I pulled it, its title remains, amazingly, "Hips and Abdomen".

Rex ~ guitar and vocal
Photo by Eden Hain



I pretty much stand by my decision to interpret this piece as I did. The above ruminations on sincerity, irony and Outsider Art stand, and I have nothing of consequence to add.

The recording is okay, although the performance gets shakier as it goes on. At this point I hadn't worked out how to record parallel tracks in Garageband, so this, as with all tracks where I sang and played guitar at the same time, was recorded in Audacity, and like most of them the tracks weren't treated with any effects, so it's very dry. Which is okay, but somehow I messed up let the vocal drift into the red throughout the track. It could be worse, but it bugs me a lot more now than it did at the time.

As I still felt a little self-conscious about doing a completely live performance and, more to the point, tended to feel like I was unlikely to get another good take after I'd come close, I left some obvious mistakes in this recording, the most obvious part being when I say that the apostle Peter "died" instead of "cried". It creates a bit of a continuity problem in the song, to say nothing of the Scriptures.


Very obviously I segue into "Lookin' Out My Back Door" by Creedence Clearwater Revival on the playout. That song is deep in my musical DNA as it was one of a very small handful of 45s I inherited from parts unknown as a very young child (along with The Band's "Up On Cripple Creek", a pair of Beatles singles, and "Ode to Billy Joe"). For some reason I sing "lookin' out my front door", though. If there was meant to be any significance to that, I've totally forgotten what it might've been.

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