23.9.07

CAM:NYC- Part IV: Man Man

When Marco Polo discovered golf shirts and swimming pools in the summer of '69 I am not sure if he envisioned their usages for anything other than golfing and swimming. I don't know the man personally, all I know of the man personally I derive from the things he has left behind--golf shirts, swimming pools, table tennis. Therefore my judgments of his character begin inherently flawed and don't really improve much as they proceed. Not that that would or has ever stopped me. So, I am willing to venture that there was no way for Marco Polo to foresee his glorious inventions being misused by clean-cut collar-poppers for the purposes of courting scantly clad females in throbbing night clubs, nor, I am sure, did he foresee his wettest of his inventions being drained of it's wetness (and thereby meaning? perhaps) and filled instead by hipsters and the placating and invigorating sounds of arch-hipsters in country club tennis garb and white war paint convulsing on drums and keys and horns of various shapes and sizes. And thus, while Marco Polo's ears perked up and caused his head to tilt, shift, and turn a third-turn south, our merry wanderers found themselves bobbing in the deep-end not for the laws of bouyance but flambouyance and the frantic spastic epilitonic cacophonous delirium (all in the very best way) that is... MAN MAN!
You hear rumblings and grumblings and what the kids in the know know to call hype, or buzz, or rumblings and grumblings that Man Man was something to behold live. But until I inadvertently encountered them opening for Modest Mouse in the month of May at the Metropolis in Montreal with Mike Mendalson and me, Morgan Murray, Man Man didn't mean much to me. Didn't mean much to me at all. But they quickly won me over.
Much is made in the media of how Man Man makes music that means the most to follower of Waits and Beefheart and Zappa or some combination of the three. For all my dilettantish dabbling into some combination of the three I have been yet to find what it is that makes these cult heroes particularly heroic and am left scratching my head until my hair falls out. Once upon a time I found myself in a Eastern Bloc cellar beholding a Tom Waits cover band featuring a female singer of these Tom Waits songs, gravel gullet and all, this was something to behold. But it was was a more of a site to behold than a sound to behold. It revealed nothing of the tributee to me and left me perplexed still. All it gave me was a peculiar story of the peculiar place that is the Eastern Bloc and the peculiar places and sites and sounds that go on underground after dark. On the way home we talked about the Mars Volta with a guy from Brooklyn with a broken leg while his girlfriend pushed him through the crooked cobble-stone streets in a rusty wheel chair.
Earlier I said things like frantic, spastic, epilitonic (which isn't a word, but the marriage of epileptic and sonic, which is meant to sound like a seizure or some seizure-causing sound, but is actually something that was probably sold by snake oil salesmen in the old west and was the basis for Fanta Orange), cacophonous, delirium. If you too have dabbled dilettantish, as have I, in the likes of Waits, Beefheart, Zappa, or Blowfish, then these words that I use and the old esoteric name drops of the esoteric aestheticians who tell us how tight to wear our tight pants and how may points on a scale of ten, to the tenth, a bands latest effort is cool, are not quite copastic. Beefheart may have been spastic, Zappa may have had his frantic flourishes, Waits may have veered close to cacophonous, Blowfish may have blew whether we knew it then and are willing to admit we didn't think so then now, but none of them are all of them and Man Man certainly is.
Seeing Man Man with the naked eye, or the naked eye clothed in slightly ironic and interminably hip (until later next year when they are no longer) horn-rimmed spectacles, especially if the naked eyes are situated in the deep end of a drained depression-era make work (then play) swimming pool in Brooklyn, is like being present, and witnessing with the naked eye, the simultaneous birth of 1,000 screaming babies in the deep end of a drained depression-era make work (then play) swimming pool in Brooklyn. The only difference is that there are fewer red-faced fathers and annoying know-it-all midwives, and the sound of the screaming does not cause the ear to bleed but rather to bob and bop and drag the head along with it.
A Man Man set is an hour of kinetic energy being unleashed in sonic form. Not like dynamite or fireworks or thunderstorms, too many lulls. More like the Magic Bullet® making a face melt milkshake with the hopes, dreams, and squeaky toys of childhood for 55-minutes instead of the guaranteed 10 seconds. A Magic Bullet® wearing white short shorts and white war paint and beating the piss our of drums and keyboards and melodies and harmonies and gravel voiced men with grave faces singing like cherubs and, and, and...
(Play the fun new game, "Where's Caroline Area Man?" It is like spotting a square peg in a rectangular swimming pool full of round hipsters. [Yes, I am in this photo. Hint: Between Honus Honus' elbow and the edge of the world.])
It's in a swimming pool the size of half of your hometown brimming with all stripes (ironic stripes, naturally) of the hippest of the hip hipsters on the face of the earth (if you find the pretentiousness of small-town backwater hipsters nauseating try keeping a float in a pool full of the gold standard of skinny vintage jeaners), a fat man skids off the end of the slip and slide in the shallow end, a headband bedecked NYU philosophy drop-out hits a used rumpled floral dress wearing hippette in the face with a dodge ball in the deep end. Somewhere in the middle of all this you stand, mouth agape, only closing to sing along, hands clapping because you cannot help yourself, and even the most hard-hearted hipster's face cracks into a smile and spontaneous clapping, and the standard self-conscious head-bob & knee-bend is replaced by something that is as close to dancing as the cool kids could get. In the end, all the bullshit I can spout about infomercial blending devices fails to capture something that makes the cool kids dance as unabashed as cool kids might dance. If you can imagine this scene--the pool, the band, the cool kids, the Brooklyn, and you in the centre--your imagination is better than mine. I was there, I sang, I took photos, I danced, I took video, I clapped, I staggered out in a dazed stupour and stumbled upon this marching band. And to this day I can barely believe any of it. Good luck to you to do the same.

1. "Man Man," Brooklyn, NY.
2. "Honus Honus Shines Like Diamonds," Brooklyn, NY.
3. "Honus Honus Stabs His Mother To Death," Brooklyn, NY.
4. "War on Trees," Brooklyn, NY.
5. Man Man Video 1, Brooklyn, NY.
6. Man Man Video 2, Brooklyn, NY.
7. Not my photo, just my face.
8, 9, 10. "Panda Bear," "Damn Dirty Apes," "What Cheer?" Brooklyn, NY.

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