RIP Daniel “songs of pain” Johnston (1961 – 2019)

“Urge” from Songs of Pain (1981).

Daniel Johnston was an American singer-songwriter regarded as a significant figure in outsiderlo-fi, and alternative music scenes.

Johnston’s cult status was propelled when Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain wore a T-shirt at the 1992 MTV music awards that featured artwork from Johnston’s 1983 album Hi, How Are You, a T-shirt that music journalist Everett True had given him. Cobain listed Yip/Jump Music as one of his favorite albums in his journal in 1993.

Much of Daniel Johnston’s music has focused on the subject of unrequited love, revolving around his own experiences with Laurie Johnson, an early obsession. Notably is “Urge” (above) on 1981’s Songs of Pain.

His work is collected on Songs in the Key of Z (2000), a collection of outsider music.

RIP RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ (late 1960 – 2010)

RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ was an American artist.

Somehow I missed this death. The passing of Pedro Bell brought it to my attention.

I want to show you three things:

RAMMΣLLZΣΣ: It’s Not Who But What (2018), a 9-minute documentary on RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ in which the art of Ramm is described as Transformers meets a mad scientist.
Beat Bop” (1983), an early hip hop recording in which Ramm raps.
Style Wars, a documentary on early hip hop and graffiti which features “Beat Bop” (above).

RIP Immanuel “world systems” Wallerstein (1930 – 2019)

Immanuel Wallerstein was an American sociologist best-known for his world-systems theory.

He came to my attention via local left-wing thinkers such as Ico Maly, Stephen Bouquin, Mark Saey and Jan Blommaert.

Wallerstein is famous for his world systems theory, a grand narrative-type historiography.

I like grand narratives, so that’s not the problem.

But I have three objections. 1) Wallerstein appears to be an political activist just as much as a scientist, 2) Wallerstein suggests that imperialism is a purely European and capitalist phenomenon and 3) I do not believe that the pre-eminence of Europe and the west (the so-called “European miracle” or the “great divergence“) is only due to the exploitation of its colonies.

1) Wallerstein literally states:”I do not believe there exists any social science that is not committed.” —The Modern World-System, volume 1, 1974

Hmmm … I can imagine social sciences as purely descriptive without resorting to human rights activism.

2) On imperialism as a typically western ailment. I cite David Landes’s The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (1998):

To note that empires go back to the dawn of history may seem a truism, but in fact it is no trivial assertion. Some insist, for example, that “imperialism, which peaked around the end of the nineteenth century, is somehow an invention or by-product of modern capitalism—in Lenin’s words, “the highest stage of capitalism.” Building on this, they argue that empire was necessary (indispensable) to the prosperity and survival of modern capitalism. The tenacity of this belief can be measured by a copious literature averring that imperialism aimed above all at material gain, even where it manifestly cost and lost.History belies such intrinsic links to capitalism. Consider the ancient empires of Egypt, China, Assyria, Persia, Rome, etc.; or, in modern times, the late, unlamented Communist-Socialist empire of the Soviet Union. That so much ink has been spilled on this issue reflects the need to discredit the imperialists and capitalists by way of encouraging resistance and revolution. They’re in it for the money—what can be worse? Meanwhile bad definitions and explanations lead to bad conclusions.”

“Clearly, the common view of imperialism as a Western invention and monopoly visited on non-European peoples is wrong.”

3) While I do believe that colonization contributed to Europe’s wealth (and the “European miracle” or the “great divergence”), I doubt that it is the only reason for its wealth.

First a summary from Wallerstein’s world-system:

Immanuel Wallerstein characterised the world system as a set of mechanisms, which redistributes surplus value from the periphery to the core. In his terminology, the core is the developed, industrialized part of the world, and the periphery is the “underdeveloped”, typically raw materials-exporting, poor part of the world; the market being the means by which the core exploits the periphery.

To paraphrase: the world-system (the first world and the other countries) redistributes wealth from the periphery (the third world) to the core countries (the first world).

To put it more bluntly, citing the words of Wallerstein follower James Morris Blaut in his book The Colonizer’s Model of the World (1993):

“The historians debate these matters [concerned with the “European miracle”], the questions “why” and “when,” but not the question “whether” — whether a miracle happened at all. Or, to be more precise, they do not even consider the possibility that the rise of Europe above other civilizations did not begin until 1492, that it resulted not from any European superiority of mind, culture, or environment, but rather from the riches and spoils obtained in the conquest and colonial exploitation of America and, later, Africa and Asia. This possibility is not debated at all, nor is it even discussed, although a very few historians (notably Janet Abu-LughodSamir AminAndre Gunder Frank, and Immanuel Wallerstein) have come close to doing so in very recent years.”

So “European superiority” results from “the riches and spoils obtained in conquest and colonial exploitation of American and, later, Africa and Asia?” I doubt it. I follow Landes and Jones in these matters, but not totally.

I sympathize with an in-between-model as proposed by Pomeranz in The Great Divergence (2000) as described by (P. H. H. Vries, 2001):

“that [The Great Divergence] pays more attention to connections than Landes almost goes without saying. Landes, in his magnum opus tends to completely neglect the role of “the rest” in the rise of the West. Pomeranz regards the part played by Europe’s periphery as crucial, without, however, simply rehearsing the kind of analysis that has become stock in trade of the world-systems school.”

While I do agree with critics of the West such as Wallerstein who state that we must not lose ourselves in self-aggrandizing theories of European superiority, we must also not do the reverse and wallow in oikophobia and conclude that Europe is a horrible place and eurocentrism is just as bad as racism (or its imaginary offspring cultural racism).

Another point I wish to make is that the limit of Wallerstein’s world-systems theory lies in its neglect of the cultural component. Like Marxism, it only factors in the economic components.

In fact, when I googled “Wallerstein” and “Huntington” I found this citation from Wallerstein’s The Decline of American Power (2003) which is not very consistent with his own world-system theory:

“We tend to think and to speak of Christianity as the “West” and Islam as the “East.” … Why? … We have had some answers recently that are well known to you. Samuel Huntington sees the West and Islam as two antithetical “civilizations” that are in long term political conflict. Edward Said sees Orientalism as a false construct erected for ideological reasons by the Western world, one both pervasive and pernicious in its effect. I prefer to approach the question another way and ask the question, why is it that the Christian world seems to have singled out the Islamic world as its particular demon, and not merely recently but ever since the emergence of Islam? Actually the reverse has probably also been true, that Islam has regarded Christianity as its particular demon.”

So, while Wallerstein says that he wants to approach the question answered by Samuel “clash of civilizations” Huntington in a different way, one would expect that he denies that there is a clash of civilizations. Yet, he simply says that the Christian world has singled out the Islamic world as its “demon” and that the Islamic world has chosen the west as its enemy. Is that not the same as saying that there is a clash of civilizations?

I want to conclude with an apocryphal dictum attributed to Leo Strauss who once suggested that if all cultures are relative, then cannibalism is a matter of taste.”

RIP Bert “De Zwarte Komedie” Verhoye (1945 – 2019)

Bert Verhoye was a Belgian satirist, Belgium’s one-man Charlie Hebdo.

He was known to the extreme left for ridiculing extreme right ‘heroes’ such as Cyriel Verschaeve and Karel Dillen.

 Détournement  of 1991 extreme right Vlaams Blok Uit zelfverdediging political poster

After almost 40 years of left wing mayors in Antwerp, right wing mayor Bart De Wever came to power and Verhoye’s theater De Zwarte Komedie lost its funding.

Verhoye has no successor.

RIP Pedro “P-Funk” Bell (1950 – 2019)

Pedro Bell was an American artist and illustrator best-known for his work for Parliament-Funkadelic.

When I discovered Parliament-Funkadelic in the 1990s, part of the attraction was the visual style and the grand narrative holding the whole project together. This style was just as much due to George Clinton as to Pedro Bell.

Bell’s unique album and liner notes contributed substantially to the P-Funk mythology and begot the Afrofuturist aesthetic evident also in Jean-Michel Basquiat (see for example the sleeve design for “Beat Bop“).

His precursors in Afrofuturism are Lee “send him to outa space” Perry and Sun “space is the place” Ra.

Unidentified cartoon film by Pedro Bell featuring devices such as a “word scrambler,” a barrel of “fun sludge,” and a drug called “Jodybuster”.
One Nation Under a Groove” (1978), artwork by Pedro Bell

“Bell is a shackle (all shackles are just as essential) in the chain of Afrofuturism, Afro-Surrealism and black science fiction.” –Sholem Stein

A seminal text in his poetic oeuvre is from the sleeve notes of Standing on the Verge of Getting It On (1974):

“AS IT IS WRTTEN HENCEFORTH… On the Eighth Day, the Cosmic Strumpet of Mother Nature was spawned to envelope this Third Planet in FUNKADELICAL VIBRATIONS. And she birthed Apostles RaHendrixStone, and CLINTON to preserve all funkiness of man unto eternity… But! Fraudulent forces of obnoxious JIVATION grew…only seedling GEORGE remained! As it came to be, he did indeed begat FUNKADELIC to restore Order Within the Universe. And nourished from the pamgrierian mammaristic melonpaps of Mother Nature, the followers of FUNKADELIA multiplied incessantly!”

Pedro will be missed.

RIP Nancy Holloway (1932 – 2019)

Nancy Holloway was an American singer and actress, a minor star who reached her zenith in the 1960s.

She covered American songs translated to French, sung with an American accent.

She had a bit part in pop art film Jeu de massacre (1967).

“T’en vas pas comme ça” (1963) an adaptation of “Don’t Make Me Over” released a year earlier.

Her song “Sand and Rain” (1974) is on the ‘Dusty Fingers volume 10’ and was sampled on “Your Revolution” (2000)

Sand and Rain” (1974)

RIP Peter “Easy Rider” Fonda (1940 – 2019)

Peter Fonda was American actor.

The Hired Hand (1971)

Everyone knows Peter Fonda from the film Easy Rider (1969) a cult film which is so well-known that it is actually a mainstream film.

I saw the film somewhere in the 1990s but hardly remember anything about it. Given the choice — knowing what I know now — between watching Easy Rider and its predecessor The Wild Angels (1966) I’d watch the latter, being that it is as hilarious as it is historiographical (in the sense that Wild Angels tells us more about the sixties zeitgeist than Easy Rider, I refer specifically to the speech featuring “We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man!”)

But now Fonda is dead and despite the dictum “de mortuis nisi nihil bonum“, a few things need to be said before the praise can begin:

“[Peter Fonda] had nowhere near the talent of his father Henry Fonda or sister Jane Fonda, but he was popular with young audiences from the early sixties to early seventies because he was good-looking, knew how to ride a motorcycle, made “hip” pictures with drug-related themes, and, to hide his acting limitations, smartly played characters who were tight-lipped, unemotional, and often wore shades.” —Cult Movie Stars (1991) by Danny Peary

Now for the praise.

Upon the death of an actor or director, I check YouTube for films featuring the corpse in question. And so it happened that I stumbled upon The Hired Hand (1971). Never heard of it before. Started reading about it. Appeared to be a revisionist western. Interesting category. Started watching. Liked the music. The story is that of a man who is tired of drifting the Wild West and returns home to the wife and child he left seven years earlier. She accepts him, not as a husband, but as a hired hand.

That same Danny Peary who called Fonda not a good actor calls The Hired Hand a “feminist western”.


Because the film pays lots of attention to the abandoned woman and her sexual needs during the departure of her husband. A sort of Penelope vs. Odysseus.

On two occasions Hannah (the abandoned wife) ruminates about her lust for sex. These dialogues are extremely interesting and the second scene, in which Oates touches the ankle of Bloom, is actually quite sexy.

The first conversation of her sex life is with returned husband (Fonda) who has heard rumors in town of her sexual escapades [47:00]:

“You hired men to sleep with,” says he.

She responds:

“Sometimes I’d have him or he’d have me whatever suits you.”

And in a second scene she says to Arch Harris (Oates) [54:00]:

“You probably think I’m pretty hot … Well I am … don’t wannabe but I am … I don’t know how many nights I set on the porch … watching the shed … hoping whoever was in there would come out … hoping and terrified in case he did … wouldn’t really matter whether it was you or him tonight.”

Anyway, above is the complete film.

I loved it.

RIP Henri Belolo (1936 – 2019)

Henri Belolo was a French music producer and songwriter active during the disco era.

He co-created The Ritchie Family, the Village People.

In the course of my research following his death, I found that Belolo was co-responsible for a horrifying version of “Aquarela do Brasil” by the Ritchie Family, and for the kitsch classics “Y.M.C.A.”, “In the Navy”, and “Go West” by the Village People.

However, it is Break Machine’s record “Street Dance” (1983) which I want to bring your attention here. A personal favorite, of however questionable taste it may appear to be.