Rage as Restorative

Jonathan Bellman

Odd as it may seem for a fossil such as myself, I really enjoy the Gypsy-Punk band Gogol Bordello. I just got their new album, Super Taranta, and like the other one I own (Gypsy Punks) it seems to be based on, in equal parts, rage and exaltation. The level of social criticism seems to be of a pretty basic, immigrant-who-doesn’t-get-it variety—as in, “What the f— is wrong with all of you here?!”—which is fair enough. Their musical language seems to be a stew of thrash guitar, accordion (used both as part of the basic sound and ironically), Eastern European folk/pop of the sort that goes back a century or more, reggae, and (probably) all kinds of fine subcategories of the above of which I’ve never heard. One of the most interested aspects is that the vocal rhythms are really infectious, kinetic in the way a good percussionist would be, and what I take to be Gypsy vocal-percussion styles often add a real spice to the sound. (I’m really guessing, here, but I call it “Gypsy” because one hears vocal techniques like this on the Taraf de Haidouks recordings.)

I love the energy, I love the Eastern European sound (reaching back three generations in my subconscious? Who knows?), and—odd as it sounds—I love the rage. The idea of someone still caring enough to scream like a banshee at people suggests to me that something really is right with the world. I don’t know if anyone remembers the comedian Bobcat Goldthwait; he was on a San Francisco Bay Area series called Comedy Tonight a couple of times in the mid-1980s, and I used to find him side-splittingly funny for the same reason; his inner screaming, raging beast always seemed to be just ahead of his restraint, and the effect was this little ball of contempt venting mercilessly and unrestrainedly on humanity, in all its frailty, pretense, and stupidity. It was like watching my own id, what the rage cortex of my brain always wished it could be doing.

That I identified with his act probably says more about me than I’d like. Never mind.

What I’ve always appreciated about anger-driven music is its ability to vent those feelings without engendering them; I suppose the function is similar, in this way, to good songs about love or yearning. They enable a side of the personality to be tapped without making catastrophic life choices. Musicians, when playing, must express a variety of emotions, putting them on like actors without being seduced by them. If I’m not mistaken, the acknowledgment that musicians are less susceptible to such seduction because of their experience and training goes back to Aristotle, does it not? In any case, so it is with the experienced listener, too. Vivid expression can teach and inspire, but it does not command or induce.

Or maybe I’m guilty of domesticating something that has no business being domesticated, I don’t know. I do, nonetheless, love the absurdist rage.

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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3 Responses to Rage as Restorative

  1. Lisa Hirsch says:

    (Goddamnit, Jonathan, that makes ME an old fossil too.)
    I will look up those groups. Do you know Czokolom?

  2. Lisa Hirsch says:

    Okay, I hate Gogol Bordello’s web site – took a lot of rummaging around to find the music. The music is um more death-metal than I like. Love the Taraf de Haidouks, however!

  3. Squashed says:

    Hmm, underground blogging tip. one can find pretty much can find any file simply by googling it. (google, blogsearch) Enter: artist, album title, name of free upload service (rapidshare/megaupload)
    80-90% of albums are available that way 3 months before being released.
    of course there is the P2P system. But I don’t think this is the crowd to talk about it.

    Gogol Bordello. My take
    Their first album (Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike) has much better texture. Bigger separation, clearer voice, dynamics, eachinstruments are clearer. I think it was done at Steve Albini’s studio. Definitely an interesting punk album. I like ‘Oh-no’, a crazy latin gypsy tune with completely out of control lyrics.
    Their second album is more mundane. I think their “larger” band sounds like it is being done on badly handled software. The dynamic is flat and everything is too smooth. It has that “wedding band” flavor.
    I don’t see how Gogol Bordello sounds like Death Metal. … hmm… you are thinking ‘Boris’ maybe? That’s japanese sludge metal tho’
    ‘k. I better shut my trap before sounding like a review blog.

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