The thing, for me, that makes The Beatles stand out from so much popular 60s music is that they enjoyed the put on. They didn't will to be authentic, to be true, to express express themselves (most of the time). Of course, others were doing this, too — Zappa, for one. But this is not an argument about The Beatles. This is an argument about the put on.
I love Joni Mitchell's album, Blue. Fucking love it. It's beautiful — thoroughly emotional without being maudlin or cliche. I will admit that when I was a freshman in college, I listened to it everyday.
But what really gets me going is not that raw, exquisite emotionality. What really gets me going is the put on, the doubling and tripling of self, a play that doesn't relent, that will never give way to a true self. For me, the band that follows The Beatles' legacy is Ween.
Ween puts on the world. They take every genre imaginable — from Philadelphia soul to Sonic Youth to The Beach Boys to Jimmy Buffet and so on and so on. Yet they don't just play that genre straight: they take it up and let you know they're taking it up. And yet this knowing that they're donning a disguise never gives way to a revelation. There is no true Ween underneath. Who would that even be — Dean and Gene Ween?
No, the put on never stops: it's play all the way down. I know this annoys some — understandably — in that it feels false, it feels cheeky, it feels insincere, it feels like some kind of false irony.
But what's strange to me is that it doesn't feel false. But nor does it feel sincere. Ween exists in a much stranger place in which all there is is a put on — and that put on is real. In fact, what would make it insincere is if we thought that it was just a disguise, that underneath it all there they were, winking. Then it would seem like a false put on to me; it would seem insincere. But there is no there there: all there is is play. And hence there is no falsity just as there is no truth: pure play, relentless play, disguise upon disguise upon disguise.
Recently, I've become more attracted to the rap and pop music the kids love so much. What I like is the play, the play acting, the posturing, the put on of it all. It's not music that demands sincerity; it's music that demands a posture.
I love this relentless put on, this refusal to expose oneself once and for all. The 60s and the psychoanalytic nonsense it spurred (not Freud but what was done to and with Freud) created this will to authenticity, to a version of self-expression that is focused on personal emotions — think: Anne Sexton (whose poetry I like, by the way).
But self-expression can be about more than one's inner feelings. After all, it's expression: it's outward facing. So to express oneself can be about how one takes up the world, how one puts on the world, rather than how one feels and reacts to the world. Self-expression, then, would not be an excavation of self — a turning inside out — but a hurling of oneself into the swirl of life.
Of course, things that ring false ring false — and who wants that? So I want to suggest that there is this other place of the real put on. What makes it real is that there is no wink, no revelation.
Does this mean I have to love every put on? Of course not. Certain things just don't resonate well with me. This is called taste and we each have our own way of making sense of things, of enjoying things. But my criteria of taste do not involve the distinction of authentic/false. I want to begin with the put on as the basis for existence.
I love Joni Mitchell and Anne Sexton not because they're emotionally honest but because their art is beautiful, moving, it resonates with me. In some sense, I enjoy them as a kind of put on — their way of putting on the world.