Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Piper's Calling You To Join Him

So follow, follow, follow,
The merry, merry pipes of Pan,
The magic reed
That charms at need
The heart of maid and man. Ah!
Away, away, they seem to say,
And catch us if you can!
Come follow, follow,
Where they lead,
The merry, merry pipes of Pan.

--The Arcadians


I bought Brian Jones Presents The Pipes of Pan at Joujouka this week. Well, actually I bought Brian Jones Presents The Pipes of Pan at Jajouka. I learned afterwards there is a difference.

I've wanted this record in a vague way for about 38 years. It was released in 1971, and the description of it at the time floored me. Now I'm (temporarily, until the hyperinflation hits in a few weeks) avec cash, I had the opportunity to buy it. Not on vinyl, but on a nice CD, complete with minuscule liner notes in 6 point type, as is their wont.

What I had learned originally and treasured over the years was that this was the sound of holy musicians, possessed drummers and enthusiastic pipers, calling the god Pan into their village. It was, I was told, trance music of the most extreme kind, uninhibited by the formal flourishes of western music.

The liner notes, in this edition sliced and diced in an appropriately Burroughsian cut-up fashion, are very thorough. Brion Gysin, writing in 1964, explains how the god visits the village. A boy is chosen, sewn into black goatskins and given a straw mask and hat. He becomes Bou Jeloud, and as this god, identified with Pan, he walks amongst the screaming, ecstatic musicians as they drum and wail on their raitas and pan pipes. Taking up branches to use as switches, according to William Burroughs, he runs to whip the women just around midnight. They run screaming from him – in a Panic. If he touches them with the switch, they will fall pregnant. On the third day he will meet a goddess; he will use his knife, an iron smith-worked tool, to protect himself against her prehistoric feminine power. He will, the liner notes say, be somewhat taboo for the rest of his life.

Stephen Davis says that the musicians play at the feast of Eid el Kebir. Brian Jones came to the village with Gysin, a woman called Suki, and the sound engineer George Chkiantz to record the master musicians. Buried in the small print is the admission that he came in the summer of 1968, not on Eid el Kebir. The musicians played for him anyway, and he recorded what he could of their music. Gysin said, "They put on a little synthetic Boujeloudiya so they could get a taste of it on tape. It wasn't really authentic. It was all they needed."

Quoting Gysin, Davis tells the tale of Suki. He did not want her to go to the village. "I told them it was no place for a woman," he said. "But she wouldn't listen and absolutely insisted on coming." They cut her hair and dressed her as a man. Brian was a hit among the dark skinned, dark haired villagers. His bushy blond hair and white skin stood out. He internalized their awe; at one point he saw the villagers lead a white shaggy-haired goat to slaughter for the feast and gasped, thinking it was he himself being led to the knife.

What does this music sound like? The liner notes, attributed to Gysin and Burroughs, say "Listen to this music, the primordial sounds of a 4,000 year old rock n' roll band. Listen with your whole body, let the music penetrate you and move you, and you will connect with the oldest music on earth." Perhaps; it's nothing like rock n' roll, of course – that's just something people say to get you to experience it. The road from Twenty Flight Rock or Splish Splash (I Was Takin' a Bath) to Boujeloudiya, the shrilling of 20 raitas and thundering drums, is a long and winding one. But it's not discontinuous. It sounds very much like a drum circle at a modern summer rock festival. It's hard to say whether there's any deliberate imitation on the part of the modern festival-goers; it seems more likely that this is the sound musicians come up with under ecstatic circumstances. It's tempting to see if the music 'works' as trance music in the same sense that you might buy some Salvia to see if it 'works' as a hallucinogenic. I suppose it does, if you want it to, though if that's really what you want, going to a festival and joining a drum circle yourself would be a better move.



What is bothering me most, though, is that this record contains music 'like' that played at the festival, rather than the music of the festival itself. I was not seriously expecting Pan to come and visit me while I listened to a CD in my car. But even so, now that I'm aware of it, it seems fake. Fabricated. Non-authentic. I had been willing to take my chances on whether the tape recorder could capture a spirit (in the same sense, I suppose, that a camera can capture a soul) but instead I find the spirit had not been present while the tape was running. George and Brian recorded musicians around a fire eating goat liver, not a festival. It sounds the same, but it isn't.

The original record was titled "Joujouka" and this release "corrects" that. When I look it up on Wikipedia, this isn't so much a correction of the spelling as a selection of terminology that favors one set of "master musicians" over another rival group. This trope is certainly well known in rock n' roll. One is familiar indeed with the part of the story of Everyband where an outfit called something like Rory Ramone and the Ramone-Tones tour the windswept coastal cities of southern England and exchange subpoenas with another touring band called something like The Original Ramone-Tones Featuring Rory. This is a very secular sounding tiff, although I have to say schism-generation seems to be standard operating procedure for magical orders as well as rock n' roll bands, so perhaps it is a sign of spiritual authenticity.

As a final disappointment to this long story, remember Suki, who went to the village even though it was 'no place for a woman'? What happened to her? Was she driven to ecstasy by the music, ripping off all her clothes and dancing under the new moon, giving away her forbidden female status? No, actually. Was she found out and raped by evil swarthy tribesmen? Nope. Surely she was at least courted by a young man who adored her and could not reconcile her status as a man with the overflowing love in his heart until it was revealed – ta da! – that she was truly a woman, upon learning which he swept her off at once to be married? No. In fact nothing happened at all. They went in, recorded all night, ate Brian the Goat and then left for Tangier the next day.

Phew, rock 'n' roll.

I wonder what Brion Gysin and William Burroughs actually heard there, in the fifties? Now that would be a record to get. Perhaps in another forty years.

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