Monday, June 26, 2017

Blixa Bargeld, Hating Guitar, and Connections to Teaching

I'm reading the hardcover book that comes with the super deluxe edition of Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and it's full of interesting and insightful essays about the band and their process. As a person who buys Blu Rays for the special features, this level of depth is exactly the kind of thing I want. I haven't been a fan of Cave for long, but I'm not sure if I've ever fallen this hard this fast for a musician. I can't get enough.

One particular essay, the third in the book, is called "A Beautiful, Evil Thing- The Music of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds" by David Pattie. It's wide ranging, covering the band's dissonant yet gorgeous discography and discussing just what it is that makes them sound the way they do. A section of this essay is about one of Cave's earliest collaborator's, German noise innovator Blixa Bargeld. Bargeld has a lot of interesting things to say about the guitar, and it made me think about teaching, because I'm an education nerd and I find connections to teaching in everything. The below link goes into my connections in some detail, but I think anchor deletes posts after 24 hours and I wanted to try to write about it too. So listen if the link is still active. Otherwise, read on, MacDuff.

Here's the section in question-

When conventional instruments were used they were radically changed - guitars were placed on the floor and played with bows or electric razors. As Bargled told Johnson, such music could only be played by someone who hated the guitar; or, at least, hated what most musicians play on the guitar. "I thought it was a good decision to play guitar because I claimed my hatred for playing guitar in several interviews...It's probably good to play an instrument out of hatred of what other people do with it rather than play..."

However, there was more to Bargeld's playing than simple hatred. He told Guitarist magazine in 1997 that he wanted to find a way into playing guitar without playing guitar. "To me playing any instrument is a thinking process...I'd consider myself more like a singer. I come up with an idea for what to play on the guitar due to the value of how much sense it makes in a singing context.
 Bargeld, in other words, didn't simply approach the guitar the way the Barbarian hordes approached Rome. His function in the Bad Seeds was to provide something more subtle - a nagging sense of sonic disturbance."

There's so much in there that speaks to the way I approach education in all facets. Look at the first paragraph, he's saying that he hates the way other people play guitar, and that drives him to do something wildly out of the ordinary, something destructive and dissonant, with the instrument. 

Now think about how teachers use their textbooks. Or their Chromebooks. Or run edchats. Or write. Or even just how they teach. When I see people doing something badly- or it doesn't even have to be badly, it might be objectively well done, but boring or reductive or the same old thing- it makes me want to do the thing, but do it better and differently. It motivates me to try and find a way to break the form. Do I? I dunno. I probably just make a mess a lot of the time. But breaking things makes messes. I'm sure that a lot of guitar people listen to the way Bargeld plays and dismiss it as noise. I realize that I'm dangerously close to comparing myself to someone I'd happily call a musical genius (or at least a musical madman), but it's more about connecting him to teaching than comparing myself to him.

How often have you looked at a bad administrator and, even just for a moment, thought, "I'm going to go back to college, get my Masters in administration, and become a principal, just to show you how badly you suck at it and how it could be done so much better"? How many professional developments have you sat in that made you want to gently pull the presenter to the side, sit them down, and then finish their session yourself? If you answer, "Never, nope,not even once," to those then you are infinitely less judgmental than I am. But don't those bad PDs stack up? How many bad sessions can a teacher sit in before you have to go Ivan Drago on the whole system and say, "I must break you."

What about all the other tools of our trade? Yes, textbooks can suck. But don't throw them out. Break them. Turn them inside out. Find a way to use the tool- the instrument, if you will- in a way that sings for you and your students. 

Ah, there's a different between what Bargeld was doing and what we do. The Bad Seeds grew out of The Birthday Party, a post-punk band Bargeld wasn't a part of but loved, and who made a career out of antagonizing and attacking the audience. Not something we can do in our classrooms, though I'd love to see a professional development leader try to do it. In fact, I try to do it in my own way. Find ways to push the envelope. 

This brings us to the second part of the selection, which can be summed up in the final words, "a nagging sense of sonic disturbance." This is something education should aspire to. You want to talk about change agents and getting outside your comfort zone and growing by risk taking? What you're talking about is creating a nagging sense of sonic disturbance. Slipping inside the groove of education and vibrating just out of sync, slightly out of tune, but still in a way that enhances the overall effort. Make education more interesting by creating friction. 

But create it in an intelligent way. I'm not about to go charging around, crashing through walls and breaking things for the sake of breaking them, as fun as that is. That's mindless and it's just as easy as following the song exactly. Anarchy is easy. It's much harder to be smart about the chaos, to strike a tone that rings out but still rings true. 

I think we can learn a lot from Blixa Bargeld's guitar playing. If we're serious about changing education, about shaking up the status quo, then we need to be looking at the people who actually do that for inspiration. 

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

1 comment:

  1. I've been a Nick Cave fan for almost 20 years, but when my firstborn came into the world, I got rid of my Bad Seeds collection. My mommy brain couldn't get into the darkness and evil anymore.

    Mr. Weird, I like you even more now.