The Freedoms of Animal Slaves

by Yule Heibel on December 4, 2003

There’s an entry I’ve been meaning to write. Somehow all these other things have been getting in the way, pushing me here and there, distracting me. Little things, big things; but if I start to list them, I still won’t be writing the entry, which is supposed to be about art. About expression. About honour. About principles. About passion. About fires that burn, rains that inundate, hearts that rage, and, in this brave new millennium, about the incredible survival and transformation of a particular animal species of 80s punk.

The entry I’m supposed to write is about Elizabeth Fischer‘s vocal art. She’s the vocalist-slash-lead singer for that 80s band, The Animal Slaves, which I wrote about on November 16th and 15th. Fischer happened to read these entries and sent me an email to say thanks for liking the music, and “for understanding the text/subtext… not too many people do…” It’s a real buzz to hear from someone you’ve blogged about, particularly someone whose work you admire, if that person says, “ok.” We started emailing a bit more, and she let on that she was putting her music online. It is wonderful — check it out right now.

But now let’s talk about me again. (Haha) Have you been here before, reading my blog, I mean? Why are you here? Do you think you know what interests me, what books I like, what thinkers I gravitate towards, what I care about? Is it mildly interesting to learn more? Well, listen to Dark Blue World or Night Face then, or any of the other pieces on Fischer’s site and hear what I relate to. It’s not wall-paper, it’s not a constant sound, a white noise. It’s music.

There’s music, there’s natural noise, there’s silence. Music — classical, jazz, blues, rock, “ethnic” — has to be expressive. Much of what needs to be expressed happens to be painful, or somehow embarassing to the carefully made-up, coiffed self. Unharmonic. Riven. Dissonant. Happiness of the pedestrian variety doesn’t need much of a leg-up on the stirrups: it sits in the saddle of social control by virtue of routine: get up, groom yourself, fit in. I have nothing against happiness, and in fact I am happy a lot of the time. If I’m really pissed off, or stressed, a walk with my dog makes me happy because my dog plays, and before I know it, I’m laughing with my dog and at myself because I’m once again playing some game with him. But my dog does not sing, nor does he play an instrument. He doesn’t write or make visual art, either. Nor does my dog actually get depressed, which I think has something to do with his sense of time and mortality. He does get bored if he doesn’t get out enough, whereupon he’ll go into a funk, but this isn’t quite the same thing as a human depression; for one thing, at the sight of his leash or the car keys or the word “walkie,” he snaps out of it instantly. A lot of happy-themed (and sappy-themed) popular manufactured culture seems to have been made by cleverly trained dogs who never get depressed: everything runs in preordained ruts, there’s nothing new to sniff out, nothing that shocks the expectations. Actually, we’ve got so many clever dogs these days who know exactly how to dish up shock that it has become degraded as a vehicle of cognition. Those dogs work in advertising; they use shock to make you pay attention to their product …for 30 seconds, just long enough to get the hooks in, convince you to think about buying it.

I go back to playing with my dog. He doesn’t try to shock me — he shocks himself when he humps my leg and then doesn’t know what to do with his neutered self.

Just how exactly does an artist today grow back his pair of figurative balls? Or grow back the ovaries that have been spayed out of her?

The artist can’t compete with or within Culture Industry, where dissemination now takes place through memes, sterilised bits of sperm and ovaries cavorting digitally. No one listens to you there, in Culture Industry. If they do, they’re listening along preordained ruts — even your dissonances will be perceived as yet another marketing gimmick. The only way you’ll get your organs back — become some sort of entire individual again — is if people — one other person, two, maybe three, perhaps a small horde — will stop. And listen. And look. Take time, and let it sink in, into the flesh that we are. Silence, natural noise, music. Different kinds of music, but always real music. Play. Cognition. Agape. Love. The Animal Slaves howled at the ends of their leashes, telling us that we’re just domesticated animals ourselves. Neutered, spayed. Shocked by our own urges, unable to figure out what to do with them. Twenty years later, Fischer’s music has moved beyond some of the urgency to a deeper body, but has lost none of the scalpel-like precision. You have to hear her.

And what about you? Are you an animal slave? In 1970 Bob Dylan wrote If dogs run free:
“If dogs run free, then why not we, Across the swooping plain?”

The last verse goes like this:

If dogs run free, then what must be,
Must be, and that is all.
True love can make a blade of grass
Stand up straight and tall.
In harmony with the cosmic sea,
True love needs no company,
In can cure the soul, it can make it whole,
If dogs run free.

True love… If dogs run free…. They don’t, though. Even in the “off-leash” area of the park, their leash is made of cookies and praise. And if you’re a human, your leash is made of money.

Fischer has made the music available for free. I tried to convince her to put a PayPal button on her site, but she wouldn’t hear of it: “nope, no paypal. the idea here is to have all the downloads be absolutely free. i think it is the most radical thing to do, as an artist. to have (hopefully) good work be free. seeing as our culture is totally, commercially corrupt.” (I hope she doesn’t mind my quoting from an email…) What’s on the site is real music, and there’s not a leash in sight. Check it out, listen. Run free.

Fischer writes too. Also online, for free. Read it here and here.


Joel December 6, 2003 at 3:04 am

Yule: I’m supposed to read you ~and~ understand you? 🙂

Yule Heibel December 6, 2003 at 3:43 pm

Ha, good point Joel. I think she probably meant it rhetorically, but I can’t be sure. I’m just a visitor here myself…. 😉

Anonymous September 17, 2005 at 5:11 pm

Thank you for the info!

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