Some Meditations on the Art of Korey Dane:
Millennial Artists, and the Politics of Who We Are & the Way We Express Ourselves
Brandon! Are you in town? Let’s meet up!
Okay! I’ll text you
Walking around the LES. [venue] is too crowded. Where are you?
Still at the hotel. Getting a slice in a few. Hang tight, we’ll meet you.
Korey had a two-night run at Berlin, and Brandon was on bass. I was really stoked on seeing some friends from Cali because I was new to NY and a little homesick for the music scene.
We ended up skulking around downtown for a while making small-talk and catching up on life before stopping to chill at [park]. Korey’s brother was in town as well, and helping out / hanging out for the night.
‘I have this burning ball of passion, and if its not directed toward the arts it's directed toward fighting with homeless people in parks’ - Korey, following a verbal confrontation with a hobo
I felt compelled to write this bit of cultural analysis, because I feel Korey Dane is one of the great singer-songwriters and lyricists of our generation. His presence and work breathes life into millennial culture and brings feeling and charisma into what felt, before, to be a dispassionate scene, languid with irony and fear of the potential for humiliation, a risk that accompanies sincere expressivity. But Korey feels it. He reveres life. And as a prominent artist on the scene, he has a real effect on how we construct our consciousnesses, our reality, our language- and I feel we grapple with some of the same anxieties and neuroticisms related to the post-modern linguistic condition in music and art.
He is singing the songs of our generation. He’s a role model, he’s a great artist, and as such he deserves to get picked to bits by critics, so that We, the millennial artists, can better understand ourselves and the culture that we're creating.
In particular, I want to look at nostalgia, and how we form selective matrices of consciousness in which to create ourselves- how we create ourselves and how we influence others' creation of themselves. I'd also like to contrast the self-isolating dreaminess of Korey Dane's aesthetic cosmos to the much more socialized cosmos of Weezer (which is more integrative of a multiplicity of postmodern phenomena), and compare Korey's comparatively straightforward expression of his subjective experiences to the complex linguistic functions and postpostmodern narrative construction of so many Weezer tracks. We'll also look at how both of these bands' use of language compares to the linguistic processes of postmodern painters Albert Oehlen and Charline Von Heyl.
how youth culture becomes art, and what art does.
So much of aesthetics is constructed by a bunch of young people hanging out with cameras. Archivization of the leisure & fashion of American youth becomes culture. Culture is like the thing that creates shadow puppets in Plato’s cave- it is the prototype from which an entire society is formed. Every physical expression of the spirit is articulated through a medium; art is the capitalization of the spirit. Art is the conversion of the self into a material trace. Art is also the end of capitalization, where expression is no longer converted into tools of use; it is where the forward velocity of capitalization stops and becomes spiritual and emotional memory. Being able to reenter the realm of spiritual memory is theoretically a way to educate and cultivate an ideal society.
the crystallization of charisma: “the charisma of the Thai monk, once it has been objectified in the form of an amulet, is able to enter into the mundane realm of distinctly nonascetic purposes, such as good luck in the lottery”
“Beauty, even the beauty of lowly objects, can gradually inspire a longing for goodness and truth.” -Plato
So what are we doing?
Many of us are living in a replication of the past, choosing ideological ‘peers’ from non-contemporary eras, to help us form out own, contemporary values systems. Increased to archived culture makes it possible for us to revisit a more [fill in the blank] time, which influences the way we form our contemporary aesthetic values. It's a selective, self-curated matrix of consciousness.
Retro: how millennial artists navigate nostalgia.
A loss of linear history in the postmodern era isn’t so much a catastrophe or a disaster so much as it is turning a line into a grid.
Korey Dane is an LA-based musician whose music draws on American roots music, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Neil Young. He’s also an interesting example of how nostalgia and gender presentation relate to retrosexuality. His self-presentation online has a nostalgia for past Americana and signifiers of a very traditional idea of American masculinity (gun ownership, car ownership, floating signifiers of Americana, glittering generalities in lyrical content, black and white / Super 8 photography, unchronologically identifiable clothing, and incorporation of outdated technologies in his music videos). He sends letters. He communes with coyotes and drives old cars. If he references contemporary, digital methods of social relation like dating apps, it's veiled by lyrical puns- eg, "tender as a flagrant fuck." In his videos and lyrics, he cites retro influences such as James Dean and writes about his girl as resembling Jane Birkin- emblematic of the way millennials, especially young artists who look to fashion and lifestyle role models from bygone eras when forming our ideas of heroes, role models, ideal men and women, develop our psychosexual self-presentation in relation to the public gaze of an Instagram audience, and develop a self-narrative.
following in great footsteps: self-narrative-formation and 'tracking'.
What you do when you walk this earth-the paths you take, the choices you make, the rules you follow and don’t follow, the ideologies you condone and reject- leaves tracks. You dig that trench and the generation behind you walks it; winding, between canyon walls; the river of humanity collectively swerves, erodes, deepens our ingrained cultural habits- or entirely jumps the walls and swerves toward something new. Cinema and artist biographies are profoundly formative for young people when they're developing their psychosexual self-narratives, in relation to the work that they will do in their lifetime, and to the ego / persona that they express. The more access we have to narrative media deepens the tracks we walk. Movies, cinema, biographies, Pinterest, you name it. Korey is in many ways deeply traditional, but in other ways rejects the idea of radical avant-gardism in pop, or as an artist, which in itself may be avant-garde. His work and his self-presentation is modernist in his commitment to his own preconceptions.
Brandon & I cash out some of his drink tickets and settle into the back booth to watch the opening acts. His boots glow in the red candlelight. The whiskey is sweet & soul-warming. The crowd is pretty thin, mostly bands and their friends and entourages, maybe a few people who just came in by themselves. Show was great. After the show I met some of their friends' friends, we debate what to do, smoke and joke around out by the curb. Ended up loading the gear and then the two of us wandered around downtown for a while. The night before we'd gone to go see Cafe Wha where Bob Dylan supposedly got his start, but it felt like kind of a tourist trap. Tonight we ended up in a 'jazz-jazz' bar, like *j-a-z-z jazz*, where locals jam with their same band every weekend till the early hours of the morning, slapping their bass strings and making slow, protracted small talk with their bandmates, as 2-3 spectators sip spirits in the shadows. Band-wives gossip and pick at their manicures at a corner table.
the cultural matrices that define who we are.
"Subjects are active in the process of constituting and presenting themselves. In defining it alongside a series of other technologies – of production, of sign systems and of power-each of which is associated with certain types of domination, technologies of the self can be seen as the specific repertoire of methods and techniques which allow individuals to simultaneously work on themselves and police themselves within the totality of the prevailing discursive structure."
Even critical ideologies, for example, feminism, are programmatic; they tell us how to be.
In the case of feminism and it's moves towards redefining what it is to be a woman, femininity is "something which is discursively produced, it cannot be only ever the bad Other to feminism." So basically, both feminity and feminism are prescriptive, socialized moral imperatives that we use to tell each other how to be-“a simultaneously censorious and prescriptive discourse – outlawing certain texts, pleasures and behaviours while celebrating others as promoting appropriate and useful feminist messages.”
Isn’t the persona of the artist like the persona of the woman- a prescriptive and limited discourse, outlawing and promoting certain ways of being that construct a highly selective matrix of desires and expressions? Every artist’s work adds to the ossification and / or morphology of this matrix into which the next generation walks.
If we could rise above these tracks and canyons, omniscient, and choose the Best of All Possible Ways of Being, what exactly would each Artist, each Millennial, each Man or Woman or Person look like?
the millennial self-concept as a curated 'best-of' history.
Self-made utopias are culled from what we perceive to be the ‘best of’ culture; millennials are in the habit of shaping our reality to create a perceived ideal aesthetic environment, vicariously living through others while others vicariously live through us. We cull the cultural canon for how to be. This isn't all that new- think Frank Lloyd Wright's completely bizarre Mayan Revival motifs- today, they look like something off Legends of the Hidden Temple, but we also accept it as 1950's American architecture. Wright was just like, really into Mayan stuff, so that's what he wanted his world to look like.
As artists, we become avatars through which other people vicariously live. Honestly, I live vicariously through Korey’s music all the time, because it takes me back to my early twenties, when I was free to wander up and down the coast with rock bands, chilling out, doing whatever, and staying with whichever one of our friends would have us for the weekend- those blissful few years before I had a career, went to graduate school, and started spending my evenings curled around a space-heater in Chicago or New York with a jar half-full of Nescafe sludge, working though John Kelsey and Rosalind Krauss texts, typing out .pdfs late into the night on my Macbook. Korey’s music gives meaning to my life and makes me feel like our generation is alive.
The internet hangs above everything, it’s net whirring with shocking speed, its gravity pressing downward and pulling upward on my mind, snaring my thoughts and begging me to enter it, to fling my consciousness into its light-speed slipstreams and hyperlink riptides. It splits me into two time-spaces, a necessary condition of being unless you want to live the life of a solitary eccentric without access to music, to companionship, much less access to our digitally archived cultural canon.
collective construction of identity from the vast network of unfolded history.
"Post-structuralism and postmodernism: notwithstanding some important differences between the terms, all three posts nevertheless point towards a particular understanding of reality, history and identity, and their relationship to language and representation."
"One of the most important tenets of postmodern and post-structural theories is the notion that the self is not an essential self rooted in genetic make-up or formed in early psychological development but, rather, discursively constructed self-produced and maintained through the workings of a multiplicity of cultural institutions and practices. In other words, our identity is not something that comes from within, something to be revealed in its truth or concealed in its denial; it is a product of our specific social, cultural and historical situation."
Which means that millennials are very self-aware about choosing an operational matrix from which to draw our aesthetic values from.
Korey is a man acting like a man acting like a man acting like a man (...)
He's an artist acting like an artist acting like an artist acting like an artist (...)
As an American, millennial woman, I am a woman acting like a woman acting like a woman (...);
As an American, millennial artist, I'm an artist acting like an artist acting like an artist (...)
Our personas are also mediated by the consciousness industry.
mediation of culture by the consciousness industry.
The consciousness industry is your producer, and your audience- who is holding cash money that lets them determine what pop culture is. Your producer needs 45 more seconds of animation by Friday, and the whole team needs to agree upon every detail of your self-presentation. Your producer needs you to wear a different hat, sing it like you did yesterday, sound more like [XYZ] era of You. You are a product. Your masculinity, your feminity, your story, is a product. Sell your heartbreak to the man with the dollar bills.
niche interests: old technology & psychosexual attraction to the products of capital.
Music, video, photography- art is materialized essence of an absence body, partially realized in the vessel of another through experience. Same with, for example, a car. It's the materialized essence of the designers and their influences, realized through your relation to the object. The sexiness of a man driving a certain car is interesting because what is sexy is actually the network of connotations he commingles himself by choosing to associate himself with that object.
I think that this is especially relevant when you look at music videos, and how the consciousness industry dictates which niche sphere of connotations (technological, stylistic), they need you to fit in with in order to be saleable and in line with their ‘program’.
One thing Weezer has managed to do really well throughout their course of career is make radical rejections of traditional concepts of what an artist is- instead of re-producing and reifying themselves like an unchanging product with each new release, they manage to maintain a remarkably open consciousness that’s psychologically integrative of the vast multiplicity of being, and break through the glass walls of their ‘niche’ to integrate things like hip-hop motifs, (even collaborating with Chamillionaire and Lil’ Wayne on the recording and live performances of I Can’t Stop Partying), and to portray consciousness in a post-postmodern way.
I often wonder, what would Rainer Maria Rilke think of Disneyland.
Anyway, back to niche interests & psychosexual attraction to the products of capital--
"I'm attracted to the aesthetic of classical statuary"- sculptor ex-boyfriend
Super 8 film and its connotation of care.
Super 8 as a material is a very sincere expression of both the reality of feeling, and the desire to express feeling, but also a packaged sincerity, because the connotation of sincere feeling is embedded in the very material, before there's any content added to the film- before the film is even exposed. When you take a Super 8 of someone filming on Super 8-- eg, in the Half Asleep video, the material itself becomes the emotional and actual, physical subject / content of the film. The same material is also used on Richter’s Dream 13 (minus even) video, (one of my favorite songs of all time), and the video connotes a similar feeling through its materiality.
Compare this to the designer clothing, Ferraris, and bling in rap videos- a rampant glorification of material signifiers of wealth as a measure of personal worth and success. Though radically different in the values they present, both are very much using the embedded connotations of these materials to commingle themselves with a vast network of social relations- to what end?
"I’m listening to Kodachrome
you look like a Chinadoll in that kitchen" -Korey
Are we drawn toward old technology because it represents the last generation of artists we actually admire? Or is it a psychosexual attraction toward the products of capital? Or is it / could it in part be an attempt toward the rejection of material signifiers of wealth for environmental reasons or as a moral imperative?
beyond nostalgia: environmentalism and oldness.
There is a antithetical problem to the problem of nostalgia, if nostalgia is indeed a problem, which is uncritically delighting in newness- for example, fetishizing movies shot on iPhones, paintings made in Photoshop, or movies made out of emojis. New form without new meaningful content is pointless. It’s a form of shallow entrancement with the spectacularness of one’s immediate material surroundings without engaging on a deeper (meaning-formation) level with how these forms function within the larger socioeconomic narrative of our Earth, and the real benefits and costs of newness. If a new form is more expressive of the higher emotional and spiritual experiences than an older form, that’s great, maybe, but if not, then frankly what’s so super special about it.
As an aside,
Against Gun Ownership.
I am *profoundly* opposed to gun ownership, and I am fully opposed to Korey Dane’s frequent references to guns, and his use of toy firearms in music videos. It’s a serious issue in America, and even if it’s connotative to him, or to whoever, of a way of life that feels comforting, normal, and American to some people, I feel it’s a backwards, conservative ideology that needs to be reevaluated.
Anyway, regarding language:
creating meaning from the metalanguage: Rivers, Korey, Oehlen.
re: Rivers' fragmentation of narrative in Excel spreadsheets, and the creation of new, open narratives in postmodern pop-rock related to telos in the postmodern era- Rivers breaks up fragments of narrative and potential lyrics into spreadsheets to organize them into songs. The songs create new, open narratives, that draw on true stories, but are not necessarily true stories. It's like a dream of a person’s life that might be, but it’s not really anyone, per se.
I feel the construction of narrative in the White Album and Pacific Daydream is very post-post-modern- constructing a semi-fictive romance narrative around an imagined individual boy & girl, drawn from fragments of real-life experience to construct a possible but not specifically real story, and the intertextuality is very postmodern- interweaving & compilation of the history of Nature, culture, and the couple (Mendel, Sisyphus, Darwin, Alice in Wonderland references / lyrics about contemporary environmental crises (extinction & habitat destruction)).
What makes it post-post-modern, and not post-modern is Rivers’ ability to construct narrative from a fragmented reality, unlike Oehlen who stares into the pulsating electric swamp. I believe meaning-creation, shared narrative-construction, and the creation of accessible avatars is what defines art that progresses beyond the overwhelmedness and panic of postmodern culture. Some painters (even contemporary painters), develop an unproductively immediate & disjointed relationship with the metalanguage, frantically fluttering at the surface of the material dialectic, entranced by the mirror without passing through it, reproducing the phenomena of fragmentation without creating meaning- whereas Rivers Cuomo works from a well of fragmented language and then creates new, possible, open-ended narratives from that language.
Korey moves directly from experience to language, but uses a limited 'palette' of signifiers. It's very different.
Another, frankly, brilliant compositional technique by Rivers Cuomo and Weezer was their use of the traditional Shaker hymn "Lord of the Dance" as a foundation for the song "Greatest Man That Ever Lived"- a Bartok-ish compositional technique not dissimilar to Charline Von Heyl's use of traditional German storybooks as a material ground upon which to compose her combination scanner-tape-paint compositions in black-and-white.
Walked past Katz's deli late at night, laughing and breathing in the night air. Brandon pointed to the neon sign and asked if I wanted a photo with it. I mused on the sign for a second, shook my head, and we kept wandering. By 1 or 2 am the streets are empty except for looming, radiant neon signs and the occasional Yellow Cab.
a limited palette of signifiers.
What materials do we call poetic? Ash, diamond, rust, smoke- these are the materiality of a Jungian dream-consciousness, the psychogeography of Dylan & Baez, Neil Young, Korey Dane. I would never look at a plastic bag lit by a sodium vapor lamp and be like, wow, that is the luminosity of my lover's soul. I would never look at a container of neon-green dish soap and be like, wow, that captures the crystalline depth of my lover's eyes. Or, for example, gaze upon a neon fire-hydrant or plastic air-conditioner casing, and feel like it expresses some profound, essential facet of my being. I would feel like, wow, that material looks like it might suffocate or poison me, or kill a fish. But these ugly material perceptions are a part of our everyday reality. Somehow when analyzing my own reality through a waking, Freudian, Marxian lens, I am prone toward a more vivisecting, HD, in-color articulation of the world I exist within, whereas my dream-mind expresses a place that's immaculate from, unscathed by the uglier materialities of capital. It's all feathers, waterfalls, cirrus clouds- I am the anima, psychically nude in the mystic golden tidepool. Is that some form of neurotic, psychological self-editing, or is it expressive of the inherent reality of the spirit as both pure and self-protective?
Contrast Korey Dane's selective material metaphors with Rivers' jubilant embrace of a pretty vast scope of postmodern subject matter; on the track In the Garage he paints a sonic image of a postmodern studio, plastered with the images of your heroes, like Van Morrison pinning posters of Huddie Ledbetter on the wall. And pretty much all of Raditude? You can not accuse Rivers of dwelling in a self-isolating shangri-la.
a specific matrix: localizing your consciousness.
Psychologically blocking out the existence of numerous contemporary realities including corporate America is one option, which is psychosexual, political / environmental, and class-conscious- eg, regarding self-presentation through fashion- hand-made, homespun world of wool and leather and lace, wild horses, the languid purity of the American prairie, is DIY, non-corporatized, connotes the natural. The specificity of subject-matter is free of the language and the desire-matrix of corporate America. But there is a desire to live up to the expectations of an idea of what the subject matter of Art is, and what it is to be an artist. It’s a different, highly selective matrix of desires which is both free and intrinsically fulfilled, but also needy in its own way.
translating reality: transmuting experience into language.
In Korey's work there is no desire to talk of, sing of, depict, live in, the entirety of postmodern consciousness. There is no metalanguage, there is no sarcasm, no irony, no complex linguistic functions predicated on understanding underlying social connotations- contrast this with Weezer’s decidedly complex linguistic methods- for example, the self-parodying humour of the Sweater Song, and the ironic posturing of Surf Wax America- but these complex jokes were grounded in their actual lived social lives. As technology has evolved, Rivers’ relationship with the metalanguage has shifted from juvenille self-parodical acting, comedy, and posturing (which refuted the seriousness of late 80’s rock / metal), to sincere embrace and synthesis of multiple forms of language and postmodern narrative-construction- for example, crowd-sourcing narratives of love stories and teen woes from Tinder and ‘collaging’ lyrics from spreadsheets. It’s a conception of the role of the pop star as someone in service to the people, telling collective stories.
On the other hand, Korey Dane’s language is one-to-one. Korey’s musical ouvre is like the abstract expressionism of contemporary songwriting, and embraces the idea of the singular artist / poet telling a personal story. He is not 'Pictures Generation'. In many ways, it’s a very straightforward expression of his desires, observations, passions, affections.
The process I use for my recent work is to write poetry to to express my subjective experiences of reality, then translate them into image-collages by literally googling the actual verbiage of my own poetry, then use the connotative language of the google image search to make the collage. Then I make paintings from the collages. So it's a subjective relationship with reality, but there's some self-awareness about which matrixes of connotation shape the language choice during the translation process from poetry to collage.
Albert Oehlen was really one of the first painters to wholly embrace the vastness of linguistic possibility, collaging everything from metal bands, to baroque architectural forms, to hot babes, into collages that didn’t so much express a personal reality but expressed a linguistic condition. He didn’t try to feel, know, or tell every story. He just kind of started into the metalinguistic pool and unleashed a bizarre, neon-and-dirt-colored howl of refutal towards pre-existing methods of organization.
Swansong in a Briefcase: what are we doing with Art?
Simone Weil’s work was a howling self-diagnosis of her own neuroticisms and ills, a swansong in a briefcase.
I mention her, because, another reason I have for writing this is because we have like, real careers now, and the more I recognize the cultural factors that shape my own matrix of consciousness, the more I need to vocalize them so we can be aware of how we change the world, and how the world changes us.
As Korey says in the song Hard Times (an outcry against the current rotten Presidential regime in America), we're "turning 27 in time, tumbling dice" here, our political and environmental situation is shit, and we're freaking artists here man.
So what is our work doing, honestly? How do we relate to the world?
"half-dead in a double brass band, in a cold sweat" --
is localizing your consciousness a moral imperative?
Dana Schutz’ Emmett Till disaster is an example of the failures of trying to operate sincerely within an overextended matrix of consciousness. Oh yeah, and what about Russian fake news?
Again, maybe a language that comes across as profoundly limited or conservative in its scope is actually a radical rejection of a consciousness matrix that we don’t want.
In Praise of Korey’s Poetry.
Korey is a student of poetry. He reads poetry, he knows how to write, and when he speaks, he speaks poetry. His work is beautiful. His songs are clear and timeless, simultaneously hazy and glittering. I feel like one of the sweetest moments on Chamber Girls is when he sings about his girl (presumably Zella Day, also a very talented singer-songwriter, with a gorgeous voice), “swinging for the cheap seats, while she shows the world her front teeth” on the track Always, and a track when he dares “honey watch me blow my fortune”. What a beautiful album.