Rare or Unreleased 53: Aid for Helpless Children

Ah, Berlin! What mistress are you! This shall be Toilet Guppies' first winter in the world capital of contemptorary art. (Next to its old nemesis, New York, of course.) A city where salaries are insults added to the injury of already ripe unemployment, but where alcohol is cheap. The ramshackle hedonism, tottering beneath the myths of the Weimar Republic, is wrapped in socially acceptable left wing politics (coming in whatever shape or form leftist radicals may afford), all of it housed by rather unsightly new buildings where the destructive determination of mankind has obliterated the old, as well as old buildings that remain pocked with little bullet hole reminders. This does not intimidate the ambitious bohemian. Every day a new arrival, like so many actress-waitresses flocking to LA… Dare any of us imagine what winter shall bring?

To soften the arrival of snow and below -15 degrees in such a place, Toilet Guppies submits a guppy from way down the toilet: a 1996, since-deleted German language rendition of SWANS' «Helpless Child».

When Michael Gira decided to kill off SWANS (long before their presently ongoing reunion), the band's corpse bloated into the two-disc swan song Soundtracks for the Blind, perhaps the best summary of the varied forms of the band's ethos and aesthetic on any one album. Old loops, found sounds, various live recordings and both new and old studio ones were all jabbed, stomped and stroked into a whole (or hole, whichever you prefer).

As if the resulting two hours and twenty minutes' worth of music didn't suffice, the band also issued a 51-minute «EP» of alternate versions, «Die Tür ist zu». As the Teutonic title—«the door is closed»—indicates, two of the tracks were German versions of songs off Soundtracks for the Blind. Presumably, this was a final gesture of gratitude aimed at the band's German fan base, who absolutely loathed it, cringing at the ham-fisted American accent singing words that may sound cool in exotic English but that, they were quick to realise, aren't exactly Goethe or Rilke in German.

But though the «EP»'s opening piece, «Helpless Child», features one of the least accomplished lyrics by one of rock's most unique and underappreciated wordsmiths, the music still contains one of the most sublime expressions of the band's transgressive-transcendent, Wagnerian excess, combining as it does funereal organs with brute repetition, its third movement building towards a climax that—live, at least—obliterates any sense of the body and isolates the mind in sorrow indistinguishable from joy, elation from heaviness, and the rest of it. More clearly than most of SWANS' output, it encapsulates the band's attempt at unifying opposites into one liberating whole, taking the contradictions, paradoxes and tensions of human logic, feelings and sense experience and accepting that they aren't, in fact, real, except as a totality. One in which, incidentally, you are swallowed up, momentarily relieving you of the feeling of being a separate entity, no longer an ego kicking against the will of the world.

Or something. «Helpless Child» (or «Hilflos Kind» in German) is prefixed with one of Soundtracks for the Blind's ambient noise instrumentals, «I Love You This Much» (re-Christened «Ligetí's Breath»), and so is not merely a German language rendition of the version on Soundtracks for the Blind, but an extended opus. (You know, if you needed a further incentive to download the track…)

I'd include the German version of «I See Them All Lined Up», too, but I'll save that for the day when I'm more in the mood for lyrics like: «I see their bodies in the pyre / leaking black smoke into the flames / And all the people stand around / shaping lips into my name». In German.

«Die Tür ist zu» is out of print, but Soundtracks for the Blind is still very much available, and Toilet Guppies very highly recommends that you part with money for it at the first given opportunity.


Protest Is Best

Freedom of speech, freedom of the body, freedom for women, freedom from the tyranny of humourless, neutered killjoys and prudes everywhere.

Praise be Egyptian blogger and freedom lover (because she's a lover, not a fighter), Ms. Aliaa Magda el-Mahdy.

Oh, and merry Christmas!

P.S. Not to forget Ai Weiwei, charged by the Chinese government with pornography for this act of gratuitous lewdness:


Winter Compilation 2011-20... 12?

Toilet Guppies' annual winter collection is here, for what is possibly the final full winter in the history of the planet and even the universe, so download yours while you still can!