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Monday, May 24, 2021

Footpath (Anonymous Hints)

Episode Two Hundred Forty Two: Footpath (Anonymous Hints).
In which we Faction.

1 comment:

  1. My brother had a lifelong friend, Ken, that he met in high school. At one point the two of them ended up at Johnson College in Redlands California, which, like Goddard, was absurdly progressive. There was a story, likely apocryphal, of a final exam that involved a professor slowly waving hands above the student, laying on a table. This was the late 70's.

    At Johnson, Ken worked at the school radio station and collected a ton of promotional 45s. On one visit - I must have been around 11 or 12 - he handed me a stack of sides: Clash, Pretenders, Jam, Joy Division, Elvis & The Attractions, Iggy & The Stooges (in that bizarrely narrated Cincinnati broadcast). Life-changing moment for me.

    One of the 45's in that stack, I think, was Eno's 'King's Lead Hat', from Before and After Science (1978), the catchy pop single with the anagram-of-Talkingheads title. The B-Side was an experimental 'R.A.F.' with an enigmatic "Eno And Snatch" attribution. This was pre-Internet, and despite much speculation, hard info on what this meant was hard to come by.

    The R.A.F. of the title seemed simple enough, however, as surely it meant 'Royal Air Force'. At some point over the intervening decades, I found that, no, actually it stood for 'Red Army Faction'. But that was as far as the realization of my error sank.

    My son recently mentioned that he was studying the Cold War, and I got excited and geeky about a divided Berlin, subsequently boring him with a torrent of info.

    Coincidentally, a reference to ‘R.A.F.’ showed up on Twitter, and something drew me to look into it again. And, right there, on youtube, there was a video of the song with footage that seems to be the original German news broadcast track from which much of the song's vocals were sampled. And the video continued: crashed cars, covered bodies lying on pavement, mug shots (some of which I mysteriously recognize), incident diagrams. I began to realize that 'Red Army Faction' was a terrorist group in West Germany that was violently active in the late 70's, just as Eno, Bowie, and Iggy were over there recording the records that would possess me throughout my entire life.

    But here it was in black-and-white, this scary and potent activism (frustrated with what they saw to be the whitewashing of Nazi involvement in post-war government, I gather) that must have truly shocked anyone living in Berlin at the time. This song an incidental record of these events, with funky groove (Phil Collins on drums) and cool, disjointed vocal samples, and for years I had no idea. One never knows.

    The first and fourth panels, here, from that news footage: a tracing of the movements of the attack, and a phone soliciting anonymous hints. The third an image from a blog (in German) of an astrological analysis of one of the Faction's member's psychology. All these mappings as an attempt to understand where we are, and where we are going.

    The second panel from a rubber stamp advertised on Twitter; some sort of game stamp, the filled in dots and curvy lines evading me, yet still intriguing.

    So, all this had come up that week. A deepening interest in this song due to a unknown connection with Cold War divided Berlin, and bizarre imagery that is confusing and feels somehow desperate. But even more shocking: the realization that, as cultured and nuanced as I may have felt owning this unusual 45, and being 'in' on this cool music, in truth my access to the music remained as superficial as any pop-music appreciation, and the ideas and images that created the music involved life and death commitments of people facing political struggles the trauma of which I still, thankfully, have little understanding.

    Still, the process of mapping, and orienting, and soliciting anonymous hints, remains ongoing.

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