War of Words
Ian Svenonius brings post-punk spoken-word revolution to Big Sur.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Late last night, around 4:13am the portfolio on Ian F. Svenonius, ringleader of the band Weird War, was crammed under the front door of the Weekly office. The contents of the manila envelope included CDs, black-and-white surveillance photos, bits of biographical information about Svenonius, quotations from the indie rock icon, and an excerpt from his latest collection of essays, The Psychic Soviet.
Though the Weekly cannot verify the accuracy of any of this information, here’s what we believe to be true about Svenonius, and some random bits that were contained in the mysterious package.
• Svenonius does not consume hamburgers.
• Svenonius’ first foray into music was as a member of The Nation of Ulysses, a popular Washington DC punk band that insisted it was not a rock band but rather a political party. (At its shows, The Nation of Ulysses would hand out pamphlets espousing radical politics.)
• One CD in the package, with “The Sound of Jazz to Come” scrawled across it in red lipstick, has been verified as a song from the band’s 1995 album Plays Pretty for Baby. It begins with someone, whom our voice expert says is Svenonius, doing spoken word propaganda over coffeeshop jazz. A few minutes later, the number becomes a ferocious, off-kilter punk song.
• A quotation found in the package, attributed to Svenonius, addresses the rise of dance music, and explains why he formed the garage-rock-soul-gospel band The Make-Up after The Nation of Ulysses: “It makes sense to me that techno, rave and dance music should go over in the face of rock and roll, because it’s democratic for everybody to express themselves. Whereas a lot of rock and roll isn’t even entertaining at all, let alone allowing people the voice for expression. That’s what The Make-Up has come to remedy. We want to be entertaining and inclusive in terms of using the gospel form to sort of breathe life into the old Frankenstein monster.”
• One old, crinkled bit of glossy paper appears to be a 1991 piece from the teen-girl mag Sassy that calls Svenonius the “Sassiest Boy in America.”
• Scribbled on the back of a bit of wisdom from a fortune cookie is the Web address of a spoken word piece Svenonius did for Marketplace, the business program broadcast daily on National Public Radio. In it, Svenonius argues that former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan is the godfather of the two latest indie-music movements: freak folk and electro clash.
Svenonius contends that Greenspan’s policies, which led to a massive inflation of housing prices, meant musicians could no longer afford to buy or rent houses. Musicians were instead forced to create music in apartments, where they could not use loud acoustic drums that would rile their neighbors.
To summarize: No house—no garage; no garage—no garage rock. Hence, the current re-emergence of solo acoustic guitars and the rise of computerized music.
• A coffee-stained quotation from Svenonius sheds some light on the goal of his latest music group, Weird War. It says: “A political band isn’t a band with political lyrics. A political band is a group that’s creating a narrative that guides the culture towards, well, destroying the ruling class, in whatever way.”
• Weird War looks more like an underground political movement than a rock band. A page on the band’s Web site says that what is known about the group comes from declassified FBI files. The first bit of information states that: “Weird War was initially formed as an umbrella organization in 2002 A.D. to encompass disparate anti-authoritarian groups.”
Later, in the purported FBI files, a couple of entries announce that all people wishing to join the band’s ranks must submit a “portfolio of action” consisting of the individual’s radical acts.
• There is the introduction and first essay of The Psychic Soviet, Svenonius’ book of 19 essays. The introduction, labeled “Instructions,” says: “[T]his volume should clear up much of the confusion regarding events of the last millennium—artistic, geo-political, philosophical, et al.”
The first chapter, titled “Beatles Vs. Stones,” is an attempt to uncover the political bent of the two legendary rock groups. Among other conclusions, Svenonius writes that: “[T]he Stones Vs. Beatles dialectic, then, was actually Lennon/McCartney’s industrial Sovietology vs. Mick and Keith’s agrarian Maoism, a direct reflection of the intra-Commie ideological conflict of the time.”
The Weekly contacted Drag City Records, which put out The Psychic Soviet, and learned that Svenonius’ other essays include “The Bloody Latte,” which reveals a link between coffee and imperialism, and “Mordor Dearest,” a bit about misogyny in Hollywood.
A Flier In The Packet announces that Svenonius will be reading at the Henry Miller Library, 30 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1 in Big Sur, Friday, March 16, at 7:30pm. Free. 667-2574.