FAME Review: Michael Sahl / Eric Salzman - Civilization and its Discontents
Michael Sahl / Eric Salzman - Civilization and its Discontents

Civilization and its Discontents

Michael Sahl / Eric Salzman

Labor Records - LAB7089

Available from CD Universe.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Eric Salzman may be the more well known of the pair here, having been among the klatsch of prodigal pioneers who arose during the glorious Nonesuch electronic experimental era—just after the Pleistocene, if memory serves—but Michael Sahl ain't no slouch either, Jeeter, and distinguished himself not only through his own efforts but by the company he kept as well: Milton Babbitt, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, and etc. before going to work with Judy Collins, Chris Stein (Blondie), and others. The range alone of that set of associations indicates well what Civilization and its Discontents is all about.

Salzman issued his famed Nude Paper Sermon in 1969 (perhaps 1970—hard to tell from my old LP), a surreal blend of opera, incidentalism, noise, and neoclassicalism that stood as a gem among the too small stream of precious discs being issued by Erb, Wuorinen, Subotnick, and a host of others who yet stand unrivalled in the field. This collaboration, however, is far more lucid, reflecting the off-off-Broadway nature of its 1978 appearance (originally issued on Nonesuch in '81, it's been 31 years until this re-issue!), a satire on the time's shifting youth culture as it progressed from hippies to disco days amid increasingly plastic interpersonal facades. At first stream of consciousness, the narrative resolves into coherent conflicts and alliances between several characters as it progresses, all the while exposing clichés and artificial cool for what both really were.

Thematically, the hybrid Civilization is somewhat a prefiguration of the Tubes' rock and rolling Remote Control but also a blend of demented soap melodrama, morphing stage opera somewhat a la Erling Wold, and cabaret, all MCed by Carlos Archnid (Karl Patrick Krause) and anchored by a recurring "If it feels good, do it!" tagline sardonically japing the backscatter. The liner notes are likewise amusing, self-deprecating, wry, and pointed. After all, anyone who claims that "opera is an elaborate, high-cultural entertainment which is expensive, dead, and foreign" isn't above an incisive honesty salt-rimmed with biting acerbity. If, like me, you have the original vinyl tucked away in a vault for safekeeping, you need this issuance for the new artwork, excellent 20-page liner, and cleaned up acoustics. But if you're new to Salzman and this type of heady experimentalism, hoo boy!, are you ever in for a treat.

Track List:

  • Club Bide-a Wee (12:41)
  • Jill's Apartment; Club Bide-a-Wee (31:37)
Written by Michael Sahl and Eric Salzman.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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