#13: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

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Dear Ralph,

It doesn’t make sense to start a letter about Polo references in Wu-Tang lyrics by talking about Noise music and Merzbow, so this digression will be brief and thematic. I mentioned Merzbow in my last letter because I am labouring through a book about the philosophy of noise right now, looking for something. I’m looking for sounds that will literally jolt me out of making music that comes naturally, music that tends to careen toward the pastoral and the ambient.

So the theme is disorder, internal and external, and the awe that certain producers (not just musical) inspire in me when there is some deep order imposed on disparate influences through a single visionary creator. Without trying to flatter you, let me just say that you rank very high in this camp.

So does the RZA, mastermind of the universe of Wu. How a cohesive aesthetic movement (what else can you call it?) was wrought from Kung-fu flicks, old soul, Monk-inspired piano stabs, horror film soundtracks, military uniforms, Clark Wallabees, the outrageous singing of O.D.B, and Mazda MPV minivans is a mystery I will never tire of puzzling over.

wutangclan1

When RZA formed the Wu-Tang Clan he started with a five-year plan and dreams of empire. The reach of his ambition was matched by his aesthetic acumen. Wu Tang today, nearly 25 years after the first album was released, is everything from a street wear clothing brand to a single-issue album sold that sold as a piece of modern art for $2 million. I don’t think it is off the mark to say that Wu is the Lo of the hip-hop world.

I don’t think I ever would of thought of you and the RZA as being similar creative forces, if it weren’t the Polo references that are littered throughout this album. There’s the Lo Goose (a down-filled Polo jacket) described by RZA as the flyest you could have; there is that “same damn Lo” sweater that is a marker for dashed hopes and ambition in “C.R.E.A.M”; there is that Polo shit from 1987 that, according to the skit that introduces “Can it be all so Simple”, was the best. Polo gets as much love on this record as all Jeeps and Land Cruisers do.

And then of course there is one of the most iconic items in the entire Polo canon:

raekwon-polo-ralph-lauren-snow-beach-jacket-lo-life

Enter the Wu-Tang has been with me a long time. It is one of those rare albums I love that I haven’t destroyed by overplaying. Other entries in this category include Eno’s Music For Airports, Leonard Cohen’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony, Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, the Alan Lomax recordings of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. That is a pretty motley mix of sounds, but a mix I feel I can somehow internalize and synthesize into something as cohesive as the Polo brand or the universe of Wu. The fact that I am listening to Pulse Demon as a form of creative shock therapy might just let you know that the disorder I talked about earlier goes a lot deeper than just diverse influences.

I’m feeling the same right now about how I dress. Outside I’m all brown cords, striped oxford and old-man blousons, but on the inside I’m somewhere between swaggering on a Snow Beach and dressing for dinner at Downton Abbey. The sartorial equivalent to Merzbow would probably be something like Rick Owens or Commes de Garcons. I’m not there yet.

I’m secretly sort of happy that my style would probably be dismissively described as a mountain climber who plays an electric guitar.

Respectfully yours,

S

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