From The Desk Of Cotton Mather: The Razor’s Edge

Cotton Mather’s Robert Harrison gets brownie points for ambition. Death Of The Cool (The Star Apple Kingdom) comprises 11 of the 64 songs he’s been writing in an extended fit of creativity inspired by the I Ching, the ancient Chinese divination text—one tune per hexagram (or reading). Seriously. Harrison will be guest editing all week.


Harrison: This is my final post, and I’d like to thank MAGNET for inviting me to fill the chair these last two weeks, and all of you for playing along. Now, read the following story carefully. It contains your mission going forward.

In yesterday’s song, “Faded,” artifacts from a relationship have emotional resonance. Expressionist painter Agnes Martin once wrote, “When a beautiful rose dies beauty does not die because it is not in the rose. Beauty is an awareness in the mind.”

Beauty is a quality we assign, a perception within the temporal, and therefore ever subject to change, as opposed to reality, which rests within the immovable eternal. Which raises the age old question about whether or not the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it makes a sound. I should think not, since sound is perceived and perception requires a perceiver. I’d go so far as to say without an audience of at least one, the tree doesn’t exist. Tangos take two. And artists are looking for more than two perceivers I can assure you, however pure the soul’s intention may be to channel the eternal. We are navigating the temporal and perceivers are a big part of the game. Emily Dickinson, whatever you may have been told in grade school, curated her work meticulously to make certain her future perceivers would continue to hear that tree fall. And I’ve got news for you. When I conceived this I Ching song project, it wasn’t intended to be a monastic exercise in private self-flagellation, anymore than it was to be a get-rich-quick scheme. Now I’m going to leave you with a story. It’s a vile disgusting story. And its a true story. But if you’re squeamish read no further.

Cotton Mather’s first bassist, Owen McMahon, also played in band called the Joint Chiefs, who were part of the post-punk scene in Austin in the early ’90s. At rehearsal one night, he told us how over the weekend he’d performed at a punk-rock festival out in the country called, “Woodshock.” After his show he’d gone into the bathroom and saw the lead singer for the next act, Squat Thrust (I think their name was) emerging from the stall with a clear plastic cup of his own feces. This is true. Obviously Owen was curious as to what the hell was going on, and given that this was “Woodshock,” and this act the headliner, he feared the worst. As the sun was going down, the changeover went quite slowly but eventually the band started, with the lead singer defiantly staring into the crowd and hoisting his plastic cup in the air. And then to Owen’s horror he produced a razor, waved it about, dipped it into the cup and began to shave with his own excrement. But there was one problem (well probably a lot more than one)—by this time it was dusk, and no one in the audience apart from Owen had any idea what he was doing. The man had only one perceiver to witness this atrocious act of punk-rock self-sacrifice. And Owen wondered if it were somehow incumbent upon him to let the other people know. But he decided anyone stupid enough to do this didn’t deserve an audience. So he watched the man, um, lay waste to his face, and a perfectly good Gillette, pointlessly. Or as he told us over and over, “He shaved with shit for no reason.”

I can think of a lot of reasons for him not to do that. When it came to this I Ching song cycle, I couldn’t think of any, save one. That we wouldn’t find enough perceivers to warrant the expense. But once I had the idea, I knew I had to do it anyway, or else I’d spend the rest of my life kicking myself for not. And now that I’m nearing the halfway mark, I’m glad I went for it. I’d rather fail spectacularly at something than succeed dully. The reason I tell you this story is—friends, label partners, family, publicist and fans—if you’re enjoying this project, these posts, and especially these songs, please tell lots of other perceivers. Otherwise I’ll be just another guy “shaving with shit for no reason.”

This is Robert Harrison in your Austin, Texas, bureau signing off.