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Henry Flynt and the Insurrections - I Don't Wanna

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Artist: Henry Flynt and the Insurrections

Album: I Don't Wanna

Label: Locust

Review date: Apr. 28, 2004

Walking home from a particularly tough day in the library - spent, probably coincidentally, trying to figure out if any parts of Richard Meltzer’s The Aesthetics of Rock could be swallowed almost-whole into the God-Damn Thesis (answer: No) - I stumbled upon local legend Kami, waiting for a bus, listening to Henry Flynt’s I Don’t Wanna on his headphones at spine-crushing volume. Wandering off from our brief entente cordiale, I mused on the disjunction Kami must have been experiencing between the outside world, and the mind-bogglingly singular universe of Henry Flynt, ace Renaissance man.

Henry Flynt: present in the 1960s, absent in the 1970s, one lone-show cassette release in the 1980s, absent again through the 1990s, omni-present in the old new millennium. If the steely clutch that reissue/repackage/revamp/remake/remodel culture has upon the cognoscenti’s credit card rating has led everyone down innumerable blind alleyways, rarity-before-quality scenarios, and general barrel-scraping ‘joys’, it’s also lit up the collected hidden-works of a number of interstitial masters, those who float between orbits.

Tony Conrad, Charlemagne Palestine, and Henry Flynt. All three artists were voracious spirits in the NYC loft underground of the 1960s, all of them did various disappearing acts over the following few decades, and all of them, on closer examination, are absolutely part of a trajectory of outsider American music; in Flynt’s case, resolutely outside, whether by design or not.

I Don’t Wanna sends another of Flynt’s archival tapes out to the boho record bin. Recorded in 1966, after Flynt took guitar lessons from Lou Reed (which makes for great mind’s-eye melodrama: “No, Henry, “Prominent Men” goes like this...”), this is Flynt’s most direct protest music. And although four members appear on the recording, it’s really the interplay between Flynt’s nervous-twitch guitar playing, like a blues player stoked up on amphetamines and electricity - um, like Lou Reed, really - and artist Walter deMaria’s feverish drumming that makes the record. On “Missionary Stew,” Flynt plays the guitar like he can’t quite figure out where to place the notes, how to string them together; it infuses the music with free spirit, something deMaria responds to with rolling drums, accenting different moments, lending Flynt’s nasal, declamatory whine of a vocal the central role. This jumpy energy characterizes the songwriting and delivery, songs that sound as though they’re being squeezed out of the musicians and they’re not sure if they like the experience or not... but with music borne of such impulses, it’s all about the flustered, wild ride.

Flynt’s music can’t help but echo and forecast other music. Yes, you can hear American folk/hillbilly/blues music of the early 20th century feeding through Flynt’s song-writing; yes, it also sounds rather like any number of rock bands who’ve leaned on the twin crutches of loose-limb playing and classicist chord progressions. In his essay The Meaning of My Avant-Garde Hillbilly and Blues Music, Flynt makes it clear: “My music is a sophisticated, personal extension of the ethnic music of my native region of the United States.” It’s also a staggeringly strange and personal vision of rock music, still in its emergent stages, and of rock’s possibilities as both abstract and direct protest.

By Jon Dale

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