Monday, April 8, 2013

A Murder In Ostia

In Ostia, Italy on November 2, 1975, a seventeen year old hustler named Giuseppe Pelosi climbed into a car owned by Pier Paolo Pasolini. At the time, Pasolini was one of the most celebrated radical filmmakers in the world, certainly the premier director in Italy. Pelosi ran over Pasolini. Then he ran over him again. Then he ran over him again.

Roughly twenty years later, Scott Walker released the harrowing album "Tilt". It was his first album in eleven years. His last had been "Climate of Hunter", released in 1984, a slick strange pop collection of macabre funk laid over sensuous bass lines and even stranger melody.

"Tilt" would make "Climate of Hunter" seem like a Hall & Oates record.

The first song on "Tilt" is called "Farmer In The City (Remembering Pasolini)". Walker takes a translation of a poem by Pasolini and modifies it, layering it over an orchestral composition that can only be described as bleak. I don't know what he was trying to say about Pasolini, I don't know what the hell he is talking about in this song. At several points he seems to be an auctioneer and a bidder at the same time..."I'll give you 21/21/21/Do I hear 21/21/21". A further couplet states that he "can't go buy a man in this shirt", either referring to actual slavery or to purchasing the services of a male prostitute.

Again, I have no idea what Walker is talking about here. All I know is that by including Pasolini in the title, by referencing the name of the town where he was brutally murdered, and by invoking the specter of human trafficking of one degree or another, you are placed in the uncomfortable position of being a denyer, of having a truth-teller grab you by the back of your neck, forcibly keep you from turning away from what you most desperately wish to avoid, and having them snarl at you, "Look. Do not turn away."

But all the while, their voice is hypnotic. The bed of music that cradles it is epic and lush. No matter how many times I hear it, I am unprepared. I cannot take it in.

Nothing is mentioned in the song of what the young hustler felt as the wheels crushed the life out of the body of a great artist. No attempt is made to link the lyrical content of the song to the occurrences that led up to such a horrific end. Walker doesn't try to feel the pounding in the chest of the murderer shifting the car into reverse to increase the damage to the corpse. Shifting it back into forward, heart pounding with what? Exhilaration? Regret? Triumph? Relief?

The song might not even be about that occurrence. Walker isn't saying. He makes a bunch of sounds in a recording studio and forces us to say it for him.

Watch "Farmer In The City" off of Scott Walker's 1995 masterpiece "Tilt".

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