Thompson's twins

Three decades later and smarter, Red Krayola's Mayo Thompson holds a mirror up to his first freakout

The differences between the Red Krayola circa 1966 and 1999 may lie less with the sounds it makes as with how it talks about them. On Parable, these open sections were identically titled "Freeform Freakout," a trippy description Thompson seems to regret, but on Fingerpainting, each gets an elaborate title that mocks the possibility of giving a rational account of such abstract music. The funniest, in its entirety, is: "A Sow With an Abbess's Bonnet Is Sitting on Four Rock-Objects and Singing Along With Them. The Song Sounds Like a Cheater, and Is Imprisoned in a Striped Toy Box Because Its Aims Are Not Recognizable. On Top of the Box Is a Head That Could Be Elvis's, If He Had Survived This."

Stranger still, the title is actually a useful guide for listening. The cheap-sounding keyboard that runs through the piece could well be compared to "a striped toy box," and the strong backbeat that ends it, presumably the handiwork of Hurley, could, conceivably, have something to do with Elvis. I can't help you with the sow, though.

Similarly, Live 1967 reproduces a manifesto written by the band's original Texas line-up, full of notions about the nature of music that were in the air at the time: "Music is that which is proposed as music. We free the sounds and free ourselves of responsibility to them or for them." Fingerpainting includes a manifesto of sorts as well, but it's cagier, less Cagean, a punning take on the universalist tone of free-jazz liner notes:

Mayo Thompson, then and now: "I would want to say, 'High art, what's that? What's low art?' Gimme a break."
Mayo Thompson, then and now: "I would want to say, 'High art, what's that? What's low art?' Gimme a break."

"Music is the feeling horse of the planet. Spin across, void, to that space where next to nothing shows through its feeling." As far as the author is concerned, there's no conflict between the two statements, though he's well aware of the shift in emphasis.

"That earlier language is Cagean, and therefore philosophical, and this language, it's crackpot, quote unquote," he says. "And then you get to the end of it, and you find out that we're sincere: 'Dig the dignity.' It's the deployment of sincerity, the avoidance of any engagement with irony -- this language is as fresh as a newborn babe."

Thompson is joking; he's not joking. Both and neither -- you can tell by his tone of voice. Yeah, yeah.

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