Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide: Interview with Bob Dobbs

By Scott Woods

I first became acquainted with the mysterious voice of Bob Dobbs through his late night listener-call-in shows (more like radio seances, really) on CKLN in Toronto, back in 1987. Half the time I didn't know what the hell Bob was talking about, but whether he was rap-ranting on McLuhan, Finnegans Wake, road hockey, or the invisible effects of the electric environment, something clicked--even as it frustrated. Tuning in to Bob was like deciphering a language for a strange new type of pop song: beyond comprehension at first, but the beat keeps drawing you back.

I went into my interview with Dobbs, anxious to hear his spin on pop music history, but not surprisingly I came away with something much more vast, Bob's soliloquys touching on everything from Dick Clark to windmills to Lady Di to punk to the hidden meaning behind the mirror ball. ("So what would be the last strategy of the human electrons, sub-atomic particles? It'd be to dance around the satellite, and what the fuck is it? the disco ball! It's a fucking satellite!" But wait, kids--there's more: "See, disco was definitely the satellite environment as entertainment, past times as pastime. And the punks, since they were clothing, they probably represent the raw energy of the chip, of a new chip coming in and organizing the automation and the whole circuitry of society for that year's cultural products. And Windows 95 was like a new chip, right? And that was happening before Windows. Punk is a chip, it's the Rumplestiltskin chip that comes in and alters the situation.")

I left the interview feeling stupid, and oddly refreshed. I mean, it's not everyday you get to talk to the self-described greatest artist on the planet ("page five of a 10-page resume," to quote the man himself), not to mention the only artist alive. Just don't ask me to explain what any of it means right now.

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Scott:  I find that a lot of the stuff I read by you in Flipside and the stuff that I hear on your radio shows, some of it I can grasp, a good deal of it I can't, but I still kind of get off on the ideas almost on an emotional level--I like the way you display it. So what I'm wondering is, do you advocate that type of understanding Bob: Bob as entertainment?

Bob:  Oh yeah, but it's not entertainment. I always remember what McLuhan wrote about Joyce, he said Joyce communicated before and beyond understanding; a poet communicates before and beyond understanding. It's almost like the communication between the lines and between the rhythms. The people will respond subconsciously to the rhythms, and they will get good feelings from that, or whatever, or intense feelings or fearful feelings--they'll get MOVED, and the moving is more than the registering of semantic meaning. So, I don't expect you to understand me completely, and that's okay, because you will understand it. I always say go back and check it out again later, in two years, and you'll be amazed what you discover in it. I want to make stuff that lasts, that you can see more...

Scott:  That is true, when you go back and read it you can definitely grasp a lot more.

Bob:  And if what I'm saying is true, you, as a young person, CAN'T understand it, you haven't had the experience I've had, why should you? But you're lucky if you say, "I resonate with this, I see that this is worth paying attention to over time." Like I pay attention to Zappa and these guys because I knew they were trying to say something, and you're not gonna get it all. Just be smart enough to check in every now and then, and remind yourself to be continuous with that. So I want people, if they're lucky, to be continuous with what I do because they will find a consistency in it as they understand more about other things in their life and then go back to it. So, I don't think that's entertainment, I think that's learning. But, but, here's a good line: there's no difference between didactic poetry and lyric poetry, because what pleases the most teaches the most--it merges.

Scott:  You've also mentioned in the past that understanding Bob's Media Ecology involves a certain amount of pain...

Bob:  [laughs] Yeah, learning is painful. I mean, there's that old line, when you're laughing you're learning; but when you're in PAIN you're learning. Nowadays you have so many distractions and things to fill up your time, it's painful to sit still, maybe hide away for a week, and read something in depth, and really try to figure it out, because a lot of experiences you've missed over that week; you've been out of touch if you think you need to know what's going on. You've missed the collective experience of people reading papers everyday: they're processing all this stuff and you're not part of the collective beehive mind, and probably some part of your brain, your self, wants to be in touch. But it's painful to withdraw from that and do some of your own homework by yourself, sort of relive the isolated, visual book-reading experience. But I try to recommend really good stuff to read to make that worthwhile. It's not physically torturous, but it's kind of painful, and it's WORK, it's like weightlifting. So, you've gotta do that, and you have to...

Scott:  It's painful to come to an awareness--is that what you're saying? Or understanding?

Bob:  Painful to learn to control your mind, or to see how it moves. See, if you just merge with the crowd and do whatever you're doing, go to all the right movies, all the intelligent stuff, you're operating on a certain rhythm and pace that is comfortable as you get used to it. It's always uncomfortable to get out of that pace and break your routine or your habit. All awareness is is seeing what you were doing from another perspective, so to get out of the flow you've got to stop, and when you stop it's not necessarily that you've gone into a higher awareness zone, it's just that you've begun to look at that other environment from a different perspective, and that will create new patterns and new insights, and it will give you a sense of expanding your awareness; but you can't stay in that point, you're eventually gonna have to get out of that point and go experience some other zone and look at those two previous zones through that point.

So there's no finish line in expanding your awareness--I wouldn't even begin to say that, I would just say that it's tough to change your routine, that it's harder to change your routine since you're living in a world of change, so how can you make change if everything's always changing? One of the ways is to STOP, you know what I mean, in some way, even though it's the hardest thing to do today.

Scott:  Is that Bob's Media Ecology?

Bob:  Yeah...

Scott:  To stop?

Bob:  If that works for awhile; if it becomes a habit then it isn't, you know. But Bob's Media Ecology is taking pleasure in the work of looking at one situation through another. So that means if you like ecology stuff you've got to read right wing and anti-ecology literature just to look at that, you know what I mean? Because you become a zombie with just one perspective. And as you learn more and more how any point of view is obsolete and the society isn't even operating on that point, then you realize, well, geez, I'm gonna have to learn to live without a point of view...and that's a problem, too, but--that's why it's so silly to have a point of view when society doesn't even care about that anymore.

Scott:  Okay...

Bob:  And that's TERRIBLE for society, because no one's ever going to gain control of the situation or implement real change, or implement going in a healthy direction.

Scott:  Is it--well, it's probably the wrong way to word the question, I was going to say is it better to do this or that...

Bob:  No, you can say anything, I don't care...

Scott:  What I'm wondering is, the whole idea of being understand something is it better to be detached from the situation or is it better to be immersed in it?

Bob:  Okay, that's an eternal dialectic; the history of wisdom comes out of that. There was the 'time' school, which, through philosophy, monastic living, and yoga, you remove yourself from this dimension and you become extremely detached--that's one way. Another way is the 'space' school: you plunge into society, like a Lord Byron, and stir up, and become a social activist, and just cause shit all over the place, and justify the turmoil you cause because it gets people out of their routine. So, you can withdraw or you can become involved, that's the dialectic that you're--that seems to be an eternal thing in humans, an eternal question. It's like, should I stay here and listen to you and accept this interview--I don't want to do it anymore, I'm bored--or should I suppress my need to leave and get really involved in it? So we're always...that's the drama of cognition, of interrelating with the other. How much do I pay attention to you, therefore not be detached and get involved in your reality, and how much do I ignore you? So the question you're asking is an archetypal oscillation that goes on all the time in consciousness.

So--the first thing about Bob's Media Ecology would be to become aware of the problem of trying to go one way or the other. Then Bob's Media Ecology says explore one way, then do the other, knowing that it's very hard to really do one or the other because you have a technological environment that allows you to take a choice in these matters. In the old days you didn't have a fucking choice, you had to make a decision quickly: the tribe's going to war, what are you gonna do? You couldn't listen to five albums, read seven books, and subscribe to magazines to make a decision in five years. Obviously, we're not in that dilemma anymore, but there's never a perfect situation, we've got new dilemmas. I like Bob's Media Ecology describing the NEW dilemmas we're in which usually are not describable in these old dialectical terms; I like to update people's understanding of the problem they're IN, the new way you've got to figure out that ancient problem of whether to get involved or not.

So I never read the news, I'm not involved in the news, but I can keep aware, I can always keep ahead of what the news is saying because I know the larger issues, or the issues of the dilemma, more. I can sound more informed than those who read the papers everyday [laughs]--so there's a strategy.

Scott:  Okay. When I first read the "Entertainment Sucks" piece [Flipside, June/July '95] , the very first thing I kind of got from reading that article was, I couldn't help but feel at first that everything I'm working towards in my personal life, like playing in a band or writing about music and all that sort of thing is just--is completely irrelevant.

Bob:  That's right, I've communicated something to you, and that SHOULD make--I WANT to make you stop and scare the shit out of you. So you got that, and now you're going to say that you reread it...

Scott:  Well, actually, two questions relating to that: first, is that a normal response?

Bob:  Yep.

Scott:  And secondly, how do I suddenly not feel irrelevant? Or how am I supposed to take that without feeling irrelevant?

Bob:   Well [giggles], if you're lucky, you'll realize that the terms you define yourself in are irrelevant, and I'm threatening your definition, your vocabulary, because my vocabulary kills your inner vocabulary, and then you're stuck there without a way to talk yourself into a new direction. So, you should be paralyzed at first, but then, if you keep studying me you might get a new language and new insights that motivate you to go somewhere, though I don't know where it's gonna BE. But definitely, I'm like a guy demanding that you LEAVE society [laughs], which is even more impossible today than it was 100 years ago, so it is meant to shock you and shake you up and make you feel stupid--yeah, make you feel stupid and depressed, because I know that this society has so many distractions that you're not gonna be stuck there. Maybe if 100 years ago I did that to people they'd all go nuts, because there'd be no way of escaping me. But I can't stop you now; there's no way I can control your response, so in some ways I have to look more extreme. Sometimes it doesn't work, people don't respond, but you responded, and yeah, I want you to feel dead, 'cause you've disappeared.

Scott:  Are all artists today living under a delusion?

Bob:  Okay--first of all, everybody's an artist today: EVERYBODY. Even, even, umm--who's the stupidest guy you can think of? Maurice Strong at Ontario Hydro. [laughs] Or even [CBC reporter] Adam Vaughan. And you know why? Because the artist as a concept is obsolete. Because the artist was a guy who could stand back, look at the pattern of the society, and hold a mirror up to society; the artist would have a role of getting people to check their involvement in society. It might frighten people or it might stimulate them. Nowadays, we're so stimulated by information and by machines--movies and media, all media, they're like machines, they're like artists stimulating us--we don't need an artist in the same do you get someone to hold a mirror up to that, like the artist traditionally did? No one artist can do that. So then every person is in the role of an artist. Because basically the artist was someone who was outside of the society, was almost existential, was able to not believe in the society, take the risk of stepping outside of it in that unfamiliar zone...

Scott:  Is that creating an anti-environment?

Bob:  Right. Yeah. So the artist would traditionally come along and not believe everything, and go through the pain of dealing with that, and then come up with some metaphor to show it back to society, and then it would shock people, or whatever, and they would get an intimation of being outside of their culture. The risk-taking that the artist takes, of getting out, EVERYbody is in that position today, because there's no anthropomorphic scale for humans today, it's all machines talking to machines, so everybody is alienated, everybody is outside the system, like the artistic view, the artistic consciousness. So therefore, if everybody's an artist, then you can't talk about the guy, the person, the mind that's gonna show an anti-environment to the situation--the traditional role of the artist--he cannot use or be part of the artistic vocabulary, since everybody's already that. So what vocabulary or metaphor can you come up with? You see? You see the problem?

Scott:  Yeah, yeah.

Bob:  So there's an example of Bob's Media Ecology. I'm showing you that your question're talking within a vocabulary and you haven't realized that it's not an issue whether you're an artist anymore, everybody is IN the position of the artist, outside the situation, and living an existential risk-taking situation, where they can't depend on anything anymore. Which is really what an artist traditionally did: he got out of the comfort-security, non-risk-taking assumptions, and sort of worked from the "I don't know" position, and then saw the patterns from that. So everybody's in that just by the fact that today is never gonna be the same as tomorrow, and just to wake up, people have to read the news to find out what the rules are today, 'cause they change everyday in terms of information turnover.

So, the thought was, since everybody's experiencing that, and that's cliché, therefore, one cannot [pause]--how are we going to provide slack in that situation? You see, before, the artist maybe provided slack if he understood it and got the perspective and got to see the neat pattern; but also that can be frightening because you've been put into the existential position. So everybody's being forced to be existential today, how can you put them in--what is the unfamiliar zone to put people into, to create an anti-environment? Basically, you can't do that. So the only way, the only artistic position of seeing the cultural pattern is only done by a rapid series of ersatz innovations. And we have that everyday: we turn over our car styles, music styles, industry styles, anything. All this turnover is a rapid series of innovations. The machines are doing the role of the artist--they're outdoing the role--so how does the anthropomorphic person get a perspective on that? The first thing is you gotta have something like Finnegans Wake, which approximates the problem, showing you the problem in book form. It's not a book: it's all media, and it's showing you a rapid series of innovations and shifts. So, let me see...I thought I was going into another pattern, but...

Scott:   Something to do with "small a" art?

Bob:  Well, small a art is always the real artistic role offering perception; new art is always ugly, real small a art. The thing that offers perception is not there to make money: the guy's got a problem, the artist has a problem, and he's trying to figure out something, so he paints it, or he does something, traditionally. And then it might be successful, but we know of countless people who were heavy artists that no one ever heard of, so small a art is not based on commerce. Especially today when the machines NEED content and they need shock and they need that traditional role of the artist--what the small a artist did--that's already inside a commercial monster.

So art, the words "small a" and "capital a" art--what I'm trying to show is what the new small a art is--and it's definitely not commercial--but I can't rely on the traditional form of small a art, with being non-commercial, because all of that gets appropriated, as history has shown. The Dadaists--there was big money made out of the Dadaists--or any fringe person now, Rothman's is probably sponsoring them. The point is, we've disappeared; there's no cultural, human, fucking artistic way of dealing with this. So, the more you deal with that, just reacquainting yourself with that question--'cause you might get the insight from me tonight, or from reading "Entertainment Sucks," but you're going to forget about it, because the mind has to process new stuff--you just have to keep going back to it, and getting stronger at how to see the question.

So I claim that I've figured out how to do it--how to BE a small a artist, and if I could make a capital a art out of it, that's not even an issue; I could, but it doesn't solve the problem we're in. And most famous people, they end up living in New York because they want to live, and they can be anonymous there and get on with their life, doing and learning that they want to do. And they've got a lot of money, so they can afford to live there. But there's so many disservices today for people that being rich doesn't protect you from these things--if you're responsible. You know, someone could make a lot of money and just be stoned all the time, and they're gonna die anyway, so they're not in the game. So in the world of the game and maintaining awareness, it's a tougher situation to do, and success doesn't help you.

Scott:  Are you the only small a artist on the planet?

Bob:  Umm, I would definitely say yes, but let me just think about it, let's see if there's some way to not--you know, I don't want to just assume that. And definitely, I'm the only artist--I'm the greatest artist and the only artist ALIVE, because nobody else is alive, nobody's in the position I'm in.

Scott:  Because you're outside of it all?

Bob:  Yeah! I'm more than a small a artist--that's just like page five of a 10-page resumé, you know what I mean? [laughs] I mean, besides being a small a artist, I can talk to the dead, I can compose intergalactically, I can cure AIDS--thanks to Connie in that part--I can do all these things, but I have access to amazing realities, so I can't even be defined, can't even be a small a artist. If that's the greatest term within your understanding and your vocabulary of what I am, yeah, I am the greatest thing, plus many other things [laughs], you know what I mean? Because I'm going to encourage you to develop into other things as well as just being an artist. Now I know that for you, as a western kid, the last vestige of anthropomorphic prestige is to be an artist--that's our high point today, because you're not going to be a monk; it's the last stance of the mind, of some kind of superiority complex or something. But what I always try and do is say, hey, there's better things you can get to and aspire to if you've got the guts to do it, if you're a REAL artist; you definitely don't go into the art world. You can sort of drop in every now and then, but there's nothing there, so you can drop in every week and have fun, as long as you know that that ain't what you should be doing--or, no, as long as you realize that you shouldn't spend ALL your time doing that.

Scott:  Is there anything I can communicate to an audience as a musician?

Bob:  [laughs]

Scott:  There's no audience, I know, but...

Bob:  Okay, the only rationalization is if you want time to do the important things, which is NOT making music, but if you take time to make music to give you the money or the slack to take the time to do the important things, then that's okay to do it. Because everything today is a means to make a living, and everybody has to keep making a living--so far. So you can't put down people for the way they make their living, but I always said, don't get so preoccupied and not have a life. And a "life" means that, yeah, doing music is one part of life, but you've gotta do other--there's other opportunities to do other things, like stop obsessing--you're still specializing. I advocate that you modulate the time you're given to not specialize. But it doesn't mean studying all different kinds of music; I mean be something you're totally not inclined to be, like study mathematics or something. Or not even that...maybe go hang out at a gay bar if you're not gay--maybe you are, I don't know. But THEN you don't want to--a lot of people do that unconsciously, they like new experiences, they'll do ANYthing, so, you want to experience not doing everything, so be by yourself somehow.

Scott:  Is that a certain type of dilettantism?

Bob:  Most people are dilettantes today--they're forced to be. You see, human beings are incredibly intelligent and agile, and all artist-super-beings compared to people 100 or 200 or 500 years ago, just because the environment demands it. But it's like the tub, the bathtub, the temperatures getting hotter, it goes up another degree every half hour, but your body's gotten used to it in the previous half hour, so you don't notice it, and also, you're roasted to death, and you didn't even notice it, right? So that's what we've done: we've killed ourselves as we've become adjusted to the incredible demands on our being, and we've adjusted to them well. So, I'm saying don't be a dilettante, but there are no familiar ways of doing that. The ways to do it would be to interact with Bob's ten holy offices or kind of do what Bob does, or take time to study what Bob studies--that would be the only way to not be a dilettante. And because I'm offering a variety of things, it could look like dilettantism, but I'm saying it's valuable dilettantism, and it's designed to get you to understand how you are being conditioned to be a dilettante, and shouldn't go for that.

Scott:  What were you meaning earlier when you were making some point about--you were talking about the Lady Di thing, and you were saying this ISN'T the information age, though everyone thinks it's the information age. What's that?

Bob:  Information is something that gives you a new insight, a new pattern. If we're overindulged with patterns constantly--you know, forms of information--then you're not getting the real function of information to give you a pattern; you don't know how to get a pattern that fits you outside of all this overkill of patterns. That's the same point I've been saying, right? It's the old principle: if it works, it's obsolete. If everyone's accepting it, then it probably is not offering perception or anti-environment or awareness or something.

Now, another point is that if the D-cell gives you total health and cold fusion gives you economic freedom, then you've got to live with the fact that you're kind of immortal--so what are you going to do? And as I was saying earlier this evening, the souls, when they're on the soul plane, sitting around wondering, well, what am I going to reincarnate with this seems that consciousness never gets away from the problem of making a decision. We've created this dimension, struggled in the dimension, now we've evolved and worked our way--we're starting to create an artificial environment here, a technological environment where we're gonna have no decisions . We won't have to make any decisions, or we're gonna have the prospect of physical immortality, or the same question we had as a soul: well, I can do whatever I want to do, so what am I gonna do? So we're getting the benefits and the disservices of total utopia coming, technologically.

So, they're going to say, if you take this pill--even though it won't be that simple--if you do this, you'll live forever . You're gonna have to decide, hmm, if I stay in this body forever, I don't know if there's life after death, but I might be missing out on something if I can't die and go somewhere else. So you're gonna have to make a decision, and the decision-making aspect of the soul, we never can escape, 'cause even when you're a soul and you're up there floating around looking at all your lives, you have to decide where do you want to go next.

Probably what assuages that pain of isolation or that strain is dialogue and interaction with others; it seems that, ultimately, brotherhood, love, interaction is spirit. Because that's what people like to do--you know, that's the way you forget yourself. By me talking to you I'm looking at myself through you, so that's art right there in the traditional form. Communication is what we're always doing, and that's the essence of being human, and maybe all nature, but it's in all dimensions--the interaction seems to be the way to solve the isolation. So it's like when Jesus said, "I'm there when any two are gathered in my name." All you need is two people, and you've got Christianity, you've got slack, you've got utopia, you've got people interacting. So what was the point, the question?

Scott:  Umm, I was asking about...

Bob:  Information...we're in a non-information age because nothing is informing us, in the sense of, oh, we now have enough facts to make a decision! Because nobody can make a decision today, because nobody's listening to the decision, and nobody knows what decision to make. So we're in a real quandary.

Scott:  Everyone's trying to find [a decision]...

Bob:  Right, they're trying to, and they're being fooled by the effort to find one. We'll never find one in this situation, so maybe we should turn off information for a while, as a collective environment, and see what we've been in, what water we've been in.

Scott:  So is information the ground? Or you can't see the ground, right?

Bob:  Okay, that's a good question. Information, keeping TV going, radio, newspapers is propaganda itself. Not the messages within the various media--it's just keeping it going. In other words, Dan Rather doesn't say, "We've got enough facts, we know we're causing a problem, we're gonna stop TV." That would be drastically REAL. That would be real information to do that. So keeping everything going, not just the content, but the form, THAT is what information is, that's the information age, that propagandistic keeping everything turned on 24 hours a day--that is the ground of our life. Now we don't have to be merged with the ground; we want to become detached from the ground. So the question is, how do we get detached from it? So you're right to say it's the ground, and it's invisible if you don't understand that, but once you understand that it is the ground and how it works on us, and then you realize the bias it creates in us, and the disservice, then we try to maybe say, well, that's what's invisible, what's the anti-environment to that, what's a way of making that visible? So, it's not that invisibility is a great, wonderful truth--it's a fact. It's a figure and a ground. A fact is in relation to what you can see and what you can't see--the conscious and the unconscious. So the information age IS the fact of our time, but in the traditional meaning of information, as something that gives us some semantic meanings or messages, that is only 1/10th of the information age that we've lost, that we don't know how to get informed about. [laughs]

Scott:  Most of it's just clutter?

Bob:  It's not even clutter. It's just the fact that when you turn on the TV and it's still going...see, what freaks anybody out when the fucking set breaks, when my TV doesn't work anymore, you're out of touch. That's the real factor--not what's on it, but the fact that it's still going; that is the real conditioner.

Scott:  Okay, I want to go through some pop music history with you, more or less chronologically. I noticed a few months ago, purely by accident, that within the word 'television' is 'elvis.'

Bob:  Oh! Yeah...That was said--that's been noticed by different people, I've heard that before. But it's always a striking thing; no one I think noticed that at the time Elvis was happening. See, television was invisible in the '50s, everybody was into the content; it's only when television becomes an ancient medium, into the computer and satellite era, that people now see the word, and people TALK about television. Then they would notice Elvis, you know what I mean?

Scott:  You said that rock and roll basically arose out of a TV language--is that how you say it?

Bob:  Yeah, television was the ground in the '50s. It's a tactile mosaic that had a certain texture. The texture of a TV screen is so different from the flat page, and the texture of a medium is conditioning you, at least subconsciously. So you can obviously see, if you understand that, that the texture of a pulsating medium that's shooting light at you is going to alter the people who use it, and they're going to be different from the people who lived on just reading 150 years ago. So the texture of television will change the cultural activities in the society that's doing it--so they'll be able to change music. Now what's interesting is that rock and roll is the rhythms of hardware factory machines, and automobiles; I sort of sum that up as radio. So the texture of television made jazz obsolete and speeded up jazz into rock and roll, and the rock and roll had the rhythms of the radio, newspaper, steel ages in it, but because it was the old hidden ground, it was the old thing that was operating, it now could become PLEASURE---it could become entertainment because it was obsolete.

Rock and roll is the machine language, the hardware world that the body was being conditioned by for 150 years before, and now the bodies are being conditioned by the software, pulsating, astral language of television. It's risky saying "astral," but I mean something ethereal. Therefore, the past can become a pastime, to quote Finnegans Wake. So rock and roll is the rhythms of the previous 100 years at FAST speed, and it seems pleasurable, especially to the young people who are responding--they're not conditioned so much, so they respond to the TV mandate, and then they pick up the music for it. The older generations were conditioned in the hardware age, the radio age, and [for them] rock was not music, it was PAIN. But, 20 years later those adults were listening to Elvis at their dances in the golf clubs because with 20 years of TV their collective sensibility was eroded--which shows you how powerful media is, or television is, because it could change fossilized sensibilities, which you couldn't do with previous societies, you know what I mean? Like, they hoick up Native wisdom, Native American wisdom, these elders who talk about nature; that wisdom is SO inapplicable to what's going on, they're totally--they're as nostalgic as the Nazis, those guys, in terms of their cultural sensibilities to what's happening NOW. That's because they do grow up and they do live in today's society; they are mutated. It's just that we want to archetypalize certain Fourth World things because that resonates with the weird world that TV is making us.

Scott:  Going back a little bit, is that kind of why--I mean, I think rock and roll was the first art form to encompass everything which had come before, musically. Whereas jazz--which I guess is radio era...

Bob:  Right...what do you mean, encompass everything? You're on the right track.

Scott:  Umm, encompass everything even just in terms of musical structure and form. Rock and roll took, well, as you say, the rhythms of the machinery...

Bob:  Plus natural rhythms, pastoral rhythms.

Scott:  And eventually--and we'll get into some of the specific genres--eventually, it incorporated classical, jazz...

Bob:  But you're talking 20 years after Elvis.

Scott:  Yeah, but even the Beatles.

Bob:  The Beatles were more group mind cultural encyclopedists than Elvis because, first of all, they were a GROUP--it was a group mind, which was an important thing. But yeah, since all media are contained within television...see, television is the last medium, it includes all the various stages. They had to invent the book, they had to create science, they had to get steel, they had to make metal, then they had to make electricity--all of that is contained in the TV experience. It's a mythic thing that contains the historical legacy of people creating 500 years of environments to make that possible. So the music of that would contain all that stuff. So certainly the music in the TV age--echoing the TV fact--would include all cultural rhythms, and consume the whole world of sound, because on top of that, rock and roll is not just music, especially with TV: it's body language, it's dance, it's youth--it's an environment. First of all, you couldn't see the jazz guys. But when young kids can SEE a young person doing that--that's a revolution in itself! You know what I mean? And so you involve more people of the society--you get all the young people. So therefore, it's an environment, they project all their youthful fantasies on it, and it's not just a voice singing, it's not just a body dancing; it's mixed media. It's an environment.

Scott:  Okay, did you once say rock and roll is speech slowed down or something?

Bob:  Oh yeah [laughs]--no, song is speech slowed down or altered, because what you find is, you can go through the history of music the last 500 years and you can say--take the time of windmills. When windmills came in, any musicologist knows the music that was popular in the courts before that, and then the music changes, and if [the musicologists] are smart they'd notice, in retrospect, that the rhythms of the windmills, which was a new technological environment, caused a change in the rhythm of the music, because music is a language, it responds to the cultural languages that already make up the society that invents the music, and any new culture or media or language that comes in affects the particular language of music. So, since the medium of a simple society that has speech--that's the ground, the medium they operate in, and all that it does--the anti-environment to that would be to take that ground and alter it. And music is a way of altering it. Generally, the pastoral image of music is it's slowing down--some goddess singing about the birds, whereas the citizens talk-talk-talk, and then she comes in [mimics a woman singing]--what is it, Julie Andrews or somebody [laughs]--remember, this is primitive people, primitive societies compared to our complex, sophisticated sensibilities. And so, someone talking S L O W L Y with a beautiful voice and lilting--that creates a tension, and it's an anti-environment temporarily. But then you could say someone could sing faster. But a simple statement: all music is speech slowed down. But if you want to get particular, if someone was smart enough to ask me to clarify that, then I could make it--but I made the statement originally just to get attention, but it's a truth that's subject to modulation if you want to get into particulars.

See, the reason Chinese like Chinese music and other cultures didn't like it--this is up 'til 1960--was their language wasn't like Chinese language, their spoken language, and the rhythms of Chinese music respond as an anti-environment to the rhythms of Chinese speech. So you see how music would be CULTURALLY specific. But nowadays we're in a discarnate electrified situation, we can't even use cultural definitions, and that's been the case for a long time. So music IS speech slowed down, or it could be altered any way, speeded up. But then, when you brought in the book, the printed book, a lot of people split song from the instrument, and then they could develop intricate instrumentation by the printed page, and that split off traditional song from the instrument, and you got classical music. That was part of the fragmentation of the Gutenberg effect. Then electric environment re-imploded things. So now anybody could do a Johnny Lydon if they had all the equipment to make all these sounds. So the idea of a musician as an artist doesn't apply anymore. But you've still got to have somebody--we don't know what qualities can make someone talented to make a sparkling, synthesized song that everybody responds to.

Scott:  Okay, so back to the chronology, Elvis and the Beatles...

Bob:  Have you seen my "Perfect Pitch" chart?

Scott:  Is that the one that was in High Weirdness by Mail?

Bob:  Yeah, 'cause it has--you see, Elvis was radio, then the Beatles were black and white TV as art form, and psychedelia was the effect of colour TV, 'cause they were moving into computer and satellite, so therefore TV was already rear view mirror and art form, or pastime, but there were two kinds of TV, black and white and psychedelic, or colour, TV. They were technologies that altered the music. Also, people wanted to take drugs and listen to screeching Janis Joplin or something. There was also the novelty of having electrified music with new gadgets that altered it; there's always the pure perceptual novelty fact that people respond to.

Scott:  Elvis and the Beatles are often written about, and romanticized, as pop explosions, but after the Beatles it seems the audience became more fragmented, like in the late '60s, early '70s, and that particular kind of music explosion, where--I could be wrong with this, I'm not sure I'm on the right track...

Bob:  Well, the key is FM radio. FM radio broke the old...

Scott:  ...fragmented the audience.

Bob:  Yeah, because it was a technology that came in. Before all that there was Ed Sullivan and AM radio, and that was all people had. Once you brought in automation and decentralization, FM radio, and then cable, then you didn't have consciousness unified anymore. So the idea that they were explosions...can you say that the explosions got any LESS later? It just wasn't registered on a standard meter anymore.

Scott:  Well, the example I was going to use was Nirvana and grunge. It was an explosion, but at the same time it was an explosion to a very fragmented audience. Grunge could not cross over to reach black kids, for instance--by and large, anyway--and no parents allowed, absolutely. Whereas the Beatles transcended that--though maybe that's over time--and the same with Elvis.

Bob:  It WAS over time. The Beatles were controversial at the very beginning, and even for some kids, they didn't like the Beatles when they went psychedelic. You see, I think it's impossible to measure any of these things when you get by the middle '60s, in that advertising ratings are all fake. That's the Big Brother: it's not a guy running a police state and killing political rebels; the police state is the Nielsen ratings, because it's a fake standard to create some kind of communal coherence in this information overload. So you couldn't say what happened in '67 when the Beatles did what they did other than what Dick Clark wanted to show you; they showed a bunch of kids, 5, 25 kids, liking or not liking it--THERE WERE MILLIONS of people who were doing all kinds of things, even old people, responding to it. The camera, Big Brother's eye, can't show every fucking response among the population. This planet is like billions and billions of people getting experiences of different media--they can't be measured. And Kroker's very good, and Baudrillard talked about that--most of social mass is invisible and unregistered, not ever noticed.

Revolutions, group explosions, go on all over the place, in living rooms or whatever, in other parts of the world, that aren't registered. And that's why we're doing more and more with less and less. It's almost like, logically, the technology implodes. You're gonna have one guy, the anti-Christ, he's gonna be sitting there, and he's like, "I like Elvis!" So wherever you are, you're gonna have to be listening to Elvis. BUT--the breakthrough of electric decentralization is, that might be projected on one band, but you're not going to stop millions of people listening to their old 8-tracks or whatever they're listening to. How can you stop it? The only way to stop it is to raise the rent so high that you're starving, you've got no job, you're fucking dying. As long as we keep people generally healthy, you can't control the multi-consciousness of people experiencing time warps and all the media they consume. So yeah, you would not be able to measure the effect of disco, of new wave, punk--none of it. That's why it's always looking like it's reviving; that's not reviving, that's just group minds coming through and they're still into it, or they're just discovering it. That's where all time's happening--it's beyond Einstein. We have physically recreated the soul dimension here, in terms of information and simultaneity, and no linearity going on.

Go to part 2 of Bob Dobbs Interview