It’s 1976. You are at the record shop. The poster in the window displays a beautiful boy’s blonde curls bathed in pink light. His shirt is open, his lips pout expectantly. If not for the neck of his guitar, just visible to the lower left, you might take him to be in the rapturous throws of coitus or communion. The poster announces the title of the album being promoted: Frampton Comes Alive! With an exclamation point.
You don’t buy this record.
Instead, you apporach the clerk and ask if he can special order a record for you. You hand him a slip of paper copied carefully from the small ad in the back of the Trouser Press. It reads: “Art & Language and the Red Crayola, Corrected Slogans.” The clerk thumbs through a few paper catalogues before confessing that he can’t find any mention of this record, but he’ll talk tot his distributor and give you a call to let you know if he can get it .
It’s 1976. Art & Language, is a rigorously Marxist conceptual art collective the from U.K. The Red Crayola is a psychedelic rock band form Texas. Corrected Slogans is the first of five studio albums they will make together, plus an opera and two short films.
As unlikely as their collaboration has been, it stands as a kind of emblem for the significant interactions between conceptual art and rock and roll in the 1970s and 80s. In the wake of punk, so many bands (especially in the U.K.) emerged from art schools, wearing their conceptual training and their leftist ideals on their safety-pinned sleeves.
Take Scritti Politti, who formed at the art college at Leeds Polytechnic before relocating to a communal squat in London. The band’s’ nam eis a bastardization of “political writing,” meant to sound like Little Richard reading Gramsci. Their late-70s songs include, “Hegemony,” “Messthetics,” and “Jacques Derrida.” But in the early-1980s, leader Green Gartside, once a member of the Welsh Young Communists, got tirwed of preaching to the converted and decided to become a Derridean / Wittgensteinian / Lacanian pop star.
Seth Kim-Cohen is the author of Against Ambience (2013), In The Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art (2009), and One Reason To Live: Conversations About Music (20060. His writing appears in edited volumes including, The Routledge Companion to the Sounding Arts (forthcoming), Sound Documents of Contemporary Art (2011), Word Events: Perspectives on Verbal Notation (2011). He has published in Artforum, Art Review, Critical Quarterly, Polygraph, Array, Leonard Music Journal, Tacet Experimental Music Review, Pitchfork and Pop Stock.
Kim-Cohen’s performance and sound work has been presented in Chicago, New York, Denver, London, Toronto, Karlsruhe, Ljubljana, Barcelona, Stockholm, and Singapore. Artforum describes his work as “collegial and awkward, a real-life mistake framed by a semifictitious context… an allegory for experimental thinking in general. He founded the rock bands Number One Cup and The Fire Show.
Kim-Cohen is Assistant Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of Art Institute of Chicago. He received a PhD from the London Consortium, University of London in 2006. He has also taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, Prat Institute, and Yale University.
He was, for a short time, quadriplegic.