Sunday, July 3, 2011

Starting CrossFit withTomahawk: Perspiration and Appropriation

Every summer comes with a horizon-expanding “project,” because as attractive as it may sound at the end of a given school year, sitting around the house wears thin.   Last summer, for example, I tried to make some progress in learning Japanese.  Since then, my health practices had declined slightly and by the end of spring I felt as if I was slowly gaining back lost weight.  This summer, then, to hit the “reset” button on my fitness practices, I decided to make CrossFit the 2011 summer project.   I may talk more in depth about this over the course of the summer, but I will say that it has been a transformative experience so far.

I began on the very first day I had off, and to celebrate I traded out almost all of the CDs in my changer.  One of the new discs was a copy of Anonymous by Tomahawk.  By sheer chance, this 2007 album came up in the player on my way to three out of my first four CrossFit classes.  As a result, for at least the month of July, Anonymous became associated with getting started in Level One.

AnonymousWhat makes Anonymous musically unique and of particular interest is its subject material.  During his stint as the guitarist for HankWilliams III, guitarist Duane Denison began researching some Native American Indian music.  He and Battles drummer John Stanier reinterpreted this material in an experimental Zappa-esque rock format and used it as a springboard for the inimitable vocal genius/insanity of the vocable-spewing Mike Patton.

On the one hand, it seems that Denison should be applauded for “paying tribute” to American Indian culture, but it could also be argued that Tomahawk is indulging in the kind of appropriation that I discussed in the May post concerning Alash and Enigma.  Incidentally, those great musical appropriators of the 90s took their stab at American Indian music, as well.

The comparison is a bit unfair, however, because Enigma indulges in an image of an idealized American Indian mystic, rather like the one that fueled the New Age movement.  Historically, the American Indians have been repeatedly appropriated in this and other ways with little actual respect and compensation.  Denison attempted to pay tribute to the uncredited musicians that served as his inspiration though the title of the album, but one must wonder if this is enough.

Musically, however, Anonymous seems a bit more reverent to its source material.  I think that this reverence stems from a menacing undercurrent on Anonymous that stands in stark contrast to Enigma’s hyperreal “benevolent mystic” stereotype.  Like many (but perhaps not enough) Americans, I admit to a certain cultural guilt over the fate of the American Indian.  I think that because of this, I interpret Tomahawk’s sometimes warlike drumming and otherworldly melodic approach as a more vengeful and perhaps lonely representation (an interpretation perhaps shared by the creator of this fan-made video). 

This menace, whether perceived or intended, provides an interesting and sometimes empowering backdrop to the morning CrossFit experience.  As the box thumps with the coolest hip-hop of the moment, I am often working out to dark drums and chugging guitars in my head.  Even on the more mellow and reflective pieces on the album seem to provide a sense of rebellious inspiration on the sweaty, endorphin-infused ride home.

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