Mike Watt – Hyphenated-Man Mike Watt – Hyphenated-Man

Mike Watt - Hyphenated-Man

Hyphenated-Man is not an opera. I’m sorry, Mike. I know what you do is important. The music you make, the fiercely independent spirit you championed with the Minutemen, fIREHOSE and, recently, with the Second- and Missingmen is some of the most inspired and inspiring of the last three decades so I don’t want to get bogged down in a semantic argument. You’re a punk, after all and punks are elastic. They defy semantics and rigid forms in general.

That’s what makes punk such a relevant art form. It exists without rules or convention. There is no uniform (leather jackets and flannel be damned). No aesthetic. Just a creative rejection of structure. A reinterpretation of the land.

That being said, punk can often find itself used as a lazy prefix or, worse yet, a blank adjective. Lent to expressions and objects as if to say “this is not what this is” (the old Dada subjection) and the fact of the matter is facts do matter and no matter how postmodern you could ever get there are rules that govern the classification of our little universe that must be acknowledged and respected.

It’s a game of limitations.

And so I have to challenge your language.

This is not an opera.

Opera is dramatic. Opera is fantastic. Opera is motif and libretto and costumes and arcs that bend and weave in and out of each other to create a range of dynamics that is nothing if not epic. Das Rheingold is an opera. Tosca is an opera. Doctor Atomic is an opera. Einstein on the Beach is an opera.

Hyphenated-Man is, at it’s most ambitious, a song cycle and even using that term would be a stretch as the thirty tracks (!) contained therein don’t give the impression that their sequence is anything other than arbitrary. They’re just songs. LOTS of songs. They can be performed any way by any one without losing an ounce of their invention. Short, punctuated rambles that echo the nervous poetry of an aged man vainly attempting to make sense of himself through his past as reflected in the work of Hieronymous Bosch (though Watt claims there is inspiration to be found in The Wizard of Oz, but I think that reference might be pushing it).

Perhaps, then, it’s better if we just call this a concept album. I know that term strikes fear in the hearts of punks who still remember the horror of Yes but Green Day pulled it off pretty damn successfully (both financially and artistically…hell, they’re on fucking BROADWAY!). And Mike Watt does too though since this work exists without a libretto (again, see Watt) there’s no real story to pull the listener through. No narrative. Just a man with his dead friend’s guitar in his hand eulogizing all the fragments that become him.

I guess I really don’t know what it is then. Perhaps it’s just an album. If I could consider it that way I could say it’s okay. It’s not great but it’s not really so awful so much as it is breathless and self-indulgent with as much debt owed to Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band as anything Watt’s offered us before.

That’s it, then. This is Trout Mask Replica re-envisioned. The guitars are there. The odd rhythms. The seeming rantings of a man obsessed with imagination only Hyphenated-Man won’t likely be looked to for inspiration since it’s not a hallmark by any means. It’s just another work from a man who greased the wheels of so many desperate Econo Vans.

It is punk, sure – relentless and unapologetic.

But there is no opera without regret.

1. arrow-pierced-egg-man
2. beak-holding-letter-man
3. hammering-castle-bird-man
4. bird-in-the-helmet-man
5. belly-stabbed-man
6. stuffed-in-the-drum-man
7. baby-cradling-tree-man
8. hollowed-out-man
9. finger-pointing-man
10. own-horn-blowing-man
11. fryingpan-man
12. head-and-feet-only-man
13. shields-shouldered-man
14. cherry-head-lover-man
15. pinned-to-the-table-man
16. mouse-headed-man
17. antlered-man
18. confused-parts-man
19. bell-rung-man
20. boot-wearing-fish-man
21. thistle-headed-man
22. funnel-capped-man
23. blowing-it-out-both-ends-man
24. jug-footed-man
25. lute-and-dagger-man
26. mockery-robed-man
27. hill-man
28. hell-building-man
29. man-shitting-man
30. wheel-bound-man

Mike Watt - Hyphenated-Man, reviewed by Charles on 2011-04-07T10:45:03-07:00 rating 3.0 out of 5

4 Responses about “Mike Watt – Hyphenated-Man”

  • rowe says:

    “the fact of the matter is facts do matter”…dude, love that line

  • stv ptrmir says:

    You seem to have a narrow-minded opinion about what opera is. Clearly, you have never heard of Morton Feldman’s opera “Neither” with a libretto by Samuel Beckett. Here’s Beckett’s libretto:
    to and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow

    from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself by way of neither

    as between two lit refuges whose doors once neared gently close, once away turned from gently part again

    beckoned back and forth and turned away

    heedless of the way, intent on the one gleam or the other

    unheard footfalls only sound

    till at last halt for good, absent for good from self and other

    then no sound

    then gently light unfading on that unheeded neither

    unspeakable home
    Just because Watt didn’t write his opera for a soprano to sing, but instead wrote it for his own voice, doesn’t mean that it isn’t an opera. Just because Watt’s choice of costumes are simpler, doesn’t mean they aren’t costumes. Excerpt from “Antlered-Man”:

    “but this costume fuckin’ blows
    so get naked
    let weakness show
    yank off antlers and fuckin’ chuck
    use the bass
    be old man punk”

    Not only that, but if you think, the songs in “Hyphenated-Man” can be arranged in any old way, then you aren’t listening closely enough. Watt’s opera is fantastic, as a piece inspired by Bosch would have to be, but it is also real and dramatic as it details the struggles of a middle-aged man.

    As for the Wizard of Oz, it took me a while to get that, too, especially if you’re looking for a direct lyrical reference to the Scarecrow or something, but if you think about how Dorothy helps the men around her deal with what it means to be real men — with brains, heart and courage, and not be some phony wizard behind a curtain — as they try and help her, then maybe it makes some sense.

    If you get a chance to see Watt and the Missingmen perform this opera, like I did in St Paul almost a week ago, perhaps it’ll help you open your mind. A good live performance often reveals more than what comes off a recording, especially in regards to opera. If that happens, perhaps you’ll see all the operas going on around you all the time and the costumes people wear on stage and off, and maybe you’ll see more than the minute details and instead pick up on the overall whole, get over that rainbow and see the light.

    pac, lov and undrstanding (nvr giv up!)

    stv ptrmir

  • windshield says:

    Sounds like you just don’t like Watt. This is incredible, fresh music–and Green Day is and has always been a JOKE. Ha HA.

  • Charles says:

    Wow. Thank you for that very insightful response, Stv. I was not familiar with the Beckett libretto but am glad that I know about it now. I also agree, wholeheartedly, that a live experience opens the potential of music (particularly opera) and will definitely take the opportunity to see Mike Watt perform his work. I like discourse.