Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dr. Octagon- The Octagonecologyst

I don't know where it came from, but there's a short interview with Keith Thorton (aka Dr. Octagon) on YouTube where he offers a bizarre and detailed argument about keeping people from eating and drinking stuff from your fridge. He argues that you have to buy odd stuff like seltzer water and pumpernickel bread and learn to like it; your friends and visitors will be longing for the usual sugary sodas and cereal but you won't have any for them. There is something exceedingly oblique about the way Keith deals with this subject, as if his way is the only solution despite its extremity and off-beat approac. After all, telling people "no, you can't have any" would suffice.

Still, the interview gives a crucial sample of the mind that brought us Dr. Octagonecologyst. His lyrics are by turns complex, absurd, scatological, and pornographic, and the different scenes and character sketches (such as the instantly memorable 'halfsharkalligatorhalfman') are some of the most singular I've ever heard. Like the legendary Captain Beefheart, Keith has a surreal and strange way of seeing the world, and there are rumors concerning his sanity. And like Frank Zappa, he combines intelligent, complex music with low brow sex and bathroom humor. Part of the success of this album must go to Dan Nakamura and DJ Qbert, the former for his production and use of samples, and the latter for his scratching on tracks like 'Real Raw' and 'Blue Flowers.'

As I'm not well versed in hip hop/rap, it's difficult for me to argue for the influence or importance of this album. But considering that Dr. Octagonecologyst came out in 1996, it would make any arguments for itself. Even in my limited scope, I can see elements of this album in the work of MF Doom, who's use of instrumentals built on samples from cartoons, TV shows, movies, etc., as well as weird wordplay, are predicted by Dr. Octagon. On their own, the tracks that sample from medical based porn--'Intro' and 'A Visit To The Gynecologyst'--are jokey throwaways. But like MF Doom's sampling from cartoons about the comic book villain Dr. Doom, they work in the context of the album. After all, Dr. Octagon is, y'know, a doctor, and a gynecologist to boot. And as these porn samples are played for laughs, they seem so ridiculous that they are neither offensive nor titillating.

Anyway, due to its weird subject matter, lyrics, and a production style that didn't fit in with the prevailing mainstream stars of its time, Dr. Octagonecologyst was a landmark work in the 'underground' hip hop/rap scene. Remember, 1996 was the era of Tupac vs. Biggie. I don't want to go so far as to say that this album was to 1996's rap scene what Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica was to its era, but there are some definite parallels. Whatever the case, like Frank Zappa, Keith can record a track like 'Girl Let Me Touch You' and make it both jokey and seriously excellent at the same time.

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