Back in the ’60s, the smell test for any fusion of “beatnik poetry” and jazz was how closely the real thing and the satires of same on sitcoms like
The Beverly Hillbillies reflected each other. The split-level viewers got their we’re-still-normal jollies from watching Jethro Bodine’s jollification over some method bleatnik declaiming a parody of Corso’s “fried shoes,” somehow missing the irony that Jethro was sporting deep-fried brogans even as he yukked. All Beats are off here in the 21st C., though we probably need their guerrillas-in-the-midst verse more than ever.
Which is where the Unknown Instructors come in, snarking out their punknik poetry to jazzbo rock from a crop circle deep in Dubya’s third eyebrow. Their instructive lineup is technically unknown-free, as it includes smokin’-word avatar Dan McGuire as the Poet, Minutemen etc. vets Mike Watt and George Hurley on bass and drums, and Saccharine Trust’s Joe Baiza on worker-drone skrotch guitar, all making that righteous-desperation sound we recall from the hardcore of yore. McGuire knows whereof he speaks of the shelved lives littering every pomo boho’s pad. And he cuts to the moan in “Walk With Me” ‘s tour of his native Toledo, whose nightmare niches suggest Rick Steves’s first travelogue after having been kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and fed nothing but bottled water and losing lottery tickets. The Way Things Work was recorded in one nonstop four-hour shift, with the performances surging organically toward a bracing climax. Sure beats watching Jethro’s spawn blindly consuming fried shoes on one more “reality” nannygate.