Pg-6-aaron-attaboy-mcavoy

Courtesy of Aaron Attaboy McAvoy

October 7, 2019

SIMS | The Fine Art of Washing Machine Music

Print More

The fine arts are an exercise in exclusion. Elegantly carved violins, expensive oil paints, expensive lessons to learn intricate techniques and more, all guard the gate to artistic prestige like that one sad house member who has to stand at the door and beg party attendees to Venmo $5.

It’s no surprise that there are valiant attempts to keep the arts in the hands of those with lots of resources to access them. The enjoyment of the arts has long been the prerogative of those rich enough to spend their time on them and educated enough to understand the distinctions established by societies that ended up with too much time on their hands and had to figure out something to do.

There are, of course, lots of equitably-minded programs which try to diminish the privilege barriers to the fine arts. And lots of people have stuck their second fingers proudly in the air toward the aesthetic establishment as they created beautiful works without the privilege, training or funding which so many of their peers benefit from. But, while that is noble and all, there exists a class of virtuoso thinkers who have simply not traversed this barrier.

Instead, they have denied the fine arts barrier the very power it claims to have by reinventing art itself; by bringing forth new ways of packaging and delivering the human experience; by disclosing the very essence of why we are alive; by reminding us that the significance, the value, the purpose, of humanity is our shared project of creation. 

One of the finest examples of this innovation and democratization of art is “The Devil Went Down To Georgia White Trash Washing Machine Cover,” a song by renowned artiste Aaron Attaboy McAvoy, featuring McAvoy simultaneously playing both the humble acoustic guitar and the washing machine.

McAvoy is a radio DJ from Bossier City, LA, and has gained notoriety on YouTube and late night talk shows with musical segments for his inventive use of washing machine percussion. No doubt a man of unabashed sense, he has posted a few dozen musical covers and weird selfie videos over the last two years, racking up almost 70,000 YouTube subscribers.

Beginning with the steady thump of the top-loading drum washing machine — no doubt a beast with poor water use efficiency but superior reliability — the washer sets the tempo with more consistent rhythm than a first-rate metronome, giving a boom-thump we all wish our drummer could pull off.

Committing fully to the craft like this — believing in your work despite all of the people who have surely said to McAvoy that “a washing machine isn’t an instrument” — is a task of endurance and bravery which I think we can all respect. Conventions, be gone. They are unnecessary hindrances which too often implicitly suppress artistry before it even begins with the scourge of bias.

Despite playing what is no doubt one of the most-played songs in the hobbyist guitar player’s repertoire, McAvoy adds a flair to it which could only make you think “Attaboy,” like his singular self is transfused through his work. He, his washing machine and the good old six-string come together with simplicity and style, demonstrating the elusive personality trait of pure genius.

While the washing machine is well known iconography for the diminution of women to clothes-washing, chores-doing housewives, McAvoy provides the powerful stereotype-smashing message that men, too, are capable of doing great work in the homemaking arts. His courage in using the machine as an art tool despite its ensnarement with gender politics is a clear sign that McAvoy is willing to look past the superficial expectations of artists to create truly subversive and avant-garde works.

Most poignantly, McAvoy’s work alludes to valuable themes and lessons, of which art appreciators should take note. The average Joe relies upon the artists, deep within the work of considering and interpreting the world, to deliver lessons onto the commoners. Deep examination is reserved with the few who can see without the constraints of tunnel vision and humane literalism, and further those examiners must find ways to spread their examinations so that they may be heard. Though our eyes are often shut and our ear canals full of wax, every now and then an artist of the people makes it through our barriers. And now, McAvoy has done it, and we hear his message for anyone: You have none without some chaos and some fun.

Katie Sims is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached ksims@cornellsun.com. Resident Bad Media Critic runs alternate Tuesdays this semester.