To my downtown friends: Don't let Starbucks and T-Mobile rock an e-opoly. Downtown Alliance provides several free downtown wi-fi locations. Cold weather complication: I am in City Hall park. The wi-fi is working. But it is cold. Not freezing, but definitely glove weather. Except a trackpad cannot sense my finger through a piece of leather. No gloves means no outdoor blogging. The wi-fi revolution is seasonal.
Fuck rap, you can have it back.
Speaking of cleaning house, here's an idea. If you have too many CDs, or just want some plastic out of your house, consider sending the discs here.
Don't drive on a full belly—turkey is a proven soporific.
Originally released on MAY 21, 2004.
Remember earlier this week, when we were trying to figure out the new Times policy on guest critiques of popular music? My guesses were far too specific. The idea turns out to be very simple and easily applied: Find well-known people who are unable to hear music as it exists and operates now, and then ask them to write about it. And if you're looking for someone who can't confront or discern the present moment, there is no greater spokesbaldy than Nick "Mojo Magazine Invented Me In a Diabolical Laboratory And Now They Can't Kill Me" Hornby. Please, follow the newest and most astonishingly serpentine path of doo-doo butter. So many goodies!
We begin with a perfectly OK scene-setting: Springstonian Splenda merchants Marah are living the dream in north London, soldiering away without a drummer, rolling ‘round on the carpet. Nick did not imagine that people would once again do these things! We learn about the band—opened for Bruce this year, are liked personally by the actual Bruce—and Hornby ends the non-retarded portion of his piece with a good line: “How many people have passed around the hat in the same year that they appeared at Giants Stadium?” Not many, brah, not many. We are with you.
Then the poop does flow:
“Thirty years ago, almost to the day, Jon Landau published his influential, exciting, career-changing, and subsequently much derided and parodied article”
TRANSLATION: High Fidelity! By Nick Hornby!
“about Bruce Springsteen in The Real Paper, an alternative weekly — the article that included the line "I saw rock 'n' roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen."’
TRANSLATION: Right, right, that. Not my book. OK.
“I had never read the rest of it until recently, and it remains a lovely piece of writing. It begins, heartbreakingly: "It's four in the morning and raining. I'm 27 today, feeling old, listening to my records and remembering that things were different a decade ago."
Is that heartbreaking? It's a little lonesome, but the heart remains intact.
“I'm only guessing here, but I can imagine there are a number of you reading this who can remember what it was like to feel old at 27, and how it bears no resemblance to feeling old at 37, or 47. And you probably miss records almost as much as you miss being 27.”
We have reached Hornby’s passion: holding little mini-funerals for his youth, that magical time when there was a new Elvis Costello album every few months and the stars aligned with a few well-anchored pieces of critical furniture. No, wait—not his youth. He doesn’t like actual youth.
“I’m not talking about the accouterments of youth: the unlined faces, the washboard stomachs, the hair. The young are welcome to all that — what would we do with it anyway?”
Something about youth was worth saving, but apparently it was not fucking.
“I’m talking about the energy, the wistful yearning, the inexplicable exhilaration, the sporadic sense of invincibility, the hope that stings like chlorine.”
Who doesn’t want exhilaration, invincibility or hope? Great. Now he's got the [thing] he wants to lay at our feet, but he starts to pull back immediately:
“Who doesn’t need exhilaration and a sense of invincibility, even if it's only now and again?"
“Now and again”? Why is it irregular? Why can’t we have this feeling most of the time? Why is he already afraid of his own idea? Maybe this little three-card monte will tell us:
“When I say that I have found these feelings harder and harder to detect these last few years, I understand that I run the risk of being seen as yet another nostalgic old codger complaining about the state of contemporary music. And though it's true that I'm an old codger, and that I'm complaining about the state of contemporary music,"
TRANSLATION: By acknowledging the wack thing I am doing, I prove that I am an honest, down-to-earth guy. I know my limitations, and I am being paid to flaunt them. I can now say the thing I was going to say without making you mad because I have apologized in advance for saying it. See? I do not even have the courage of my own dreary convictions, but you still like me! [Toe in sand, toe in sand].
“I hope that I can wriggle out of the hole I'm digging for myself by moaning that, to me, contemporary rock music no longer sounds young — or at least, not young in that kind of joyous, uninhibited way.”
We have now replaced exhilaration and invincibility with “uninhibited joy,” which sounds perilously like Nick is trying to stop any flow of blood to the head.
“In some ways, it became way too grown-up and full of itself. You can find plenty that's angry, or weird, or perverse, or melancholy and world-weary; but that loud, sometimes dumb celebration of being alive has got lost somewhere along the way.”
There we go—“sometimes dumb.” The anti-intellectual crossbow has been loaded, and we are gonna eat some pop tonight. But look at what they’re having at the kids’ table: “Angry, weird, perverse, melancholy.” Those are pretty odd things to take off your menu if you’re eating at the Pop Mart.
“Of course we want to hear songs about Iraq, and child prostitution, and heroin addiction.”
VREET VREET VREET VREEET VREEET.
TRANSLATION: I don’t want to hear songs about Iraq, and child prostitution, and heroin addiction and, honestly, neither do you.
There is another familiar pong here. Think of all the times someone—in print or in person (people love to make this move as they begin a presentation, to win over the room)— has described feminism or “PC” as a huge, powerful wave that swallowed the academy and prevented people from getting to the grocery store or ever being happy again. It's like these songs about "child prostitution" Hornby implies he's stepping around. Didn't happen, doesn't happen, not in such significant iterations. The fact that such a wave never came does not prevent one group of people from trying to convince another group of people that it did happen and that vigilance is necessary lest it happen again.
More to the point, other than NOFX and Paris and Bad Religion and that one line in “Beware Of The Boys,” I can’t think of any current pop artists putting out songs that fit on Hornby’s snarky triangulation. Who is he thinking of? Who is putting out political songs that might even get near to falling through the mainstream window? Did he find that whole Dixie Chicks thing so overwhelming? Does his local play Crass all day long?
“And if bands see the need to use electric drills instead of guitars in order to give vent to their rage, well, bring it on.”
TRANSLATION: Please do not bring it on.
“But is there any chance we could have the Righteous Brothers' "Little Latin Lupe Lu" — or, better still, a modern-day equivalent — for an encore?”
We started with hope and catharsis and now we’re down to "Little Latin Lupe Lu." Did it not matter to Hornby’s editor that he handed in the pop-phobic version of The Bald Soprano? “Rock is hope and hope is passion. And by this, I mean fly-fishing. Which is also like Marah which is like a cone. And by that I mean also exploding and purple. Therefore, I conclude, Marah is an elbow.” There is no explanation of how the “Latin Lupe” song fits in. By context, we can guess that it may be an example of one of the three different kinds of goodness Hornby touches on. Or not. And we move on, because writing is easy!
“In his introduction to the Modern Library edition of "David Copperfield," the novelist David Gates talks about literature hitting "that high-low fork in the road, leading on the one hand toward `Ulysses' and on the other toward `Gone With The Wind,' " and maybe rock music has experienced its own version. You can either chase the Britney dollar, or choose the high-minded cult-rock route that leads to great reviews and commercial oblivion.”
We learn here that Hornby likes old music and old books—he’s even got a column in The Believer about books, where he was able to get paid yet again for reading Dickens, which is awfully environmentally-minded of him. He is about to maybe sort of consider taking a coherent position, and it looks like he’ll be advocating the middle path. (We've moved from invincibility to the middle path in a few endless paragraphs.) Britney, of course, is the whipping girl we are explicitly implicitly never listening to, aw haw haw, oy oy oy. Funny thing, Nick, is that if I understand your hideous whinging, and I am not sure that I do, “Toxic” and “Boom Boom” are tailor-made to illustrate several of your descriptors: “exhilarated,” “invincible,” maybe even “sometimes dumb.” Leaving aside the particular qualities “Latin Lupe” is supposed to manifest, if we believe in the lacuna Hornby is asking the world to fill, doesn’t Britney’s recent work do the trick? Or pick someone else, if you like. Hornby is the one who picked Britney, and she is a straw woman who will not light.
“I buy that arty stuff all the time, and a lot of it is great."
Brah, it is. It so is.
"But part of the point of it is that its creators don't want to engage with the mainstream, or no longer think that it's possible to do so, and as a consequence cult status is preordained rather than accidental.”
Is Hornby not engaged, before our eyes, in NOT engaging the mainstream?
“In this sense, the squeaks and bleeps scattered all over the lovely songs on the last Wilco album sound less like experimentation, and more like a despairing audio suicide note.”
In what sense? If we accept this “cult” category, why do we believe that Wilco is there, or that its one of those "killing yourself" cults? Hornby references the yin and yang of “squeaks and bleeps” and “lovely songs,” but does this somehow explain anything? And he couldn’t get someone to send him A Ghost Is Born? I mean, hate on Wilco, please, but actually do it, man, if you're going to hint at it.
“Maybe this split is inevitable in any medium where there is real money to be made: it has certainly happened in film, for example, and even literature was a form of pop culture, once upon a time. It takes big business a couple of decades to work out how best to exploit a cultural form; once that has happened, "that high-low fork in the road" is unavoidable, and the middle way begins to look impossibly daunting. It now requires more bravery than one would ever have thought necessary to try and march straight on, to choose neither the high road nor the low. Who has the nerve to pick up where Dickens or John Ford left off? In other words, who wants to make art that is committed and authentic and intelligent, but that sets out to include, rather than exclude? To do so would run the risk of seeming not only sincere and uncool — a stranger to all notions of postmodernism — but arrogant and vaultingly ambitious as well.”
But I, Nick Hornby, am not scared. Nope, the bad postmodernism that sent your uncles to the work camps and forced us all to count to eleven will be banished for all time when my new book, “Miserably Choosing Sugar Substitutes And Palling About With Gomez,” hits every market in America with a thunderous middlebrow thump! I do not feel the split! I bridge all mountains and valleys and I can hear the sound of marching feet!
“Marah may well be headed for commercial oblivion anyway, of course.”
Right, of course. I meant Marah, not me, Nick Hornby.
And wait a minute—where did postmodernism come into this? Does it in any way attach to any of the groups he’s discussing? Or is it just a large word indicating a time period, like “the 70s"? The editorial is beginning to come into focus—it's just one long concatenation of Hornby’s free-floating anxieties, handily newspegged to a band who probably wishes he'd found someone else to wave around.
‘"20,000 Streets Under the Sky" is their fourth album, and they're by no means famous yet, as the passing of the hat in the Fiddler's Elbow indicates. But what I love about them is that I can hear everything I ever loved about rock music in their recordings and in their live shows. Indeed, in the shows you can often hear their love for the rock canon uninflected — they play covers of the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait," or the Jam's "In the City," and they usually end with a riffed-up version of the O'Jays' "Love Train." They play an original called "The Catfisherman" with a great big Bo Diddley beat, and they quote the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" and the Who's "Magic Bus." And they do this not because they're a bar band and people expect cover versions, but because they are unafraid of showing where their music comes from, and unafraid of the comparisons that will ensue — just as Bruce Springsteen (who really did play "Little Latin Lupe Lu" for an encore, sometimes) was unafraid.”
Rock canon—Hornby likes the idea. Showing where your music comes from—also good. And I mentioned a little bit of black music. I have to do that. I know that now!
“It was this kind of celebration that Jon Landau had in mind when he said in his review that "I saw my rock 'n' roll past flash before my eyes." For Mr. Landau, the overbearing self-importance of rock music of the late 60's and early 70's had left him feeling jaded; for me, it's the overbearing self-consciousness of the 90's. The Darkness know that we might laugh at them, so they laugh at themselves first; the White Stripes may be a blues band, but their need to exude cool is every bit as strong as their desire to emit heat, and the calculations have been made accordingly: there's as much artfulness as there is art.”
Fearless vampire killers hoping to catch Nick sneaking around with some hot blood can just give up now. Dude isn’t even trying. The objections and approvals are just piling up in a self-canceling riot of standing waves. For instance: We hear that the act of “showing where your music comes from” is good. This is at least a part of the White Stripes’ project, yes? But The White Stripes are too “artful.” Or is artful good? The Darkness are more [the good thing] than the White Stripes, because they're funny? Are these bands examples of “self-consciousness," or antipodes to it? The Rolling Stones, who Hornby most certainly likes, were not self-conscious and artful?
“In truth, I don't care whether the music sounds new or old: I just want it to have ambition and exuberance, a lack of self-consciousness, a recognition of the redemptive power of noise, an acknowledgment that emotional intelligence is sometimes best articulated through a great chord change, rather than a furrowed brow. Outkast's brilliant "Hey Ya!," a song that for a few brief months last year united races and critics and teenagers and nostalgic geezers, had all that and more; you could hear Prince in there, and the Beatles, and yet the song belonged absolutely in and to the here and now, or at least the there and then of 2003.”
TRANSLATION: What were all the adjectives I started with? They’re all the way back at the top of the document. Pants! It was getting confusing anyway—silly Nick!—so I’ll just get some new ones.
Here is our new batch: “Ambition and exuberance, a lack of self-consciousness, a recognition of the redemptive power of noise, an acknowledgment that emotional intelligence is sometimes best articulated through a great chord change, rather than a furrowed brow.” Right. That wouldn’t be Britney. Nope. Anybody but Britney.
And who is this pop performer with “a lack of self-consciousness”? Is Hornby managing a robot with a big rave smile on its face and this is his crafty pre-single promo campaign? Hornby Presents Robo Dummy, the Least Conflicted But Most Exhilarated MP3 Delivery Service Known To Man! Now with twice as much Teenage Fanclub! What the fuck is this article about?
“Hey Ya!” united the races! Not like all those Tupac records the white people bought. Not like Sade and Hall and Oates. Nope, that was different. It didn’t sound like white people’s music. In short, “Hey Ya!” united me, Nick Hornby, with a black person on a record. And I mentioned the Beatles. One must.
“Both "Hey Ya!" and Marah's new album are roots records, not in the sense that they were made by men with beards who play the fiddle and sing with a finger in an ear, but in the sense that they have recognizable influences — influences that are not only embedded in pop history, but that have been properly digested. In the suffocatingly airless contemporary pop-culture climate, you can usually trace influences back only as far as Radiohead, or Boyz II Men, or the Farrelly Brothers, and regurgitation rather than digestion would be the more accurate gastric metaphor.”
So, it is better when music does actually sound old. Embedded (interesting word, Nick) in pop history? You mean, like, old. But also digested. The proposition is that Marah digested Springsteen rather than regurgitating him. Like many of Hornby’s metaphors, this sounds like thinking but is not thinking. Marah digested Bruce the way the Rolling Stones digested Muddy Waters? The way Bruce digested Dylan? The way The Beatles digested Chuck Berry? Or do we just assert that the bands we like aren’t regurgitators? I don’t know that I could distinguish digested aesthetics from regurgitated aesthetics, unless we are working with purely essentialist tropes. Prince, by many indicators, keeps regurgitating James Brown but we don’t mind this because A) we don’t care about originality; and B) if we do care about that kind of thing, Prince does so many other things that contextualize his regurgitating we decide it’s OK. But I reckon it’s still regurgitated. And since we find out only that people are regurgitating “Radiohead, or Boyz II Men, or the Farrelly Brothers,” but not who these people are, it is sort of impossible even to figure out who is being pointed at. Except that we know Hornby is not pointing at Marah, who have apparently digested Springsteen. I like Marah just fine, but there is much Bruce juice upon their discs. This wouldn’t mean anything to me, except Hornby is pumping everyone’s stomach. Or failing to.
“The pop music critic of The Guardian recently reviewed a British band that reminded him — pleasantly, I should add — of "the hammering drum machine and guitar of controversial 80's trio Big Black and the murky noise of early Throbbing Gristle." I have no doubt whatsoever that the band he was writing about (a band with a name too confrontational and cutting-edge to be repeated here) will prove to be one of the most significant cultural forces of the decade, nor that it will produce music that forces us to confront the evil and horror that resides within us all.”
The band is called Selfish Cunt, and their first single was “Britain Is Shit / Fuck The Poor.” (The writer, Alexis Petridis, is right to compare them to Big Black, though I can’t find the CD right now.) In pat dismissal #3, Hornby implies both that “evil and horror” are non-required topics, and that if Selfish Cunt do or do not address them, Hornby won’t be sticking around to find out.
“However, there is still a part of me that persists in thinking that rock music, and indeed all art, has an occasional role to play in the increasingly tricky art of making us glad we're alive. I'm not sure that Throbbing Gristle and its descendants will ever pull that off, but the members of Marah do, often. I hope they won't be passing around the hat by the end of this year, but if they are, please give generously.”
End of piece.
Big Black made me feel very alive and exhilarated and full of chlorine and hope during the mid-80s. (That is the cue for another, different regurgitation.) And if Throbbing Gristle helped Big Black, God bless them. But I’m just reading all the words, not just some of them, which seems to be Hornby’s hope. We’re obviously not supposed to take away anything more acute than “I sure like Marah,” and let the larger ideology soak in like mosquito repellent.
Why didn’t Hornby just write a simple mash note? Why did he mount yet another attack on the present and the past, campaigning for as conservative a conception of rock as one could imagine? (Don’t you guess that the members of Marah have better taste than Hornby?) Hornby’s piece boils down to defining a clump of qualities as somehow vital and singular to rock music even thought these qualities are easily found all over the pop landscape. Jay-Z, for instance, certainly conveys invincibility more effectively than Marah. It’s quite a trick, describing and celebrating qualities without actually looking for them.
I like a webjoke whose punchline is: Religious texts are both crazy like Eddie and way outdated, unless you live near a park where animals are sacrificed. (Or used to be.) Then I guess you should go nuts with the Bibles.
For any New Yorkers feeling safe and smug: Bush seemed more attractive this time. Kinda like the Yankees losing with men on 2nd and 3rd, isn't it? This inability to see straight is either the byproduct of cellphone wave poison or the confusion created by having two identical hip-hop stations.
Our other favorite M.I.A. is Jane. Until he returns, we recommend this and this. (The book is short and the magazine is heavy and deelux.) For those who don't like spending: the Critical Karaoke essays excerpted in Black Clock are on Jane's site; and the gorgeous cover photo is BC's home page image, too. The Matrix book you must have in hand to read.
I got a twinge of pain reading today's Times piece on Lee, Crash, Duro and Daze. It hurt most when Lee talked about how the old trains "rocked." I looked around the car I was riding and a sad little Chewels exploded in my head. Our subway is now an amusement park monorail.
Uptown, I saw old-looking graf on the outside wall of a building that began as William Randolph Hearst's carriage house, became a drug rehab center in the 1960s, and is now a Montessori school. New York City tree rings. I couldn't verify whether the graf was bonafide 70s bubbleform, but that's what the letters were telling me.
I had a similar sense of being in The Phantom Tollboth yesterday, when I visited the new old MOMA. Taniguchi's architectural redo is sweet, boxy '50s modernist nostalgia, the perfect drug for someone who grew up on Lincoln Center's travertine and is terminally nostalgic for a brief period of urban design. The new rooms are huge and light. This is apparently good for looking at art. Mostly I floated around in a Popeye Doyle haze, constantly looking for the join between the two buildings. As I walked, I kept listing to the right like a ship battling the wind, walking into bathrooms while looking for old paintings. (You know, when modernism was still about one surface.) Eventually, I found the Johns and Pollocks and felt a phony sense of stability.
RIP, Russell Jones. Young musicians beginning to party away their recording advances should remember this ancient adage:
(Informally known as "I think it's awfully nice of Santa to visit us every year when we don't even know him or say hello to him or anything.")
"Can I have the Orangina?"
"No, buddy, you're sick."
"Well, it is not actually a soda. And I know you don't like soda."
"It's not that I don't like soda. It just has lots of sugar and you don't need that. Nobody needs that."
"But we've had Orangina before."
"Yes. But today you're sick and you weren't sick before."
"OK. But I can have seltzer, right?"
"Yes, hypothetically, sure."
"And I can have orange juice, because you said that before."
"Yes, but we already have apple juice and we don't need both."
"Well, Orangina is just seltzer and orange juice together."
"You should have thought harder."
You can teach your children the value of thinking logically, the utility of empirical data, and the virtue of making the two work in tandem. Or you can give them superstition and magic, which demand only the effort involved in their memorization and the subsequent maintenance known as "faith." Once a brief phase of cerebral recording is over, magic and superstition enable you to make decisions without actually having to think.
The logical children will be able to rob you blind, however.
No theme here, just links of the moment (many courtesy of Elizabeth Méndez Berry):
Deborah just sent me this. Of course—this election wasn't about race. It was about gays. Or values. Or something. And, courtesy of Angela Gunn, via Matos, here are some statistically-derived maps that seem both screwed and screwed. Or maybe not as screwed as you thought.
(Has anyone done a breakdown of voters by race? Plenty of people are pointing fingers, but I'd rather hear from a stats person who can really read the numbers. Please send anything reliable you find.)
1. Kelly Clarkson “Since U Been Gone” (RCA)
2. Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley “Welcome To Jamrock” (Tuff Gong/Universal)
3. Amerie “1 Thing” (Columbia)
4. Mike Jones f/Paul Wall & Slim Thug “Still Tippin’” (Swishahouse/Asylum/Universal)
5. The Legendary K.O. “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People” (k-otix.com)
6. Miranda Lambert “Kerosene” (Sony)
7. Brad Paisley “Alcohol” (Arista Nashville)
8. Lady Sovereign “Random” (original radio edit) (Casual)
9. T.I. “Bring ‘Em Out” (Atlantic)
10. R. Kelly “Trapped In The Closet 1-5” (Jive)
11. The White Stripes “My Doorbell” (V2)
12. Common f/Kanye West & Last Poets “The Corner” (MCA)
13. Arctic Monkeys “Bigger Boys & Stolen Sweethearts” (Domino)
14. Girls Aloud “Biology” (Polydor)
15. Dem Franchise Boyz “I Think They Like Me” remix f/Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat & Bow Wow (So So Def)
16. Lil Wayne f/Thicke “Shooter” (Cash Money/Universal)
17. Lemon Jelly “Shouty Track” (XL)
18. Camille “Ta Douleur” (EMI)
19. Big Boi “808” f/ Bun B & Big Gee (Purple Ribbon)
20. Green Day “Wake Me Up When September Ends” (Reprise)
21. Paul Wall f/Big Pokey “Sittin’ Sideways” (Swisha House/Asylum)
22. Nelly “Grillz” f/Paul Wall, Ali & Gipp (Universal)
23. The Veronicas “4ever” (Warner Brothers)
24. Lil Kim “Lighters Up (Marc Mac Remix)” (Atlantic)
25. Leki “Breakin’ Out” (unreleased McSleazy mix) (Mostiko)
26. DTP Presents Ludacris, Field Mob & Jamie Fox “Georgia” (Disturbing Tha Peace)
27. Imogen Heap “Hide & Seek” (RCA)
28. The Game & 50 Cent “Hate It Or Love It” (Aftermath/G-Unit/Interscope)
29. Kanye West f/Jamie Foxx “Gold Digger” (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam)
30. The Cardigans “I Need Some Fine Wine And You, You Need To Be Nicer” (Polydor)
31. Charlotte Hatherley “Bastardo” (Double Dragon)
32. Coldplay “Speed of Sound” (EMI)
33. The Like “June Gloom” (Geffen)
34. Ciara f/Ludacris “Oh” (LaFace)
35. Gucci Mane “Icy” f/Young Jeezy & Boo (Big Cat)
36. Supersystem “Born Into The World” (Touch & Go)
37. Brendan Benson “Spit It Out” (V2)
38. Feist “Mushaboom” (Cherry Tree/Interscope)
39. Deerhoof “Siriustar” (Kill Rock Stars)
40. 112 “U Already Know” (Def Soul)
41. Missy Elliott f/Pharrell “On and On” (Elektra)
42. Ying Yang Twins “Wait” (Crut’s Hush Up Mix) (interweb)
43. Feist “Gatekeeper” (Cherry Tree/Interscope)
44. Dirty “Git Cha Handz Off Me” (Rap-a-Lot)
45. Spoon “I Summon You” (Merge)
46. The Oranges Band “White Ride” (Lookout!)
47. Missy Elliott “Can’t Stop” (Elektra)
48. Bright Eyes “When The President Talks To God” (Saddle Creek)
49. Beck “Go It Alone (Diplo re-remix twist and crawl)”
50. Mario “Let Me Love You” (3rd Street/J)
51. Ludacris “Number One Spot” (Def Jam South)
52. Isolée “Schrapnell” (Playhouse)
53. John Doe “Mama Don’t” (Yep Roc)
54. Kano “Typical Me” (679)
55. Queens of The Stone Age “Little Sister” (Interscope)
1. M.I.A. Arular (XL)
2. Fiona Apple Extraordinary Machine (Epic)
3. Robyn Robyn (Konichiwa)
4. The Mountain Goats The Sunset Tree (4AD)
5. Natasha Bedingfield Unwritten (Epic/Homogenic)
6. Miranda Lambert Kerosene (Sony)
7. Lil’ Wayne Tha Carter II (Cash Money/Universal)
8. Emiliana Torrini Fisherman’s Woman (Rough Trade)
9. The Hold Steady Separation Sunday (French Kiss)
10. Beck Guero (Interscope)
11. Girls Aloud Chemistry (Polydor)
12. Young Jeezy Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (Def Jam)
13. Clipse We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 2 (mixunit.com)
14. Gorillaz Demon Days (Virgin)
15. Amadou and Mariam with Manu Chao Dimanche à Bamako (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
16. Bright Eyes I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning (Saddle Creek)
17. Keren Ann Nolita (Capitol France)
18. Art Brut Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Banan Recordings/Fierce Panda)
19. Franz Ferdinand You Could Have It So Much Better (Domino/Epic)
20. Slim Thug Already Platinum (Star Trak//Interscope)
21. Geto Boys The Foundation (Rap-a-Lot)
22. Frida Hyvönen Until Death Comes (Licking Fingers)
Speaking of property owners and anger, or lack thereof, we saw R.E.M. last Thursday night. They are not the band I saw at the Beacon in 1984. The fog has lifted and the crabgrass has been replaced by sod. (Mega-old news, but seeing them live made me refer not to press or recordings but to the last time I saw them live. Which was not the Beacon—it was a 1987 show in Providence.)
Stipe was sporting the mascara snake. His baggy white suit made him look like Eminem crossed with Slim Whitman. His overall M.O. now is Reconstructed Rock Star and he worked it beautifully. He held perfectly still for longer than you'd expect, did wobbly fractal hipshakes, flapped his arms and several times resorted to the classic stadium salute, i.e. "Hello New York!" (His references to the b-boy stance did not make so much sense.) His voice has more heft than before but all the same tone. Really good. The new guys, who are no longer new, did not get too specialicious.
The problem is, R.E.M. played mostly shitty new songs. Two songs from Life's Rich Pageant, two from Document and that was it for the good old days. Nothing from Chronic Town or the first three albums. I understand the ego's ways and why new albums need to feel like more than obligations, but David Bowie, whose recent albums kick ass all over R.E.M.'s, had the good taste to do a songbook tour (best of the year, by a neck and head over Prince) and then drop one great song from the recent albums, which is the best way to keep the show hot and make you think you missed something by not picking up Heathen and Reality.
If R.E.M. went the repertory route, they would be bananas-level great. Mills and Stipe filled up the hockey room with just two voices. The tour is using a beautiful and simple lighting design. Long vertical lights—which resemble fluorescent fixtures turned sideways—are hung vertically at irregular heights, like raindrops fixed in space. (You can find a decent photo in here.) Simple changes in color make this formula work all night.
Most disappointing was the banter. They opened with "It's The End Of The World..." and Stipe punched the "I feel fine!" Funny, I didn't feel fine at all. "Everybody Hurts" would have been the ballsy, bumout opener. They didn't even play it. And Stipe kept referring to the "strange Thursday night" and then described a certain song I didn't know as their "state of the union." Mister Icon Dude, you are a totally gay dude. Your empowered fellow Americans don't like that, and neither does your President. You didn't feel like maybe substituting "bad" or "black" or "tragic" for "strange"? Don't tell me the music will make us feel better, and then vague out with some intro like "this song takes place in New York." You're not a stand-up comic. The music would have been equally good and coherent if you were up there tearing Bush 8x10s in half. Step up your anger game, Michael.
Deborah pointed this out: The hall was filled with stocky white dudes in their 30s bellowing along with Michael. They were bro-ing down with Robert Bly-style intensity, sharing their college dreams and hopes with thousands of other broskis drinking eight dollar beers. Maybe Michael knows his audience and keeps his political opinions (assuming they are more pronounced and/or distinct from what he actually said, which may be my rosy projection) tucked safely into the darkness of his wallet.
Michael did expose some torso, and sunshine is looking gym-tight.
UPDATED CONTENT ALERT: Thank you to Matthew for this email:
"Just so you know, R.E.M. do play songs from the first three albums (plus Chronic Town) these days. They did "Life and How To Live It" from Fables at MSG, and have been playing "So. Central Rain" and "Rockville" from Reckoning very frequently, in addition to "Pilgrimage," "Sitting Still," "Driver 8," and "Maps & Legends" on occasion. Last year, they were playing a lot more songs of this vintage: "Feeling Gravity's Pull," "Talk About The Passion," "Pretty Persuasion," "Little America," "Gardening At Night," "Wolves Lower," "Carnival Of Sorts."
It's too bad that you didn't see them on the last tour, that's when it was a full-on greatest hits show, very satisfying from start to finish. The show at MSG last year was definitely bananas. They played something from every album except for Murmur and Hi-Fi that night, but most nights it was at least one song from each record."
Sorry I didn't hear "Wolves Lower." That right there is my huckleberry friend. None of this changes the show I saw, or my overall point, which I may have not made clear enough.
Here's my admittedly reductive mental cheat sheet about long careers in art, or pop or almost anything outside of baseball: Give or take a margin of three years, most hot artists squeeze out about ten years of good work. This includes most of the greats, but not the ultra-greats (Ashbery, George Clinton, Stones, Picasso, Dylan, Ornette). I neither judge nor feel despondent about what happens next: The work falls off, though execution sometimes improves before also falling off. (Bob's current Leonard Cohen review addresses this, too.) Recording five or six killer records is a considerable accomplishment; it is no disgrace to spend your time performing songs from old records, if playing live is what you want. I think a band should put vanity aside and deliver what everyone, including the band, knows is the hot shit, especially when folks are paying retarded stadium prices.
I'd love to think R.E.M. was still in the game, but the same brain that loves "Camera" tells me that the three listens I gave Around The Sun was two-and-a-half too many. It just isn't there. They've got a thick songbook; there are probably even single songs scattered over the last three or four albums they could cull for the extravaganza.
In the final innings, it's usually a percentage game. There are a few exceptional artists who can reinvent or disfigure or transform their voice completely and get new work out of it, but not enough to screw up the sample.
I think R.E.M. should be bonkers proud of how good they sound now. The Stones still sound good, too, and they certainly figured out the percentage in playing the catalog at least 25 years ago.
Courtesy of Gord Fynes, a gesture I find touching and also a little maddening. Like, shouldn't someone hang themselves? I mean, be really, really sorry, if sorry is what they are? I am not, for the record, sorry. I don't experience this as in any way my fault. This may be a coping mechanism of another kind, I understand.
Ben kindly sends another Peel story from the Guardian. It is a long and very good rendering of Peel's rhythms and priorities. I am not getting tired of these. Send more, please. And also more of this kind of thing—a public intellectual who isn't retreating into either accomodationism or "it's all fucked" disengagement.
A lawyer friend in Maine, Richard Olson, sent this email last week. It is a variation on the newly-popular theme of "You thought you stuck it to us East Coast poodle-walkers, but you really just fucked yr neighbor," also known as "Reagan 84":
"Sadly, we, as white, straight, East Coast property-owning, child-having, non-abortion-needing, well-insured, 401K-owning, dividend-receiving, high-income-earning, past draft age people will probably have a pretty good four years in all material ways. Bush's base, the people who elected him (some of my poorer and pro bono clients), particularly the ones in the south, west and mountain states, will be having their retirement squandered and mortgaged, their budgets broken by uninsured medical expenses, their jobs outsourced and exported, their kids' educations compromised, more of their budget spent on gas, oil, electricity, their kids drafted or forced by economics into an ever more dangerous military while ours get deferments or spend time overseas, their parents losing their homes, their home values declining, their water and air poisoned. So let them eat their values amidst the chimera of a "war leader" who cannot shoot straight. Meanwhile, we'll get richer relative to them and next summer we'll be sitting on the deck of some waterfront restaurant sipping cocktails talking about the next Michael Moore movie. Our European friends will offer us tea and sympathy. The Republicans will have enough rope to hang themselves. The Tom Delay revelations are the tip of a massive corruption iceberg like the cancer on the Nixon presidency. I see this like 1972. I love the country too much to hope for disaster, but their could be a seismic shift in the midterms when people wake up with a huge Bush hangover. By then a Howard Dean-esque or Jennifer Granholm-esque candidate will be looking pretty good across the country."
At "home," a listening party is a cramped handjob in someone's assistant's cubicle. In Paris, a listening party is a long night of champagne and cigarettes held in a loft redecorated to resemble a flat in Nolita, though the recreation is romantically enlarged. (Distance does that.) Our host even had the good manners to spray-paint "Fuck Bush" on a bit of plastic and hang it on the wall. A welcome sight in Montmartre, but in the actual Nolita, this graffito is now just hilarious, impotent color for the tour groups passing through Mott Street to reach Bloomingdales and Ecco.
What I can tell you about London is that the peoples = still mucho drunk. And should I ever appear on stage again—something that seems less likely every day—I will ask my felonious booking agent not to book me into the Camden Barfly. No disrespect to students rocking white belts from the Beacon's Closet 2002 Xmas sale and shaking their flat asses to "Straight Outta Compton," but age does bestow certain privileges. Not playing grotty make-out dens is one of them. I will embrace the numbers for once.
"I hate musicians because they make people disappear. I want to be a musician and make all the musicians disappear. We had a stupid musician with a stupid magic wand and I hated him."
If anyone is in Lower Manhattan tonight and wants to drink the pain away and look at travel brochures, email me at buh fub buh.
I'm just gonna fucking bug the fucking fuck out. That is my considered response to red and blue states. I'm just gonna go kerplow like mac and cheese done for ten minutes instead of two. I'm fitna explarg.
How did the country not change after four years of acid test politricks? Where is my mind? How quickly can I GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS COUNTRY?
OK. Here's the foul-tasting residue at the bottom of our Magical Forgetting Juice bottle: The bad guys didn't HAVE TO pull any digicrime. Motherfuckers WANT the evil, they WANT the gays to die, they DON'T FUCKING CARE that we invaded a weak and miserable country that had done little more than say 'Boo' to us and killed thousands of the women and children we found living weakly and miserably there. People want THE EVIL, and they want it MORE than they did last time.
We are not looking at the rogues gallery, but at each other.
This is the time on Sprockets when we buy airline tickets.
Visited a school this morning. It's been in one place for 125 years. This appeals to me.
The first pop star to feature a recorder prominently in his or her video will be receiving huge UPS trucks of money by the end of the week. This will probably happen at the moment when Major League Soccer explodes and that sport where they all jump on top of each other goes away.
Took the boys to vote. Civic loophole: Electoral District 8? Long line. Electoral District 11, ours? No line. Jonah flipped the little doohickies and Sam pulled the lever.
"That was the shortest voting ever!"
"No, we won't know for five days who the president is. That's why Mom is in Ohio, so people will know where to go."
"Well, I don't know what to say about that. It sounds atrocious."