Damn, man, John Lee Hooker died yesterday. To me, this guy was the true king of blues, an artist that recorded some of the most amazing music I’ve ever heard. (Yes, even his stuff with Canned Heat.) An inspiration for anyone who ever played guitar. A Detroiter. Another one bites the dust, another hero of the great era in American culture gone. It makes me wonder what we will have left to mourn when I become an old man. Will I get this knot in my stomach when I hear that Sting kicks? I doubt it.
When I first heard about the Gorillaz, I got really excited. The Gorillaz are a cartoon band that is actually made up of the guy from Blur, Dan the Automator, Del the Funky Homosapien, and some turntable wizard. And drawn by the original creator of Tank Girl. That sounded really cool to me.
And then I saw the video for “Clint Eastwood” on 120 Minutes (yes, believe it or not, 120 Minutes is still on the air — Sunday nights on MTV2). The video clinched it for me. A great sing-songy pop chorus, classic Del rhymes for the verses, and fresh production (as always) from the Automator. The cartoon didn’t impress me that much but the song was great. The Gorillaz seemed to totally reinvent and revitalize two genres that I’ve pretty much stopped caring about: britpop and hip hop.
Unfortunately, the album does not continue along the same lines. “Clint Eastwood,” in fact, is the only track that features both Del and the guy from Blur. Del shows up by himself on one other track, but the rest of the album is basically just a solo album by the guy from Blur that’s produced by Dan The Automator. And as that, it’s pretty cool. Some nice beats, some cool vocals, some Blurry guitars. But I was hoping for so much more. I was hoping for a new direction, a new sound, a new combination of different musical styles. In essence, I wanted Del on every track.
It would have been so cool. It still is pretty cool, but not in the way that I wanted. Nevertheless, my friends can expect to see “Clint Eastwood” showing up on lots of my mixes this summer.
Since bursting upon the scene in Hackers, a cinematic triumph from 1995 that also starred that guy who played Sick Boy in Trainspotting, Angelina Jolie has marked her territory in Hollywood. She also began pissing all over the public consciousness.
Where’s Charlize Theron when you need her? Here’s a girl who made a big splash with a hot nude scene (with James Spader in 1996’s 2 Days In The Valley), becoming all the rage in Hollywood almost overnight. Angie made a similar move, probably when that sequel to Hackers didn’t pan out. She starred in the HBO biopic of Gia Carangi, doffing her kit repeatedly (most hilariously in an early sequence involving a overacting fashion photographer. “Keep the fence,” he says. “Lose the clothes.” Snooze.) What separates Ms Theron from good ol’ Angie is that Charlize can actually act. I think in the version of Cider House Rules starring Jon Voight’s daughter, Candy pulls a shiv on Homer in that orchard. Thankfully, that version was left on the cutting room floor. Another good thing about Charlize, besides her normal, human-like lips? She doesn’t waste a lot of ink with bizarro statements about her freakish sex life. I mean, Angie vociferously denies sleeping with her brother out of the left side of her mouth, and then describes a typical day at the Billy Bob/Angie Circus out of the other. “If there was a safe way to drink his blood, I’d love to. We’ve thought about it. You lay in bed and you just want to bite holes in each other. It’s not about cutting yourself or some kind of weird thing — now it’s just, ‘I want to eat him.” This from the latest Rolling Stone, the one with the oh-so-perfect tagline ‘Angelina Jolie: Blood Sugar Sex Magic.’
Why must we endure this torture?
The really sad thing is that I can see Angie starring in Bad Reputation: The Joan Jett Story. Can’t you? Can’t you see those enormous Mick lips wrapped around a microphone, lip syncing to “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)”? Oh, the horror. I don’t know if such a film is in the works, but I hope that Ang isn’t a Glorious Noise reader, or I’ve just set the wheels in motion on the very thing that will send me to my grave.
But at least that grave hasn’t been bought, in advance, by me, for myself and my mate. That’s just another wacky occurrence in the humdrum life of Johnny Lee Miller’s ex-wife. I’ll just be over here eating orange food with Billy Bob.
(Aside to The Donnas: You can make a Joan Jett movie anytime you want.)
No matter what the genre, late-night music advertising usually offers you the same product: A compilation of over-licensed tunes packaged with artwork emulating the wares of a Soviet street vendor. Whether it’s Monster Booty, Zamfir, or the infamous Freedom Rock, what you undoubtedly end up with is never as great as it sounded before you sent $19.95 to that address in Sioux City, IA or Fort Collins, CO. But Monster Booty is not worth your money. Not even with the free “I Break For Monster Booty” bumper sticker. So it’s important to really study one of these comps, and try to break down what’s really going on between the beats, and why everyone seems to have a few of these things hanging around.
Monsters of Rap is no exception to the late-night rule. It’s all here – Songs that have seen more licensing than the DMV; not to mention cover art that would find a happy home as the backdrop for your more discerning cable-access program. But there’s a catch. Alongside faves by Sir Mix-A-Lot and Tone Loc lie tracks from Gerardo, Positive K, and – oh my – Onyx. After Candyman is finished “Knockin’ Boots,” you get to hear Snow whine his way through “Informer.” Now, when you’re sitting around cool with your dibbie dibbie girl, do you really need the boho chest thumping of “Slam”? Well, no. But you have to admit that Kyper’s use of the riff from Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is pretty tight.
This dichotomy of beats exists because Monsters of Rap takes its archeological approach to the genre very seriously, choosing to include not only the obvious hits and overplayed gems of every other comp, but also tunes emblematic of lesser-known hip-hop revenue streams. For example, the much-derided “milktoast” trend of the mid-90s is chronicled here in full. So your $19.95 not only assures you and your party guests hours of rump-shaking courtesy of Wreckx-N-Effect, it also encourages you to explore the furious battle rhymes of 3rd Bass in their – ahem — seminal “Pop Goes The Weasel.” And it turns out Pete Nice is still pissed off at Vanilla Ice.
Everybody needs a few Monsters of Rocks horning in on the margins of their record collection, right next to Star Wars: Christmas in the Stars and that Blue Note V/A that you keep around for when there’s wine being served. The hormone-injected beats of a DJ E-Z Rock or the comic rap antics of The Fat Boys will undoubtedly come in handy the next time you and your friends drink too much, if only to entice someone who really shouldn’t to bust a few breakdance moves. And sure enough, thrown in among the ones even your Grandma can rap along to will be something rotten in Denmark, like Oran “Juice” Jones or Was (Not Was)’s “Dinosaur.” So just make sure you stay near the CD changer’s advance button.
Wiggle it, just a little bit, as it grooves.
A fundamental question is: How much of an individual is separate from the persona? To the extent that the persona is the model of the way that one portrays one’s self in public, and to the extent that individuals are, arguably, defined by how they behave or are perceived in a public setting (if a persona was wandering alone in a forest. . .), then the individual is the persona, at least as a practical manner (with “practical” representing social interaction rather than solipsistic activities). To be sure, no one actually knows how one’s self is perceived by others (one might think that he is being cool while others might think he is being a complete ass. . .while another group of people might think he is being cool: everything has to do with context). But one must present him- or herself in a certain way and there are only a certain number of repertoires that one can engage at any point in time (e.g., I don’t think that it would be taken as an acceptable behavior if one was to present one’s self as, say, a French serf from the mid-16th century); Ziggy Bowie clones are seeming more appropriate (although it would seem to me that there is a curious temporal lag here, too).
While an individual’s self-creation of a persona is one thing, the creation of a persona by a third party is something else entirely. The dismissal of or embrace of Britney has more to do, I suggest, to the fact that Spears is a simulacra than with any snobbishness, direct or reversed. What she is is the consequence of someone creating an object, a Gibsonesque idoru, something that goes far beyond the arch artificiality that is fundamental to and of “The Mickey Mouse Club,” from whence she emerged. This has nothing to do with her singing ability. The reference that Jeff makes to Madonna is exceedingly apt, in that among pop performers she is the one who has worn personas like clothing, moving from one outfit to another, changing with time. Note, for example, how Britney’s initial innocence has given way to naughtiness (but one that we can take is being not scandalous because if Bob Dole finds her to be appealing, then one need not worry about inappropriateness, because Bob Dole would be the first to tell you that Bob Dole, if nothing else, is as appropriate as Bob Dole can be. . .or so the Bob Dole persona would lead us to believe). And presumably she will be morphed into a variety of other guises as time goes on. Public stasis is death, as any viewing of “Entertainment Tonight” will prove.
While one would certainly be in favor of authenticity in place of artificiality, the questions that remain are what would those guys in the park kicking ollies be if they weren’t faux Beasties Boys; what would those guys in Einstein’s Bagels be in they weren’t wondering how to buy a single colored contact lens to achieve the two-color effect; who would anyone be if they weren’t something within the context of our understanding? Fooling one’s self too much is pathological, just as too much self-awareness is debilitating (as Eliot’s Prufrock asked “do I dare eat a peach?”—when you get to this state, you’re thinking way too much).
As Bishop Berkeley argued long ago: To be is to be perceived.
Here’s a five dollar coupon for cdnow when you spend $19.95. It lasts until June 26, so there you go. Full disclosure: cdnow is owned by a major label, and I get a tiny percentage of whatever you spend when using this link.
Don’t like it? Let us hear about it, and then head off to your local, independent record store and buy some records.
Bigger And Deffer
I’ll admit this straight out: I’m an exaggerator. It comes from being a storyteller and a bit of a clown. That’s part of who I am. So, of course, my version of the truth, my retelling of events, even my perspective on the world, tends to be a bit fabricated. Call it artistic or poetic license. (Though my friend Pat is the only one I know who actually holds the latter.) Fortunately, I am not a liar and don’t just make things up for the sake of appearances. I try to make my version of things more enjoyable for my audience (be it readers, my homies, or even my mom) but I think I keep the basic facts consistent and intact. History is just a set of lies agreed upon, right?
But lately, I’ve been struggling with the difference between exaggeration and outright lying and where you draw the line. When does exaggeration go too far? And why does it appear that we are a society of liars? What affect does this have on people and the way they behave?
A year or so ago, a coach in one of the pro sports league got fired because of the stretching of the truth: He had claimed to be a decorated soldier in Vietnam but wasn’t. He used this story to motivate his players, and it worked until they found out that he had come about as close to gunfire as I might get to, say, soy milk. But hey, he was creating a persona—one that was, in fact, true. The guy was a damn good coach and a damn good motivator. . . to a point. Was what he did right? If he was a good coach—everyone concerned seems to agree he was—why did he have to resort to doing this?
I don’t really know the answers here, but in thinking about it, I see the key to be persona. Yes, that must-have of the 21st Century, even more important than the Right Car, Right Clothes, or Right End Table. The Right Persona is something that people cultivate, groom, baby, tease, and generally construct their every waking moment around. And not just sports stars, rock stars, movie stars and political stars, but you, me and the girl next door. Marketing thrives on the whole idea of persona; psychiatry wouldn’t exist without it; and most people would be a whole lot happier if they understood it, but they don’t so they’re not.
Consider why we make most judgments. For instance, why do we dismiss a pop icon like Britney Spears as something akin to calorie-less Diet Pepsi? Is it because we are cultivating the persona of haughty music snobs, or is it because she’s really vapid? Or why do we, on the contrary, go around trying to tell music snobs that ‘lil Brit is the Second Coming of Madonna? Is it because she’s a brilliant artist and performer, or is it because we want to prove that we’re even smarter music snobs? How much of what we do or think is really us and how much is just feeding the persona?
Here’s another thought: How many rock stars do you know? Probably very few. But how many people do you see every day that walk around thinking that they are rock stars? Last time I was at a nightclub, I saw about six Ziggy Bowies. Must be the thing these days. Strange that I see these same people taking my order at the local coffeehouse and, other than their dirty apron, they tend to be wearing the same clothes, hair, makeup, etc. (Disturbing enough to bump into the Thin White Duke at the bar, but even more strange to have him toast you a bagel.) And what about the guy who always wears the slick vintage clothing and the porkpie hat? Or the nation of Beastie Boys I see in every city park skateboarding? It’s all feeding the persona.
Why do we care so much about persona? We as a people have become so obsessed with outward appearances because of the pervasiveness of political correctness and the same personality-less corporate genericity that afflicts everything from music and movies to hotels and restaurants. People are afraid to be cast as anything other than a type—types get cast and reinforced in everything, from the IBM culture to the black-dude-who-dies-first in the summer action thriller. Call it a lack of imagination or a lack of anyone ever really getting to know anyone in our decentralized suburban culture of mind- your-own-business and sequester yourself in a gated community, interacting only via the Internet. So people pick the type they think will get them where and what they want and stick to it at all costs, even the cost of subverting their own thoughts. Those that deviate from type (i.e. a pro choice Republican, an openly gay teen pop idol, a workaholic CEO who likes to wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts to the office, etc.) become outcasts, untrusted, and definitely not rewarded by our “the buck stops there” society. The converse is rebellion for the sake of rebellion (something that I’ve been guilty of for most of my life) the Rebel Without A Clue syndrome that causes all the piercings, tattoos, and other aspects of persona that say little other than, “I’m going to do the opposite of what you say.”
Perhaps the saddest part of all this is that we as a people have lost our ability to look at ourselves and laugh. We can’t see anything outside our persona and our constant attempt to live up to the aggrandized vision we have of ourselves. The exaggeration doesn’t permit it. We surely can’t look up at the sky and recognize the insignificance of the trivial little world we construct in our minds and the few cubic feet of space that we occupy as we move about the atmosphere.
And sadly enough, when we exaggerate for persona’s sake, we’re bound to be found out sooner or later. My friends know I’m not quite as funny as I pretend to be. My ex-girlfriend knows I’m not quite as tough as I think I am. All those athletes on that team know that their coach was really just a regular guy who happened to be their coach.
After the worldwide acclaim heaped upon their 1999 release The Man Who, which officially launched the four nice fellows of Travis into the rock stardom stratosphere, it would be easy to expect a darker, more introspective follow-up, an album that would find the group eschewing the trappings that made their breakthrough great in favor of spooky, progressive rhythms and otherworldly moaning.
That would be easy to do, except Radiohead has already done it. Twice.
Instead, Fran Healy and friends have created a collection of songs to watch the clouds to. From note one of “Sing,” The Invisible Band is at once vaporous and solid. Healy’s quiet falsetto mingles with plenty of reverb and strains of synthesizers that are pushed way back in the mix, creating a diaphanous string of sound that continues throughout the record, from note one of “Sing” all the way to the diary-like closer “The Humpty Dumpty Love Song” (“You’ve got the glue/ so I’m gonna give my heart to you”). But if you recall the churning grit of 1997’s “All I Wanna Do Is Rock,” or have ever seen Andy Dunlop onstage, furiously rending at his guitar, you’ll know that Travis is not Spandau Ballet. They’ve got balls, mate. And though their new record is quite the pretty thing, it still retains the moments of straightforward rock that no longer exist for Rod Stewart.
While the grooves of “Sing” and likely singles “Side” and “Afterglow” don’t have the immediate resonance of “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?” or “Driftwood,” they are perfectly crafted pop songs that should have no trouble making the group billions of quid. Their UK dominance hasn’t subsided since the heady success of The Man Who – they’re tagged to headline the Glasgow and Reading festivals this August – but it’s the US where Invisible Band‘s twee singalongs are going to explode. Currently on tour with triphop songstress Dido, the band is good-looking enough, rocking-enough, and yet just non-threatening enough to sell millions of albums to people in their late 20s who wear fashionable eyewear. The kind of IKEA-minded consumer whose last music purchase was VW’s compilation of music from its TV ads. For Travis’ simple, pretty music is made edgy by Healy’s insightful lyrics, and the instrumentation never cuts corners or goes for the blasé lite-rock melody. The Invisible Band is the perfect album to impress the new girl in accounting who rides a Vespa to work.
It’s good to see “Nice Rock” hitting at this moment in the pop music continuum. Nu Metal bellowers like Staind and Linkin Park continue to outstay their welcome. But the recent domestic success of Travis’ colleagues-in-Nice Coldplay, as well as solid Rock and Roll like that of San Francisco’s Train (“Drops of Jupiter” is the best song The Black Crowes never wrote…), suggests that Rock for the thinking person just might be clawing its way back into the record-buying consciousness. It’s difficult to envision Fran Healy and Travis converting any Papa Roach fans, or inducing The Backstreet Boys to hang up their tired dancing shoes in ignominious defeat, but they’re going to quietly make a lot of people who like real music happy, and I bet that’s alright with them.
“Can vacuous, pre-fabricated teen pop bereft of any substantial musical merit really fill up seventy-nine thousand seats?” an anonymous scribe filling a slot in the “Goings On About Town” section of The New Yorker (June 4, 2001) asks in what is undoubtedly an arch rhetorical tone. The author is referring to ‘Nsync playing at Giants Stadium, which is described as “a venue normally reserved for rock royalty.” The answer to the question: “Just ask your little sister.” Implying, of course, that ‘Nsync appeals only to prepubescent girls. Which is undoubtedly the case. But why is this any different than damn near any exceedingly popular band, vacuous or not?
While “rock royalty” is not defined, I’d like to suggest that regardless of which band it is that is thought to be capable of filling those 79K seats (New Jersey’s own Bon Jovi comes to mind; what else?), many of those seats will be filled by young girls—OK, those seats won’t be filled because they’ll spend the time during the show standing. Has it ever been different? Have stadia ever been filled by people other than young teens (with the exception of the Three Tenors)?
Perhaps “rock royalty” is a band like the Rolling Stones. Comparatively speaking, if the same answer was put forth (“Just ask your little sister”), your “little sister” would be 42-years old, working on her second divorce, with three kids in tow (some of whom would be ‘Nsync fans).
In a particularly stifling scene from Radiohead’s 1998 tour documentary Meeting People Is Easy, director Grant Gee uses Thom Yorke’s numerous false starts while filming a drowning scene as a metaphor for his band’s sense of suffocation about itself existing in the vacuum of Rock Stardom. The clip for “No Surprises” features a close-up of Yorke’s pinched and pale visage inside a diving helmet as it slowly fills up with water. Now, apparently Yorke has Navy SEAL-ian breath-holding ability, having eventually held his breath for 55 seconds as the sequence was filmed. But through Gee’s camera, we watch as Radiohead’s principle headcase repeatedly reaches the brink of suffocation as the sequence is shot and re-shot, Yorke yanking the safety release valve each time he can no longer take it.
Radiohead haven’t exactly reached for that safety chain yet, but their behavior since the release of Kid A is starting to look like a cop-out on the scale of a Christo art installation.
Rock Stardom in 2001 is like some bizarro S.P.E.C.T.R.E. experiment gone horribly right. Through manipulation of globalized media, gossip, rumor, and the artist’s own personality/ability (depending on the, er, “talent” of said Rock Star), pop culture domination is achieved by shady characters in mahogany boardrooms (picture Donald Pleasance stroking a cat). Oh, and the Rockstar gets real paid. Through the efforts of operatives with evil moustaches – or Carson Daly – the world’s creativity is siphoned off into holding tanks and replaced with an international pop-culture poultice made out of Jessica Simpson, Aaron Carter, Jon Tesh, and Michael Flatley. Compared to Sumner Redstone, Dr Evil is a little bitch.
And the poor lads in Radiohead are stuck in the middle of this corporate game, like life-size chess pieces with pasty English skin. After the international acclaim garnered by 1997’s OK Computer, the band’s post-rock melodic experiments could no longer be wasted upon the ears of haughty record store clerks and people who wear shiny fabric. Radiohead’s success – like it or not – had made them a commodity. Sure, a skinny, strange commodity with odd traits and strong followings in far-flung locales. But a commodity nonetheless. To the ENCOM-like Capitol Records, Radiohead had become bauxite.
Even though you gnash your teeth each time Fred Durst appears on television, treading water in the Grotto with 14 Playmates fanning him with palm fronds, you forgive the son of a bitch because he’s a Rock Star and it’s part of the game. Hef’s Grotto is a destination of Rock Stars; it’s a rite of passage that occurs when The Man’s dealings have achieved the desired effect (i.e. worldwide cultural acceptance). Now here’s the bombshell: Radiohead has never visited the Grotto. They’ve never thrown TVs from windows. In fact, in Meeting People Is Easy‘s 90 minutes, Our Pals spend most of their time looking forlorn and fretting about how lonely they are (meanwhile outside the hotel, yowling pre-teen Japanese girls pile up like chickens in a factory farm). Is this the life of a Post-Modern Rock Star?
Oh no. that was just the beginning. Only after the buzz for Kid A began did it begin to seem like the band had become too post-modern for its own forlorn good. Absurdly confusing websites written in bizarre languages. Scanty tour information. And shifty rumors that Kid A was – uh oh – a “concept album.” Indeed, the album’s icy, angular tunes distill Radiohead’s essence down to its most base form; they demand a patient ear. It would seem that Yorke and his fellow fame-sufferers had hit the panic button in the wake of OK Computer, pulling the safety valve to release the water in their diving helmets. Kid A’s minimalism would return them safely to the folds of psuedo-intellectual music listeners everywhere…
A self satisfied Thom Yorke to Capitol Records’ evil henchman Sark: “Do you expect me to rock?”
“No, Mr Yorke! We expect you to be popular!” (Maniacal laughter ensues…)
Capitol’s Master Control Program of a marketing blitz that propelled Kid A to a Grammy nomination was pure evil genius. Here was a dark, unhappy collection of songs that would devour Billy Gilman’s brains in one sitting, and yet the record debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The critical acclaim (Entertainment Weekly: “A+!”) was deafening. Kid A was so popular, Brian Eno was seen sitting in the Grotto next to Fred Durst. You could almost hear Thom Yorke screaming in intellectual pain. All of his efforts to disassociate himself from the pain of Rock Stardom, all of his band’s strides to create music that emulated the harsh glare of florescent pod lights, and what does he get? An F’ing Grammy nomination! Bollocks!
I have not yet heard Amnesiac. But given that the songs were recorded during the Kid A sessions, I’m pretty sure it’s not an uplifting collection of ska-inflected soul grooves. But enough about the music. The point here is not to accuse Radiohead of being musicians with a brain. On the contrary, their artistry challenges a listener willing enough to accept it. What they need to realize though is that being post-modern, or post-rock, or just plain avant-garde (and doing it for real, not as part of the act) in today’s global pop culture economy is pretty much impossible. Their commodity status was proved after Capitol successfully marketed their dropout attempt of last year. It will be interesting to watch Yorke and his mates’ reaction to the marketing blitz behind Amnesiac.
Is it post-modern for a Post-Rock Star to receive an on-camera massage by three Playmates? If I was Thom Yorke, I’d look into that.