Waking Up After The Long Night Called 2001
Year-end lists are disgustingly difficult to write. It’s damn hard to remember what happened last February or March when you’re still trying to discern how you spent $150 on High Life at your local laundromat/tavern’s $1 beer night last week. Besides, lists are boring. And the Glorious Noise staff has always tried to think out of the blurb when discussing music. CD reviews and top ten lists? Leave those to Rolling Stone and David Letterman. Jeez, even the idiot record store savants in “High Fidelity” shortened theirs to top fives.
But my editor is screaming down the telephone line, and he isn’t telling me about his new Christmas puppy. And some musically significant things did happen during the past year. Check it out. And let’s look forward in unison to an Enrique Iglesias-less 2002.
January 29, 2001. Superbowl XXXV. Halftime. Britney Spears scampers onstage wearing tubesock wristbands and football pants, flanked by Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige, N*Sync, and a belt-challenged Nelly. Despite her supercharged co-conspirators, the event was all Britney, all the time. Followed up by a Pepsi commercial featuring her navel and Bob Dole, the high-profile appearance was tuned up as a harbinger of things to come for Ms. Spears and the ever-expanding tango of her endlessly advancing, platinum-grill’d pop culture bell curve.
Fast-forward to December. Fellow junior diva Jessica Simpson (albeit c-grade, in comparison to Spears, but that just means she doesn’t have as far to fall…) appears on the cover of the January 2001 issue of Maxim Magazine, conveniently forgetting her shirt. Mandy Moore, B*Witched, Wild Orchid, and Willa Ford have returned to previous day jobs at Best Buy, only to tearfully witness their own dancepop albums be unceremoniously dumped into cut-out bins by angry store managers. And Britney Spears sits alone in her enormous mansion, wondering why movie producers won’t return her calls.
By its November 6, 2001 release, Britney had been roundly panned, even by teen critics, and its lead single (the horridly bland, non-sexy “I’m A Slave 4 U”) was gasping for breath at pop stations nationwide. Where previous appearances on the MTV Video Music Awards had led to mountains of breathless hype, Spears’ confused, drab performance of “Slave” during 2001’s show made even her boa constricting co-star uncomfortable. Oops, she didn’t do it again.
Britney Spears’ year-long flameout is just one example of the Popstardom tailspin that will likely put all the boy-bands and bombshell jezebels in the poor house by summer, 2002. At least until 5 years from now, when they resurface, Joey McIntyre-like, with “serious” solo albums featuring synthesizers and laser beams.
July 6, 2001. The White Stripes at Empty Bottle, Chicago. The Strokes weren’t the only American rock band with the British press on their bozack in 2001. The UK got all weepy for Detroit City’s White Stripes over the past year, too. Two like-monikered miscreants with no use for a bassist? What’s the big deal?
That’s what a bunch of Chicago scenesters were mumbling early last July when Jack and Meg White arrived in town for their first appearance since Rolling Stone and NME began writing sonnets about their chop-shop blues juju. But in Chicago, if your band can make 300 jaded hipsters jive like Elaine Benes at a Christmas party, you must be doing something right.
Like those elegant bachelors in The Strokes, The White Stripes are deserved of their exposure, and most likely would have hit paydirt even without all the top-drawer dishing. In the year to come, it will be interesting to see what effect the band’s significant press and wider audience has on their hometown rock scene, which has a lot of potential, and even a few bands that feature a bass guitar.
August 1, 2001. Radiohead performs outdoors in Chicago’s Grant Park, and rocks 40,000 spectators with quiet desperation. After 1997’s OK Computer lauched Radiohead into an epoch of stardom they did not expect, the group reacted with the primer for clinical depression chronicled in “Meeting People Is Easy,” Grant Gee’s composite tourfilm of 1998. But Thom Yorke and his chaps rebounded brilliantly with 2000’s Kid A, an album whose protean rhythms were almost entirely devoid of the chiming guitars and hooks the size of Greenland that typified OK Computer.
Despite Kid A’s debut at number 1, despite the record’s smoldering genius, there was still some confusion in 2001 about Radiohead’s direction. And after months of scheduling and re-scheduling the location of their Chicago gig, many of the pale indie types soaking in the rays on that hot day last August had arrived almost out of curiosity. What would Radiohead do? How could they POSSIBLY combine their earlier material with odd jibboom of Kid A?
As it turned out, meeting people really is easy. The band did not perform behind blinking and whirring mainframes. They didn’t stare intently at their shoes for 35 minutes before walking silently, shoulders haunched, off the stage. In fact, Radiohead turned in an almost 3-hour set of music that effortlessly spanned the sonic differences between their early and more recent material. Yorke made faces in a camera mounted on his organ. He was charming. He was funny. And his bandmates filled up the impossibly pristine soundsystem with precision rock and roll and no less than 4 encores.
With their summer tour, Radiohead gently, but firmly, asserted what they had been saying all along, during all of those interviews for “Best of 2000” articles: KID A’s subdued nature was the logical progression of a rock band in flux. Amnesiac, Kid A’s stylistic companion piece, arrived without guitar heroics, and this time no one was up in arms. Seeing and hearing Radiohead quietly illustrate their chosen musical direction with passion and power along Chicago’s lakefront on a hot summer day was a great way to be convinced of their once and future greatness.
“America: A Tribute To Heroes” was the first, and one of the best, of the entertainment industry’s answers to the tragic events of September 11. At VH-1’s “Concert For New York City,” NYC’s firefighters, police officers, and emergency workers were treated to an all star bash in their own backyard, and their onstage participation helped lend the event a casual, backyard feel – as if you invited your favorite rockers and movie stars to a traditional American hoedown. Celebrities mingled freely with the real heroes, as a packed Madison Square Garden cheered it all on.
But arriving so soon after the attacks as it did, September 21st’s “Tribute To Heroes” unfolded in a more somber mood, concentrating on performances that captured the mourning heart of America, while still offering hope for the future.
Bruce Springsteen (“City In Ruin”) and Tom Petty (“Won’t Back Down”) were only two of the standouts among the multi-network event’s myriad of inspired performances. But special recognition goes to Neil Young, whose performance of “Imagine” accomplished so much without any attempt to re-work John Lennon’s original version and vision. With his straightforward, clear-eyed performance, Young not only encapsulated many Americans’ dreams and hopes for a more peaceful world; he also stood defiant against the misguided notions of Clear Channel Communications that had placed the song on a list of tracks deemed “lyrically inappropriate” in the wake of 9/11.
The terrorist attacks effected America’s musical landscape in ways both immediate and longterm. But so quickly after they happened, it was comforting to see musicians we respect and admire (or even some of those we normally deride) use their art and talent to give us all a sonic bear hug.
Best reissue of the year: Shugge Otis, Inspiration Information (Luaka Bop). One of the great “should-have-beens” in music history, Otis’ inspired work from 1974-5 contains effortless funk, dreamy island soul, and plenty of mojo that is beautifully indefinable…Oukast’s Stankonia finally gave Big Boi and Andre 3000 the crossover audience that their genre-cluttered hip hop genius deserves. They were even able to release a primer of sorts in 2001 that showcases the many highlights in their older material…Galactic Californian space-rockers Grandaddy toured with Coldplay. Here’s hoping the casual radio fan of “Yellow” skipped the third Amstel Light and went into the venue early…As mentioned above, Clear Channel’s whoring tactics only got worse in 2001. After assimilating approximately billions of radio stations in multiple markets and formats nationwide, the whoring juggernaut went after live venues, so as to force all echelons of the industry to do business with them, or not at all. No one’s suggesting that the rest of the industry isn’t fucked up. But Clear Channel is definitely at the top of the shit list. Watch out in ‘ought 2. You might wake up a subsidiary.