The Freelance Mentalists.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
The Clash, Chuck D, Allison Moorer, Jim Titus, and me.

Sophomore year, me and Titus writing a letter to Jim Miller at Newsweek to tell how full of crap he was for daring to suggest that the Clash's Sandinista! was anything less than a perfect record, how if he really thought that the new Elvis Costello was anywhere NEAR Sandinista! he was an old stupid white guy who didn't deserve his bully pulpit at America's #2 crap factory. (Time, of course, being #1 back then. We didn't even have cable, most of us, and Fox News was a long way off.) I think we were in math class; I think Holbrook might have been there too. We were PISSED OFF.

Because we had found our holy grail: an album that was explicitly political, explicitly multi-cultural when it came to music, emotional, heartfelt, all the stuff we loved; because it spoke to us, and not just because thought we were supposed to love it, but because it helped us get out of our high school heads, our little semi-suburban semi-rural town of 5000 people in the middle of the Willamette Valley. Our nascent lefty politics were pretty rare in those early Reaganite years, especially in our town in our state -- how could Elvis Costello, that apparent racist drunken hate-filled nerdy white guy, whose music we couldn't like anymore because he dropped the N bomb on Ray Charles, be ANYWHERE NEAR our heroes? Without the Clash, we never would have published our school's underground seditious pamphlet series, "The IRA Newsletter," and gotten busted for copying it in the school library (with the tacit approval of the librarian, our school's top lefty), and gained any kind of notoreity. We were "the guys who knew about music." It's the reason I do this stuff at all.

I know, I know, this might not be my coolest admission, but politics are really important to me. This isn't always the case, and of course I'd rather hear objectionable music that sounds good than "correct" music that sucks. And there's a lot of it that sucks, yo, a ton of it. I've tried to talk myself out of it, I know it's uncool and doesn't really have anything to do with anything, but no use. The first time I heard it, It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold Us Back hit me like a train because of the golden combination of weird fat grindy industrial beats with angry liberation politics. I bought He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper the same day, and loved it just as much, but it wasn't important to me the same way. My subsequent job, cruising around the projects of Cambridge with ghetto kids to try to keep their asses in school and out of jail, was a LOT easier to take with some PE blasting in the van. Did we also listen to Big Daddy Kane? Yes, we did. Did BDK start as many conversations between Biscuit and Jon C. and Derek and Darrick and Kenny and Mark as PE did? Uh, no.

I've taken some heat for liking the new Allison Moorer record, because it's dour and pessimistic instead of shiny and happy. It's a concept record (OH THE HORROR) about losing one's faith in one's country and one's god and one's self, the music was bashed out in two weeks with an unfamiliar band, the basic sound is that druggy sad mid-1970s Neil Young soft-rock mode thing, most people don't hear the beauty of the melodies but I do, it's fucking dripping with melody, if you just listen. But it cannot be upbeat and blingy and sunny and all that, because it's the sound of someone ripping out her own heart and eating it like the dude in that Stephen Crane poem. It's a career suicide record, naturally it's gonna be a downer! But no one else is feeling it the way I do, because of the politics I think. Chuck Eddy said it would have been more revolutionary if she'd made a radio-friendly record with the same lyrics, and I see his point, but the heart wants what it wants, and Allison Moorer has turned her back on Omelas and is off in the long grass. She sings about how Americans will jump on the war bandwagon as long as there are no "yellow foreign queers" aboard. She sings about how singer-songwriters pimp their sadness, even when it doesn't exist. She prays for alcohol to help her forget, she tells the "Baby Dreamer" to wake the fuck up and look at reality. At the end, she dies. Chuck, dude, I love you but no Cowboy Troy cameo is really appropriate here.

So I might like some stuff because it appeals to my political sensibilities. And I might have just recently sold a CD by a popular and talented country singer because she performed at the Republican National Convention. And I might not give a damn if anyone has a problem with that. And neither does Jim Titus. Sandinista! forever!
I've been pimping the Allison Moorer record for months with no luck. Best thing in Nashville right now.
Chris, who are you? What's your job? What say you?
It's interesting to have this strange alternate life as a literary device that I only occasionally discover snippets of when the vanity bug strikes and I Google myself. I hadn't read this article before but I must say Sandinista! still completely kicks ass. Art should comment on the politics of the day and make a statement. Now go see "Good Night and Good Luck" and "V for Vendetta" and realize that art CAN still make these kind of comments even in this age of corporatized info-tainment media (and I say that even after cashing my last three months of paychecks working at a television station owned by a huge media corporation. Hey, a guy's gotta eat!).

I just wish things like "V" and "Washington Bullets" (Sandinista!) would give everyone the same kind of "hey, this is scarily relevant" chill I get, but I fear it all falls on deaf ears.
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