The Freelance Mentalists.
Dead? I was just listening to a Saturday night rap megamix last night on the way back from a wedding! Turns out that Thomas Dolby-sampling Mobb Deep track is pretty sweet after all, at least this version of it.
There was this time in 2003 where I couldn't walk anywhere without hearing "Hey Ya" at least once (even the rawk station used it as background for the weather). That song sounded great whether I was sad (focus on the first two minutes) or happy (focus on the last). Good times. I'm still not sick of it and the radio helps me reaffirm that fact every now and then.
Oh yeah. Radio was playing Eamon long before anybody on the net was talking about it. Eamon, yo. Eamon
Radio ain't dead, and judging by the hip-hop station I tend to stick to, neither is disco.
You can also hear me play indie stuff on The Lion 90.7 FM
every other monday from 11am-3pm EST (I'm on next on Nov. 1st. Tomorrow!).
Sad dry sack of cheesey mid-80s night (what have I done, moving back here, more marooned than ever--because the whole point of last time was that it was the last time). Turn on the radio, a random gesture that happened to twist a dial rather than a button or a pencap. "In A Silent Way." Miles' night moved through mine, fine-tuning my last gasp brainfart into a call. A train moving through, going somewhere, here's its light, look out now.
In fact that was just one selection on "Night Music," a program that came on every night from 8 til 12, hosted by Gene Knight, Music Director of my local Public Radio station, which I don't remember ever having listened to before. He went deep, tickling my knowlege and my ignorance too. I began to devise all sorts of cunning ways to track down jazz, and even pay for it. I got back into the world that way.
Gene suddenly left that station, but re-established his base at a campus station that was just getting into Public Radio. Gene and his monster record collection got the listeners in on the ground floor, at both stations, which then had the cred to seek funding for national programming (the second station's never ever had the semiannual beggathon Pub Radio's so known for, though the school they're located at is hardly the most pecunious. Gene?) He left them too, but then put on free (as in no admission charge) jazz concerts, of all local talent, most of which had never heard each other, for audiences ditto (when blacks and whites were just beginning to go to the same clubs in roughly equal numbers, on the same occasion). Bands that played in different styles. Jazz fans tend to be very intolerant of styles beyond their "own" turf, but somehow they applauded every act, and not just politely. They got up and danced. Anyway, he proved it could be done. And from then on, the ever-budding local summer festival got jazzier and jazzier (fourteen-year-old boys who all looked like Keanu did then, jumped up and had excellent adventures doing their hormoner-stoner best to dance to Charles Earland's organ boogie, which shouldn't have been that much of a rubberlegs gauntlet, but they made it!)
He started a store, cos his wife wouldn't let him bring any more records into the house. Everything settled down, we all got used to our higher plateau of jazz, which got over grown with new miracles like Nirvana. Then one night, ferns started growing out of my car radio. What the-? It was yet another campus Pubic Radio, proudly presenting "The Greatful Dead Hour." Actually I heard later that the Station Manager couldn't stand it, but it was fully funded by a rockin' dentist, Dr. Bernie. He had this superstring theory-inspired floss sculpture in his waiting room. Damn, I knew I was saving that old floss for something! But wisely confined my superstring experiments to listening. I'd never gotten into the Dead before, largely because of early encounters with thin-sounding LPs (the first, WORKINGMAN'S DEAD, and a couple tracks off LIVE IN EUROPE '72 I'd heard at a bad party). Also encounters with proudly obnoxious, hairtossing Deadheads. One of them came up while I was trying to learn the words to "Sister Morphine." "Oh m-a-a-n, the Stones are just cockrocking rednecks, I heard AMERICAN BEAUTY on Orange Sunshine and it touched my heart and fr-i-i-ed my mind, man, it FRIED MY MIND!" Actual quote, and just his opening sentence. If I were a cockrocker, and could have gotten up off the couch, I would have hit him. Instead I could only vow I would never, ever listen to AMERICAN BEAUTY.
And I've kept that vow. But "The Hour" taught me new-to-me ways to cast my listening line, man. I still played FUNHOUSE at the CD store where I worked, and the octogenarian black customer who always re-introduced herself to us as the Blues Bitch still played air bass to Dave Alexander's dum-dum Stoogemovements. But Friday night, I followed the Dead around the world and through the ages, through the exploding keyboardists, all that. They jazzed, they boogied, they synthed (glittering mantis leading the ferns toward Bowie's Sun Machine: roight place, Londontown, but this was the 80s, and Bowie had a blinding hairwave even for the 80s, singing "Let's Dance", while the Dead led a cult of millions completely off the fashion map; even Sammy Hagar fans wouldn't touch 'em). I could only listen from my distance, as the Dead rose again, and led the new jambands through my very store. Garcia died, it all got even bigger, the Other Ones did one last tour, everybody but me ran off to Atlanta to see it, then that was it for them. Sure, their boxsets and previously unissued livesets kept a-coming, but so did those of Phish and even Pearl Jam, as post-Nirvana Alt sank and/or settled into other contexts."The Hour" finally doubled in size and the station dropped it, despite Dr. Bernie's money stuffed under the door. Jerry made his point and moved on and changed the stations and raised or re-decorated the ferny furry plateau, like Gene did. And I just stood there listening, not bothering to wave.Because the street parade, store parade could never be just for me, just for my approval and disappointments, not anymore. Vox populi, feet and breath, Sea of song, sea of life, can't stop it,can only channel, let it flow, radio radiOH.
Yeah, y'know, see, it's like this. Radio is kind of dead to me, but that doesn't mean it's dead. And it's not really dead to me, just I'll never have that close relationship to it the way I used to.
And man, did I use to. I was a JUNKIE yo. I had it on all the time, from about 2nd grade until about 10th grade; again when I got to Boston and had no CDs for a year because they were all down with my girlfriend in New York; again when I moved to be with her; again when my whole job was driving around the south side of Chicago; again when I discovered the free-form community-supported station up here in Madison, at least for a little while.
But I have a CD player in the car now -- well, it's just my Discman, which I haul back and forth -- and the TV's always on in the house. I have my stations that I hit up (mostly the Latin AM station here in town, and Air America, and occasionally listening to a Brewers or Cubs game), but I'm sick of our hip-hop station [especially that they've dumped the local morning DJs in favor of "The Madhouse" or whatever it is, a supposedly hip-hop version of Howard Stern that is SUCKY and CRAPPY and SO WHITE IT HURTS] and I'm not so hot on country music anymore, and our access station is boring me to tears for some reason right now. Maybe I'll switch back someday but I doubt it.
So yeah, for me it's dead. Too corporate, too boring, too braindead, too locked in. And too many shitty commercials. Whatever happened to AWESOME COMMERCIALS that made you crack up?
My five favorite radio moments ever:
5. Hearing "I Can See Clearly Now" when I was a kid in Portland on KISN-AM, right as the rain stopped so it was clear we'd be playing our baseball game after all. It was kind of perfect.
4. Listening to Chicago's sports talk station WSCR dissect the NFL Draft live, withering wit and immense sports knowledge, oh man I was pretty impressed with that.
3. Hearing the KGON DJ play the song I requested and had been waiting all day to hear: "Somebody to Love" by Queen. I was like 12.
2. Pulling into NYC with a whole U-Haul trailer of stuff, my wife had a migraine so she couldn't unload anything, it was hot, I was hungry and adrenalized and overcaffeinated and I hadn't really been in Manhattan more than twice before, we were MOVING, it was exciting...and what was on while I unloaded our entire lives into a shitty expensive but awesomely located 85th st. studio apt.? DJ RED ALERT, spinning LIVE, the way I had always thought it would be.
1. Doing a public access show with Emma and Sammy and Jeff, we played whatever we wanted to, Emma and Sam sang along to "Jailbreak," it was truly cool. I wanna be a DJ.
Oh yeah, that's right, radio's dead. Shit.
Maybe it isn't, though. I mean, I ain't holding out much hope for satellite or internet radio -- although some people swear by that stuff -- nor do I really think we're going to see an indie radio revolution. But there is hope within me. And Emma loves the radio, listens to it all the time. I'm the past: she's the future.
Damn, I gotta get up offa that thing. Stop whining. Start listening. Keep hoping. It's free music, dude, what the hell's wrong with that?
There are reasons to believe that music will return to the free (so-called "commercial") airwaves sometime in the near future. From ClearChannel's problems
to new formatting approaches
on independent stations, to the growing spectre of satellite radio, there are enough disparate trends afoot to suggest that the Dark Ages of the past two decades are about to end.
But the death of John Peel is occasion to remark on a related trend and one which artists must reckon with sooner or later: the playlist.
My introduction to John Peel, as a kid growing up in New York City, was not via the BBC but, rather, a recording: the Peel Sessions of Joy Division. The brilliant premise of allowing a new and "iconoclastic" band to take over the airwaves not for a single song but an entire set is Peel's legacy -- and part of Nic Harcourt's contemporary appeal.
But I would hazard that technology which made the Peel Sessions possible -- i.e., cheap radios, a wide spectrum for multiple BBC transmissions -- now makes a similar enterprise increasingly unlikely. Today, it is the Internet and not the radio which is driving culture.
Unlike radio tranmissions, the Internet's own spectrum -- bandwidth, if you like -- requires compression and packets. While the number of Americans who have access to broadband Internet access recently topped 45%
, it is still the case that most media consumed via the Internet and, thus, the personal computer, is delivered in bits and bytes.
No doubt, this method of delivery will change in a few years' time with the advent of "ultra-broadband" wi-fi technology, enabling anyone with a mobile phone/mp3 player/camera/dvd and game player to pick up an entire album without the use of a computer.
But in the meantime, the demise of the album -- or the electronically transmitted long format musical performance -- may be a done deal. Certainly, home taping (e.g., mix tapes) began this movement away from the album. But, the MP3 has certainly completed this drift.
As a fan of Seinfeld, I must now add "Not that there's anything wrong with that..." The album format did not come down from Mt. Sinai engraved in a gold disc. The author is dead, long live the mix tape. Moreover, without mix tapes, we would not have the important contributions of the DJ and the sample-based artist.
But if you feel that a single is not the best way to get to know every artist, if you feel that commercial mechanisms do not always reward creativity or, even, artistry, then I think you might have reason to worry about playlists and their impact on our music culture.
I'll end with an example. The other day I was discussing playlists with a fellow electronic music artist here in SF. He informed me that he had recently downloaded from the iTunes store an entire album, I believe from 1980s, only to discover that the tracks were out of order.
It's not surprising. Unlike the "record stores" of yore, iTunes, iPods and their like trade in individual files -- not albums.
Given that the future of radio may in fact not involve radio at all, but, rather, the wireless data networks, it would behoove us to think a bit harder on what the new radios (i.e., mp3 players, both software and hardware) are doing to the "long playing" album.
No doubt, commercially-biased artists are already predisposed to think of their album as a collection of singles. Should every recording artist be forced to do the same thanks to playlists?
"On the topic of politics and music."
"And think of all the hate, there is in Red China, then take a look around, TO SELMA ALA-BAMMA."
"Bam" said like "damn." I used to laugh at this.
"Ahh you may leave heah, fo fo days in space, but when ya return, it's the same old place."
Barry McGuire's "The Eve Of Destruction" gnarls on, and clippings loom like "Next stop, the Twilight Zone.'" But really it's still just the Sixties. Here's the one about the woman shot dead the night after the Selma-to-Montgomery March, or was it Mongomery-to-Selma. You can look that up, of course; she's strewn all over the googleverse, like everything else.
Still on "The Eve," McGuire's voice rasps and bleeds color down through the grain what grain this is all too concise and too clear, this thing we're trying to stab and scoop out with spoons and keys, this era, chunk of change, we being audience and film maker without money or time enough, we also being me gesturing at them in the footage rising up again, clear percentages of gray to gloss once more: men and women, black and white, still crossing the bridge. Leaving this headline I once blocked, still next to the one about Vietnam. That's the one I didn't realize I'd also need to forget, in order to ditch something that stopped being a question, a long time ago. Who did this, it could have been my friend's daddy, uncle, big brother next door. You never know. Like the Viet Cong. It was necessary to destroy the village in order to save it. He that give his life shall have it. "It was a war, and innocent folks get killed in a war," explains an old fellow in Mississippi, re Schwerner Cheney & Goodman's Greatest Hit. Oops wrong doc. This one is HOME OF THE BRAVE, about Viola Liuzzo.
Two of my best friends, boy and girl, brother and sister, their house was like Alice's Restaurant, the hip place, of sitting on the rug, strumming guitars, singing songs old and new, gazing across these at each other, while cars outside the screen door slipped up and down the highway, like fingers on a neck. "Highway Fiffty-onnne, goes right by my baby's door, Highway Fiffty-one, don't go there no more." The Selma Highway. Too close. Not the one she was killed on, though. Often called by the same name, but it's further south, parallel to mine. Why did she go that way, they told her not to (according to africaonline). A white woman transporting a black man, driving fast, stopping at "white-owned gas stations."(Were there black-owned gas stations? Where?) Attracting a lot of attention, including a karload of klansmen, out of Bessemer (hometown of my father, and of Sun Ra). Four guys, daddies many times over. Starring Gary Thomas Rowe, with a long and winding road of tales, told by him and his companions and many others, of his life in the Klan and the FBI. "Made Galileo look lak uh Boy Scout. Too much man, let it all hang out."
But also "Pick Up The Pieces" like the Average White Band, find a plot twist, watch that Tootsy Roll bassline take it to the bridge again, and here's Gary and his buddies back in court in the mid-70s. (Helicopter takes off from Saigon Embassy, little brown folk like ornaments.) Here come old twolane blacktop post-Watergate spew of documents: Viola,vwoy-la! "Transporting Negro Buck" memos for J.Edgar's delectation, skinny legs and all.
But Viola's kids lost their civil suit, despite all the amputations of alibis, because Gary was doing the Government's work. And the Government, well, it was doing the Government's work too. "Sometimes you have to sacrifice the little ones to get to the big ones," explains Nicholas Katzenbach, former Attorney General. Who was the big one gotten? he doesn't say. It's a war, classified.
"All my feelings about her were sealed away." Mary, Viola's daughter, drives back down that road. The gently rolling hills of the familiar landscape seem bilious, the spacious seems empty, the trees crowd the twolane. She gets out and looks across the road, where it happened, where the body was found, anyway. A stone among a few others, behind iron pickets. Protective custody, like those Vietnamese villages. "It's like she's in jail," Mary says.
She stands at the civil rights workers' memorial in downtown Montgomery. This one was designed by the same woman who designed the Vietnam veterans memorial in D.C. ("It's that Vietnamese woman's revenge," said Pat Buchanan.) They're both black, reflecting everything within range, the names of all those soldiers in place, ten-shun. Here in Montgomery, there's also a fountain. Mary touches her mother's name, where the water runs over it, shining over the black shine. Link Wray's "Fallen Rain" plays somewhere in here. (Most of these songs are on the actual soundtrack, I think. They were all playing loud enough to be.)
I'm really sick of music videos that utilize war and protest imagery to no discernable purpose. I probably shouldn't complain since for once they're showing up BEFORE the election rather than after. I probably shouldn't complain since it looks like discontent and refusal to submit is going to be "cool" rather than Alex P. Keatonism.
Desaparecidos, Read Music/Speak Spanish
Conor Oberst feels less and less like a guy I want to defend, but my favorite album of the decade so far is easily his rawk-out side project. For once his shrieks of discontent are delivered in a specific cultural, political context. It's as if Rivers Cuomo showed up at the sessions for Pinkerton
with something more on his mind than that foreign exchange student he'd really like to bang. It's as if Ian MacKaye regained his Minor Threat-era love of the specific and Guy Picciotto had it in the first place. It's as if a oversensitive indie shmuck with a overactive sense of entitlement decided to dignify his bitchfits by describing the oppressive swirl of homogenization, downsizing, commercialization, gentrification, commidification, franchise expansion, compromise, cynicism, resignation, capitulation, indifference, selfishness, lies, ignorance and all that other shit in crystalline, humanized detail rather than just making it clear he's against it (cuz we all think we are). This isn't some kid yelling "Reagan Sucks!" This is a kid starting with his own frustration and letting camera zoom out from that focal point as far he can, using his powers for good instead of ego. There was supposed to be a follow-up called Payola
in April, but it looks like Conor's too busy making aural woodcuts of himself and song-arranger Denver Dalley's too busy making worthless attempts to prove that Desaparecidos is a side-project for him too. Sum 41's new single is exactly the kind of wack style-bite ("Supersize my tragedy!") you get when the decent band refuses to get off their duff and take the spotlight. I hope it gives Oberst an ulcer.
Travis Tritt & John Mellencamp, "What Say You"
Ok I only heard it for the first time yesterday but Jesus Christ if I don't realize some faults soon this could be my favorite single of the year. John Mellencamp wins the election by voicing his disdain blind patriotism and by looking into the camera and saying "I refuse to criticize what I don't understand" like a Clinton with nothing to hide, with the willingness to pin down what "it" is (even if he's still picking his words with the utmost of care). At first it sounds like Travis Tritt has nothing more to offer than defensive refusals to apologize, but eventually you realize that he subtly dismisses the concept of people being "evil" and that BOTH want to know what your opinion is. Both don't assume you're going to immediately going to abandon your perspective. It's the first political song I've heard that neither indulges in whimpering helplessness or oppressive certainty. Maybe it's the shock of the new but this song gives me chills and I hope it's a huge fucking hit.
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!
Matt Cibula's All-Star Obscure-Ass Records You Really Need to Hear #39
Joyce, Astronauta: Songs of Elis
(Blue Jackel), 1998
Joyce is the jam. She's been around the music business for four decades, which is not really all that long in Brazil but seems like forever here. She's also still hot; Cris Aflalo, a hip young Paulista whose debut album is rocking my 2004, LOVES Joyce, and so do a lot of her friends. Plus, Joyce is still really pretty hot, at least from these camera angles that make her look like Teri Hatcher's older sister.
is a tribute record to the legendary Elis Regina, a singer of grace and crystalline beauty who died too soon. These songs are done up Braz-jazz style, lots of bossa touches, rolling piano solos over skittish guitar chords and tumbling drum patterns that cannot be replicated in the U.S.; the songs are mostly covers of stuff Elis sang, by superstars like Vinicius de Moraes and Edu Lobo and Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil and A.C. Jobim, except for the first track and the last, both co-written by Joyce her damn self.
This music cooks like a sweaty guy at a family barbecue. The band isn't quite exactly the Banda Maluca lineup from this year's Just a Little Bit Crazy
record, but close with the nucleus of drum genius Tutty Moreno & guitarist Rudolfo Stroeter; there are also important guest shots by Mulgrew Miller and Renee Rosnes. They can pick their way through the intricacy of Gil's "Oriente," rock a samba beat on "Menino Das Laranjas," or do it up slow-jamz-way on "Essa Mulher." Plus, the album concludes with the song I consider the most perfect thing ever written: Jobim & de Moraes' "Waters of March," here an English-language duet with Joyce and Dori Caymmi, and sublime enough to be my third-favorite version ever, which is high praise if you know how many damned versions there are of this song.
Joyce is a singer, and a great writer ("Samba Pra Elis" is a sweet opening thing), but she is first and foremost a bandleader. Her guitar work is precision itself, interweaving with the two- and three- and five-part band, she drives everyone on. And come on, did I mention that Tutty Moreno is the drummer? Have you ever HEARD Tutty Moreno? Dude played drums on Gil's "Aquele Abraco," okay? END OF STORY.
This album is full of heart and love, it hits all the pleasure centers, and it's smart and funky and Brazilian. Oh, and here's the best part: I bought it for one dollar
in the bargain bin at The Exclusive Co. DAMN I'M A BADASS.
Here's one of those yardsale LPs, collections of voice-and-drum choir epic reveries, mentioned at the end of "How To Listen While Waiting for Hurricane Ivan"(my most recent post). The title is FESTIVAL DE SAMBA,GRAVADO AO VIVO,VOLUME 2(CID-14.007). Liner notes by Albino Pinheiro:
"The 'Samba-Enredo' is a musical manifestation of the 'Escolas de Samba' at the great Sunday Easter Parade during the Carnival in Rio.
The early 'Ranchos' at the beginning of the century, predecessors of the modern 'Escola de Samba,'sang in their lyric Carnival a story or plot based on Brazilian motifs and for that reason, we had over and over the presence of so many aristocratic characters who seem to inspire a kind of fascination over the members of the monumental parade. We can't forget that that ten years before the above-mentioned obligation, by influence of the Brazilian writer Coelho Neto, the glorious Rancho Ameno introduced for the first time a Brazilian theme in the Carnival, the National Hymn, in 1924. The Samba-Enredo is the result of the plot chosen by each Escola. The plot (always based on a historical fact or a Brazilian event) is treated musically by the composers. The number of verses also is a result of the plot to be told. The verses are important to the pageant and must faithfully describe the story and this is the reason of the great amount of verses.
This record represents 9 sambas-enredo, from 9 great Escolas de Samba, competitors of the 1969 super-championship. Each of them is composed of 20 to 30 verses, in fact shorter than in the last years. By instinct or not, the composers were right. The excessive versification, harmful to the possibilities of the samba "empolgacao," was a negative factor to the parade harmony. In this record the strength is the "empolgacao."Recorded directly at the "terreiros" where the sambas-enredo are born and developed, we have the exact idea of their greatness through the voices of the "pastoras"(shepherdesses). With the chorus the samba-enredo is completed, because it is to be sung by the whole Escola. It is beyond any kind of samba: it is a hymn." (Sounds like both to me. Or maybe I'm just swayed by those shepherdesses. Baaaaaaah)
Where You At: Notes From the Frontline of a Hip-Hop Planet
, by Patrick Neate (Riverhead Books)
I didn't know who Patrick Neate was before I read this book; apparently, he's an award-winning rap writer in England. But after I finished Where You At
, I definitely know who he is. He is he whom but for the grace of God I'd be.
The journey of the book is Neate searching for what hip-hop really is, on a few different continents. But he's not searching for that. He's seeking to validate his theory.
He goes to America and talks to some dudes who stare his theory, but then he talks to real NYC teenagers and they don't seem to get it, so he's dissatisfied. Japan and decides that the b-boys are all just slavishly copying American rap styles, and that's not good enough for him, it goes against the theory. He goes to a couple of different places in Africa and that's better, because there's some blatant Americanization in the rap but there are a couple of people who back up his theory. He goes to Brazil and tells us all about the funk dances where kids rumble, but it's okay because he talks to MV Bill, who also backs up his theory. By the end, he's happier, kind of, because he's found others around the world who feel the same way he does. The theory is all, and has been validated.
What is the theory? The theory is that hip-hop (all together: it's four elements it's not just rap it's graffiti deejaying and breakdancing too) is primarily a vehicle for social betterment, for uplift and political motivation, for unity and stopping the violence and ending the self-destruction; the theory is also that Today's Rap Isn't Real Hip-Hop, it's a low debased kind of music that shares some of the form of the kind of music he loves but none of the soul
, none of the street smarts and ghetto-CNN that he has decided hip-hop also is. (So I guess there are really supposed to be five elements to the form.)
When Neate is in New York he's astounded by how people can actually like Jay-Z. He's not a big fan of P.Diddy either, surprise surprise. (Actually, neither am I though, except as a producer, where he was kinda dope for quite a few years.) He likes Public Enemy and the Coup, Rakim and Common and 'Pac and Biggie and Cannibal Ox, but isn't so hip on a lot of other modern people who tend to flaunt the bling and fling the blag and flout the paradigm.
I used to be this guy. For me, I got into hip-hop at Harvard around the same time that I was working with teenagers through Philips Brooks House. I too saw it as a great vehicle, a tank with a beat, the dopest ride in the world. I borrowed albums from real live ghetto teens: EPMD and JVC Force and Ultramagnetic and Rakim and Big Daddy Kane and Stetsasonic. I memorized it and obsessed over it and read about it. I used rap songs in junior high classes I taught, and lyrics in poetry classes with our local uplift-the-kidz agency. I have freestyled and I have reviewed hip-hop and I have hung out with Chairman Mao.
And I bought the whole thing, hooks lines and cinque. I really believed a lot of this "hip-hop will change the social dynamic or die trying" thing for a long time. Until I didn't, anymore. Kids just like dope beats, or people who look like they have dope beats, or people who used to have dope beats. Kids just like clever lines, whether they're spat about George Bush or some fool who might have dissed you on a mixtape or a hoe or a punk or a snitch or Left Eye and Aaliyah or Canadian prescription drug prices. No one's lives were ever changed for real by music. Except maybe the people on the masthead of this site, or maybe millions around the world all the time every day.
So I should have a lot of cluck-cluck oh poor fellow sympathy for Patrick Neate as he goes on his quest. But I'm kind of pissed off at him, or at least at his authorial voice. This voice is so...well, it's so something, kind of a combination of superior and clueless and yet charming and optimistic at the same time. He hates the fact that people like music that he doesn't like, and I remember that time in my life. I'm over it now. Let people listen to whatever the hell they want, I say, it's all good, it's not worth losing your mind over.
But Neate has a book contract, so he has to travel around. He has been to more places in this world than me, maybe he knows better how to judge the sincerity of all Japanese b-boys than I would, maybe he has managed to speak to the two most powerful and all-seeing South Africans in the whole country, maybe his pages-long disquisitions into the history of baile funk and kwaito are more important than just history lessons that seem cut and pasted in like so many dreary lecture notes. But I don't know, it just doesn't go down right.
At one point, early on, it seems like Neate is going to make a breakthrough, that he's deciding that rap that doesn't push the societal envelope can also be good, that he's going to learn some tolerance for the world. But then he decides not to decide that, and we end with him saying that hip-hop has "stagnated" and that it's all the fault of the U.S. post-9/11 mentality. CAUCASIAN PLEASE. And don't say that all of us have flags in our windows, it's not true, no matter what your beatnik friends tell you. Eff that. I live in whitey Midwestern land and only the hard-core people on my block have anything but Packers flags out. (More than before 9/11, yes, but it's not affecting the hip-hop.)
Who else does Neate blame? Oh, yeah: Nelly, for having a big diamond chain. Can you not remember, Mr Neate, the big fat chains on about 99% of rappers' necks, even ones you can't praise more highly? Can you not put aside this whole "I know hip-hop better than those damn American young millionaires who never had anything in their lives and now they're massively successful but I know better than they do what they should be doing with the mic and with the money" thing? Like, way back in the drawer with the porn and the watch that doesn't work?
Does he write very well? Yes he does. Does he talk with some fascinating people? Yes he does. Do I agree with one of his central tenets, that hip-hop has become the black-America-rules global riposte to white American economic hegemony? Sure. Is this book worth reading? Yes it is. Does it make me slightly insane? Yes but I was already there.
Overall, a good thing but not a great thing, a book that replaces other people's stereotypes about hip-hop music with Patrick Neate's stereotypes about hip-hop music.