Monday, April 24

Hey, I Was Hatin' On Rod Stewart Before You Were Housebroken

Lousy fucking weekend, despite picture perfect weather, some pretty fair accomplishments in the garden, and a lawnmower that started on the third pull directly out of storage when it usually takes at least five in the middle of the season. We were Obligated both Saturday and Sunday, plus I had to hang around all Saturday morning waiting for the vet to call, even after I called to remind her she was supposed to call. Stinky was about to run out of his medication, and when I explained this to the office person she told me I should have told them that on Thursday so they could have saved me a trip, after which I remained remarkably calm while explaining that I had reminded them of that on Thursday, and polite beyond all reason in not noting that I had in fact told her of that conversation just ninety seconds earlier. The vet finally called me half an hour after the clinic closed, which was also half an hour after the Stone Center closed for the weekend, that being the one stop I really wanted to make before the rest of our weekend belonged to other people.

Which means when I got there she'd already closed the day's accounts and couldn't take my credit card, so instead of saving me a trip they've now cost me two. Late or nonexistent call-backs are getting to be a feature with this vet; it's a little like placing your animals in the care of an irritating college girlfriend or Quaalude dealer. Then it turns out that Stinky has, in fact, become too healthy too fast; whatever number it is they assign to thyroid function (everything in medicine is quantified these days) has gone from 10-point-something right to the near-normal range of 1-point-something when it should be around 2.5. So we've reduced the dosage, which means I now have to cut the pills into quarters, not just halves, and a part of one which earlier tonight was launched somewhere in the kitchen is still up for grabs.

When we finally got home it was 6:30, the grass still wanted cutting, and the weekend was effectively over. I was rehydrating, as they say on teevee, after that effort when I started picking though the Sunday Times. David Brooks is on vacation, your Sunday dose of idiocy will be supplied by John Tierney, something about how Republicans are the real environmentalists and things are really a lot better than anyone believes. (Does this even qualify as libertoonian contrarianism any more?) I was, as one says, not in the mood.

Hunt down the Arts section instead. Christ, it's another above-the-fold time robbery by Kelefa Sanneh, the John Tierney of music reviews.

I don't remember now whether I joined in the general kicking and eye-gouging of Mr./Ms Sanneh back when he/she wrote about how evil "Rockists" refused to give poor Ashley Simpson her due because they only like Bruce Springsteen. If not, I should have. Sanneh, for all I can figure out, has that gig at the Times for the same reason they've been trying to figure out what Red State Americans are really like: he/she seems actually able to tell all those vital hip-hop artists apart.

Okay, okay, I'm grouchy. I'm still calm enough that I won't blame the headline on Kelefa:

New Orleans Hip-Hop Is the Home of Gangsta Gumbo

although that's no great sacrifice because what followed was equally cringe-inducing.
Ever since those awful days last year, the country has been celebrating the rich musical heritage of New Orleans.

There was a blitz of benefit concerts, including "From the Big Apple to the Big Easy," a pair of shows held simultaneously at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall last September. A New Orleans jam session closed the show at the Grammy Awards in February. There have been scads of well-intentioned compilations, including "Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast" (Nonesuch), "Hurricane Relief: Come Together Now" (Concord) and "Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert" (Blue Note), a live album recorded at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Benefit. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony last month, a video segment paid tribute to New Orleans music through the years, from Louis Armstrong to the Neville Brothers; there was also the inevitable New Orleans jam session.

But one thing all these tributes have in common is that they all ignored the thrilling — and wildly popular — sound of New Orleans hip-hop, the music that has been the city's true soundtrack through the last few decades.

Let's hang our banner from the twin poles of Obviousness here: the 15-22 year-old hip hop fans who make the music so wildly popular are not the demo which is in a position to contribute much in the way of funds for Gulf Coast relief. And however thrilling, vital, and popular the city's true soundtrack may be, it is not part of New Orleans' musical heritage. The Crescent City can rightly claim to be the birthplace of Jazz, and at least the site of some illicit trysting that gave us R&B, funk, and rock and roll. Correct the middle-aged suburbanite here if he's wrong, but isn't hip hop generally considered to have been an East Coast invention, picked up by the West, maybe cross-bred in Chicago?
Unlike all the other musicians celebrated at post-Katrina tributes, these ones still show up on the pop charts, often near the top. (Juvenile's most recent album made its debut at No. 1, last month.) Yet when tourists and journalists descend upon the city next weekend, for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, they'll find only one local rapper on the schedule: Juvenile, who is to appear on the Congo Square Louisiana Rebirth Stage at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The charts? As pathetic as the recourse to sales is when we're supposed to be discussing The Arts, if we're gonna use money, let's use money. Who's makin' it? The top concert draws, that's who: U2, McCartney, the Stones, Springsteen, Green Day, Neil Diamond. I don't like it either, but don't those votes count?

So here's the thing, really, and I'm sorry about the unfortunate juxtaposition of my wallowing in pre-teen nostalgia all weekend: in terms of audience appeal and marketing strategies, hip hop is an agressive response to the perceived anti-youth stance of radio (especially black radio) in the 70s and 80s. Fine. It's short-sighted to imagine that radio in those days was satisfying some monolithic Boomer Culture, anymore than it does today, but that's youth for you. So, fine. Just hold up your end of the bargain and quit whining about stuff you say you don't care about. Sanneh tries to make the point that this supposed slighting of our most popular popular culture is some sort of conspiracy of anti-hip hopism by referencing an upcoming Smithsonian exhibit (!) To which all I can say is, God bless the Sex Pistols. So you face a hulking middle-age culture which refuses to acknowledge the superior good taste of youth. So what? So which generation hasn't, at least since most of us left the family farm?

Jeez Louise, we're not burning piles of rap CDs across America. The big tsimmis over "Cop Killer" and 2 Live Crew happened while you were learning the times table. What the fuck do you want? What happens when the country music fans and NASCAR crowds start insisting on entrée to every last public event based on merchandise sales?

This blog has been at some pains to note that in the vital matters of racial equality and public justice, and in lesser cultural matters like sexual freedom and pop music it is in fact the generation before the Boomer Plague which did the fighting, and it has also pointed out the myth of the Monolithic Woodstock Nation. It's irksome to hear people who've had an unprecedented access to their own culture, who can walk down the street arm in arm with a person of different ethnicity, even, under some circumstances, of the same gender, who can cohabit without penalty, who can smoke a joint without facing hard time or attend public school with a funny haircut without facing explusion (okay, generally), failing to appreciate that the skids have already been greased for them, failing to think what the fight would be like if Tom Wolfe were the voice of authority rather than some dandified crank. Poor, oppressed Mr./Ms Sanneh. Enjoy your visit to the Smithsonian. Best wishes on the effort to become middle-aged before your time.


Anonymous said...

FYI, Sanneh is a guy. A real stupid, obnoxious guy; one whose idea of being provocative is to sing the praises of Toby Keith. (Actually, that's a fairly common "anti-rockist" manouver.) It is interesting to note that one of the poor, no-respect-getting hip-hoppers he champions in his bowl of dribble is one Lil Wayne, who recently appeared on the cover of a hip-hop magazine whose buckle read, in all caps just like I'm doing, "RAPE." Yeah. Like that. Where's the respect, indeed.

Anonymous said...

oh my. That sentence above should have read "recently appeared on the cover of a hip-hop magazine WEARING A BELT whose buckle read..." Sorry. Kind of dilutes my indignation....

Ray Bridges said...

When my late great cat, Beauregard, was diagnosed with thyroid disease, the vet wanted me to give him half a pill twice a day. Why, I asks? So it will stay in the system longer. Bullshit, I says. One pill, once a day. Beauregard was killed by a pit bull last year, but his thyroid was perfect.

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