Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Cover of the Rolling Stone

Years ago, before we moved to Oregon, a kid came to the door selling magazines so he could go to Disneyland or M.I.T.-- I forget which. At any rate, my wife bought the rap and signed on. I think she spent like three hundred dollars on magazines. When she ran out of things she would read in the bathroom, she picked Rolling Stone, for me. It was a selfless and now we see, an unnecessary gesture. It took a long time before we got any of the magazines and we thought for sure we had been ripped off. We contacted the Better Business Bureau. And then they started showing up in the mailbox, beginning with the bonus magazine: Black Enterprise.

I've been reading Rolling Stone, off and on, for like 40 years, since it was a folded up tabloid, with John Lennon on the cover. Recently, he was on the cover again. God rest his soul. This week, the new issue arrived in the mail. Lil Wayne is on the cover. After I picked up the mail and laid it on the dining table, I went through it. There on the cover of the Rolling Stone (to paraphrase Dr. Hook), was Lil Wayne. Something came over me. I looked at it and a second later, ripped off the cover, balled it up and tossed it into the recycling bin. Kind of like Belushi ripping the guitar out of Stephen Bishop's hands in Animal House and smashing it to bits. Only I didn't raise my eyebrows for the camera. It was an internal move. Shortly after, I spat out a letter to the magazine, which in all probability, will never see the printed page. I sounded, and, to me, justifiably so, like some cranky old man, kvetching about kids today and the shit they listen to and all that. Being that part of my brain is wired like an old Wurlitzer with the bubbling lights with no new music loaded into it, I just heard Tom Petty...

Yeah, my momma was a rocker way back in '53
Buys them old records that they sell on TV
I know Chuck Berry wasn't singin' that to me, oh no

But you know, Chuck was singing to me. And so were Don and Phil, and Buddy and Bobby and all that. And they still are. Lil Wayne ain't singing to me. Shit... he ain't singing at all. He's slinging out out this mad tirade with 10 letter curse words and rhyming to a computer driven backbeat. I didn't like Sinatra and Sammy when I was a kid, but you know what? I grew up and learned to appreciate what they did. On the other hand, I doubt I will ever "grow" to like any of what passes for music today. I find very little of it that moves me. Frank, and Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald never needed Autotune to sing on key like Britney.

Am I my parents? Punk and power pop wasn't my music but I think that the Clash was one of the last bands that mattered. My wife can't really stand the fact that I still listen to doo-wop. Sorry, babe, but they don't sing like that anymore. Not on American Idol and not on the radio. The Moonglows and the late great Johnny Ace. That's when music mattered.

So I pick the world up and I'm a drop it on your fuckin' head, yeahh!
Bitch, I'm a pick the world up and I'm a drop it on your fuckin' head
And I could die now rebirth mother fucker
Hop up in my spaceship and leave Earth
Mother fucker I'm gone
Mother fucker I'm gone

Just like Rogers and Fucking Hammerstein, huh? How about this:

I'ma hustla so I be on the grind
I always got the money and the bitches on my mind
And I was born to dine so every where I goes at
The first thing I wanna know is where them hoes at
Where them girls that be takin off they clothes at
And where them girls that be slidin down them poles at

... and so on. So, call me old fashioned, but I still think that Rap Music is an oxymoron. The few things I've heard by Snoop Dogg have been kind of cute. He could be a comedian, and may very well be. I can't take him seriously. I even like a couple of Eminem's older things. But I won't call them songs and I won't buy into 50¢ or any of these other miscreants that believe part of stage attire is a 9mm. Smokey didn't pack heat. And, yeah, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard went to jail but, well... it was different. I swear it was different.

Rock 'n Roll meant the world to me when I was growing up. It was the voice I struggled to find. It annunciated my alienation and sense of not belonging. And maybe for the kids today Lil Wayne and all the rest speak for them. And maybe there's no maybe. And you know, that's too bad.

When I was coming up, there were songs about teen angels and dreams come true. Today, they're called bitches. That ain't right. Call me old fashioned. Call me obsolete. Whatever. I would love to hear some new music that moves me. Something that aspires to reach me and take me to a higher place. Something that speaks the words I can't find. Something like Bomani D'mite Armah...

Read a book! Read a book! Read a muh 'fuckin book!
Read a book! Read a book! Read a muh 'fuckin book!
Read a book! Read a book! Read a muh 'fuckin book!
Read a book! Read a book! Read a muh 'fuckin book!



MadPriest said...

I don't understand it. The great soul singers of the 1950s through to the early 80s were regarded as gods because of their talent. In England, at least, black music did more to bring about racial equality than any politician managed. But then black people turned their back on those musicians who showed them as talented, creative and intelligent and embraced, in hip hop, a yob culture that celebrates the baseness of unredeemed humanity.

35 years ago when I thought about black people, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye would immediately come to mind. Nowadays, I equate black people with gangland shootings and people who refer to women as whores. This is not due to any prejudice on my part, it is entirely their fault. Why, after they had brought so much beauty into the world and achieved so much, have they now embraced the cheap and ugly and given the rest of the world the strong impression that every black man is a pimp or drug pusher?

barryshap said...

Well said. It is something I feel, as a white American, I can't say, for fear of being called a racist, or worse. Upon reading your comment, I heard the Temptations in my head, singing "My Girl" and Mary Wells' sort of answer, "My Guy." Ironic, that this week we celebrated MLK Day. What would he have thought of the artistic/commercial expressions of his brothers and sisters?

As I wrote, I hate slamming today's "music" for sounding like an old fart or worse, but the conclusions are undeniable. Not only is it assaultive, misogynist and gratuitously violent, it renders all that came before it seemingly irrelevant. I'd be curious to know how today's kids would react to Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions' "Keep on Pusshin'" or Steve Wonder's "Higher Ground," and so many other uplifting songs. Songs of inspiration without condescension. Songs that were, in their day, and I would like to think, still relevant. Even the precursor to rap-- The Last Poets and Gil-Scott Heron among them, who were more attuned to Malcolm X and the Panther movement were not gratuitously violent nor misogynistic. They talked of revolution, as the Jefferson Airplane and others did. It's a bit sad that the Thunderclap Newman classic, "Something in the Air" has been rendered little more than an oldie curio, devoid of it's meaning and message.

There has always been a segment of society and youth that embraces the criminal element, or, at the very least, the bad boy, from the Warner Brothers tough guy movies of the 30's and 40's through to James Dean, even Easy Rider, and the Corleone saga. In music, parents were not particularly enthralled by the likes of Gene Vincent, or the young Elvis Presley, for that matter. And maybe it is me and maybe it is the tone, but they were a lot different than Tupac, Lil Wayne and the rest of their ilk.

As Dylan sang, "Things have changed," and not particularly for the better. Tina Turner was wrong-- we do need another hero.

MadPriest said...

There has always been a segment of society and youth that embraces the criminal element, or, at the very least, the bad boy, from the Warner Brothers tough guy movies of the 30's and 40's through to James Dean, even Easy Rider, and the Corleone saga.

Of course, but I would suggest it was done with a large dollop of knowing irony. I cannot perceive that in the gangsta rap of today.

When Johnny Rotten sang "I am the antichrist" he didn't believe for one moment he was the antichrist. One only has to look at how rap lyrics have become a reality on the streets to see that a lot of these rappers do believe that they are what they claim to be on their records

Of course, another irony and tragedy is that they will be stealing Curtis Mayfield breaks as samples to rap over. For goodness sakes, why not just release the originals all over again?!!!

barryshap said...

Yeah, Johnny Rotten as front man of the Pistols-- was a joke-- one that he was clearly in on. On the other hand, nicking Curtis Mayfield for something that is pretty much the antithesis of what he stood for musically and politically is not funny at all.

Uncut's "Ultimate Music Guide- The Rolling Stoneshas an interview Brendan Fitzgerald did in July, 1995 with Keith Richards in NME. In it, Keith is asked if he likes "rap, ragga and jungle," Brit terms, I take it. Keith says, "I can't imagine anybody buying their 20 favorite rap records in a few years' time." He goes on to say, "I know the brothers and they have a legitimate complaint, I just wish they wouldn't drill it in my head."

"I'm into music, I'm not trying to preach to people. Music says more by its musicality than whatever you say. It depends how good the music is, not what's being said, because then you might as well get a pulpit, become a preacher... "

I agree to an extent, and you have to bear in mind, the interview was done 6 years ago, and the "music" has only gotten harder and more assaultive. Still, the point is there. As I said in the original post, "rap music" is an oxymoron.