Monday, June 19, 2017

Louie Louie and Jaws (Pazz & Jop essay)

Robert Christgau picked my 2004 Pazz & Jop comments as the lead essay, after his, for the Village Voice's Pazz issue that year. They've since disappeared from the interwebs. So voila!

"'Louie Louie' and Jaws"

My most shocking musical moment of 2004 came at the end of Todd Snider's "The Ballad of the Kingsmen." "I'm not trying to preach to ya," preaches Snider, and his recitative is stilted here, self-satisfied there. Evil music from "Louie Louie" to the collected works of Marilyn Manson and Eminem doesn't cause evildoing, it seems. But then Snider cuts the sermon off and croons a message to the kids courtesy of that famous perv Marvin Gaye (and don't think Snider chose his inspiration arbitrarily): "Let's get it on." And in that moment, he turns his sermon on its head. For if Snider could inspire the youth of America to start fucking, maybe he could inspire them to go on a shooting spree in high schools here or Iraq over there, end of song. And it's because Jack Ely jumbled the lyrics to "Louie Louie" in his jaw that anyone can bend it to their own agenda, even the FBI.

Kanye West managed to enunciate with his jaw wired shut. He needs clarity because The College Dropout is gospel music for the here and now consumer culture. West is here to remind us that in Dick Cheney's America, transcendence can only be had through money. Now that he's finally got some, the hyped-up Chaka and Luther samples testify to his giddiness as the Sunday morning choirs do to his thankfulness. And both will power our attempts to grab a little bit of that same kind of freedom. But unless you're Bill Gates and a few other lucky fuckers, transcendence is not eternal in this world. When the hits start drying up, Rocafella will remember the time when West was courting Capitol and proceed to kick him unceremoniously to the curb. That's why West asks Jesus to walk with him. Me, I don't have Jesus. I have this record. Around the time it came out, I learned that I'd been accepted as a PhD candidate at UT-Austin. You bet I was giddy and thankful. But I'm also terrified at the gamble. Sure, I have a better shot at freedom than the Gap workers of The College Dropout. But there's never any guarantee and not since Livin' Joy's "Don't Stop Movin'" have I heard such a thrilling articulation that hard work and brains (even genius) may not pay off.

Most of us try to make the gamble pay off by keeping the stakes low. Not Stephen Foster, who lost big time. Foster was stretching democracy to its limits in fancying himself a songwriter. If Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster were a testament to that spirit, it would have included contributions from Gino Washington and Biz Markie, Boy George and Iggy Stooge, Courtney Love and Axl Rose. Instead, Foster's anti-crybaby "No One To Love" could almost be conceived as an attack on the sensitive singer-songwriters assembled to reupholster his glory - Ron Sexsmith and David Ball, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Grey DeLisle, Raul Malo and Judith Edelman. But the utter safeness of these artists lends a mild yet undeniable drama to Foster's gorgeous melodies. This is an album for those of us who don't spend our lives grabbing at transcendence. It imbues playin' it safe with a sense of wonder and excitement indie whiners couldn't even begin to imagine.

Outside the US, nothing represented transcendence better than the funk carioca that hit these shores in 2004. From here, the snippet of "Louie Louie" heard on "Pique Ta" only deepened the winning chaos of . But a Brazilian friend tells me "favela" means "slum" and it’s my hope that the inexhaustible beats and rainbow samples lifted dancers up out of there, spiritually if not literally the Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats compilation. And for MIA, favela funk is literally a matter of life and death. Diplo sprinkles bits of the stuff in between her tracks on Piracy Funds Terrorism Volume 1 and it plays like a frightening extension of the pain of Claudine Clark's "Party Lights." Because here, mom has been replaced by a bank of faceless terrorists.


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