Wiz Khalifa/Janelle Monae
Yesterday the festival proper began at 5 p.m., maybe 100,000 people streaming into the seven-stage space with music supposed to begin on the dot of five but actually everything seemed to get pushed back half an hour. These were mostly young Danes, though given the 1000 media passes and the elasticity of the term "mostly" there were plenty of people in their thirties and older and a few who looked nearly as old as me. Also, this being Denmark, plenty of wheelchairs, some bearing the kind of severely disabled most societies try to keep out of sight. I saw five acts all told plus wisps of a few others as I passed by (melancholy Danes Kellermensch, which I believe translates something like Underground Man, all grand and somber, the Abyssinians keeping the faith): Django Django, the Shins, Wiz Khalifa, Modeselektor, Janelle Monae. No further comment on all but two because I'm faced with the formal problem of not preempting the long lookback essay I'll be doing for MSN after I return to the States.
What I do want to write about is something I just figure I won't have time to squeeze into the big piece three more days of music down the road: what it was like to see two very different African-American acts whose records have never done much for me in an audience consisting primarily of large young Nordics most of whom speak English but almost none of whom have any firsthand knowledge of the culture of urban America, with "urban" meant as the straightforward antonym of "suburban" rather than the evasive synonym of "black."
Both bands, like the Shins, played the Arena stage, Roskilde's second largest. Khalifa was scheduled for 8:30. But when I arrived at 8:25 the entire Arena area--which the Shins had played to a full tent that thinned out as the show progressed, which is natural as people sample music and move on--was jammed impassably, not just the tent but all the surrounding grass (which is designed for overflow) and the approaching street (which isn't). Khalifa came on maybe 10-15 minutes late--not terrible, but also unnecessary considering. I could barely glimpse the stage over the blond heads, so mostly I watched the Jumbotron or whatever it's called these days. These blond heads did not belong to curiosity seekers. These people, almost as many female as male where I was standing, knew the songs. The one with the "money hoes" hook? Check. The roll-it smoke-it it's-a-party one? Check. The slow jam with the sung-croaked "five o'clock in the morning" chorus that sent me off in search of a pork sandwich? Check. And the apparent anthem, 'cause everybody sang this one as Wiz stood there basking: approximately (I claim no prior awareness of this song, though I must have heard it somewhere): "So what if we smoke weed/Just havin' fun/That's how it's sposed to be/Running wild and free/All just havin fun." This was some of the most vapid music about getting f&cked up I've ever heard. It was awful--beats, tunes, flow, singing, show. And yet for all these young people with no knowledge of any of its elements except the weed, it was escapist bliss. Wild and free. I felt bad for them, and bad for America which sold this crap, and bad for Pittsburgh, which deserves better and instead got Mac Miller or whatever his name is.
Janelle Monae was scheduled for 11:30, but I got there early because even though I think her records are overrated I wanted to be in her crowd and see her. Thus I stood from 10:45 or so about midway up in the tent, which meant my back was killing me before she even took the stage (precisely on time) and was why I left after an hour during what turned out to be her last number before the encore, where I heard her telling everyone they'd have to dance as I went off in search of a beer and my bike ride home in the dark (which was fine--bicycling is really easy in Denmark because there are dedicated bicycle paths everywhere). Watched the Jumbotron more than the stage even so, but the stage plenty.
The show had its limits. She didn't dance as spectacularly as I'd anticipated, for one thing, though I bet she pulled out a few stops for the encore. But from the moment she appeared the contrast with Wiz Khalifa was intense. All right, she's still a jill-of-all-trades who isn't quite good enough at any of them--even when she had the sense to cover "Smile" instead of sticking in another undistinguished original, she didn't do enough with it vocally or conceptually. But overall, her talent, command, and conceptual audacity were unmistakable from the moment she appeared. The differential was enormous. And there were things I loved throughout. I loved how she dressed--male b&w drag, no shows of skin whatever, which is hardly to say unglamorous. I loved loved loved her cover of "I Want You Back," performed perfectly and revealed as a great American standard as the entire audience sang the chorus and much of it sang the verse. And I loved her fans, who around me were mostly female, with the guys appreciative but plainly along for the ride. So many of these young Danish women were flat-out enthralled, identifying with as well as admiring Monae's autonomy and her talent. Next-to-last came Monae's "Cold War," always one of her more memorable songs but with everyone once again knowing the chorus and plenty the verse, also revealed as a potential standard. I was moved by them and proud of my countrywoman. Only in Denmark--or anyway, not possible in the same way in America.
usy writing my column right now, but I want to say something quickly.
As a child growing up in Birmingham, AL, I used the word "ni**er" without knowing what a black person was. I also used the word "polack" thinking it meant a stupid person, without knowing it was an epithet for Polish immigrants. And I'm not saying once or twice. I used those words A LOT.
Okay, here's writing about Ronnie Lane and MS and how people react no matter what you do.
In 1983, one of my first "prove yourself" assignments as Music Editor at the Boston Phoenix was to fly down to Madison Square Garden and cover the ARMS Benefit Concert for Ronnie Lane (ARMS = Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis). Here's a link that gives the basic scoop:
Aside from the obvious Yardbirds carnival (and Page was not as much of a mess as some accounts suggest), unlike No Nukes or We Are the World or whatever else was floating around, it didn't merely attach the players to a worthy cause, it attached them to a worthy person as an incarnation of a worthy cause. And you could feel the difference.
I gave the piece everything I had and I still think it's one of my better efforts. (Not available anywhere online, as far as I know.)
As I remember, three letters came in about the review. Two were nice, short, complementary and a tad perfunctory. The third was a blistering denunciation of me, both as a writer and a human being, a "jerk" who had misrepresented and slandered MS patients.
I recall that the writer had the condition herself (I didn't save a copy of the letter, though it is impossible for me to ever think about the piece without also remembering the response) and protested in very caustic terms that I was a fool who had suggested MS shortened lives and made people much more helpless than it did.
I was writing about Lane's professional life (indeed, by then it was a struggle for him to gamely get up and do a spirited rendition of "Goodnight Irene" with the assembled crew). That was what was cut short and denied both us and him. Lane didn't pass away until 1997 and MS usually does not cut lifespans.
Was the writer being overly sensitive? Maybe. Could she be dismissed out of hand? No.
I did not know anyone with MS. Neither did the two very professional and very seasoned editors who went over my work meticulously. But reading it after the fact, I could see how an MS patient could feel I was making the condition appear more devastating and debilitating and dead-end disaster than it was. Only three or four sentences, but that didn't matter. I did not mean that. I had done my best to be sensitive. But there was no question that offense could possibly be taken.
I wrote her an apologetic response. To which there was no reply.
After that, I certainly did not resolve to not care what anyone thought about what I wrote. But I realized there are limits. And no matter what a canny pro you are, you cannot make provisions for every mind and soul that will read your words. You put as much heart, and belief, and humanism into the words as you can. Then send them forth.
I like to imagine the sainted Mr. Lane would agree.
I am, however, just stumbling through a bout of insomnia right now, too spaced out to tell the story. I'll try to post it on top of this thread later (after it's officially closed).
Listen Alexander. I'm probably more of an Obama hater than you, and I'm as Right Wing as it gets (right-wing, not "Republican" -- I'm wayyyyyy too radical for those dopes) and whenever politics comes up in this house I find most of the opinions giggle-worthy. But guess what? I keep my mouth shut. This is a Lefty House, starting with the Host, like it or not. And I respect that.
I could be a political contrarian here just for the grins and the pugilism, but why bother? I like this place because there's plenty of interesting chatter about music and music and movies and music and books and music. And I don't want to be a bore and make myself persona non grata. I come here for the culture yak yak, not to vent my politics. And when someone invites you into their house you don't take a dump on the couch, you know?
There's about a billion other websites where you can go vent your political opinions. Have at it! But as a (true) Conservative I value decency and respect. And one thing you ALWAYS do is respect your host. So I refrain from political battles here, even at times when it would be shooting fish in a barrel. And you're not even engaging on an intelligent level, you're just spewing.
Take it elsewhere. You're not going to convert anybody here anyway, trust me on that one. You want to be a contrarian? Argue that "Exile on Main Street" isn't all that, like I did (and I still got the spank marks on my bum to prove it). Argue music, books, movies. But face the fact that 99% (to coin a phrase) of the politics here leans Left, much of it WAY Left, and being a fly in the ointment is nothing to aspire to.
So speaking of flies, buzz off and take it somewhere else.
"Frank Ocean's Channel Orange debuts early on iTunes tonight. Get it."
Now it's there. Click, buy.
Sorry Patti, kids. Gotta go.
The "Text Search" function is implemented using ht://dig, and hasn't been tuned since it started working. For that matter, the program hasn't been recompiled, and the virtual server chokes on its disk quota when the database is rebuilt, so the feature is somewhere in between obsolescent and bit rot. I doesn't work at all on my master site, although that's something I could work on once I get my server rebuilt. The "Google Search" is an alternative, implemented outside their product/support system -- something I've been too cheap to get into. They seem to have a full set of pages, but it looks to me like they underrank them, and I'd be curious to know why. The "CG Search" is based on an extremely simple algorithm, and works pretty good for something that took less than an hour to design and code. I don't know how to do the Ajax stuff everyone uses these days. I should probably learn, but it would be hard to use here. "What's New?" is a simple hack which picks up any file change, no matter how insignificant. /Changelog.php also tracks changes, but that's purely manual (i.e., something I can easily screw up).
I don't expect to make any programming changes in the next couple days, although I'm always interested in that sort of improvement. More curious about data I'm missing (I'm not always told about these things, you know), more topical errors. etc. Always glad to explain things (which I hope I have).
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
live local music on
Enter your ZIP code to see concerts happening in your area.
Data provided by Zvents