The drama that you’re craving: Sleater-Kinney

Rob Sheffield’s nine or ten out of ten review in Details published in the spring of 1997 introduced me to Sleater-Kinney. Unacquainted with Liliput, Essential Logic, Public Image Ltd, and the most violent aspects of post punk, I had no programmed responses to Dig Me Out. The indissoluble unit that was Corin Tucker’s vocals, Carrie Brownstein’s harmonies and tunings, and Janet Weiss’ drums fucked me. “Turn It On” and “Not What You Want” made me almost physically ill. A postpunk show I hosted on my college station in spring ’99 talked me into a tentative track-by-track acceptance, starting with “Dance Song ’97” (the chorus roller rink organ and acceptable chord sequence at the start helped). The Hot Rock had come and gone. By the time I bought All Hands on the Bad One the following summer the band had converted me. I accepted Greil Marcus’ enthusiasm for “Start Together.” I overrated All Hands on the Bad One, in retrospect their most fraught record, an estimable stab at uncurling the gender politics that the Tucker-Brownstein harmonies and riffs had gnarled, or to quote Marcus: “The drama here is less between two people than two sides of the same person, between the first person of any pop song and what in blues songs is called the second mind.” It was more obvious in fall ’00 when two girlfriends played The Hot Rock ad nauseam in their cars; could performance and songwriting sound better than “Start Together,” “Burn Don’t Freeze,” and “A Quarter to Three”?

Two friend straighter than I had no trouble loving S-K on first listen. With them we flew to Chicago to see two shows at the Metro. A few months later they opened for Pearl Jam in West Palm Beach, playing for a less hospitable straight male crowd (“Who are the dykes?” huffed the dude in front of me). Plus, their tautness dissolved in an open air amphitheater. But kudos to Pearl Jam; they were clearly jazzed by the company. Eddie Vedder even joined them for a cover of “Hunger Strike.” I traveled to Atlanta in summer ’05 to watch a show promoting The Woods, an overfuzzed and redundant album to which I still haven’t warmed but I won’t stop trying (forget “Entertain” though, its reactionary sentiments far less interesting melodically and rhythmically than X’s “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” and a portent of Brownstein’s dreadful NPR column).

Still, what a run: only Ghostface and Pavement could boast so many excellent albums since 1990. Because I still couldn’t write intelligently about them and was still struggling as a writer, I bombed an obit for Stylus. Trying to explain my initial revulsion, I stressed their ew-female qualities. I fucked it up and I’m sorry.

1. Dance Song ’97
2. Get Up
3. Dig Me Out
4. Turn It On
5. Anonymous
6. To the Beat
7. The Size of Our Love
8. Step Aside
9. You’re No Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun
10. Start Together
11. One Beat
12. The Drama That You’re Craving
13. Milkshake ‘n’ Honey
14. I’m Not Waiting
15. All Hands on the Bad One
16. Leave You Behind
17. The End of You
18. A Quarter to Three
19. Words and Guitar
20. Oh!
21. No Cities to Love
22. Bury Our Friends
23. The Ballad of a Ladyman
24. Fade
25. The Fox
26. Call the Doctor
27. Good Things
28. I’m Not Waiting
29. Buy Her Candy
30. Far Away

Weightless, semi-erotic: Interpol in 2007

As nostalgia objects, Interpol are more fun than when they fooled a lot of us into thinking they were going to be a great band. Few kids of either sex took Duran Duran seriously — those sassy boys with impeccable makeup and two-finger synth hooks. Turns out I was the one who took Interpol too seriously. Fooled by singer/acne casualty Paul Banks’ indebtedness to Ian Curtis, I was afraid he’d die so a generation could worship lines like “She says brief things, her love’s a pony, my love’s subliminal” over rolling drums and pimples. In a Miami Herald concert review I wrote about their Ice Palace show in October 2003, I was like the Rolling Stone reporter at a Ramones concert in 1977 worried about Crosby Stills & Nash’s album sales. The kids were right: Interpol were cute. 2004’s Antics mixed the bass up high to match Banks’ poesy, which on tracks like “Evil” now reached Himalaya heights. And drummer Sam Fogarino is a Miami native — give it up, Soto! I almost did during my second show in spring 2005 when I stood like a statue in the park as a couple thousand Broward kids shouted back the words to “C’Mere.”

We had a lot of fun with Interpol in Stylus. A piece by Andrew Unterberger preserving Banks’ best bon mots was responsible for a quarter of our web traffic for years. Most fans will agree that the fun stopped on 2007’s Our Love to Admire, an album as sodden, lugubrious, and interminable in a deluxe fashion as the second side of Arcadia’s So Red the Rose but without Sting. Aligning themselves with the flailing Killers in the mustache department wiped out five years of glass table fashion magazine chic. I don’t retract my review because I haven’t wanted to relisten to the album. I can, however, confirm that there is an “I” in threesome.

The review:

Our Love to Admire
July 8, 2007

Interpol are too easily made the butt of a joke, but so what? Jokes require no explanation. Since 2002’s Turn On The Bright Lights they’ve been making us chuckle thanks to infinitesimal variations on their rumbling minor chord meaninglessness, and Our Love to Admire should inspire their biggest belly laughs yet.

The last time I heard from these guys, they were pummeling a crowd into submission with clipped versions of “Evil” and “C’mere” at a Fort Lauderdale show two years ago. The bond between audience and band was Springsteenian. I counted at least twelve guys that would have traded places with unexpectedly paunchy singer/guitarist/poet Paul Banks in a second, were it not for the presence of their girlfriends, who got off projecting their kinky reveries on Banks and his boys as if they were as cynical as the girls imagined them to be. An update of the Dave Gahan formula, I thought, and more power to Interpol for almost pulling it off. There’s a lot to be said for selling fantasies about subways being pornos and love in the kitchen with a culinary eye, especially when bassist Carlos Dengler swung his hips so becomingly and the lead guitarist was licky as trips.

A shame that Our Love to Admire won’t do much beside inspire more fan blogs devoted to Banksian poesy. A grotesque example of luxury hardened by luxury, Our Love promises as much decadence as its Econoline van spare tire cover art. When you watch Dengler and Killers frontman Brandon Flowers grow mustaches as ugly and thick as their recent music you ask yourself, “God, they can’t be this stupid.” Mortified, like countless pretentious pinups before them, at being objects of desire, they let their tempos drag and mix up their singers’ vocals. You can fill the distance between “Evil” and Our Love to Admire’s “Mammoth” with a hundred invitations to Dengler’s hotel room. In this context Paul Banks makes Simon Le Bon look like Grant McLennan; and before I’m accused of favoritism, Duran Duran essayed similarly contemptible purploid dirges like “The Seventh Stranger” that no one remembers but their publishing company.

The Duran Duran analogy is mine; Joy Divison is everyone else’s. For those interested in such things, Our Love to Admire shows an advance: now they ape New Order’s Movement, surely that combo’s most static and dullest album. Dengler and rather good drummer Sam Fogarino don’t get many chances to shine, letting guitarist Daniel Kessler create the kind of textures that often get mistaken for progress. Shockingly, the anonymous numbers like “Who Do You Think” and the Pat Benatar wannabe “All Fired Up” offer less punch and more crunch, but there’s the problem: who would want anonymity from Interpol? The tune you’ll probably find on the most CD-R’s is the awesomely titled “No I in Threesome,” which shows Banks’ command of the poetics of illiteracy at its most fulsome. “But there are days in this life / When you see the teeth marks of time” is worthy of scribbling on the cover of a senior yearbook, especially when it’s framed by a piano and Kessler’s keening peals. But it’s no “The Reflex” (and “Pioneer to the Falls” is no “New Moon on Monday”), not when you confuse Banks’ wailing “Life is a wine” for “Life is a whine.”

The rest is unworthy of anyone’s teeth marks, although when it comes to sexuality I’m no elitist. Kudos to Interpol’s PR guys, though, who’ve straddled the alt and teenpop crowds as unself-consciously as Duran Duran did, while fooling another generation of alienated youth into thinking that Ciara and Ashlee Simpson have as little to say about Real Teen Problems as Deniece Williams and Cyndi Lauper in 1984. There’s little chance that an album as terrible as Our Love to Admire (the album title even sounds like translated Japanese) will go splat in 2007, not with so much invested in Interpol’s sucess. All I ask is this: if your boyfriend (or, hell, girlfriend) grew a mustache for your sake, in the hopes that you’d notice, would you love them or laugh? Is this love to admire?

Dirty Work: ‘a tattered, embarrassed triumph’


As the online bone structure of Stylus Magazine begins to fray like an undusted dinosaur skeleton in a museum, I’ve taken to scanning, printing, and caching my archives. I’ll post them from time to time. One of my first pieces was this reconsideration of the most reviled Stones album. High on zealotry, I made a couple of ridiculous statements. “For one, Dirty Work lacks any concession calculated to win a segment of the marketplace” — er, no. “One Hit (To the Body)” and “Fight” sound like Steve Lillywhite fell in love with someone’s description of Ratt and added anabolic steroids so that the tracks boomed like War-era U2 and the P-Furs before the mousse. Dirty Work‘s creators were Keith Richards and Ron Wood, assemblers of a project Krazy Glued into fruition from errant guitar parts, hired guns doing their damndest not to sound like Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, nattering reggae tracks given dub sonar echo, and Mick Jagger at his most unhinged. Peek behind the mismatched aural stitches of “Hold Back” and the synth slime and unmoored backup vocals on “Winning Ugly” and a lead singer mocked for a Jacksons collaboration and unnerved by the polite reaction to the solo album that he’d certainly earned the right to record — he hired Bill Laswell and Nile Rodgers and all he got was a prime Live Aid spot? I stand by this:

What gives Dirty Work its fitful power is the aggression the Stones’ handlers have hyped since they were supposedly the anti-Beatles. Except now they’re not “channeling” (read “exploiting”) anger, as they did on the marvelous secondhand belligerence of Some Girls: they’ve surrendered to it; they’ve agreed to loathe each other.

At any rate I still love the fucked-upness of the record, and had Dirty Work been the last Stones album it would have made a gauche, apt epitaph. And this track the benediction.


November 19, 2004:

Let’s start with the cover: the five Rolling Stones, in harlequin haberdashery, scattered like spent shells across a couch. To a man they look dreadful. Mick Jagger, bare feet protruding from Winnie the Pooh-colored pants, holds the camera with insolent, tight-lipped scorn. Bill Wyman and Ron Wood pose like middle-aged leches. Even the redoubtable Charlie Watts can barely contain his disinterest.

Only Keith Richards manages to keep his equipoise—no small feat when you’re wearing a sports jacket Sonny Crockett would gladly have sold at a rummage sale. It’s to Keith (and, to a lesser degree, Ronnie) that we must turn as we try to defend Dirty Work, an album which, then and now, inspires nothing but loathing. Everyone knows the back story: Jagger, ego swollen by the moderate success of his first solo album (the pneumatic She’s The Boss) and Live Aid performance opposite Tina Turner (“sizzling” in a New York Rockettes kind of way), could barely hold his contempt for the four men whose combined assets paid for all the blow Jagger snorted in Studio 54. Richards and Wood cobbled together 10 tracks (two covers!) which in most cases relied on outsiders like Jimmy Page and Anton Fig to play the parts Wyman and Watts were too bored or strung out to play. Journeyman producer Steve Lillywhite’s hamfisted mix and cavernous drum sound accentuate what’s missing.

None of this sounds appetizing; but Dirty Work is a tattered, embarrassed triumph, by far the most interesting Stones album since Some Girls at every level: lyrical, conceptual, instrumental. For one, Dirty Work lacks any concession calculated to win a segment of the marketplace: no disco crossovers like “Emotional Rescue”, no AOR anthems like “Start Me Up”. What gives Dirty Work its fitful power is the aggression the Stones’ handlers have hyped since they were supposedly the anti-Beatles. Except now they’re not “channeling” (read “exploiting”) anger, as they did on the marvelous secondhand belligerence of Some Girls: they’ve surrendered to it; they’ve agreed to loathe each other. Hence the most venomous guitar sound of the Stones’ career, and Jagger’s most committed vocals. Despite copping to tired ‘80s subjects like nuclear apocalypse (“Back to Zero,” the album’s lone turd), all this aggression is reflexive. As Robert Christgau—still the album’s most lucid defender—noted, these are songs of conscience only well-known sons of bitches can get away with.

The obscure second single “One Hit (To The Body)” is an ideal introduction, remembered for the infamous video (in which Jagger and Richards duck and feint like Ali and Foreman). What a striking opening! An acoustic strum, followed by an electric crackle that’s like an elbow to the ribs, and then Jagger, making the explicit case for love-as-violence that 1983’s Undercover argued in more puerile a fashion. “Fight” and “Dirty Work” are more of the same, although the latter’s pointed condemnations are remarkable coming from a man for whom emotional stonewalling is as natural as fucking models: “Let somebody do the dirty work…find some jerk, do it all for free”.

But it’s on “Hold Back” where Jagger, the “voice of experience”, really lets it rip. That Keith and Ronnie add particularly sympathetic fills to a song defending self-interest underscores its malevolent irony. Jagger, “caught in this tree of promises for over 40 years”, gives us lesser mortals the sort of advice that only a plutocrat who’s never worked a day in his life can offer. See, since Stalin and Roosevelt “each took their chances”, you gotta trust your gut reaction, so don’t hold back. Mick’s performance is irony-free; he’s pissed about something, shouting and braying like he wants to gnaw at the microphone. Lillywhite earns his paycheck: the guitars surround, taunt, and goad; the drumming by Watts or Wood or whoever shoves Jagger down a flight of stairs. The rhythm guitar coda is superfluous, an afterthought; how could it be anything else? In “Hold Back” the Stones, finally, embrace their image: they’re dangerous, they don’t wanna hold your hand, they want your money. It’s a masterpiece.

Richards is rarely given credit as a singer; he doesn’t sound a thing like Jagger, and that’s a plus. Whether it’s Exile on Main Street’s “Happy”, Emotional Rescue’s “All About You” or his tear-inducing segment on “Memory Motel,” he wipes the irony his partner smears indiscriminately like cum on a rag. When “Sleep Tonight” creeps in, ushered by ghostly piano, it’s like tomato juice for a hangover. Possibly Keith’s best ballad, it offers the reconciliation that “Had It With You” (in which Jagger refers to you-know-who as a “dirty, dirty rat scum” and “mean mistreater”) denies. But with Jagger so defenseless on most of Dirty Work, Richards’ junkie-Dean-Martin vocals echo instead of foil, conferring grace on an album which embraces the deadly sins with diabolical abandon.

It’s “Sleep Tonight”’s most poignant irony that two songwriters who’ve spent 40 minutes bitching like Golden Girls affirm their partnership’s continuing vitality. “Those thoughts of you / They’re chilling me / The moon grows cold in memory”, Richards croaks, and you know why the dirty, dirty rat scum is smiling: Steel Wheels awaits three years later, and then Voodoo Lounge, followed by—somebody stop me. Plutocrats never know when to quit.

‘You know I could never be alone’

Distorted by a middle section that chews on the blues without swallowing it, Sticky Fingers is the least of the great albums the Stones released Beggars Banquet in 1968 and Exile on Main Street in 1972, but you’d have to be a churl to end that clause at “1972.” On Exile, Mick Taylor would demonstrate his commitment to an unbidden democracy, taking the occasional lead, a diamond in a potato sack. Sticky Fingers mixes him high, and if he ever had legitimate complaints about Jagger-Richards gypping him of songwriting credits the likes of “Sway” and “Moonlight Mile” survive as proof. The languid, inexorable momentum of the former (Sisyphus pushing the boulder up hill) and the sound of a limpid snowdrop dissolving on a fresh leaf on the latter — these songs are Taylor’s masterpieces, on which Keith Richards plays like an accessory after the fact. And on “Dead Flowers” Jagger masters the art of finding Grand Guignol in sincerity, stretching vowels like he plays with the girl’s feelings. When people grumble about how mannered Bowie and Ferry are, direct them to “Dead Flowers.” Here is a song in which the performer burrows into parody such that the effort plays like the deepest commitment; think of those old cartoons where a character digs underground, pokes his head out, and finds himself in China.

Reviewing the multidisc reissue, Jack Hamilton celebrates Jagger’s achievement:

The man most responsible for this was the most caricatured, maligned, and misunderstood Rolling Stone of them all: Jagger himself. Among a certain brand of Rolling Stones fan (I am one), blasting Mick is a favorite pastime: He’s the ham, the shill, the suit. In the mythology of the Jagger/Richards dyad, Keith is the perennial protector of the band’s soul, while Mick is that soul’s salesman. (Keith, it should be noted, has promoted this reading enthusiastically over the years.)

Sticky Fingers, though, is Jagger’s finest hour, starting with his songwriting. Jagger had long been a fantastic lyricist, as the wordy dexterity of songs like “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Sympathy for the Devil” attested, but Sticky Fingers often found him working in more patient and mature registers, full of pithy imagery and careful, casual eloquence.

Be right back — gonna listen again.



Ten days after EMP PopCon kicked off a poptimism discussion that continues unabated, and while any discussion concerns at best a coterie of a coterie, one of the loudest complaints comes from those who think the pop 1 percent get the word count: You won. One Direction pieces get assigned; what’s the problem? Those responses aren’t wrong. A passion for new acts who may never get one thousandth of Beyonce’s streaming income on Spotify is part of being a music critic; we should celebrate these underground acts; we should proselytize on their behalf. But they confuse medium and message. If Grantland and The New Yorker want to assign Ariel Rechtshaid pieces instead of one about a Cincinnati noise band, market forces (i.e. advertising) may have dictated the decision, but it’s not on the writer. These skeptics view their taste as escape — from Clear Channel, Miramax, Time Warner. They don’t want to validate oligarchy’s tastes. What Maura calls their “unease about winner-take-all market capitalism that can be channeled toward an easy target (‘mindless” music targeted toward ‘teenage girls’)” exemplifies the old Adorno school of post-liberal critical thought whereby popular taste had to be shunned.

However, if you ignore writing about what’s popular, the oligarchy wins. I’m not overrating the critic’s power so much as reminding the audience that does care how a critic can explain why and how things work in a culture which demands consumers not critics; and this culture, I might add, was deadlier before the internet. What Tom Ewing wrote yesterday I share:

I am interested in things that are popular. The idea is that there’s value in thinking why something becomes a hit – what people hear or see in it. Popular things aren’t inherently good, but they are inherently interesting. Often shades into sociology, not always very expertly.

My explaining how Rihanna occasionally colors her blankness with hysteria in single after single makes sense as an approach and a redress. To treat pop as wallpaper is a surrender to the forces you despise — that’s what the poptimist critics get wrong. I don’t understand why covering a fecund avant garde prevents one from applying those same critical approaches to pop art. Besides, Adorno himself would scoff at the win vs lose metaphor — is that how we want to regard criticism?

The danger of gender-based criticism

One of my longstanding biases, shared with other male critics, is a tendency to align gender and analogies. I’m working on it. Liz Phair must come up when reviewing Speedy Ortiz — why not Luna, particularly the Luna of Penthouse, telling smart stories about romance over drinks in riverfront studios? I mentioned Sheryl Crow when I listened to Courtney Barnett, but at least I mentioned a pop influence. Alex Chilton’s Like Flies in Sherbet haunts Waxhatchee’s Ivy Tripp. And don’t dare suggest male acts don’t boast female antecedents — unless, of course, you’re gay. Don’t bother making crossgenre analogies either (Tinashe and Homogenic-era Bjork sound like obvious soul mates; so does Maxinquaye for that matter). Well I remember the ruckus when Juliana Hatfield suggested in a 1993 promotional interview that women have difficulty playing guitar because their smaller fingers aren’t built for it. Only Bonnie Raitt, she said, had overcome this limitation. No one suggested we should change the design of guitars; instead, letters to the editor used the women-can’t-be-soldiers defense.

Annie Zed addressed it in Salon. Jill Mapes’ piece, similar in approach, contains this paragraph:

I hate to say it, but maybe the emotional complexity that has been used against women throughout history is actually working in their favor right now, as more women than ever find their place in rock. Or maybe it’s mere coincidence that all of these albums have at least one moment that recalls the relief of discovering a complicated feeling given a proper name in another language.

The discovery of a complicated feeling colored my response to Pretenders, Debut, Dig Me Out, and janet. What distinguished them weren’t just unexpected reactions to familiar scenarios, as if the scenarios were cut glass awaiting reassembly, but that they shriveled whatever else was in my CD carousel, like all good art. To suggest a difference isn’t to carve a space apart from the mainstream — it’s to say, “This belongs because it expands the mainstream this much more.” Growing up in a city that revered Expose and Gloria Estefan, I laughed at the idea of a Women in Rock issue — when haven’t they mattered?

On poptimism, ubiquity, and Rod McKuen: EMP Pop Conference 2015

Flying home from another EMP Pop Conference while my seat companion laughs aloud reading David Baldacci provides a good chance to think about the opening keynote panel on Thursday, April 15, often the conference’s intellectual ballast. This year’s opening night subject was the rockism vs poptimism debate. A comment by Joshua Clover two days later at the “Worst Song Ever Roundtable” highlighted how even flippant allusions to Rihanna as a genius don’t get to the heart, in my judgment, of how pop music works, transgressive or conventional. The #1 song in America as I type eulogizes the late Paul Walker in a manner that I find generic and vacant but has nevertheless struck major chords in listeners, many of whom don’t stream or download music but are fervent Fast and the Furious fans; that’s why it boasts numbers this impressive. Whether Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth are talented is beside the point with a record this huge. Its vacancy is the point: listener can project and alchemize their mourning for Walker into a paean to dead friends and relatives. The subject of the song, after all, is family: “How could we not talk about family when family’s all that we got?”

Secondly, the ubiquity of Rihanna that evening frustrated me, which in a non-intentional irony confirmed how discussions about pop concentrate on the one percent. Romeo Santos’ sellout shows and John Legend heard in a taxi cab in East Africa were brought up to show how artists who aren’t famous enough to stand on stage to promote Tidal can nevertheless command titanic influence without even operating at the subcultural level. K-Pop could’ve come up too, no longer a curio for college radio programmers getting off on its exotics. I hear it in unexpected places: from Nicki Minaj and Sky Ferreira to Jason Derulo’s “Want You to Want Me” (I don’t have the space or bandwidth to explore how K-pop manifests itself in each of these artists, but the lipstick traces are visible), every one of whom is a person of color. A veteran of journalism conferences and board meetings, I know discussions take on a life of their own, despite the goals and points of organizers. Worth noting though.

Finally, by assuming the audience understood the rockism/poptimism debate, the panel puzzled a few non-critics in the audience. Even those of us who have fought in these trenches for years could have benefited from an overview of the debate origins. I would love to have heard how if at all this debate shaped the critics of Jason King, Karen Tongson, Maura Johnston’s — hell, everyone’s — listening/writing lives. I know they each define these terms differently.

Still! I saw at least (at least!) half a dozen fascinating papers and panels: Andy Zax’s positing of Rod McKuen as the mega selling direct mail superstar whose reappraisal has not yet come (I thought of Richard Viguerie’s direct mail campaign for Ronald Reagan in the late seventies responsible in large part for putting him in the White House), Michaelangelo Matos on Prince’s “When U Were Mine”; Jack Hamilton tracing the secret history of the Beatles in reggae; a fantastic Missy Elliot panel; Brittany Spanos on how Drake wrestles in song with his mixed identity; and Jack Curtis Dubowsky’s explaining how Martin Gore uses chords and tone for transgressive effect. The final week of the semester meant I couldn’t even stay for a Matos-moderated panel on which Maura, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Keith Harris, and Chris Molanphy approached the Beatles in ways that we haven’t thought about them (any panel that exposes people to Tiffany’s “I Saw Him Standing There” is OK with me). I presented “The City is Quiet, Too Cold to Walk Alone: Marc Almond, Jimmy Somerville, Neil Tennant, and Queer Presentation in Eighties England,” accompanied by Sean Nelson’s wrestling with how to respond to Morrissey when the joke isn’t funny anymore and Evie Nagy on Devo’s epochal Freedom of Choice. I omitted others I dipped in and out of. Finally, EMP would not be half this satisfying without good friends who also happen to be smart critics and excellent writers.

‘It all dies in the room’

Rob Tannenbaum had fun reporting what Jann Wenner told him about how induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn’t work. No surprises, just details. The pullquote is in a paragraph noting the exclusion of Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, “and other recent pop stars”:

“It was easy enough in the beginning,” says Jann Wenner, 69, chairman of the Rock Hall Foundation and founder, editor and publisher of Rolling Stone. “But at this point, all the clear, obvious people have been inducted, and it comes down to personal taste.”

As if personal taste wasn’t clear and obvious or the inclusion of George Harrison as a solo artist wasn’t a question of questionable taste. I also enjoyed the image of Roots drummer and R&RHOF committee member Questlove working a room on behalf of Hall & Oates “like Frank Underwood works Congress.” They can handle women vamping and Lou Reed and Gene Simmons in makeup but not Brits with DX-7s and eyeliner:

They view The Cure (eligible since 2003) and Depeche Mode (since 2006) as weird outcasts from England who wear mascara, rather than post-punk and electronic pioneers who still headline festivals and sell out arenas. “You and I will die before those groups are in the Hall of Fame,” an insider predicts.

Which is why poobah Jon Landau gets the choicest line: “It all dies in the room” — does he mean the membership?

The derision of the fangirl

Thanks, Sandra Song, for reminding me of afternoons spent around crying men wracked with sobs over a home run:

The continual derision of the “fangirl” is damaging, it perpetuates the idea that girls act one way, and boys another. Within all of this, there are intrinsically sexist and ageist tropes at play, an all-too-derisive view of teenage females who are usually reduced to a pair of Ugg boots and a Starbucks Frappuccino with extra whip. She’s a veritable hodgepodge of misdirected, hormone-driven excitement that plays into the very Victorian idea of a “hysterical” female: the impulsive, borderline-psychotic one who lacks rationale and thinks only with her emotions. It’s the root of an insulting stereotype that is still used against female senators, lawyers and presidential candidates as a way of barring them entry to positions of power and prestige. After all, “crazy” has and will always be the go-to adjective for the “fangirl,” to the point where the two have become almost synonymous.

“Boys don’t sing Madonna”


Tonight, after I dream of dancing with someone else, I remember what I wrote eight years ago about Like a Virgin and The Immaculate Collection:

Since my parents didn’t get cable until 1999 I never dismissed Madonna as a videos-yes-songs-meh Camille Paglia-promoted pleasure as lots of frivolous people did too long into her career. I knew her as a radio force. I first became aware of Madonna’s power to confound listeners on Memorial Day, 1985: driving home from the mall with my parents, my mom and five-year-old sister starting singing “Into The Groove” when it came on the radio. I didn’t sing—why should I? I was ten years old, already conscious of the fact that boys don’t duet with their parents; and, at any rate, I was a boy, and boys don’t sing Madonna.

Boys don’t sing Madonna. A month later my parents bought Adriana a tape copy of Like A Virgin and me, um, Wham!’s Make It Big. An act of madness—my parents thought that an album with two guys as macho as George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley was more appropriate for a boy. Since we didn’t have much money I was attracted to songs about money, and although we never traded notes, Adriana must have agreed. That summer “Material Girl” and “Everything She Wants” blasted from dueling boom boxes, which showed how smart we both were: who is the Material Girl if not the “you” in the Wham! song, indifferent to how hard George Michael works to get her money?

Boys don’t sing Madonna. Two years later, Licensed to Ill ruled our worlds. The guys’ worlds, that is. My seventh grade crush kept her cassette of True Blue in heavy rotation; the title song, she said, reminded her of what she felt for her best friend. At twelve years old, I imagined a link between “Open Your Heart” and “She’s Crafty” that would become as obvious to everyone else as it was to me. My musical segregation continued long past discovering Shadoe Stevens’ “American Top 40” the following year; students in a boys’ Catholic high school didn’t admit to loving “Like A Prayer,” even though it was exactly the kind of thing that boys Catholic high school students could understand.

There’s a few grammatical changes I’d make and a couple points needing clarifying, but I did something write good if Wikipedia has cited it so much. But Miami was the right place for a budding gay boy in elementary school whose male friends loved “Jam On It” and the Beasties.

The bus rides and the nowhere to go: Sinatra

Shuja Haider’s preface before his ranking of Sinatra’s great albums:

Sinatra is the most authentic interpreter of these songs because his voice and personality, iconic as they are, exist only in service to them. He sounds so familiar now it’s hard to hear his innovation, but give some of of the less distinguished pop singers of the era a listen and his vision becomes immediately clear. Gene Lees has suggested that the uniqueness of his vocal approach has something to do with Italian-American vernacular English, given that Irish tenors were so prominent at the time. But there’s something even deeper to it: you might say that while lesser singers sang the melodies, Frank sang the words. Thanks in part to the technology of the microphone, which he was one of the first singers to incorporate into his technique, he rendered lyrics as speech. He borrowed improvisational ideas from jazz singers not to add ornamentation, but to make a highly structured piece of music seem as natural as a conversation.

I’d rank Come Fly With Me higher: a throwaway, complacent even; Sinatra after his Oscar and king of Las Vegas, buoyant and smug-free anyway. His point about the multiplicity inherent in what we call the Great American Songbook — what we’d call “diversity” in 2015 — is as strong an argument as any for the value of a monoculture requiring constant testing, reevaluation, and expansion. We can agree on nothing but about the greatness of Frank Sinatra because the notion that a songbook required a phenomenon like Sinatra to adduce its multifoliate Americanness has vanished. Anyway, we have Kim Gordon.

But the albums. Listen to the contempt sliding off the sibilants in “A Long Night,” the song I posted above, my favorite song off 1981’s She Shot Me Down, a worthwhile sequel to “One For My Baby.”

Regarding the “-isms” of others

Fellow Jukeboxer Crystal Leww, who wrote a lucid and funny delineation of what male critics should do, responded to an anonymous poster questioning her attitude:

Let’s be absolutely 100% clear: I don’t owe you or anyone else an explanation.

My feminism is Beyonce’s silhouette on national television, framed only by the glow of the 20 ft. FEMINIST sign behind her.

My feminism is being asked in bed by a white boy if he was the first white boy I’d ever been with, as though I am some colony for him to conquer.

My feminism is watching Lucy Liu get compared unfavorably to her wet noodle white male counterpart for her portrayal of Joan Watson and being called a derogatory slur by that same white male counterpart.

My feminism is Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, read practically lying down in the student union in college.

My feminism is St. Vincent and Toko, locking heads onstage and shredding their guitars like your male heroes wish they could.

My feminism is Nicki Minaj yelling at women onstage that she is so proud of you and telling girls to stay in school.

My feminism is my mother.

The paternalism that reduces the self-realization of women, blacks, and gays into generalized pabulum — the assumption that “we” must “all” “want the same things” — crosses my eyes. These guys are so polite. They try to reason with us. Then we get shrill.

Liberalism doesn’t require an open mind. Liberalism requires thinking through opponents’ positions and fighting them even when clouded by self-doubt.