Thursday, November 13, 2003

Currently listening to: Kid Rock's new CD.

I didn't have high hopes for this CD after hearing Kid's abysmal cover of "Feel Like Making Love." Hearing him try to cover Paul Rodgers was like watching a kid try to draw the Mona Lisa with a crayon. But another critic whose opinion I respect told me to give it another chance. I'll let you know what I think.

A few nights ago I saw "Prey for Rock 'n' Roll," another thing I didn't have high hopes for. It was cheesy, sure, but I also liked the way Gina Gershon's character stresses about being in a band and turning 40. Now that I'm well over the mid-30s hump, I can identify with how she feels. What didn't ring true for me: Other than griping over the bass player's addictions, the band members never fought. When I was in a band, that's just about all we did (at least toward the end -- but then, I'm willing to admit I was the one doing most of the fighting). There were no rivalries, no love triangles, no minor irritations that turned into all-out battles. But Gina Gershon looked great, and the music was pretty good -- especially the "Every Six Minutes" song.

On the computer front, I finally got XP to work, but not with iTunes. Everytime I try to install iTunes, I lose sound on the computer. I'm sure it has to do with a setting somewhere.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Currently listening to: Nothing because my computer’s sound card is screwed up.

So, I decided to try I Tunes, but to do so I had to upgrade my computer’s OS from Windows ME. I ordered a copy of Home XP and installed it, only to find that my sound card’s driver needed to be updated. I managed to get it working, and should have left well enough alone, but this morning I went ahead and tried to install Itunes, which screwed everything up again. In attempting to re-fix the problem, I somehow uninstalled the driver for my CD-Rom drive, and now can’t reinstall it because the system restore disk tells me the driver is missing. Well, no shit.

All this would have been bad enough, but two things have made it a borderline crisis in my life: My turntable is also screwed up, and I realized that in order to download anything from Itunes I would need the security code from my credit card – which I long ago cut up in order to prevent myself from using it. Have you ever been so angry you couldn’t see? That happened to me today. At one point I thought I might actually pass out from rage.

On a much brighter note, I saw an absolutely awesome band this evening: Stinking Lizaveta from Philadelphia. The best way I can think to describe them is Middle Eastern math rock. They’re instrumental, the bass player plays one of those proggy electric stand-up basses, and they’ve got one bad ass female drummer. The two guys look like Yanni, which is weird because, if you believe their Web site, the guitar player is named Yanni. I kept wanting to bang my head, but kept getting thrown off by their odd stop-start time signatures. They remind me a lot of Richmond’s Breadwinner, who put out some amazing singles on Merge back in the early ‘90s. Jessica took some photos with her new camera phone, so I’ll upload them when she e-mails them to me.

Tonight’s show was part of Kings’ new Sunday matinee series. They came on around 7:30 and played till 9 p.m., which got me home in plenty of time to relax, write this, play catch with the dog, stress some more over my computer woes, talk to Mr. X and finish reading the Sunday times before going to bed. There were about 15 people there, which is about what they’d get on any weeknight for an unknown band. I hope it catches on. Truthfully, I’d like to see Kings (and other clubs) start all their shows early and have the bands play two sets.

I should mention Drunk Horse, who I saw at Kings just before Halloween. The buzz was that their guitar player had been in The Fucking Champs, but, other than being heavy, the two bands really don’t sound much alike. That was good for me because, even though I love metal guitar theatrics, The Champs have never really done much for me. I think they actually shred too much --- if you can believe such a thing – and don’t pay enough attention to the foundations of their songs. Listening to them is like eating a cake made of nothing but icing.

Drunk Horse doesn’t have that problem. They are straight-up, balls out rock ‘n’ roll, tight as hell with a lead singer/guitar player (not the Champs guy) who evidently spent his childhood studying Ted Nugent, but thankfully not taking him too seriously. On the advice of their merch guy, I bought the new CD, “Adult Situations,” which is good, but doesn’t begin to capture what they’re really like live.

On a completely different note, I think Mr. X is succeeding in getting me to like dancehall. One of my current obsessions is Jamaican dancehall star Sean Paul, who can currently be heard backing up Beyonce on her single “Baby Boy.”
(Actually, this was written a couple of weeks ago. I just haven't gotten around to posting it. I'll try to be more diligent.

Currently listening to: “Mob Rules,” Black Sabbath


Is it wrong to enjoy a song even if you find the lyrics morally repugnant? I’ve been thinking about that question since I saw dancehall superstars Turbulence and Sizzla at Lincoln Theatre here in Raleigh. My boyfriend, Mr. X has been trying to get me into dancehall, and this show was certainly a fine starting place. The infectious, throbbing groove was almost trance-like, and the air was sweet with the scent of ganja and the incense that various vendors were hawking in the club. The audience was fairly well mixed racially, and except for one or two rowdy kids in the front, quite happy to just hang back and groove. Everyone who got on the mic (including the opening group, which actually comprised about three bands in one), spoke of One Love and shouted praises to Jah Ras Tafari.

Imagine my confusion when I realized, halfway through one of Turbulence’s songs, that he was singing that man should be with woman only. I turned to Mr. X, who was happily bobbing along with the beat.

“Did he just say that gays and lesbians shouldn’t be together?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s pretty much what he’s been saying the whole time.”

After the show, Mr. X, who is probably the most open-minded and accepting person I know, told me that homophobia is actually a persistent theme in dancehall. In Third World society, he said, being gay is just about the worst thing a person can be. Though some of the major artists have denounced homophobia, others blatantly sing about killing gays and burning their bodies because they are so defiled. One Love doesn’t count if it’s between two men or two women.

The dichotomy between a great song and terrible lyrics isn’t new at all. Lots of women will tell you that “Under My Thumb” is their favorite Rolling Stones song, but they’ll preface it by saying, “I know I shouldn’t like this song, but …” I’ve been having the same argument with myself since I began really listening to music. I’ve been a Christian (albeit an unconventional one) all my life, but the first bands to really catch my ears were ones that I just knew Jesus wouldn’t want me to listen to: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, KISS, AC/DC.

“Highway to Hell” was particularly troublesome.

“This song is so great,” my 13-year-old mind puzzled. “But they’re singing about going to hell, and they’re wearing devil horns on the cover!” Bon Scott’s untimely death confirmed my suspicions: Sing about the Devil and bad things will happen to you. Strangely, my mom was a little more stoic on the issue.

“Karen, do these boys worship the Devil,” she demanded as she examined the “Highway to Hell” cover.

“No,” I meekly replied, even though at the time I was pretty sure they did. (Not only was I listening to a Devil-worshipping band, I had lied about it to my mom!) She said OK and never bugged me about my music again. The same can’t be said for one of my classmates, whose mother burst into his room and broke his copy of “Dirty Deeds” over her knee after overhearing the song “Big Balls.”

I know now that AC/DC, as well as just about every other “Satanic” band is just trying to sell records. Even the drummer from Venom – the band that invented the term Black Metal – admitted in “Lords of Chaos” that the Satan stuff was a joke. But sometimes I still wonder if I’m being true to my beliefs, especially when I listen to some of the Scandinavian bands that have turned Black Metal into a true genre. The music is hilariously bombastic: Imagine a million bees buzzing over the sound of a pipe organ and two opera singers. The band members wear lots of chain mail and paint themselves to look like corpses. They also talk a lot about ridding Scandinavia of Christianity (as well as Jews and anyone who isn’t “pure”), which they see as an outside influence, and returning the region to its pagan Viking glory. Some of them have actually put their words into action by burning churches and killing people. But I still listen to it.

So, at what point does an offensive message outweigh a brilliant melody? The only time this has happened to me was with the Guns ‘n’ Roses song “One in a Million,” which famously bashed gays, blacks and immigrants. But then, I didn’t really like that song in the first place, and it certainly hasn’t stopped me from listening to “Appetite for Destruction.” Does it matter if the artist apologizes, as Elvis Costello did after using a racial slur to refer to Ray Charles? Would people be less inclined to let him off the hook if he hadn’t been so critically regarded? What if the artist pleads youthful ignorance, as Siouxie Sioux has regarding her long-ago fixation with swastikas?

The whole time I’ve been writing this, I’ve been trying to think of what an artist would have to do or say in order to make me not listen to their music. But even for the most heinous crime I can imagine – pedophilia – there’s at least one band, notably, The Who, that I still listen to. (And, yes, I know that Pete Townshend claims he was just doing research.) It’s not fair to judge a whole musical genre, such as dancehall, on the works of a few artists, so maybe it’s not fair to judge an artist by a few songs. I’m not sure what the answer is, which pisses me off, because I started writing this in hopes of finding one.