The Space Between

There’s not much that could make me feel misty-eyed on the last day of the decade. Roxy Music does the trick of pulling out the sentimental feelings, if only because they make me wish that I had lived the past months with more grace, glamour and panache. Yesterday I spent the entire day wearing pajamas – not the sexy kind, the cat hair covered kind – and that is not being panache-ful. I wish I still had the motivation and the wherewithal to burn the town, but I may be irrevocably too old. I wish I’d done more stupid shit, but also, at my age stupid shit stops being cute and starts to look sad-ish. I wish I had better star-crossed romances, and not just the kind that fizzle out from indifference. No regrets, though. Grace, glamour and panache for the new year, then.

Space

It’s funny that M.I.A.’s Wiki lists her occupation as ‘rapper’. Her music is so far outside all the usual definitions of genre, she’s basically her own genre. Also, she has an MBE. Also, I guess she’s in “retirement” now. Hopefully, it won’t stick, because I need to hear whatever she has to say about the world right now. Anyhow, even if she never makes another record, I think that we can all agree that M.I.A. is one of the most important artists of the past decade, and the one before that too. She cooked up a whole new pan-global pop music model. It’s music that could only have happened in an internet-powered diaspora where everyone is always crossing borders, carrying a clashing, joyful, angry, constantly changing cultural legacy.

Soyomba

I usually don’t try to include too many songs in languages I’m not at least somewhat familiar with. Because, obviously, I don’t know what they’re about to talk about them. The lack of context and understanding isn’t conducive to critical discussion, but it should not be a barrier to enjoyment. That’s why I’m putting up more Rail Band songs. Because I’ve really been enjoying this record, and more people need to get on board. Even people with a wide range of tastes within their own culture may feel alienated by music in a strange language from a culture they know nothing about, but music by artists like Salif Keita should be beyond language barriers. If anything, this music makes plain how much in common is shared by cultures all over the world. Keita grew up listening to postwar Latin Jazz, which was wildly popular in parts of Africa, while learning to play traditional music of Mali. The combination of Malian music and jazz is just the same music coming full circle after slowly evolving as it moved around the globe over the course of centuries.

Sowing Seeds

It’s a shoegaze kind of a day. Because it’s that purgatorial period between Christmas and New Year when time has become so meaningless that the days feel like they’re clicking backwards. Also it’s wet, cloudy and about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, just to make the discombobulation complete. So obviously what I need to hear is a sad drone of the kind the Jesus and Mary Chain purveys. I want music that makes me feel like the days themselves are a sad drone.

Souvenirs

I loved Ape in Pink Marble for being one of Devendra Banhart’s weirder albums. Tall order, I know. It sounds like the work of someone who’s listened to a lot of Donovan records, watched a lot of those prestige BBC productions where all the men wear straw hats, and dropped acid at a seaside resort in the off-season. That’s what the young kids call a mood. #bigmood

Southside

This has become an iconic music video, which even I can remember catching glimpses of on MTV. That was when Moby was, somehow and against all odds, a major pop star who got to shoot videos with Gwen Stefani. Although what everyone now remembers from the video is the image of Stefani licking Moby’s shiny bald dome (repulsive or wish fulfill-ey, dependent on your viewpoint) it was supposed to be a parody of the gaudy millennial celebrity culture that Stefani was the epitome of at the time. Those were some crazy times, when pop stars and rappers flounced around dressed like outlet mall hoes and pimps, and cellular phones were the height of luxury. Moby, of course, had no semblance of a ghetto pass, even at his coolest, and the whole point of the song was that he would very likely get murdered if he went joyriding in the South Side of Chicago. He also would never unironically shoot a video with champagne and dancers in a hot rod and his name spelled out in marquee lights. Hence, at the very end, the jar of “Moby Mayo”. If this was today, we would feel compelled to unpack what it is, exactly, that’s being made fun of, and why, two or three degrees of context in, it’s at the very least problematic to be doing so. Don’t they know that the display of conspicuous consumerism associated with hip-hop videos is actually a subversion of racist cultural expectations of economic disparity? But nobody talked like that in 1999, and the products of terminal-stage MTV were very much ripe for a little gentle ribbing.

Southern Man

Nothing says ‘festive’ like a hearty reckoning with America’s ugly racial legacy. It’s hard to say how much one protest song can turn people’s minds where social issues are concerned, but sometimes it takes a Canadian dude to point out some of the massive flaws in the American “way of life” in such a way that dorm-room rock fans are moved to care. Young, like many foreign visitors to the United States, was horrified by the blatant hypocrisy between the party line about “freedom” and “equality” and the all the virulent entrenched racism. For Young, it was the beginning of a lifetime of activism, across a very broad spectrum of issues. He saw early on that his visibility and wealth were not only an opportunity, but a responsibility, to create changes for good. He has been able to use his money in concrete ways, such as when, seeing a lack of educational resources for his disabled son, he founded a school for children with disabilities. Fixing a centuries-old culture of systematic racism is not as easy as building a school, and is beyond the good intentions of one man – even one with a lot of money – but in this department the role of someone like Neil Young is just to be enough of a figurehead to inspire people to listen, learn more, join the fight in whatever small way they can, teach their peers and pass their values to their children. It’s just a nudge to move people’s minds and hearts in the right direction. It’s not enough on its own, but it’s not supposed to make change all on its own. It’s supposed to unite the likeminded and inspire them to make a movement powerful enough to really affect the culture.