“Ooh, isn’t it nice, when your heart is made out of ice?”
Lou Reed wrote about cold-hearted people as if he envied them. He was a pretty rough person himself, of course. He was notorious for heckling his own audiences, as you can see below. See also, being a dick to journalists, being a dick to admirers, etc. etc. The asshole rock star who wrote beautifully sensitive songs was a persona he created, one that was especially nasty and performative in the mid-seventies. He was under a lot of pressure to somehow maintain his unexpected popularity with glam rock audiences, and to live up to his reputation as the baddest, most dangerous, most authentic street hustling junkie poet to represent the New York City underground. Hence the garish bleach job and see-through t-shirts. A lot of people died prematurely trying to be the baddest and the coolest. Lou Reed actually was the baddest and the coolest, and managed to live a good long solid life, which is how you know he was for real. The hardest guys all lived, the wimpy ones dropped dead.
I don’t usually know very much about what’s going on in the R&B corner of things. It’s, um, it’s a neighborhood I don’t go to very often, so to speak. But sometimes there’s an artist who has the potential to blow up beyond the boundaries of what genre they’re booked into. I recommend keeping an eye on the progress of Tinashe. She’s nominally an R&B artist, but it’s like alternative R&B. Alternative R&B is an umbrella genre that covers a pretty far-flung range of artists from The Weeknd to Rhye to Solange to Banks, all of whom share an interest in sexy grooves and moody atmospheres but also draw from just about everywhere else as well. Tinashe draws from contemporary R&B and soul, from hip hop and from pop, from dance music. She’s a well rounded artist in that way. What matters is she’s got a great voice, a sexy smoky voice that puts her in the school of Sade, and her records (two albums and counting) are commercial without being generic. (She’s been described as a more pop oriented FKA Twigs.) The trend right now is female pop singers who are always trying to hit the top of their range; there’s not much room for quiet. But we could use a quiet pop star who prefers to whisper rather than to shout. Tinashe could be, with the right hit, a huge, huge star. Or she could go on to build an edgier career, if she follows her more eccentric side.
There’s a lot that we’ll never know about Bob Marley, a lot that we’ll never see, simply because he grew up and lived during a time when even the most creative people didn’t see the necessity of documenting themselves for posterity. It’s arguable that the world would be a richer place if Bob Marley had had an Instagram account or some similar outlet of constantly sharing his thoughts with the world; not everyone wants to constantly share their thoughts with the world, and nearly no-one’s thoughts are constantly worth sharing. (Though I imagine that an artist like Marley, who had a strong political message and an ambition to make change in the world, would have done really well as a Twitter activist.) However, it’s hard to argue that the world would, in fact, be at least a tiny bit richer if there were more – and higher quality – footage of Bob Marley and the Wailers in action. Their earliest days as a group were barely documented, and that would be fascinating to see. There must have been so many amazing performances that have been lost to memory, especially the ones that came before the worldwide fame. It’s not entirely a blank – enough shows were filmed for at least one full concert documentary, probably more. It’s enough to get a good idea of what a Bob Marley concert would have been like; it looks like fun, it looks like a powerful show to take in. We’ve just been spoiled by the technological and social advances that now allow artists to have an all-access relationship with their fans. We like all of that unfiltered oversharing. We just want to see our favorite artists doing what they do.
Come for Mark Knopfler’s guitarism, stay for the flute solo. An unexpected touch, but it works, and it’s touches like this that make Dire Straits so rewarding to explore. They weren’t a band who leaned on hit singles, although they had a lot of hit singles. They leaned on musicianship and thoughtful writing, which made them outliers among their peers in the 80’s. Though their output as a unit was small – only six studio albums – it was conspicuously solid. Every album was a solid winner, every track worth remembering. These guys did not do filler material, or try to be on-trend, or make unfortunate experiments. Sometimes it’s best to quit when you’re ahead, before the urge to do all of the above overtakes you.
“Wear you hair long, baby, can’t go wrong”
Riding a white swan is symbolically not the same as riding a white horse, just so you know. Swans represent grace, beauty and refinement. Marc Bolan had a vision of himself as a mythical character, a warlock warrior prince with a guitar. A swan was the perfect mode of transportation for such a fantastical personage, though he had a taste for nice cars as well. With that image, Bolan took his phantasmagorical collection of interests and rode to stardom. It was a harbinger of future fashions, the first glam rock hit from the first glam-rocker.
Remember Bianca Jagger’s 1977 birthday party that found her riding into Studio 54 astride a white horse led by naked male dancers? You were there, yes? That was probably the single most iconic moment of the disco era. It was also, of course, the jet-setting celebrity demimonde making a not-subtle in-joke about their own lifestyle. We all know what white horses are a symbol of. These were people for whom cocaine formed the basis of a food pyramid that included not much else. That kind of flagrancy wouldn’t be possible today, because today’s glamorous stars like to pretend that they become svelte through holistic means and not by blood-money amphetamines. (Also, that poor horse!) Cocaine’s good name has been dragged by its trashy cousin crack, the next-generation cool party kids have their own cool party drugs. But the disco mystique of the 70’s lingers, for a variety of complex reasons, as the halcyon ideal of libertine living, and we can’t stop paying tribute to it for its glamour and its hedonism, and from our post-war-on-drugs post-AIDS-epidemic vantage point, its comparative optimism and innocence. Hence, neo-disco musicians like Goldfrapp, whose take may be post-modern but not entirely ironic in its admiration.
Let’s Dance is heavily frontloaded with big hits, but if you listen past the first three songs, shit gets weird in typical David Bowie fashion. Even at his most “commercially buoyant” Bowie can’t make it through a whole album without imagining an industrial wasteland full of fascism and poverty. His sudden transformation into a sleek and commercially viable superstar was in fact a pretty thin disguise. Let’s Dance wasn’t a confirmation of newfound harmlessness; it was more like The Thin White Duke Goes On Holiday. Serious Moonlight era documentaries show a disturbingly blond David Bowie cutting an Englishman-abroad figure in a variety of exotic Asian locales. After being alienated all over Eastern Europe, the Duke becomes more global, vastly richer, and yet still alienated.