It’s been 11 years of writing this blog, and in that time I’ve covered a lot of things. My first post, on November 5th 2008, was a Zap Mama song, followed the next day by Nick Cave’s Abattoir Blues, and Barack Obama’s Presidential acceptance speech. Obviously, it was a very mixed bag right out of the gate. Inevitably, a lot of things have changed; my writing format for the better, the rest of the world for… not so much. If anything has been a running throughline that hasn’t changed, it’s the regular appearance of nearly identical fawning blog posts about Bryan Ferry. It seems that I always have the same damn thoughts when Ferry comes up: he is so dreamy, his hair is beautiful, he is the apex of all men, he makes me want to wander the moors in non-weather-appropriate evening wear, smoking is sexy, tuxedos are sexy, being sad in a castle is sexy, more men should wear tuxedos on a daily basis, why don’t real people make me feel like this? etc. etc. Ferry himself is an artist who found a format he likes and sticks with it like lipstick on a tuxedo lapel. So it’s not like there’s anything new to add. The formula is the formula and it elicits the effects it’s designed to elicit. Bryan Ferry makes me swoon, and I’m never – not in 11 years and not in 1,100 – going to come up with a more perceptive insight than that.
It’s been a decade since the last Sade record, and there may or may not be another one. It’s entirely possible that we’ll have to be content with what we have from her, because there’s hardly any doubt that Sade herself could happily never appear in public again. Still, if she does come back, I’m sure that she will once again show all the baby divas how it’s done. She is the very definition of a class act. No feuds, breakdowns, rudeness, or exhibitionism for Sade Adu. All that we know about her, really, is that she loves deeply and fiercely. If love is a battlefield, Sade is the veteran who wears their medals with modesty. And if you think that that’s a clunky old metaphor, Sade is the singer who fills it with conviction again.
For all of his influence and discreet ubiquity, I haven’t heard much about Brian Eno lately. Not that he’s the kind of an artist who aims to make headlines, but I could do with some better keeping up. It seems like he’s still all about composing otherworldly soundscapes. As usual, those soundscapes are both purposefully boring and subtly evocative. That is, they do evoke an distinct imaginative atmosphere. It could be the soundtrack to the kind of perversely drawn-out art movie that hardly anyone makes anymore, for example, the kind where static wide-lens shots of gently rustling greenery drag on for minutes at a time, and everyone is silently consumed with unspecified but very terrible sorrows. Eno draws the listener into this imaginative plane, and that plane is – plot twist! – extremely boring. Which is exactly Eno’s plan, his longtime devious hobby of creating things of great beauty that are impossible to pay any kind of sustained attention to.
We know that a life of beauty, wealth and fame is not guaranteed to be free from pain and suffering. But we also know that a life without those things is absolutely guaranteed to deliver the hard knocks and to never stop delivering them. And that success after a life of hard knocks is very rare. Sharon Jones is one of those rare people who worked her way to fame over decades of poverty and struggle, and she has, indeed, a unique perspective on life. She has a perspective even the greatest soul and blues singers may not have had. She didn’t observe life from the remove of a working performer, imagining it from the stage or through the window of a tour bus; she saw the real ugliness up close, in her job as a guard on Rikers Island. That kind of work can destroy the soul of the person who has to do it, but for Jones, it did the opposite. It allowed her sing about hard-knock things with empathy and authority, to be a voice for women like herself. She has no patience for shitbag men and their romantic platitudes, for one thing, and she has no patience for tough-guy posturing and big talk. She has no patience for people who don’t treat their loved ones with love and respect. What she does have is all the love and respect for women who get knocked down and get back up and learn to keep on fighting. She has respect for children who grow up strong in spite of all the hard knocks their parents passed down to them. Here, she specifically calls out the cruelty of abusive parents and celebrates the child’s strength to grow up and stand up for themselves and break the cycle.
Sham pain for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends, as they say… Marina Diamandis, clever as she is, isn’t above using some corny-ass dad puns as vehicle for her social commentary, in this case about the perils of getting yourself blackout drunk. She also wrote a song called Hermit the Frog. She likes wordplay. And she’s totally in using it. Humor and absurdity go a long way towards leavening angst-ridden topics, and Marina uses both, along with heady doses of glam and glitter, to get her message across. Underneath the hooks and costumes, there’s some heavy angst, and serious observations about how wounding and hard life can be for women and how much of a charade femininity essentially is. Also, the weight of creativity and fame, don’t forget about that additional burden. Life is an uphill battle. Let us have our dad puns.
“I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it.”
There we have it: the definitive statement of purpose by Rihanna for unrepentant bad girls everywhere. Or the final commercialization of a formerly underground subculture. Take your pick. It could even be both. You can be delighted by Rihanna’s gleeful embrace of sexual transgression and still wonder just how transgressive anything really is if four million people are buying it. Perhaps there’s not much taboo left to fetish culture when it’s constantly in your face and at your fingertips. On the other hand, though, good. Let people be sexually liberated, empty out those closets, sweep open the dungeons of shame, stop clutching your pearls at other people’s pleasures. Girls just wanna have fun! With ball gags and Japanese rope bondage and puppy play and femdom and slashfic and cam shows and dd/lg and latex and friendly fire and cryptozoophiliac Patreon subscriptions and whatever other filthy things you didn’t know you were into until the internet brought them to your attention. It’s a great time to be alive and sexually active.
As a rule, I’m a hardened cynic who looks askance at anything too overtly positive or ingratiating. Uplifting entertainment is essentially manipulative, naive and intellectually shallow, is it not? Anyone who wants to deliver me an uplifting message about hanging in there and being my best self or whatever needs to sneak in the back door reeking of alcohol and herrings. Ahem. Enter Hutz, et al. No group of people has ever smuggled so much positivity under the guise of promoting drunk debauchery than Gogol Bordello. It’s because they know a truth that the general US public has lost sight of or just doesn’t care to admit; a good debauch is a necessity if you want to live a happy healthy life. Debauchery brings people together, builds friendships, starts romances and heals old wounds. There’s nothing more wholesome and good for the soul than a communal alcoholic binge, otherwise known as a party. It’s what ties the ties that bind us.