So Sad

Marianne Faithfull’s entire career is built on songs about being sad, starting when she was a teenager with very little to be sad about. She’s gained plenty of sorrows in the meantime, though, making her a perfect traveling companion for people who love to be sad. I’m not saying that I love to be sad, or that anyone should wallow in sadness just for the sake of being contrary, but… But it’s healthy to accept that sadness is part of life, and it’s something that you, a human being, are going to cycle in and out of, sometimes for years, so learn to take it for whatever beauty or inspiration you can find. It’s accepted wisdom, anyway, that there’s been more, better art created by people trying to navigate their way through sadness than by happy people. Happy people like to just sit there and smell the daisies or whatever. When you’re happy you don’t need to justify or explain it or somehow hammer it into something more meaningful. It’s sadness that needs to justify itself by being creativity juice or forming into pearls of wisdom or providing that big breakthrough in therapy that makes everything else make sense all of a sudden. Therefore we treasure sad music for making our sadness sound more like a state of grace and not so much senseless and overwhelming.

Slave

It’s impossible to imagine Mick Jagger ever being anyone’s ‘slave’. Not even in a kinky sex way. Nor is it a good metaphor for romantic relations, because, you know. But it is a good jam, and good jams don’t have to make sense. You don’t make sense of energy and chemistry, you just either feel those things or you don’t. The magic of The Rolling Stones has always been in their combined chemistry together. They somehow make great jams happen even when they don’t actually have any good ideas, or when they’re not speaking to one another. That’s why they can turn a handful of previously rejected outtakes and polish it into a classic album. It is utterly inexplicable. But thank God.

Sixty-Forty

Nico is the voice of your sexiest nightmares, the kind you wake up from feeling clammy and disturbed. Discovering Nico is like sliding down a very scary rabbit hole. Her music sounds so apocalyptic because it appears she was living her own personal apocalypse her whole life. That means, for those who knew her, that she was a nasty and depressing person to be around. For her fans, she reached straight into the dark corners of their dreams. There’s something seductive about that, a comforting sense that one can hit the darkest bottom and live there with ease, even thrive, if you’re willing to throw away convention.

Sistren

Black Uhuru is my favorite reggae band. I like being able to say that; it impresses people who really care about reggae. I would hate people to think I’m a basic bitch who only listens to Legend by Bob Marley. I need them to know that I’m the kind of insufferable person who communicates entirely in obscure music references. Anyway, it’s not because I actually really want to impress that one guy or whoever. I can admit that I don’t, in fact, know that much about reggae music. There’s a world of it that I don’t know about. Everything after about 1990 is a blank map to me. And it would be cool if someone offered to educate me about it.

Silent Witness

Everybody knows and loves that one song by UB40 – the one about drinking red wine, which we all relate to a lot – but God forbid you think they’re a one hit band. These guys have 18 albums, they’ll have you know. I can’t say I’ve even heard of all of them, but I am very partial to their early 80’s work. Though they may have that one radio-staple big hit, and a reasonable reputation, I still think of them as very much a cult band. And though you may not think of the 80’s as a great era for reggae music, thanks to groups like UB40 and Black Uhuru, it was. Also, of course, the UK ska thing was still a big deal. So yeah, 80’s reggae is very much a thing. A mini-subgenre, if you will.

She Gets Down on Her Knees

Nobody knows a woman’s place in this world better than Yoko Ono. For decades she has occupied the intersection of virulent racism and misogyny that still underpin most of Western popular culture. Everything she has done as artist and in her personal life has been in defiance of where society likes to place its women, and that defiance has fueled her art. Even before she became famous as the world’s most hated homewrecker, the bitch who broke up the sacred union of Lennon and McCartney, she had staked out her position, willing to lose anything and prepared to be looked at with hateful eyes. Before she became famous, she had already burned the bridges of an entire life; her parents disowned her for not following the expectations of a good, privileged Japanese girl; she lost custody of her firstborn child in a bitter divorce. Then she came to the West and found out just how very, very much the world hates women who want to create ambitious art on the same footing as men, who have things to say about the female condition, who don’t let their husbands speak for them, who don’t present themselves as pretty and likable, who expect to be taken seriously, who refuse to disappear from public life even when public life doesn’t want them, and have the sheer nerve of doing all these things while being Asian. The world can barely accept a white woman who does even a few of those things, and world hates women who aren’t white extra, extra hard. What Yoko Ono does isn’t just going against the grain of what’s expected of a woman in the public eye, it’s racially uppity in a way that makes members of the white male cultural establishment go absolutely blind with rage. Yoko Ono is a woman who emigrated from Japan to England (and then to America) where she met and married a white dude with whom she made a bunch of music and art, and that offends people on a deeply primal level, especially white dudes who think that women are only as valuable as their legs are long, that wives are furniture for the decoration of a man’s home, and that Asian women should be silently pouring tea in Geisha-themed brothels. Well, Yoko Ono may be having the last laugh. At the age of 85, she not only outlived most of her haters, she’s come to be recognized as one of the most important conceptual artists of her time, she’s lived to see a massive cultural shift that has us examining the prejudices she used to be a target of, she’s been recognized for her activism and humanitarian work, and guess what else? When you put on those records she made with John Lennon, his songs sound like generic 70’s rock music and hers sound like the cool new record you just heard on indie radio.

Sex Dwarf

The only thing you need to know about Soft Cell’s original, banned Sex Dwarf video is that it featured a little person in bondage gear. It was that literal-minded. Of course, in 1981, it was the boobs and leather straps that fanned controversy. What Soft Cell set out to do, and succeeded in doing, was to paint a thinly-veiled picture of the gay underground, with its sleazy clubs and bars, its dark cruising fields, its fearless sexual exploration, and its hunger for real emotion. All gay life being underground life, the key word was ‘thinly-veiled’. Hence, in the videos, glamorous scantily clad women, prominent and ironic. We can view that period now with nostalgia for a bygone era of real authenticity, as everything special and counter-cultural about it becomes fodder for t-shirts. We can also look at is as kind of corny and very very sad, now that everything that used to be in the closet is proudly on parade.