I enjoy the B-52’s for their wacky sense of humor, as I think all of their fans do. Their flamboyant silliness is uplifting and refreshing, in marked contrast to most of their self-serious New Wave peers. This song is a great favorite, and of course, I find it hilarious. If anyone remembers those old-timey mail-order dating services which required users to film and exchange short profiles of themselves on VHS tape, will recognize the parody. Those tapes have stopped even being a punchline, gone the way of obsolete technologies without even a puff of nostalgia towards them, giving way to more efficient means of impressing strangers. However, the earnest and mostly doomed optimism of single people putting their best self forward in hopes of finding love – or at least a sexual encounter – in the arms of a stranger has, if anything, become an even more familiar feature of our daily experience, and is never not ripe for humor. Everyone still wants to meet and have a baby with a gal in a gold tinsel wig.
What if I told you I’ve never listened to Eurythmics before this year? That would be odd, because they’re right in my wheelhouse. But when a band is so well known on the strength of one hit single, it’s hard to think of them as album artists. That’s wrong. Eurythmics made a run of about eight records during the 1980’s (I think) and the three or four that I’ve listened to have all been very good. I’m not afraid to admit when I’ve made an oversight. Stay tuned as I discover more.
This plea for solidarity came out in 1983 and we’re no closer to it 36 years later. Black Uhuru makes a pretty convincing case, laying out the universal basics of our shared needs. Our underlying common grounds should be self-evident, so evident it shouldn’t take even a reggae song to lay out the obvious. Everyone wants the same things, fundamentally. We just can’t seem to get around the mentality that getting those things needs to come at the expense of other people having those same things. Keeping your children warm and your family protected should not take away from warmth and safety of anyone else, and yet violent tribalism outweighs both empathy and common sense. If people insist on behaving like feral dogs fighting over the last scraps of garbage in a time of plenitude, it’s chilling to think of what will happen when resources become scarce. The concept of solidarity remains an abstraction, an ideal to talk about from the solitude of our individual corners, a hippie pipe dream – anything except a real call to action – when it needs to be a philosophy for day-to-day living. It’s something we should all think deeply about and internalize, but instead we’re spinning out into nihilism and despair.
Some things you can pry from my cold dead fingers, always and forever. A few days ago I was saying that about my beloved T. Rex records. Well, I had said it in a much more elegant way than that, but I think the gist of it was plain to see. The point is, some things, some cultural totems and personal touchstones, can only be pried away in death. You can add my Talking Heads records to that. You can pry Speaking in Tongues from my cold dead fingers, if that’s how you wanna put it. It’s a record that, besides being a famous classic and an instant party, is one of those works that doesn’t get older or worn out by too much familiarity. It goes beyond mere personal nostalgia, though of course, I did grow up with it. If something can remain meaningful across a lifetime, from childhood to adulthood, and exponentially so across generations, that’s the antithesis of personal nostalgia. Personal nostalgia is when we feel sentimentally attached to things we rationally know are actually valueless or downright bad just because we imprinted on them as ducklings; things that, from novelty pop songs to toppled political regimes, should really be best forgotten. When something that amused our childhood selves continues to be meaningful over decades, meaningful beyond just the ability to trigger memories, that’s your testament that art really is the only human thing that carries over. This is why we care so much about buildings on fire.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the goth aesthetic is just that – an aesthetic commanded by choice of lipstick and accessories, to which musical taste is just another satellite. Fair enough. Goths care about the details of their material style more than most subcultures. Goth music may be an undefined genre, but it’s very definitely a thing. No one can be goth or a fan of goth without bowing to Bauhaus, a group who, in their brief years together, set the standard for both musical and visual goth aesthetics. That’s decades of influence for a career spanning four albums (plus one reunion.) Personally, I’m somewhat loath to give too much credit to a band whose lead vocalist has a set of vocal mannerisms that just so happens to be identical to David Bowie’s, and I’m not the first sharp-eared critic to point out the similarity, but apparently Peter Murphy finds it deeply rankling when people impugn upon his originality. It’s purely a coincidence that he sings that way, alright? Anyway, this is seminal goth music, and in no way a group of men who built their entire musical identity out of a dog-eared copy of Station to Station and then went on to inspire a whole new generation of kids to build their entire identities on a small handful of songs and videos. It’s just the circle of life and it moves us all, as the poet said.
“Help gets so unhelpful, near the end”
Marianne Faithfull can be kind of a downer sometimes. She gets into some of the darker corners of the average human experience, having lived them all, of course. She began performing this adaptation of a Caroline Blackwood poem in the 70’s, when it was still unclear whether or not her own substance abuse would take her down. It didn’t, because apparently Marianne Faithfull has a constitution unrivaled by anyone except some guy named Keith. This woman is going to sit and watch the world burn to the ground and then reach for another drink. On a realistic note though, Faithfull has had to face mortality in recent years. She is no longer about to drown in whiskey and heroin, but she’s facing the mundane reality that no one ever really survives. She’s undergone treatment for breast cancer and other health problems, and she’s seen many close friends pass away. The death of Anita Pallenberg last year was particularly hard. Those things lend a new level of gravitas to Faithfull’s latest work. (As if gravitas was a thing she was lacking.) She was never just playing at being one step away from oblivion, but now oblivion is inevitable, a burden of time, not a threat of her own making. No one comes close to Faithfull when it comes to exploring themes of shame and regret, desperate hope and longing, love and redemption. She has the optimism and black humor of a soldier who returns alone from the battlefield.
This is everything that’s wrong with the Rolling Stones: another one of Mick Jagger’s absurd tales of mindless sexual conquest backed with the same tired riffs. By 1983 the Stones had sunk into self-parody, and judging by the tongue-in-cheek video, they were well aware of it. Taking the stance of “yes, we’re pretty silly at this point but we’re good at what we do” was understandable. Imagine trying to generate new ideas when you’re 40 years old, you’re trying to record your 17th album and you hate your coworkers. Jagger’s urge to take himself seriously would take the shape of an abortive solo career. (At this point he was hoarding his ‘best’ songs for his own project.) Keith Richards had stopped taking himself seriously around the time the band stopped being blues purists, and the others had never taken themselves seriously in the first place. The fans, meanwhile, proved that they didn’t need seriousness to keep them paying for the product. And that collective attitude kept the Stones rolling straight into the millennium and beyond. They don’t care if they’re not relevant, they just do what they do. They’re also among the last of a dying breed, literally. Blues based rock music is struggling today – nobody takes it seriously anymore! Also, nobody wants to listen to songs about the simple pleasures of fucking and discarding an interchangeable series of women. It’s just not what the conversation is about today. This entertainment is retrograde. There are many elements of rock star culture that we can’t zoom away from fast enough – the glorification of predatory sexual behavior, for example – but I don’t think we’ll ever lose our fascination for figures like Mick Jagger, people who are so larger than life that the very idea of their lifestyle is enough to fuel decades of profitable work.