Sade says very profound, simple things about love. Though she writes about heartbreak a lot, she never comes off as a sad person. She makes it sound like a storm to be weathered, from which she emerges with her strength intact. That makes her some kind of throwback as a songwriter. Her stoicism and ability to find poetic beauty in pain is timeless. It’s also antithetical to modern songwriting, which wants to view heartbreak as trauma and breakups as a series of petty grievances. Right now is the age of confessional songwriting, in which everything is messy and ugly and raw, and that is in many ways cathartic. But though songwriters like Kristine Flaherty (K.Flay) who paint themselves as messed-up and dysfunctional are easy to relate to (and I admire them for that), the old-fashioned grace of Sade is something to aspire to.
Only Sade can write a song about slavehood – the spiritual kind – and imbue it with the kind of glamour that sells perfume. That doesn’t take anything away from Sade’s songwriting; her words and delivery are powerful, her message is strong. But Sade is Sade – she oozes glamour and sensuality. Her music, even at its most thought-provoking, is made for silk sheets and candlelight. Is it wrong to think that contemplation can be glamorous? Spirituality should not be glamorized or commodified – as it has been – for the ashram is no place for sensuality, unless you take deprivation itself as a sensual pleasure. Spirituality calls for asceticism, a point made by every major creed. But we want to gain some glint of enlightenment within ourselves AND still roll around on silk sheets. How about empowerment and self-awareness, then?
Apparently my grasp of the alphabet has been pretty loose this week. Not my fault, iTunes. Anyway, out of order but not forgotten, the White Stripes. I think I’m not the only person of a certain age who recalls the arrival of the White Stripes as a game changing event of Beatlesque proportions. Before, the musical landscape was one way, and afterwards it was completely different. I however, was not on the vanguard who discovered the wonder of Jack and Meg in 1999 or 2000, unfortunately. I had to wait until they became mainstream, because I didn’t have the internet in those days. But even if I wasn’t aware of it, the change was brewing. Listening to songs from De Stijl, you can’t say that it sounds like the year 2000. It sounds like the future and the past, but it doesn’t sound one bit like what passed for music in the year 2000.
I can’t relate to Gwen Stefani’s generic feminine ambitions – something she was not being the least bit ironic about, if her lifestyle choices are any indication – but I can relate to her personal style. Though, obviously, it’s always a bit disappointing to find that the coolest girl on the block only ever really wanted to settle down and have a bunch of babies, your teenage idols are still your teenage idols deep down inside. You can credit Gwen Stefani for inspiring a legion of impressionable middle-schoolers to dye their hair shades that previously only existed on cartoon characters. You can credit Stefani for all the now-thirtysomethings who still religiously stock up on the Manic Panic and Urban Decay and Hard Candy. Yeah, Gwen Stefani was visually everything 8th grade me aspired to become one day. I didn’t particularly care that she also made music. She was just the height of style. I might even debate you on whether the style actually holds up better than the music. I mean, did the world really need California Ska, or did the world need an enduring fashion icon with the power to make adult braces trendy?
Guess what day it is? It’s this blog’s 10 year anniversary! If you’ll excuse me I’ll be right over here grappling with a howling space-void of existential dread. But seriously, folks, ten years is a long time to spend writing a blog that nobody reads. It is, simply, an ongoing writing exercise for myself, a daily mental calisthenics practice. It gives my life structure, ok? I think I should come up with something to commemorate, get nostalgic a little bit. I may or may not think of something. In the meantime, here’s some ska music by Tom Tom Club.
One thing I didn’t know was that Tom Tom Club was still active in the 2000’s. Of course, why wouldn’t they remain sporadically active over the span of decades? They’re more of an evolving collective than a solid unit, so they can reform and reconvene at will. They’ve been pretty consistent with their nerdy brand of funk, and no matter the decade, there’s still something of an 80’s feeling about it. Not in a contrived nostalgic way. Their music just reminds me of the enthusiasm and free spirit of the 80’s, when world music was exotic and unheard of, hip-hop was brand new and uncommercialized, and electronic beats hadn’t yet calcified into every middle eight of every pop song. It was a more innocent time, I guess.
Peaches is best known for a song called Fuck the Pain Away, and for performing in a glue-on mustache and a strap-on dick, so it goes without saying that sex is a favorite topic of hers. I’ve always been of the opinion that her talent for shock value is more interesting than her actual music, but I’m also invested in the idea of music being a vehicle for boundary pushing, big ideas… social change, even. And we’ve often seen that music that effectively does those things is not necessarily the very best music, or made by the most proficient musicians. Peaches may be more of a performance artist than anything else, and she’s confrontational with her image and her ideas. What she’s confronting is vastly complex, but at the most obvious and basic level, her work deals with the images of women and women’s sexuality that we see in the media. It’s the ideal of the pliable, available, eternally open-mouthed sexy girl; and the idea that female sexuality is essentially passive and decorative, an ambiance, pink-hued, warm and moist, always and only there for men to sink themselves into. But here’s this homely broad with frizzy hair and serious Jew-face who likes to get naked and sing about fucking, and she sees sexuality as an imperative, an inward drive, an internalized and subjective experience, an aggressive force, something that men are only incidental to, something they may be on the receiving end of or they may not. This song – a cover of a minor hit by minor 80’s new wave band Berlin – takes a lot of pop song cliches about ‘making love forever’ and Peaches looks the camera dead in the eye when she delivers them. The original song is a duet: female vocalist promises that she is a virgin, a slut, a little girl, a blue moon and a dozen other things. The male vocalist declares that he is a man. Peaches declares that she is all of those things herself. That doesn’t make it a good song, honestly, but it does make it a good piece of performance art. It declares that sexuality itself is performance art; cliched roles may be discussed and subverted by artists and academics, but we still play them in the bedroom with no sense of irony.