rock ‘n’ roll

THE EMOTIVE AND IMPOSSIBLE TASK OF THE MUSIC OF DAVID BOWIE AT RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL

I reviewed the David Bowie tribute show at Radio City Hall for Noisey.

The blackstar tattoo on my chest, which I’d gotten hours after learning of his death, smeared with glitter for the occasion, glared as a security guard scanned me with a metal detector. A crippling wave of anxiety passed over. He is gone, I am here. Bowie, his music, and his unfathomable legacy occupied a massive room in my psyche, in all of ours. When I closed my eyes and envisioned a Bowie tribute I saw bodies pressed together in a dark and messy venue, the type of scene where it was appropriate to kiss a stranger on the mouth just to taste their tears and lipstick. For that dark glamour was what Bowie meant to me. One version of what a Bowie tribute should look like for every fan left behind. At Radio City Music Hall, this was a classy affair. Time to sit up straight and act like I’m allowed in public. With the formal posture of a funeral, we were all here to pay our respects.

It was the second day of memorial following a concert at Carnegie Hall, the original show announced coincidentally on the same day of his death, featuring many of the same performers. Debbie Harry, Pixies, Mumford & Sons, the Flaming Lips and a thorough list of additional “all-stars” were here to pay tribute to David Bowie, the star who was given a constellation as he left this world. Tickets to attend both nights were being sold for $3,000. Proceeds of the concerts benefit organizations such as Little Kids Rock and Grammy in the Schools. Less charitably, vendors outside Radio City capitalized by selling crookedly printed Bowie photos for $5.

The audience was an older crowd. I was seated among other journalists, based on the lack of enthusiasm and frantic pen scribbling. Right before one of the first acts, jazz artist Esperanza Spalding performing “If You Can See Me,” the hall’s magnificent silence was interrupted. Someone very original shouted “Free Bird!” Once the lid had been cracked, a few others would later on join in the fun by adding “Feel the Bern!”, which lead to other audience members loudly requesting they shut the fuck up.

It wasn’t until saxophonist Donny McCaslin performed “Lazarus,” with Mark Guiliana, Jason Lindner, and Tony Visconti, that the mood began to form. They had helped create Blackstar. Visconti has been involved with Bowie since his self-titled and second in 1969. It was clear I would cry tonight. Despite the decades of memories and cultural currency that come with Bowie’s classics, it was songs from Blackstar that took the night. Perhaps the rationalization of why we were all there was best told through his final album, released just two days before his death.

One of the most powerful moments of the night came from Amanda Palmer, Jherek Bischoff, and Anna Calvi with the Kronos Quartet who performed the title track “Blackstar.” Palmer and company created Strung Out In Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute shortly after learning the news of his death. It was a perfect performance, their bodies forming a star. My anxiety broke to tears. The audience collectively stood in ovation. Through the beauty of their performance they had demonstrated the weight of what Bowie had done with Blackstar – he gave us an internal gift, and the monumental task of doing it justice. Amanda Palmer, Jherek Bischoff, Anna Calvi and the Kronos Quartet did.

Along with Palmer, Michael Stipe was one of the strongest performances of the night. In beautifully depressive Stipe fashion, before he began, he asked the needed question into the microphone: “Why are we here?”

An enormous pause, enough to make anyone decent in attendance ponder the real price of their ticket. “A celebration,” is the answer Stipe gave. A few more words for Bowie, and then came the performance. “Ashes to Ashes” has been played an unfathomable number of times, but never like this. He stripped it down to the bones, whispering the lyrics, and perhaps the first time in a million listens I was hit with the weight of the demons Bowie felt:

“Time and again I tell myself
I’ll stay clean tonight
But the little green wheels are following me
Oh, no, not again”

Stipe stole the show with his brutally honest performance. And after we had his blessing, no, orders to celebrate, both audience and performers did just that. Perry Farrell gave a lively rendition of “Rebel Rebel” full of repeated hat lifts and cheesing grins, during which everyone was up and dancing (an act requested by Rickie Lee Jones, who asked everyone to get on their feet and join her in “All the Young Dudes”), but there was a disconnect. Even Debbie Harry, a goddess that can do no wrong, left an itch unscratched in her rendition of “Heroes,” but she, and the others, had an impossible assignment. No one can be Bowie, we’re all chasing a ghost.

Other highlights of the night included The Pixies covering Bowie covering the Pixies with “Cactus” (spelling out B-O-W-I-E), which was throw-up-in-your mouth cool. The Polyphonic Spree in their glorious Kool-Aid robes reminded that “the sun machine is coming down, and we’re gonna have a party.” During their introduction we learned that Bowie affectionately referred to them as “the pretty polies,” a tidbit of newly discovered Bowie trivia that tickled my brain, imagining our hero coming up with the alliteration in his brilliant voice. Cat Power covered one of the greatest album openers of all time, the epic “Five Years.”

The show was well-orchestrated and ran right on time. When the end was near the Flaming Lips played their favorite, “Life on Mars?”, Wayne Coyne was projection-mapped while singing sitting on top of Chewbacca. Massive karaoke screens came down for the closing number, an enormous sing-a-long to “Space Oddity” lead by The New York City Children’s Chorus. The thousands of voices, from the little punks on the stage to those in the nosebleed seats pronouncing “Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do…” summed it up. He’s dead. We’re still here, struggling to make with peace with the blackstar left in our souls.

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INTO THE WEIRD – MEET THE TRANSGENDER POP-PUNK MUSICIAN WHO OPENED FOR IGGY POP AND U2

My latest VICE column is up, an interview with musician Lenny Zenith. Read it in its entirety here.

When we think about the glory days of rock ’n’ roll, we think of a sexist boys club that only let in guys who abused groupies and hung out with dudes. Despite this, in the 1980s, female-to-male transgender musician Lenny Zenith and his punk-pop band RZA opened for U2, Iggy Pop, and other legends in New Orleans. Although Lenny is pretty sure Iggy knew he was trans and simply didn’t give a shit, Lenny kept his gender idenity a secret, because it was extremly dangerous to be openly trans. These days, Lenny lives in New York, where he works as an LGBT advocate and plays in a new band, the Tenterhooks, while writing his memoir, Before I Was Me. Recently, I caught up with Lenny at a dive bar to hear his tales about growing up trans with a missionary father and a Cuban mother in an era “before seven-year-olds were on Oprah saying they were transgendered.”

I Caved. Here are my Thoughts on Blurred Lines.

I met Robin Thicke once. We shook hands, and had a very brief conversation. He was polite, well-spoken, and not at all rapey. After months of ignoring the song, I caved. Here are my thoughts regarding Mr. Thicke and “Blurred Lines.”

1. Earlier this year I was sexually assaulted, and while I was crying and trying to push he-who-should-not-be-named off me, the dude repeatedly said the exact words “I know you want it. I know you want it.” Therefore, I am not really an unbiased judge. But yep, those words are pretty fucking rapey, as actual rapists use it on their victims. Does this make Robin Thicke and/or his writers rapists, or the song about rape? Nope. It’s just a catchy pop song, with a team of writers who either didn’t put much thought into the lyrics, or knew exactly what they were doing, because the controversy that followed gave the song an absurdly more amount of attention than it would have garnered on its own. I realize the majority of listeners didn’t have the same experience, and just listen to the song boogieing in the club, but in case you were curious why people call it “rapey” hopefully that sheds a little insight.

2. What rhymes with hug me? I’ll tell you, “thug wanna-be” does! Contact me about my freelance writing rates.

3. I miss the old days of Robin Thicke when far less people knew who he was and he mostly gave interviews to Essence about the struggles of black women.

4. The video does not offend me. Hot naked girls are the oldest trick in the book. Who cares about the lyrics when there’s a terrific pair of tits in your face! All it takes is a simple Google Image search of my name to see I feel A-OK about women being naked.

5. I’m sober, never go to clubs, and it’s not my type of music anyways, but for a nice replacement controversial song about wanting to tear apart a chick, when was the last time you listened to “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails? You let me violate you…I want to fuck you like an animal! Now that is some fucked-up shit, but at least it gives me a boner. Well done Trent, well done.

AND I’M OUT!

-SST

SEX, DRUGS, AND ROCK ‘N’ ROLL – I CAN’T FUCK YOU ALL, BARBITURATES, AND JAY ARNER

This is an important one so I’m going to post it all here. VIA VICE BITCHES.

SEX – I CAN’T FUCK YOU ALLL

With that cocky paragraph title, will I be called the next Samantha Brick? I hope not, that shit was annoying.

I’m unsure if it’s due to innate aspects of personality or related to my carefree upbringing, but I am very open about sex, and often wish the rest of the world would be too. I write about sex, I talk about sex, I have sex. However, my sexual candor has gotten me into some precarious situations. People mistake my sexual nature for a desire to have sex with them, or more accurately, somehow mistake my sexual openness with anexpectation that I’ll have sex with them. Not everyone of course, most people are far more awesome than we give them credit, and honest misunderstandings happen. Yet the other day, someone was trying to fuck me whom I did not want to sleep with, and he quoted things to me I had written in this column, as some sort of argument, a harsh rebuttal of my spurning. “Well, you wrote that you’re into…..” Awesome, thanks for the pageviews. Now I’m writing that you can go to hell.

I want a samurai sword to chop away penises. I’ve invented a version in my brain of that  game Fruit Ninja except it’s me, a red-headed Beatrix Kiddo slicing peens flying at me. A reader requested an extra dirty column this week. Sorry, this is not that column. This is a reminder that “no” means “fuck off, bro.” And while I’m at it, I’m tired of hearing this “her words said no, but her body said yes” shit. Sometimes people flirt, sometimes people will even give you a kiss or drunkenly dance with you. I don’t care if a girl has given you permission to fingerblast her or her pussy is in your face, if she says “this is as far as I want to go,” or “stop,” those words MUST be respected. If a girl is telling you “let’s have sex,” or is physically sliding your penis inside her she probably wants to fuck you. If she is pushing you away from her and saying “No, I don’t want this to happen,” she DOES NOT want to have sex with you. I realize it’s hard to think with those things all armed and ready for battle, but please just fucking evolve.

It’s quite simple. NO means NO, for everyone. And if I have to say it more than once, “NO” means “Fuck off, seriously or I am going to chop off your penis with my samurai sword.” You think I’m kidding about this samurai sword thing, but I have a tab open where I’m searching for one on Etsy right now.

DRUGS – BARBITURATES

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Photo of my new tattoo of the quote below, “A prayer for the wild of heart that are kept in cages.” Tattoo and photo by the very talented Joseph Aloi 

“A prayer for the wild of heart that are kept in cages,” the subtitle of Tennessee William’s Stairs to the Roof, are words that have always been dear to my heart, along with a special fondness for Tennessee himself. Beyond appreciation of his work, I feel some deep affection for the man I can’t fully explain. Although it is believed that Tennessee choked to death, barbiturates were also found in the room, a drug he abused throughout his life along with alcohol and amphetamines.

Today barbiturates are rarely prescribed, replaced by their B brother benzodiazepines, which have a lower risk for overdose. Like benzos, they were prescribed largely as anti-anxiety and sleep medication. Common early brand names included Veronal and Luminal, or perhaps you have heard of Seconal. Particularly fascinating to me is the super short-acting Pentothal, known as “truth serum.” I’m often an open book, those close to me might prefer I was prescribed whatever the opposite of Pentothal is, but I am quite curious if it does, in fact, work. Bill, is that what you shot Beatrix Kiddo full of before she stopped your heart? Spoiler alert! But fuck you if you haven’t seen Kill Bill yet, and for fuck’s sake it’s in the title.

By the 1960s scientists figured out barbiturates were pretty fucking dangerous. In 1965 the Drug Abuse Control Amendments were stamped into law, and then came the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. All those fun drugs got a stamp of their own, the one that read, “warning,” but many of us see and read “fun.” Doctors tapered off prescribing them, although the drugs were still available on the streets through the 1980s.

Many, like my dear friend Tennessee have experienced the haunted merry-go-round of prescription drugs. The user, like Tennessee, truly does experience anxiety, depression, or other demons that lead to their prescription as an illness. However, the longer you’re on the ride the faster you go until around and around and around and eventually the drug itself creates the same symptoms you started taking it for, and you need more, more, more, and the withdrawal process is more painful and difficult than what forced you on the ride on the first place.

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL – JAY ARNER

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Jay Arner’s album cover. Thanks to Jay and Riot Act Media. 

The segmentation of this column is so random, I’m always curious of the artist’s reaction. I’m sorry Jay that you got chopped off penises and dead writers, I oh-so-much dig your songs!

Vancouver’s Jay Arner has played the field musically. He fronted an indie rock band, bopped around in a pop duo, even made up one tentacle of an eight-member collective. If I had a turd of musical talent, I’ve always said I’d be a solo artist, since humans can be annoying and attention is fun, so maybe after dabbling in such numerous groups Jay was finally like, fuck it, I’m flying solo.

Jay bird shows off his wing span on his self-titled debut, from 70s punk to 80s synthy shit to my favorite pop track of the album, “Don’t Remind Me,” which starts out with words we’re all familiar with, “About last night…”sung with a wink and a hint of embarrassment.It feels like waking up on a Sunday morning with flashbacks of stupid yet awesome shit you did the night before and simultaneously laughing yet cringing at yourself. I don’t think I would be in need of breaking out my samurai sword around Jay. We’d make out publicly and act like total fools but he would be respectful and put me in a cab home when I was like “Dude, you’re awesome, but I’ve got to call it a night.”

The self-titled debut is out June 25th on Mint Records. Stream “Don’t Remind Me” below.

An exclusive MIMP interview with Andrew W.K. and Cherie Lily. – “I’ve always said that real men enjoy the smell of vagina. Thankfully Andrew W.K. passes the test and my girl boner is still intact.” – The Bowie Cat

I spent an afternoon with Andrew W.K. and his lovely wife Cherie for Me In My Place. Read the delightfully dirty feature here.

ZOMBIES, COMICS, FAST CARS, AND VIDEO GAMES: AN INTERVIEW WITH KAVINSKY FOR VICE

Our fascination with superheroes grows out of the desire for an alter ego, a Superman to our everyday Clark Kent. Most of us fall into characters of our own creation quite often. Through our art, flirtation—even our social networking pages—we present amplified versions of our true selves. French electronic artist Vincent Belorgey, known to the world as Kavinsky, has made a career through his alter ego. The legend of Kavinsky goes something like this: After crashing his Ferrari Testarossa, Vincent’s real life car of choice, he dies and reappears as a zombie to create electronic music. “Nightcall,” the song that launched Kavinsky to fame largely through the Drive soundtrack, is about the zombie going to see his old girlfriend to let her know he has changed. But, the story goes, she has already moved on

Read the interview here at VICE.