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For those interested, I have a piece on the immortal and apparently ageless IGGY POP, primarily on his days with THE STOOGES, in the current March issue of Spin Magazine (with FALL OUT BOY on the cover). It’s actually one of my favorite interviews I have conducted in some time, not because of anything to do with me, but because the Ig is so funny and so honest. You just have to feed him a few inside tidbits from his wild past and the anecdotes fly fast and furious! And hilarious, too. I hope you will check it out. Just as a taste, on the cover of the magazine it says, “Iggy: ‘I tried to snort the floor.’” (True; at the Redondo Beach Motel in the mid-’70s, but you’ll have to read the interview to find out how and why!) There is also a photo of yours truly on the “contributors” page in the early going, which I couldn’t be more pleased by. I have not written anything of note for Spin in 20 years, but the direction of the magazine under DOUG BROD is more to my personal liking, and I was enormously glad he asked me to do it. I hope you enjoy it!
OK, that done, before we ran the recent series of guest reviews in this space by PATRICK LUDDITE on last week’s Noise Pop Festival in San Francisco, I promised I would post my comments about the previous year 2006 in this space, so let me do that now. It’s too long to run at once, so here is part one, and part two will come soon. This was composed for the Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll, and I am tickled to note they ran two long excerpts in their issue last month. (Those sections will run here in part two.) Anyway, here it is. Note, do not read this first part if you have absolutely zero interest in the intersection between popular music and contemporary politics, sociopolitics, and world affairs. But you can safely read the second part next week. Of course, you probably know where I stand on that question.
2006: NEIL YOUNG/CSN&Y PRESAGES THE ELECTION, THE DECEMBERISTS, AND OPTIMISM AT LAST
2006 was a much better year for music for me than my somewhat gloomy 2005 for three reasons.
1) My previous crush on the music of THE DECEMBERISTS bloomed into a veritable love affair vis a vis The Crane Wife. And for once, I got the sense that the rest of the country that pays attention to non-commercial music had the same reaction that I did. (I will cover this in part two next time.)
2) After spending the whole of my comments last year complaining that I hadn’t heard a record that I loved that spoke for the times (I had to settle for KANYE WEST’s welcome tirade on the NBC Red Cross fundraiser), I felt galvanized and utterly inspired by NEIL YOUNG’s no holds barred protest record. Not bad for an old geezer. And then, like a one-two punch, CROSBY, STILLS, NASH, & YOUNG’s accompanying tour, which both pushed that LP to the forefront and also tied into all their old Vietnam-era protest songs, proved a valuable reminder that musicians have been speaking up for a long time and should still be! Amen!
3) Although Young’s LP and CSN&Y’s tour had as little to do with the 2006 election results as the “Rock For Change” tour could be blamed for the debacle of 2004, it felt like it nevertheless reflected and refracted a larger breakthrough that was taking place in U.S. consciousness. The LP and tour felt just in time in 2006, as American voters finally snapped out of a post-9/11 collective fog and finally realized what a flimflam bill of goods they had bought wholesale for five years. This 2006 election truly felt like rain in the desert. And it felt like a valuation of the reality that we all had to have a hand in this, whether Democrats, moderate Republicans, or just normal caring Americans living in the reality-based world, given the usual appalling entrenchment of incumbent representatives and senators. I’ll never forget staying up that night in November, fighting sleep until 3 AM to find out if the Democrats had seized control of the full Congress after six years of mostly blatant GOP misrule, and passing out without knowing! Oh, fitful sleep! And when the morning brought its exciting conclusion, I reflected on the myriad musicians who had filled my magazine’s interview pages these past six years with invective for this administration’s policies, and its compliant blank-check, lap-dog Congress. And I felt like artists—all artists who didn’t remain silent—have had a role in this as much as any media outlet, for speaking up in the years past when it was less fashionable to do so.
Following that last thought, let me touch on the second point, first. Indeed, looking back at the plethora of writing I did this last 14 months, I felt most energized by the reviews I wrote of Young’s Living With War and CSN&Y’s concert August 27 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. And it’s not all old news, either. For we are obviously still mired in the war in Iraq with no end in sight, and this very day I compose this we’re told that the 3190th U.S. soldier has perished there—3190 young men and women tragically never to return to grieving spouses, children, parents, friends, and other family. Some 3050 (95.6%) of them have fallen since the “Mission Accomplished” banner was unfurled as, as Young sings on the incredible “Shock and Awe”: “Our president was landing on the deck/The sun was setting on a golden photo op.” Still listening to this record, I also shudder at the 23,417 U.S. wounded, many of them maimed, and the hundreds of Iraqis who keep dying every day (some 58,000-65,000 have already been slain). Thus I think Young’s album remains a crucial statement even after the election, even as a new year turns towards spring, and I will keep listening to it throughout this 2007.
I am thankful that this transplanted, retirement-aged, 40-year vet, and respected Canadian stuck his neck out for an entire album in amplifying a beleaguered, recently battered truism: that protesting bad wars and bad leaders is gutty patriotism, not treason. And it felt very powerful to finally get that straight up in the pop music world that has largely flown the flag or remained mute in song. Young fixated on the human, not political or monetary (though $500 billion or so is hardly chicken feed), cost of war—the same place his bandmate STEPHEN STILLS did (“in the ground”) during Vietnam 36 years ago. His point remains shattering; while our president ordered our cowered, so-called “liberal” media (ha!) not to show the coffins of our combat dead (that same media instead coughs up endless pictures of celebrity babies, raising my bile!), their ultimate sacrifice for us in a time of no draft becomes someone else’s problem. Way to go Neil. So simple, but so powerful. And it still makes me sick.
I especially was riveted by the LP’s most condemning tracks, such as the just mentioned “Shock and Awe,” ruminating on an administration that’s malfeasant (Young cites deliberate distortions) and/or at least guilty of incompetence, hubris, and catastrophic policy failure: from “last throes” Baghdad and squandered worldwide and domestic sympathy and unity, to an untrustworthy Homeland Security, to a gutted, useless FEMA. And what did we do? We put “support our troops” stickers on gas-guzzling SUVs we didn’t need, as potent a symbol of disconnection as I can think of, and went shopping at our president’s and his corporate funders’ behest. This latter malady was perhaps Young’s saddest point, made in the searing “The Restless Consumer,” his hottest rocker in ages.
So why was this such a big moment for me in 2006, pre-election? Simply put, as BAD RELIGION once sang, and as I still staunchly believe, “You are the government.” Indeed, punk bands routinely spoke to—and for—us like this back when punk sold no records (and that’s why!). To have all this finally reflected so powerfully on an LP I played over and over, felt like my connection with music as a beacon of unfiltered communication was reaffirmed. And even with the Democrat electoral landslide, Young’s LP was looking way ahead to the next crucial presidential contest. Either we heed his call for change (“Lookin’ for a Leader” was the key song here) or we endorse eight years of tragic travesty. If in 2008 we make the same mistake as in 2004, failing to hold duplicitous leadership to account for its mistakes and deceptions—being accountable was supposedly the supreme conservative “value” until a dominant Republican government decided to dress up every one of its obvious failures as victories—we will share the blame as well as the consequences, together.
And then, following that LP, the CSN&Y tour!... Whoah, what a surprise! Expecting an entertaining oldies affair, this writer and ambushed crowds across the nation instead received a no-punches-pulled, political concert that took confrontational chances. The first and last hour—the sociopolitical sections—were dominated by storming versions of that new Young LP, bolstered this time (and memorably so) by CSN’s incredible harmonies. Otherwise, it was inspiring to see that all four chose old material to compliment Young’s. The show was a cavalcade of old but now sadly once-again-timely rants such as “Immigration Man,” “Military Madness,” “Chicago,” “Long Time Gone,” “Almost Cut My Hair,” “Find the Cost of Freedom,” “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” and the ultimate of this line, “Ohio.” If anyone wanted a band to evoke that old (supposed) GEORGE SANTAYANA line that, “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it,” they merely had to hear all these songs in a row and consider that every one of them could have been written in the ‘00s!
I was especially heartened to hear that at some of the tour stops the group met with boos and angry walkouts from the portion of their fans who merely craved a nice, safe, unchallenging classic rock staples oldies show. Ha!! Yea, let’s have more of that. I’m sick of polite bands afraid to ruffle any feathers for fear of losing market share, and maybe it takes a pack of 60-somethings to not care, a rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of San Francisco’s Grannies Against the War. But even GEORGE W. BUSH supporters that stuck around for the complete show would have to have been given pause by the projected thumbnail images of every U.S. soldier dead in Iraq the group projected on the screen behind them, putting (dead) human faces to the statistics and making the point of such protest pop clear and moving.
By the time Young and his three old ‘60s pals reclaimed his Bush I ‘89 Freedom anthem “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” from those who still blithely mistake it for patriotic, the point was hammered home. If these throwbacks from a rotten war of yore can rouse themselves to speak out, then indeed, where is the mass movement of younger artists speaking plainly about what’s going on, rather than just dribs and drabs of the brave but unpopular? I was left wondering, and I still am: Outside of far-flung exceptions such as DIXIE CHICKS and BRIGHT EYES, and even, a while back, EMINEM, can modern popular art only cater to the escapist? And are today’s underground/alternative acts so tame, preferring to rock only style boats in demographic-conscious displays of faux rebellion for a spoon-fed VH1 “I remember the ‘90s” generation? Isn’t it sad that most everyone else these days outside of the likes of the above and PEARL JAM (whose music I’ve never liked, thought they were among the only others in 2006 who spoke up vociferously), with rare and prized exceptions, is still saying not very much about not very much on their records, especially in the “indie rock” scene? Can it only be BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (via his covers of PETE SEEGER’s own Vietnam-era songs like “Bring ‘em Home” and “Mrs. McGrath”) and MERLE HAGGARD, CSN&Y, and others old enough to have been drafted 40 years ago who have any opinion on the matter in song? Ah, where’s today’s equivalent of JOE STRUMMER? Whatever, this unlikely triumph of a show felt like a 1979 CLASH or STIFF LITTLE FINGERS gig, and I’m still buzzing remembering it, thinking all the while, “Rock isn’t dead. We are.” Never mind it was by guys 15 years older than me instead of 20 years younger. I’ll take it anywhere I can get it.
And thus, as the election approached, I considered this national tour to be one prominent wave in a much bigger ocean, a rising tide of turning public opinion post-Katrina, that included JON STEWART’s Daily Show (still oddly the most honest form of network news we have!), STEPHEN COLBERT’s oddly sly Colbert Report, the editorial pages of most of our major newspapers (finally waking up after shamefully and ignomiously botching their pre-war coverage), several sanguine periodicals (from The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair, to even, more or less, The Economist), and eventually, just about every poll result published as the summer turned to fall. It seemed astonishing that Americans were finally learning their long-neglected lesson. And I look on this current session of the new Congress with guarded optimism—the first time I’ve felt that way in years. There’s so much damage to try to undo; let’s hope they at least make a good start before they become as corrupt as the old-guard GOP fatcats who came to resemble nothing but a self-dealing, power-protecting, porous rubber stamp for bad presidential prerogative.
(The conclusion coming soon!)
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