UPON TURNING 19 years old, I decided that it was no longer appropriate to ever give thought to what I would wear to a rock concert. That was pretty much the last time I ever gave thought to any of my behavior. Kind of pathetic, really. The good news is that there will come a day when you won't have Taylor to kick around anymore. After the recent Zombies/Love bill at Town Hall, I'm thinking that anybody over the age of 50 should never be allowed anywhere near live music.
Maybe there's a medical term for what goes wrong with the internal rhythm of older men. All I know is that it was dizzying to watch rows of gray-haired rock fans fervently nodding their heads to anything but the beat. It was like a meltdown at the Bobblehead factory. Those little springs inside their heads don't work any better without music, either. Our nation's nursing homes will eventually be filled with the din of moronic conversations about Canned Heat. It's the only concert where I only wore earplugs when there weren't musicians onstage.
I'm not kidding myself that I'll be down with the young'uns at the next day's start of the College Music Journal Convention. I've already seen that the list of acts includes Flesh for Lulu and the Wonder Stuff. I'm simply hoping that CMJ will give me-and my editors-a break from constantly dwelling on how I'm way too old to keep being younger than everybody else at a concert.
So I stroll into the Jacob Javits Center to find a crowd that looks exactly like the Zombies/Love audience.
To be fair, this may have something to do with my arriving in the midst of the panel celebrating the official release of the legendary lost Beach Boys album Smile-complete with Brian Wilson onstage. ("We're not worthy!" proclaims the CMJ Festival Guide, demonstrating that their clichéd rock critics moonlight as the publication's copywriters.)
I'm fortunate to catch a line-up of audience members addressing the panel from a mic stand placed on the floor. There's nothing funnier than seeing a fiftysomething music geek fulfilling his lifelong dream of posing a question to Brian Wilson, and then sulking away after the addled legend responds with a dismissive non sequitur.
But tragedy is lurking in the wings. Wilson is carted offstage. The crowd disperses, and I take advantage of how the Javits Center thoughtfully provides mixed drinks near the lovely River Pavilion. Unknown to myself, CMJ employees are working behind my back and setting up nameplates for what will be described as the "Artist and Politics Forum."
I've already walked through the humble exhibit booths overrun by assorted leftist causes. There's no representation from the right. No need for that, since publications like CMJ have done such a good job of eliminating dissent. Maybe the prior night's screening of Team America:World Police was supposed to provide some balance. I'd be more impressed if I hadn't arrived late to avoid keynote speaker Al Franken.
The lockstep marches on, though, as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! comes out to moderate the all-left panel of John Cale, Ted Leo, poet Saul Williams and heiress Jen Chapin. Having a conservative around might interfere with Goodman's opening statements, as she weaves some creative fantasies about challenges to free speech-including a tale of how poor Michael Moore can't always con students into funding his activism for the Democrats.
Busy activist Goodman, however, will be fleeing the panel halfway through the forum as she heads to Canada. She's probably much more appreciated in places that have socialized medicine. As it turns out, you can't begrudge her for being lucky enough to have an excuse. The sheer douchebaggery on display is best demonstrated when Chapin talks about how John Kerry is "hugely intellectual and articulate," but he "has to shrink" down his big ideas because Americans are so stupid.
Everyone on the dais knowingly nods in agreement. These deep thinkers can relate to that. You know, major labels aren't even talking to Ted Leo.
At least Leo will sport the old-skool cred to quote Crass on music and politics. It's also charming when Cale brings up right-wing musician Charlie Daniels, but only because Cale's fairly sure that's who recorded "Behind Closed Doors." Chapin will continue to provide the lamest moments, including a unique interpretation of how 9/11 changed the world so that "things aren't so black and white." She marvels at how we're wasting time on "meaningless terms" such as "evil."
I give up on keeping track of her absurdities after Chapin instructs the audience to ask ourselves, "Do we engage in responsible consumption choices?" If you're not sure, Chapin will be happy to decide for you. She has "a unique perspective" on life and politics, you know. You didn't? She'll be happy to tell you that, too.
The microphones are still set up for questions from the audience. I'm planning to ask if the panel is concerned or relieved that conservative views weren't allowed on the podium. That's before the entire Q&A session is taken over by a Sad Old Coot. You know the type. They show up at City Council meetings or on late night talk radio, supposedly addressing one issue and then rambling on about their many important thoughts.
This particular example made his presence known from the beginning. A representative from CMJ was introducing Amy Goodman, and the Sad Old Coot shouted out some terribly important fact that he felt was being neglected. Then the Sad Old Coot runs over to stand in front of a microphone about 20 minutes before the panel discussion ends. There's not enough space here to repeat his question verbatim. He begins with a long speech, but that's necessary to set up another long speech.
The guy eventually thinks to ask-or, as he puts it, "challenge"-the panelists to comment about popular dancehall performers such as Beenie Man. Specifically, he wants the panel to address the nightmare of how anyone who's ever expressed homophobic feelings can be allowed to record for a major label. Then the Sad Old Coot makes note of how he'll be moderating a future CMJ panel.
This is truly depressing. I've only been looking at the Sad Old Coot from behind. I had no idea until now that he is, in fact, Jim Fouratt-once an important figure in the music industry, and once one of the most reasonable leftists around.
I knew from emails that Fouratt has lost perspective during the current administration. I didn't know he'd been reduced to being the kind of creep who'd commandeer speaking time during a CMJ panel. This guy used to be one of my heroes. I was planning to call him to get a quote about the CD reissue of pioneering glam artist Jobriath. Now I might as well go talk to some old guy hanging around the pickle barrel at Sam Drucker's General Store.
And yet Fouratt has a purpose here today-even if it's not the one he's intending to serve. The panel starts by hemming and hawing about how hard it is to be judgmental. Chapin brings up the eventual matter of cultural differences. "Don't even go there!" shouts Fouratt.
He keeps badgering them from his seat, and the panel is soon folding like a flock of Frenchmen. Cale says, "That may be where it's a law-enforcement problem." He's not talking about physical violence. Williams notes that there are some cases where music should be required to have "the rated R."
Leave it to a bunch of leftists to decide that Tipper Gore wasn't going far enough with those Parental Advisory warnings. We have Jim Fouratt to thank for that insight. Still, I'm only further convinced that people over the age of 50 should be avoiding any music-related event. Not that I'm advocating federal enforcement. I don't want to sound like a CMJ panelist.