This Rock 'n' Roll Danger Stuff is Really Corny

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:54

    I Like It Warm and Fuzzy Danger is corny. So why's Tabb trying to sell it to me? We're sitting in a bar and Tabb, by way of complimenting my recently defunct band, is expressing his incredulousness at my band's lack of dangerous content. As in: isn't it fucked up that I dig your band, which was so puzzlingly undangerous. So I go: Tabb, what is this danger you speak of? And he tells me about how really good music makes one want to break stuff. Aaarrgh, danger! Danger is another noun on the list of baby-boomer indulgence-nouns, which includes other punk rock standards like sellout and hippie notions like progressive. (Look, bub, music doesn't progress?it's not a fucking technology. New sounds can be found?very very rarely?but not new feelings.) You remember the baby boomers, right? The guys who fucked up show business for everybody, so that now if you want to be a singer when you grow up you have to want to be the messiah? Who imparted to pop music the totally ludicrous notion that to be anything near real you have to write your own material? Billie Holiday didn't. Hank Williams didn't write "Lovesick Blues." The history of r&b?a lot of current history, too?is of traditional songwriter, arranger and singer in separate camps. Sure I dig the Beatles. But does everybody have to be them?

    (Let me just make a most hypocritical aside to my lawyer, manager and Warner/Chappell rep: don't worry, I'm not trying to subtly hint at a career change here. Let them songwriting revenues come in! Who's your boy?)

    I just read that Please Kill Me book, the oral punk-rock history one. I love me some punk rock. And there's nothing I enjoy more than talented people getting pilled up and falling down, often violently. But I'm just not getting what exactly the danger is. That is, unless you're, like, real close to the front and Iggy actually falls on you. Richard Lloyd?whose music, I'm afraid, I'm totally unfamiliar with?says, about drug use, in an addendum to Please Kill Me, "I mean, some people climb Mount Everest... I took things that made you do that without going anywhere... You can look at it as adventuring." Yes, you can. I sure did when I was a kid in the suburbs and had no access to drugs. But when I did get them, guess what I found? A warm and fuzzy feeling.

    Let me just say that I can't really front here: for one thing, I pretty much design my music to be undangerous. I like it to have big fat superlow frequencies that cause a palpable physical tingle, and which make people want to fuck. For another thing, I have a long history of critics having trouble with this rather calculated lack of scariness. I remember reading something on Addicted to Noise, about a Knitting Factory show, in which the reviewer was highly, pointedly annoyed at my band for lacking any trace of what she called "sex and death." Sex and death! (Just as a sidebar, I know a number of folks who got quite thoroughly laid at that show. Well, okay, not at it. And at the time I smoked like three packs a day. I've since quit, which no doubt makes me doubly undangerous.)

    A guy wrote a Spin review, way back in the way back, actually lambasting me for not even trying to sound black when I sang. His point was something like: well, Ad-Rock avoids his whiteness by getting all whiny and raceless, Beck avoids his whiteness by shticking on his nonblackness, but this guy, why, he's just white. The writer really had a problem with the vocals?they made him uncomfortable. He actually said something to the effect of this would be quite the decent record, if it weren't for the vocals.

    Now, here is something that actually might be kind of dangerous: those who get their little danger thrill in music by having an intense fantasy relationship with black people?the myth of the big black superhero rapper guy. Dangerous, as in, dangerous to their mental health?I don't think the standard-issue white rock critic longing to be the scary black man on the CD has absolutely anything to do with anything remotely related to actual black people in the world. But, boy, do they get mad when white people take up with the elements of rap music, thus fucking up their high. It remains cool?as in, no stigma?to make fun of white people for rapping. Twelve years after Faith No More, dude, look, it's just not all that bizarre.

    I was struck by the recent controversy when Mike Rubin and Mark Dancey did a cartoon piece about the Insane Clown Posse for Spin. They actually tried to link the band with minstrelsy (a guy at an upright piano sings "way down upon the swanee ribber" in one panel), and made hay out of the fact that ICP were playing Detroit and their fans were all white people from the suburbs. This was illustrated with a map of Michigan with "Detroit" in oo-scary lettering, with a barbed-wire fence surrounding it. Does it have to be pointed out that pretty much any band?rap bands definitely included?playing Detroit are drawing mostly white kids from the suburbs? Unfortunately, ICP are boobs and went on a Detroit radio station, calling upon their fans to attack Rubin and Dancey. Deeply stupid though that is, I have to say, if I were chumped by self-loathing writers using me as an externalized target for their fear of themselves?who pretty much believe, with a straight face, that musical miscegenation should be mocked so others won't attempt it?I wouldn't react rationally, either.

    This kind of nonsense is still going on. The April 27 Rolling Stone contains a Douglas Wolk review of the LaFace artist Pink that starts: "Pink is twenty-year-old Alecia Moore's hair dye of choice and, for that matter, her skin color." Never mind that Gwen Stefani?associated with ska, an older black genre than Pink's triplet-heavy contemporary r&b, which I guess makes it okay?sports the same race/coif combo in the same issue. Never mind that Pink's label was founded and is run by black people working in the same genre as she. Black musicians are cool with the girl, but the fucking critic points out her race like it actually means something.

    Tabb, thankfully, doesn't have a rich fantasy life in which he's Redman. At least, as far as I know. But this danger stuff? He's not budging. He really thinks that the desire to inflict damage on private property is the righteous response to melodic stimuli. Then Giorgio Gomelsky, who we're drinking with, turns around and totally busts his argument up, winding it back to the Crusades and working his point up through the centuries. Tabb keeps trying to interject, but Giorgio won't let him, laying on another century of evidence every time he tries. Ooh, face, Tabb.

    But Giorgio doesn't have much time for my argument, either, and shuts me up by telling me that the architects of rock music were making something because they had nothing else to express what they were feeling. I still don't buy it, but Giorgio has been in music since the 60s in London. To the cat that's seen it all, Tabb and I are both just a couple of punks.