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>Definately a life soundtrack

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At the conference I was just at in Iowa, the other scholar who presented on Sun Ra, James Caroll, tied Nigerian nationalism to African-American nationalism in really interesting ways. Its funny that he did so, because I remember putting this album on a month ago when I was going through a 70s-Stax phase and thinking of all the congruence it had with soul from the early 1970’s (I’m thinking mostly of Stax, but there are definately others). I wish I could understand the lyrics, but do I have to? The spirit seems similar to me. Imagining Nigerians making music in a refashioned state and economy that seemed hopeful seems to cross-polinate with what it must of meant to be emerging from the 1960’s with a sense of maybe a malleable future, one in which creativity could play a role in shaping what kind of nation there could be. Watts-Stax is the obvious example. But what does it mean to listen to this music 35 years later? Thats the question that plagues me, I guess.

Written by alexgfrank

April 30, 2008 at 8:42 pm

>Uncle Madonna

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I’m a little embarassed talking bout Madonna, but did I have a choice really? She forces herself back into my conciousness every couple a years. Madonna brought me back on her team with her last album “Confessions on a Dance Floor” I found it a strikingly relevant album for someone that I hadn’t found particularly relevant for like 10 years. Mostly, I found it explicitly gay, the most forthright example of Madonna singing to gay fans about a melodramatic life on a dance floor. If you’re gay, Madonna can seem like an uncle or aunt that, whether you like them or not, shows up to every family event. Sometimes they are fun, sometimes they are kinda annoying and old-seeming, but they are always there. She’s in the gay conciousness, has been for 20 years, and maybe will be for the next 20, and her last album made me proud to have her at the table.

So I anticipated her next album and I can’t tell if I’m disappointed or not. Its good, but where is the ambition? Madonna, for all her faults, always sounds ambitious. Madonna aestheticizes ambition, I think, sexually and financially. But I don’t hear that here. She sounds less assertive. That aside, its a pretty solid album I think its really smart for her to make solid albums that will stand up. She doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel anymore, and just like Confessions on a Dance Floor, every gay club will be banging this one, especially “Give it 2 me”.

And if anyone thinks her latest aesthetic reinvention is a little less obviously relevant, Alex Hagwood at the New York Times I think provides the quickest and most adept viewing I’ve seen in all the reviews of her new persona:

“So, what does the 32-minute set she performed at Roseland Ballroom last night tell us about Madge’s new wardrobe and current state of mind?

Having ditched her razor-sharp leotard in favor of bedazzled Adidas track pants — Material Spice? — Madonna took the stage in a look that resembled a tailored version of the baggy tracksuits that the paparazzi routinely snaps her schlepping to the gym in. No longer a feathered-hair disco diva that just happens to have a flawless body, this latest incarnation of Madonna is taking full ownership of her reputation as the world’s toughest gym bunny.

While hardly a groundbreaking aesthetic choice, it makes sense. As New York nightlife, once synonymous with transcendental exuberance, becomes a thing of the past, the most popular place to pump a dance floor anthem is no longer on the dance floor. One of the few destinations where a wide cross-section of the city goes to hear a mix of hip hop, techno, and house music 24/7 is the gym. Equinox is the new Paradise Garage, and Madonna — her finger firmly on the pulse monitor — knows it better than anyone.

But still, watching Madonna clad in her glamorous exercise clothes run through the motions, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing. Maybe that’s because the gym, unlike the disco, is not a place of total freedom. It’s a place of discipline and regimented routine. It’s the church of bodily control, not bodily freedom; a place to tone social norms rather than transcend them.”

From “Gonna Make You Sweat: Madonna at the Roseland Ballroom”

I think thats a great understanding, and it immediately makes me think of the iPod and how almost every person at the gym has their ears plugged into a personal soundtrack of fitness ambition – I have only listened to the album within the privacy of my own headphones, it has not been a collective, dancefloor or television experience like I think other Madonna albums have been. What happens to dance utopias when the utopia’s population is limited to one person? Which then, of course, brings up larger questions about gay identity and its relationship to those utopian spaces of dance. Not that the nightclub is dead, far from it, nightspots seem to be more prevelant in DC then they were even four years ago. But Madonna might be shrewdly understanding how music is much more personal, we use it to soundtrack our lives just like I’m sure she must listen to her iPod in the 5 hours a day she spends at the gym, 5 hours of isolation and asociality, and so therefore less collective then it was when the only way you could hear an album in all of its bass-heavy glory was at a club.

I won’t start reading a eulogy for collective utopia yet; I ran into my friends Ramzi and Danny, and the first question they asked was “Have you heard the new Madonna album? ITS AMAZING I LOVE HER”

Written by alexgfrank

April 22, 2008 at 11:49 pm

Posted in global village

>Perfect Pop Song of the Moment #7

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>Erkin Koray – Kizlari da Alin Askere

Marshall McLuhan interviewed James Brown (I woulda loved to be in the room with those two), and Brown said there was no way he could sing like he sings in any other language but English. Neither of them explain why that could be, and I think McLuhan would be safe enough these days not to ask a question like that, but as anglo-ist as it is, I wonder what it means to a listener to be aurally invested in words they can’t understand. I don’t know about anyone else, but I grew up with a musical narrative tradition, the cult of the song-writer who pours out his intelligence in pithy verses and choruses. Bob Dylan, John Lennon, all that shit. Hell, who’s given more respect for those Supremes songs that I love so much, Diana Ross or Holland-Dozier-Holland? My point is, pop music fans throw more respect to song-writers than performers. I mean Britney Spears was the most popular performer in the world, but I remember her going to PAINS to prove she wrote songs that were “introspective” and “adult”. Thats why I think its great that Erkin Koray might have gone to pains to write the most lyrically profound song in the world, and I don’t know a word he’s saying and I bob my head to that shit anyway. His vocal performance is supreme, and performance, I think, tells as much of a story as lyrics. Can you imagine the sweet words hes saying? I know I can, maybe I’m just too sentimental, but I like using my imagination. And no offense to King James Brown, but I think Koray is as effective in Turkish as Brown is in funky English.


Written by alexgfrank

March 24, 2008 at 9:52 pm