Not to get too detailed, but the extent to which my job is sucking all the joy and energy out of everything I do is increasing and also getting kind of scary. I’ve got a couple of coping mechanisms. First, there’s all the things in Google Reader that aren’t my job that I read on my breaks, and then there’s my best tactic for inducing a haters gonna hate endorphin surge while getting my job done: listening to tapes of Wilco shows, turned up to eleven.
As of this week, these two things have started to dovetail.
Since SXSW this year, I’ve noticed an uptick in pieces about hip-hop collective Odd Future on the blogs I read, and last night I finally read something that gave words to what I haven’t seen in the coverage so far — an absence that’s left me feeling pretty uncomfortable.
Most of the links have pretty graphic and disturbing descriptions of violent misogyny and homophobia, and the rest of the post will touch on that, so I’m going to put the rest of this behind the jump.In chronological order:
It’s the last two that really made me start to think about this. I’m the first to admit I don’t know much about hip-hop and rap. I listen to some of it and I like it, but I don’t know enough to say anything intelligent.
The thing is — Emma Carmichael’s “With the Ladies in the Back” was familiar.
This is the paradox of the Odd Future narrative, and of the people who so eagerly consume it. That includes me. The young men rap about bitches, and about fucking them and raping them and rubbing glass on their clitorises, but the “bitches” aren’t in their videos. They’re not onstage in any intentional way, as in an orchestrated moment at a Drake show. Unless their name is Syd and they’re in charge of every song and of the show’s momentum, the bitch in the verse exists in some theoretical plane where anything can be done to her, or it, and no one has to be hurt.
The words don’t match up with the spectacle.
…[Odd Future’s] trick is deciding who gets to be in on the joke; for listeners sensitive to lyrics about rape or homophobia, the trick is deciding if you really want to be in on the joke in the first place. Young white men, Tyler masks strapped on, were clamoring for that right on Friday, while the women tried to find a place for themselves. That meant either dancing awkwardly onstage, because that’s what seems true to the form, or retreating to the back, amongst the stripper-bitch-faggot-asses, and watching passively from a distance.
As I was reading Carmichael’s piece, I kept thinking about Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses at the Ogden in February. To be clear: the parallels I see there have nothing to do with Bingham’s songwriting or behavior on stage, but rather the behavior of Bingham’s guitar tech, the Ogden staff, the Ogden setup (and the empty VIP areas), what happened to get the show moved from the Bluebird in the first place, the weirdly riotous crowd including the multiple men on the floor that kept critiquing, verbally and physically, the way my friend and I and others took in Bingham’s performance — all of those factors, in other words, that were totally at odds with Bingham’s music up on the stage.
What I’m trying to get at is that this isn’t an Odd Future problem. It’s not a hip-hop or rap problem. It’s not an East Coast or West Coast problem, it’s not a “heartland” problem. It can happen at the Ogden in Denver at an alt-country show, and it can happen at the Highline Ballroom at a hip-hop show. And it can get perpetuated on the internet.
Because seeing how angry Sady Doyle got about it, in her piece “Tyler, The Creator” —
Because real-live girls were getting harassed, hurt, told that they only had value to the extent that everyone could see their fucking tits, told that they were just a pair of tits to jerk off on or a hole to fuck, unless they don’t want to fuck, in which case fuck ‘em anyway, and bitch DON’T get fucking mad when I hurt you, FUCK YOU BITCH, your body is there for me to do what I want with, and the dudes? The white male blogger music dudes who were covering this? Who were hyping Odd Future and Tyler, the Creator? Who are hyping them still? It was happening IN FUCKING FRONT OF THEM. And it didn’t matter. It didn’t stop them for a fucking second.
It didn’t fucking matter. They didn’t think to factor it in. In point of fact, what much of the criticism about Odd Future has focused on is the idea that their live shows are the best part of what they do; the great, punk-rock, incendiary EXPERIENCE of Odd Future, is what gets discussed. And there are real girls getting harassed, IN FUCKING FRONT OF the white dudes who are writing paeans to and defenses of Odd Future, in front of the dudes who are praising Odd Future shows. And we need to be sophisticated. We need to talk “about” “the” “music.” We need to worry about whether we sound “screechy” or like “scolds,” don’t get too upset, don’t lose your shit, don’t act like this is some kind of litmus test for whether or not you can even vaguely respect a dude as a person. Well, dudes, I have a remarkable new theory for you: When it’s YOUR ass on the line, then YOU can tell ME how upset to fucking be about it, and how I should phrase that. Seriously. When Tyler is using you as a synonym for “worthless,” when Tyler wants to shove broken glass up your asshole, ring me up, and tell me how much I should care. I’ll listen, all you want, when you’re talking about the “sophistication” we should maintain in re: discussing whether or not your asshole deserves to have broken glass shoved up it.
Emphasis is mine.
When I think about how to write about a show, whether here or elsewhere, I consider not just the music coming from the stage, but the performance. This includes the performance space, the audience, the musician or band’s comfort level on the stage, the rapport the musician or band builds with the audience, and a whole bunch of other things. Sometimes I consider what I did just before or just after a show; sometimes I take some time to think about the experience before I write about it.
The point is that a studio album is not a live performance. A live performance works under different rules and should be considered under different aesthetic criteria by anyone writing about it. A live performance reflects more immediately upon the cultures participating in that performance — including everything from regional culture of the audience to the road culture of the band to the culture of the venue, and then some.
It would be great — it would be fantastic — to be able to limit music criticism to what comes from the stage. But we can’t — or at least we shouldn’t. Because when it comes to live performance, it’s not all about the music. Sometimes it’s about standing in the back because you’re not comfortable going up front, because you don’t feel safe going up front. Sometimes it’s about standing there and listening to an artist you admire, maybe an artist you love, tell you that, as Emma Carmichael puts it, you’re among the “stripper-bitch-faggot-asses”.
I don’t know that I’m comfortable seeing things like that happen and not calling them out in whatever way I can. See also: Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses at the Ogden.
And this part’s where Wilco comes in. I see things happen, I call them out. Jeff Tweedy’s still getting an awful lot of side-eye from me these days, and I’m still apprehensive about the album this fall. It was an interesting juxtaposition, going back and rereading all of these pieces (and reading some for the first time) this week, while listening to tapes of Wilco shows I attended and enjoyed, a lot.
Whatever criticisms I have of Wilco these days, I’ll say this much: not once have I ever felt that lack of safety or respect at a Wilco show, whether the shows where I was on the rail or the shows I stayed in the back. I can’t say the same about that show at the Ogden, I can’t say the same about Sixth Street in Austin on a Saturday night, and based on the Odd Future reading I’ve done — and those links above aren’t all of it — I don’t know that I could say the same about Odd Future. The reading I’ve done doesn’t make me inclined to test that, either. And I can’t help but think that if I’m not alone in feeling that way, Odd Future, Ryan Bingham, and anyone and everyone else with this problem (hint: it’s most of us, if not all of us) may want to rethink their performance model. It doesn’t seem to be sustainable for the long term. Or I hope it’s not, anyway.