Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lily Allen Is Mocking the Dominant Culture. You'd Be Pissed Too, If You Were In the Scene

      My neck is sore from all the back and forth over Lily Allen's new video,  and its satirical mocking of pop music conventions that rely on objectification of women.

      The music business has long been known for sexism, but in the last decade its taken on horrific proportions. Three months ago, Huffington Post wrote an article about how Lorde's song "Royals" was the first song by a female artist to top the Alternative charts in 17 years. That's shameful, considering it's coming from the genre that got its start with bands like the B-52s, X, Eurythmics, Sinéad O'Connor, and thrived with Belly, Throwing Muses, Concrete Blonde ... shall I keep going?

      Anyway, here's a link to the article. Make sure you read the comments and see how many people immediately started taking shots. The hatred pouring out on the page is astounding.

     So it's interesting to see what the negatives are about "Hard Out Here." From the men in the scene she's satirizing, the typical response boils down to, "shut up, cunt." But the women ... oh my. Sad to see so many supposed feminists jumping all over Lily for the use of black dancers in twerking. In butt-jiggling. Champagne pouring over body parts.

     At first, it's easy to get caught up in their rationalizations. "Lily only cares about White Feminism," etc. In the Washington Post,  Soraya Nadia McDonald writes,
Black women are not here to be used as collateral damage in the fight against patriarchy. We’re smart, resourceful, capable allies, but that stunt Allen pulled is not ok, and hiding behind the explanation of “satire” is weaksauce, because this happens over and over and over.
       At a certain point it dawns on you: these women are actually here to defend the abusive patriarchy whose balls Allen is kicking in. That's one of the top symptoms of a dysfunctional society, in the first place. And it was there that I was reminded of the infamous reaction Aerosmith's Steven Tyler had to the movie, This Is Spinal Tap.

     Rob Reiner's famous "mockumentary" took a playful hand to the excesses of a once-famous, now on the skids, hard rock band in the 1980s. It came out in 1984, when Aerosmith was trying to come back from drug and personnel problems. The following quote comes from excerpts of music industry Joe Smith's taped interviews, now in the Library of Congress (the emphasis is mine):

"...When we got into the thick of stardom in the Seventies, I found the most outrageous things I asked for, would've thought of asking for, had already taken place the week before with some other group. It was harder to do something that hadn't happened . . . I can remember the height of my oblivion, I was into doing things just because I could. I would think nothing of tipping a whole long spread, and I'd be so livid – explicit – no turkey roll! Give us a turkey – no gravy, no stuffing, just real meat. No hockey pucks, no mystery meat, just a turkey. And I would come in after coming offstage, and I'd have 12 ounces of Jack in me, and half a gram, sweating profusely, and I would see that tray, and I would go "Yeeow!" and just turn the thing right over. And that would feel good to me. That felt real good . . . That movie [This Is Spinal Tap!] bummed me out, because I thought, 'How dare they? That's all real, and they're mocking it.'"

 And here's what Brad Whitford told SPIN magazine:

"I'd swear those Spinal Tap guys were at half our meetings," says Whitford. "The funniest thing is, the first time Steven saw it he didn't see any humor in it. That's how close to home it was. He was pissed! He was like, 'That's not funny!'" -- Spin - May 1997
     I also have a recollection of reading an article on INXS in one of the big three (Rolling Stone, Musician, SPIN) that recounts Michael Hutchence's negative reaction to the film. I can't find it online, unfortunately, but it was along the lines that he found it depressing because it hit so close to home.

      Bottom line: These supposedly intellectual viewpoints, claiming the ground of "Black Feminism" are acting as nothing more than shields for the excesses that we've been through before, and (rightly) derided before.

    Mock on, Lily. Mock on.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

We Will Rock You .. Yes, They Will

We Will Rock You TPAC Jackson Hall

      There are times when I thank my lucky stars to have been born just early enough to catch the tail end of the baby boom, and late enough to have experienced the late 1970s with the appropriate amount of youth and innocence to accept what Queen contributed to rock and roll dramatics and theatre at face value, and not spend any time speculating on Freddie Mercury's sexuality or whether it mattered, at all. In art, tv, and film, the mid-late '70s and the first years of Ronald Reagan were an explosion of ideas and imagination that still had some value for art's own sake, and people dared stupid.

      Let me veer slightly off course and provide a separate example of stupid, fantastic entertainment  that succeeded wildly: 

       At 35 seconds in, one of the most famous exchanges in daytime history: "Luke? I love you ... you aren't going to let anybody freeze to death, are you?" "No, no, no I'm not going to let anybody freeze to death I'll talk to you later." Genie Francis and Tony Geary sold us the Ice Princess in all its cheesy glory because, in that era, the entertainment industry was willing to dare stupid, and offering support to people who were willing to play along. The above clip was from a show at the top of the heap in the Nielson ratings during its original airing. The actors sold it because for the 30 minutes they were performing, they let themselves believe it. That was 1981.
      For Queen, 1980 was the year of both their greatest commercial success and their first relative failure. The Game was their first album to hit #1 on both the UK and US album charts, and it yielded no less than 5 radio hits and two Billboard #1 singles. The Flash Gordon movie sound track, released later in the year, never made it into the top 20 in the US and barely top 10 in the UK. 

      1980 was also the year I got to see Queen at the 8,000-seater in my little town. Because Ticketmaster & charge-by-phone didn't exist in 1980, and the internet didn't either, a teenage kid had a fighting chance to score good seats if they cared enough to get to the box office an hour or more before tickets went on sale and wait. 

Freddie Mercury in and out of a jumpsuit
Richard Aaron photo
      Desire and good fortune put me in the 5th row for the most spectacular, best fucking rock show of my life. It was loud and brash and crude and fun and the light show brought us kids to near-sensory overload. I found the setlist online.  Shit, what a list. 

      And you know what's amazing, looking back? That tour, not just in Glens Falls but all over the place, they started their set with "Jailhouse Rock." And that might not seem significant given the undisputable iconic status Elvis has now, but in where I lived in 1980 teenage kids and twenty-somethings didn't give a crap about Elvis Presley, except for a small tribe of rockabilly fans.  The only Elvis that existed for most of us at that time was still the Fat Elvis in the white studded jumpsuit. But Freddie was a jumpsuit guy, and he dared to be that uncool.  

      So, about We Will Rock You. It's stupid. And it's brilliant. Stupid in how it tries to invalidate pop music that comes from synthesizer use (Queen did, during the 1980s, use synth). What's the point of railing  against the electronic/internet revolution if you're not going to try to break the machine? 
   The plot: 300 years in a future, dystopian society, Earth is called iPlanet and run by Globalsoft Corp. Musical instruments aren't allowed, let alone rock songs. A teen boy is arrested when he comes close to creating his own. In another part of town, a girl is arrested for failure to dress like all the Ga Ga Kids in her school. The two deviants find like souls, run away together and eventually wind up with a tribe of vagabonds at the ruins of the Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas. The brigands would all love to rock out - if they only knew what it was. 

    The dialog and plotting that gets us to and around all of that is sometimes contradictory, sometimes drags, and often the humor shoots for the low hanging fruit. In spite of all that it works for the same reason Queen's over-the-top live show worked, and the same reason Luke & Laura worked. The actors throw themselves into it with everything they have and no stepping back to consider how ridiculous they might be. The band members, that we can't see most of the time, throw themselves at the material with no holds barred, even though they'll never be Queen. The same can be said for the light set. Over the top and in your face in a way that you might have to cover your eyes, especially near the end. Everything about We Will Rock You is what novelist Tom Robbins' character Quivers would call, "Vivid." 

    A person couldn't ask for much better source material; many of the songs used are on the set list that's linked to, above. Most of the musical performances work great within the context, and "Somebody to Love" is probably my favorite stand-out.

    It may not hold up to all of the rules for brilliant theatre, but We Will Rock You does everything that counts for serious entertainment. As a testament to just how well it entertains, after the company takes their initial bow, there's an unexpected encore. Before the play indicates the encore is coming, the audience was already giving a standing ovation and prepared to go home happy. I won't spoil the surprise for you, but when you realize what you almost didn't mind missing it's icing on the cake.

At TPAC's Jackson Hall through Sunday, Nov. 17.