May 242011

Sunday, May 29

These United States with Onward Pilgrim and Palisades

Cosmic Charlie’s; 388 Woodland. 9 P.M.

These are three of the best local-ish pop/rock bands with dual specialties in melodic invention and dirty, atmospheric guitar work you’ll find here or anywhere, or at least in cities of comparable size and culture. Obviously if you went to some huge city, Calcutta maybe, with its tens of millions of people, you might find some number of melodic, atmospheric pop/rock bands greater than just the three playing this upcoming gig here in Lexington, but I’ve never been to Calcutta; it’s possible they only have one or two, or maybe none at all. They might have 100! Even so, they might not be as melodically inventive as These United States, Onward Pilgrim, or Palisades, nor as dirty. And it’s a moot point anyway, because the Calcutta-based bands probably sing in Bengali and let’s face it: we’re American, and we’re not gonna voluntarily listen to somebody sing in Bengali.

I’ve read now on Wikipedia that the name is officially “Kolkata,” no longer Calcutta, much as at some point Bombay became “Mumbai.” The name of the Kenneth Tynan musical, however, is unchanged. As is the name of Bacardi’s distilled gin, and that’s important, because in a loud, crowded venue such as Cosmic Charlie’s is likely to be when These United States, Onward Pilgrim, and Palisades play there Sunday night, the 29th, the speed with which your bar drink will be delivered to you depends a lot on the name of the drink you’ve ordered: names consisting of hard, cutting, and/or shrill sounds connect with the bartender’s ears much more readily than soft, vowelly, low sounds. This is why I always order “Jack, rocks” when in a noisy venue; the consonance gets me what I want with a minimum of fuss. And while shouting “B-uh-omm-b-uh-aaayyy mart-ih-eeeeeeeniiiii” at the bartender isn’t ideal, it’s better than “Mumbai”—the word is two letters away from “mumble,” after all.

In fact pop/rock bands from Calcutta…er…Kolkata probably do sing in English. Across the world, English lyrics are the ticket to the big time, or so the world seems to believe. The notable exceptions are Rammstein and French rappers: the former employs German as an assertion of agency, and as an embrace of social and political otherness in pop music’s English-speaking hegemony, while the latter are just, well, French.

American and British acts do occasionally sing in other languages besides English, usually to enhance romantic effect, as with The Beatles’ “Michelle” and Stevie Wonder’s “Ma Cherie Amour,” or to identify with an oppressed people, as with The Band’s “Acadian Driftwood” or portions of Zack de la Rocha’s solo work. Then there are those songs you wish were sung in other languages, if only because your enjoyment of them would immeasurably increase if you didn’t understand the words. Here are a few examples, courtesy of Google Translate:

07:00, svegliarsi la mattina
Gotta essere freschi, devo andare al piano di sotto
Devo avere la mia ciotola, devo avere dei cereali
Seein ‘tutto, il tempo è goin’
Tickin ‘ancora e ancora, scorrendo tutti’
Gotta scendere alla fermata del bus
Devo prendere il mio autobus, vedo i miei amici (miei amici)

Ah, Italian, the most beautiful of all tongues. Here’s another:

Så håll i de som verkligen bryr sig
I slutändan kommer de att vara de enda som finns
När du blir gammal och börjar tappa håret
Kan du berätta som fortfarande kommer att bry sig
Kan du berätta som fortfarande kommer att bry sig

Mmm bop, ba Duba DOP
Ba du bop, ba Duba DOP
Ba du bop, ba Duba DOP

The Swedes all sing in English, so why not return the favor? One more; see if you can guess.

Aš dėl šlovės kraštas
Ir aš kabinti ant tiesos momentas
Ant šlovės kraštas
Ir aš kabinti ant metu su Jumis
I’m on kraštas
Aš dėl šlovės kraštas
Ir aš kabinti ant metu su Jumis
I’m on su jumis kraštas

The original is noxious, but the Lithuanian less so, though it’s probably not a very accurate translation. And no, I don’t know why Google can’t find the words for “I’m on,” unless decades of Soviet occupation succeeded in erasing first-person pronouns from the language in the name of utopian collectivism.

Of course, oftentimes the problem with Anglo-American pop music isn’t so much the language in which it’s sung, but the perspective it tries to foist upon us. Here I’m obviously referring to the folksy, quirky, light-hearted-but-environmentally-conscious-and-socially-progressive crap that advertising agencies think will make us buy their folksy, quirky, light-hearted-but-blah-blah-blah products, such as Volkswagen cars and Apple devices. Usually there’s a finger-plucked acoustic guitar, maybe some hand percussion, and a metrosexual male in a sing-song tenor half-whispering some environmentally conscious and socially progressive bullshit. Drive the new Touareg, the ads tell us, with its built-in iPhone dock and soy-latte-sized cup holder, and your children will do well in math and science and seek non-violent conflict resolution strategies with bullies on the playground.

And yet some still wonder why I hate white people.

Not all of them, obviously. The members of These United States, Onward Pilgrim, and Palisades are all white, and they’re good people. And it’s not really individual white people, or even white people considered individually—it’s just whiteness generally, and the toll it takes on all of us.

What’s especially galling is when the powers that be try to disguise their narrative of whiteness behind a non-white face or two: a smiling young Hispanic couple shown shopping for a hybrid, for example, or the gratuitous insertion of a black rapper into an otherwise horrifyingly white music video (see “Venerdi,” above). That’s not to say non-whites can’t or don’t drive hybrids, but they don’t do so in order to advertise their light-hearted quirkiness. Or at least they shouldn’t.

Sep 292010

Thursday, September 30

The Muggs

Green Lantern, 10:00. 21+

Detroit. Rock city. A little more than a decade ago I was smitten, as it happens, with a young woman way out my league. This was in Portland, Oregon, and the young woman in question was fresh in from DTW. Don’t remember why she’d come, but she’d moved with several friends who all knew the saxophonist in a local jazz-funk outfit that I road-managed for a time, who’d also moved to Portland some years prior, after taking a music degree from Wayne State.

She was beautiful, so much so that when she told me one night over drinks that basketball player Grant Hill, then with the Pistons, had once made an unsuccessful play for her affections, I absolutely believed her. She was a bit tipsy at the time, and this was her beautiful-woman way of rejecting my own advances: I’ve turned down millionaire NBA stars, honey; don’t embarrass yourself further. I took the hint. Continue reading »