Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tardy Slips...

I haven't updated in a while and am trying to make up for it in a big way. Work, researching and applying for grants, hustling up writing gigs... it's all eaten up my time. This post is me playing catch-up and writing about a host of things I've been meaning to blog about for a while, and below it are a few other new posts. Kick me back some comments so I'll know if folks are still even checking this place out...



      I have to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of Gnarls Barkley. I have loved the idea of them and their music much more than I do/did their actual art. Much like the over-hyped Grey Album by the duo’s knob-twirling half, Danger Mouse, I’ve thought them to be a notion not fully brought to fruition – though they created some fantastic moments, and the new CD, the Odd Couple, is better than the first. They’ve benefited greatly from the fact of a growing number of music fans jonesing for new manifestations of both “pop” and “black” creativity, some post-thug relief, something at least semi adult. Though I think the hipster fan-base that embraced them initially has been unfairly used to label (and even stigmatize) the duo, their video for “Run” seemed to suggest that they were explicitly playing to that demographic, regurgitating old-school hip-hop cultural emblems (in this case, the classic cable access hip-hop show, “Graffiti Rock”) in slickly packaged lo-fi homage that's been cooked to feed the voracious vampire appetite of the self-consciously, laboriously hip/cool kids. (And you can’t really blame Gnarls for that. As artists, you walk that tightrope of expressing yourself unfettered, and stroking the egos of those folks who actually open their wallets to support you.) It didn’t help that the “Run” video featured the endlessly irritating Justin Timberlake as the show’s host. Here’s a clip from the original show, followed by the Gnarls tribute video.





      The new video for “Going On,” the best track on their new album, is something else altogether. More than a little reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s music short for “Got Till It’s Gone,” the Jamaica-set “Going On” positions sci-fi transcendence in everyday Black experience. The “everyday” itself is rendered slightly askew, an artfully rendered, poetically heightened landscape that’s dry, dusty and inexplicably beautiful. The camera strokes and kisses pointedly brown bodies, and not just those (ostensibly/obviously) kissed by white bloodstreams. I absolutely love this:


      Now that the great diva showdown of 2008 has narrowed the battle down to two (Madonna and Mariah) and sent the third (Janet) scampering into what would appear to be permanent exile from MTV and pop chart relevance, I wanna pour out a little liquor for the career of Janet Damita Jo Jackson. Her CD Discipline was far from great but it wasn’t horrible; it was largely just… blah. And it certainly wasn’t worse than Madonna’s or Mariah’s latest. But radio refuses to forgive Janet and MTV has been half-hearted at best in their support. “Feedback,” the first single, made the mistake of being tailor-made for club speakers, not the gnat gadgetry of iPods. Yes, lyrically it's silly and adolescent (as have been the lead singles from Madonna and Mariah) but its sonic texture gives up its full power on a dance-floor equipped with a good system. Second single “Rock With U” is a slice of pop-House perfection. And the video is one of Janet’s all-time best:



Everything about the video is retro: the late ‘90s/early '00s airy-House groove, the kinda ‘80s club-kid gear and make-up of the dancers. The dancing in the clip has a fluidity within its tightly constructed choreography that is quite lovely, bringing human dimension back to the militaristic style of dancing that long ago ceded warmth to cold precision. I love the gentle, guiding hand of the black queen on Jan’s back as she glides the fallen diva through this den of dance-floor redemption. That post-coital walk as Janet leaves the main room and staggers down the hall is sexy as fuck – part drag queen camp, part movie star vamp. There’s something brave to the point of being foolhardy about this as a choice of second single. American radio (especially the wasteland that is contemporary “urban” radio) wasn’t ever gonna play it, though Janet’s pre-scandal star power might have been able to push through the biases. But it seems kind of clear that Janet’s music career, barring some sort of final-hour reprieve, is done.

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I love the D to the M to the X. The recently-arrested-yet-again DMX. He’s a hypnotic catastrophe. Wrecked from Monday thru Sunday. If the clip linked below were performance art, it couldn’t be any better. Quotes FOR DAYS. And the British interviewer dropping U.S. hip-hop slang in that accent of his? Kah-moe-dee... He’s such a fan boy, all but feenin’ for X to throw him a fuck. Here are just a few quotes:

From DMX:

“You only alive because of me, you fucking bitch!… I let you live! By the grace of God.”

“Knuckles black as a muthafucka, man. Hear me? I will knock a nigga the fuck out. But I’m a peaceful man.”

From the interviewer:

“Who are you talking about, dawg?”

The not-work-safe clip is here.

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Be sure to check out the really great comic strip, Bayou Zuda, which deals with race, history and the American South. I am hooked.

Click here

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Correction: In my recently published Flaunt magazine essay on Kara Walker, the name “Willie Lynch” should actually be “Willie Horton.” When the piece appears in longer version in a future project, that correction will be made.

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Here's an audio-only clip to take you out of this post ("Tardy Slips") but keep reading the new posts below: (Thanks Bernie for sending this...)

7 comments:

Tisa said...

The notion of Janet needing to be forgiven made me wonder if it's possible, with the right album, if black folks can do for Janet what we did for Vanessa Williams after the Miss America debacle: love and support her and raise her up. I marvel at that, "It's all right, baby, you just made a mistake. We got you," that happened for V. Both had to make up for showing black tits to the world. Ain't that something? America's cultural production has ALWAYS been fed by a black wetnurse. So what's the problem?

Anonymous said...

you're welcome, mr. hardy.
thanks for listening.
still good, ain't it?


ya know.

Anonymous said...

Good Morning Mr. Hardy,
It's you 1984 prom date here. How is life treating you? I cannot believe I found this blog. Keep being that mititant man I loved back in school, and don't march to no one's drum but your own.

writer 201 said...

Blissed out per usual on your lingual genius and passionate critique. Keep the posts coming, they are much appreciated.

Lisa C. Moore said...

I got you; still reading the blog, too. Leave it to you to break Gnarls Barkley down ("Run, children! Run for your life!"). I still like 'em, tho. And something about the "Going On" video is just lush, even with all that dryness. I think it's the blackness of it; makes me wanna reach out and touch. Finally, thanks for turning me on to a new web comic. I've been reading A.D. ("After the Deluge") about Katrina, on smithmag.net; Bayou is a fantastically done piece, and I'm gonna spread the word. Welcome back!

one soulful negro. said...

man you weren't playing when you said you were making up for lost time. lol

-gnarls: there second cd was actually the first cd i bought of theirs. i've always liked cee-lo and was a fan of the cuts i've heard from the 1st gnarls cd, but never got around to buying. this second lp on the other hand is something i quite enjoy. now i agree with you, 'run' was ruined for me primarily because of that justin cameo, but 'going on' is amazing music. & an excellent video.

-i couldn't agree more with 'rock with u' being one of janet's best videos. i watch that video daily, still. something about it just pulled me in.

-i have nothing to say about X. i just really am concerned for the brotha.

ReggieH said...

The Other Half and I are fans of Gnarls Barkley (and -- some -- CeeLo: "I'm a Freak" is close to a theme song for us LOL:) and so are very happy about "The Odd Couple." For the music, and the constant wardrobe changes (Austin Powers and Dr Evil in Ebony ROTFL) we wish them long and happy creative lives