I'm home after watching an acid-shattered Lou Reed maraud around the Carnegie Hall stage in a painfully colorful blazer looking for, seeking--demanding--a melody. Unfortunately, he did not find one, nor did he find his intonation, nor his pre-LSD clarity. Nor his concurrent-to-LSD clarity. His incompetence can only be conveyed by quoting "Ecstasy," his most vacuous poem/song/atonal rant: "I have a new scar / Over my heart / I call it...Ecstasy [big, mindless guitar chord] ...Ecstasy." What? I'm completely lost; someone explain that to me. I have more than 3,000 songs on my iPod, many more than that on my computer, and tons more on tape, CD, DVD, and all other extant musical mediums. I spend most of my day either listening to music, singing to myself, or playing with other musicians. And I have NEVER, not once, heard a line that made less sense than that. I've been to open mic night in Brooklyn, and watched Def Poetry Jam. I've covered a xanax in 3 beers, walked into the freezing cold dressed in a wife-beater and boxers, punched myself in the face, and, with my blood, trickled phraseology that far outdoes the freakshow that is, "I have a new scar / Over my heart / I call it...Ecstasy [big, mindless guitar chord] ...Ecstasy."
I call it...shit.
In between Lou Reed-induced wretches, I had four salient revelations at the annual Tibet House benefit:
1) Ben Harper's voice strays from the pitch during live performance. It's almost like he can't hear himself, or--and this is my theory--his voice isn't strong enough to hold the melody.
2) It hit me during Ben's first song, "Amen Omen," that watching Philip Glass, the world' preeminent postmodern composer, back up Ben Harper on the piano is a stroke of Divine grace the likes of which one can only see at a big benefit show. Artists like Philip and Ben would typically never play or record together, and it's a condescension for Glass to learn a four-chord acoustic ballad. That said, they should do it more often.
3) I might get flogged by a group of Birkenstocked UC Santa Barbara students for saying this, but the beat poet generation is completely overrated. Patti Smith (of singing fame) read an Allen Ginsberg piece during her set, and it was grasping for direction, a tad longwinded, and just not timely anymore. I've read a bunch of Kerouac, Kesey, and Ginsberg, and I can't help but surmise that what they did meant a lot in 1959, but doesn't tickle the public interest in 2007. Their semi-anarchistic vitriol doesn't sound so vitriolic, and their rage doesn't sound so angry. They weren't overrated in their heyday, and they're probably undervalued in the "cultural mover and shaker" vein, but their voice is not as timeless or abrasive as it undoubtedly was once thought to be. And if a group of conservatory fairies from California takes issue with this, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3A) What did it for me was when my friend Katz used to quote at random from Ginsberg's "America." Take a look for yourself:
http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/america.html. And two years later, when a little personal and social adversity might have taught me to better appreciate the Beat alienation and angst, Patti Smith reaffirmed that it's not me, it's them. And I don't care how cultured you purport to be--there is NO way you got through "On the Road" without falling asleep somewhere in mid-America.
4) When Michael Stipe and Patti Smith played R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts," I realized that there have been quite a few recent instances in which I found myself saying, "That's gotta be the best triple meter song I know." (For those who aren't musicians or huge insane losers, triple meter is the way a waltz is arranged, with three beats per measure and the emphasis (usually) on the first beat: ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three. You can stop tapping your foot now). So I decided to compile an impromptu list of some of my favorite songs in three (besides for the trillions of blues and classical pieces in three):
You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (and the change to 4/4 is hall of fame)
God Bless America (by The Damnwells--the best band nobody's heard of)
Special thanks to Rivas for reminding me that I love Whipping Post and LSD--but not as much as Lou Reed does. And a special mention for my favorite song in three du jure, "We All Have Ourselves," by the semenal (but not seminal) American rock band, Blondes Pass Out. Here is where I insert their iTunes and MySpace links.
Stay strung out, Lou Reed
DJ Duple Meter