Monday, July 20, 2015

West of Glastonbury

Kanye West is the Scott Walker of popular music.  No matter how many people hate him, he just can't be stopped.
I don't hate Kanye West.  I hate Scott Walker, obviously, but I don't hate Kanye West.  But I do dislike him a lot.  West has declared rap the new rock and roll and has made a point out of declaring himself the greatest rock star on the planet.  Rock and roll performers have made a point in return of disagreeing with him vehemently.  They don't accept rap as rock, and some of them don't even accept West's use of computers, autotuners and other electronic devices as a way of making music.
Needless to say, pop critics have been accusing rockers of racism and being unable to stand the idea of a black man wresting the mantle of rock and roll from them and redefining it on his own terms, as Tim Jonze of the Guardian wrote on his blog:
"Could the reason creaking rock and rollers are getting all upset is that they see the 'ownership' of rock and roll under threat? Ever since white guys got to rewrite rock history on their own terms (as Mos Def eloquently pointed out on his 1999 track "Rock 'N' Roll"), they've been relatively content to pass down from white guy to white guy, but [they] don't seem to be able to handle it when it's suddenly claimed back by a black man."
It's a common trick by the political-correctness crowd in the pop press to make white, mostly male rock performers look like the bad guys.  Except that many of the performers who have issues with West either acknowledge their debt to black music, like former Doobie Brothers singer Michael McDonald, or have been liberal social activists, like David Crosby.  (McDonald criticized West for relying too heavily on computers to produce music; Crosby called West a "poser.")  White male rock musicians have never claimed to rewrite history or own rock and roll, and it's not their intention to cross the black man out.  What they despise is a rapper calling himself a "rock" star, an idea as plausible as Elvis Presley calling himself a jazz singer.  What they also detest is a superiority complex that doesn't acknowledge any room for anyone else's music, sort of like Hillary Clinton's refusal to acknowledge her opponents for her party's presidential nomination (an apple cart Bernie Sanders has since upset).   West is entitled to brag about himself like Reggie Mantle all he wants - but he's not entitled to call himself a rock and roller, he's not entitled to aggrandize himself at the expense of musical performers who work in a genre completely different from his own, and he's definitely not entitled to disparage Beck or Taylor Swift when they win awards he thinks Beyoncé should have won instead.
Jonze can't be bothered with such nuances, though; he sees hypocritical rock and rollers who have engaged in more outrageous behavior than West ever will attacking him for displaying any bravado.  "It's not doing the old guard any favors," Jonze wrote, "and they're not winning the war . . ..  When it comes to rock and roll, it’s clearly Kanye's world. All the other rockers are just whining in it."

Ah, so Jonze does admit that there's a war on rock and roll, even if he takes pleasure in seeing rockers losing a war that they didn't start.  Hey, rock fans didn't ask for rock to be steamrolled by hip-hop!  We didn't mind rap until it pushed our music out of the way, and we're not too happy about it!
But the war on rock and roll, waged by none other than Kanye himself (I once believed he wasn't deliberately attacking rock; I was wrong), isn't over yet.  For West lost a big battle by committing a tactical error . . . he performed at the annual Glastonbury Music Festival in Britain.
The Glastonbury festival, an annual event once dominated by rockers, has been accommodating more rappers of late, and to some good reception.  You might remember that Noel Gallagher of Oasis, upon hearing that Beyoncé's husband was slated to perform at Glastonbury in 2008, said it was wrong for a rap performer to be included, because it was an insult to the history and traditions of Glastonbury.  But Mr. Shawn Carter went ahead with his appearance and ended up being one of the most popular acts - if not the most popular act - at the festival that year.  Noel Gallagher looked like a fool (he sort of is a fool, to be fair), rap gained credibility, and rock, already in serious trouble by 2008, had yet another wound to lick.
Not this time.  West took the stage at Glastonbury this year and proceeded to embarrass himself by singing - singing - Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."  
Don't get me wrong, I never liked that song very much.  In fact, I think it's kind of ridiculous.  But I do know a song is meant to be sung, and when you have a performer whose entire shtick is speaking words to a beat, I can be assured that he'll make a hash out of it.  That he did.  I heard a bit of Kanye's take on the Queen song and, frankly, he deserved no sympathy.  There was no escape from reality; he can't sing, and if not for rap, he wouldn't have a "musical career" to speak of.  He blew it.  The jerk blew it.
Rock may have won that battle, but West ain't going south that easily.  When the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto - which, miracles of miracles, are actually being broadcast on ESPN2 - close on July 26, West will perform at the closing ceremony - no, he's not Canadian - and he will undoubtedly make the point that it is he and not Drake (who may be a rapper, but at least he's Canadian!) who is on that stage.  Kanye West and other rappers continue to push rock to the side . . . so much that even Kanye's wife - who, last time I checked, is not a musician - can get on the cover of Rolling Stone more easily than Tame Impala.  
See what I mean? :-O
Anyway, we rock and rollers, musicians and fans alike, are now in a Pusan Perimeter situation, where rap is in front of us and the sea is behind us.  It's going to be a long, protracted siege.          

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