We Have Lost the Will to Rock
Why do I say we have lost the will to rock?
The audiences at the concerts I’ve been to post-pandemic have been… tepid. And the few bands I’ve gone to see were not shoegaze or chill, they were The Darkness, and Sunn O))) who are hard rock and drone metal, respectively.
The Darkness show was great fun, as theirs always are. But this was in April of last year, with the Delta variant surge, and I found it hard to rock out with my mask on. My friend Peter and I kept our N-95’s on the whole show, unlike most of the audience, who were so unresponsive that Justin Hawkins, the lead singer, said they would leave without playing their big hit, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.”
That’s Justin Hawks and Frankie Poulain blasting our faces off. I love this band because they are classic, two guitar hard rock that doesn’t take itself seriously. Their shows are always a lot of fun, but we were just… burned out. Too used to looking at screens to realize these were real, live rock stars flinging their sweat and guitar picks at us like Mardi Gras parade float captains. What should have been awe was numbness. And they noticed, to our enduring shame.
After Justin chastened us, we rocked to the best of our ability and indeed they regaled us with an encore and denied us nothing. But it was … disturbing.
In December, I went to see Shoshin (初心) Duo, two of the three monastic guitarians who make up the band Sunn O))) who are named after the band of amplifiers that can blast their bass-centric drones into space like that plutonium rock band from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Disaster Area. They play in monk’s robes and one of their first live shows that I heard was performed at Dömkirke, a church in Europe somewhere, and I wish I’d been there. To be their music is a spiritual experience, a ritual cleansing by brown note, and perhaps that’s why the audience, myself included, swayed to their tones like dumbstruck flowers in a field washed over by chill night air in the moonlight:
Their opening band, High Command, was a Metallica-inspired local act who behaved as you expect a metal band to behave, swinging ass-length hair and pumping fists to the sky as they growl about how angry they are about something or other. They were fine, but Metallica and their ilk haven’t moved me since 1991 when Sandman did enter, stage right. Angry young white man. Yawn, am I right? Just go punch your Dad, already. I mean, I tore my Dad’s biceps in an arm-wrestling contest, so I don’t need Metallica anymore.
Rock ‘n roll, punk, and the novel all get declared prematurely dead on a regular basis.
They're not dead, but sometimes we are.
If you find yourself declaring a scene, art form, or genre dead, check your scope. Maybe you're missing signs of life through myopia. Musically, there's always someone doing something interesting, if you listen hard enough.
Musically, The Hu, Panda Bear, Weyes Blood, Supaman, Janelle Monae, and Tanya Tagaq are examples—off the top of my head—of people who are doing interesting things, in my opinion. I’m really digging the electronic chant of Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, and the trippy Beach Boys vibe of Panda Bear & Sonic Boom’s new album Reset; you may have heard “On the Edge of the Edge” already, but if not, I got hooked from his sample of “Oh Denise” by Randy and the Rainbows, which is an annoying earworm by itself, but works well here.
The Hu are a Mongolian throat-singing metal band, and do for me what Metallica don’t. Supaman’s “Prayer Loop” is pretty amazing. Weyes Blood and Janelle Monae are both making brilliant concept albums, and Tanya Tagaq is a talented writer as well; check out Split Tooth if you’re not into her experimental, powerful music.
I may have recommended some of these with my last music post a few months ago. My memory was shot long before Covid. My recovery seems to be improving. I’ve hiked every morning this week, hit the weights yesterday, and don’t feel destroyed. I’ll do Pilates later today, maybe some more weights tomorrow, and try not to crash my bike again on Friday afternoon. I have great-uncles who lived to their mid-nineties, and I want to get there if I can. Plus, I genuinely like this shit. It’s almost warm enough to put the punching bag outside and disturb the squirrels.
As for books, I’ve been enjoying old ones, which feel newer than the new ones, lately. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin was the perfect ending to a trilogy that remade fantasy outside of the Tolkien mold, and faced the hard questions about humanity without resorting to violence. The solution is always the truth. She was brilliant. New books I’m reading lean to nonfiction, like The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty, which is wonderful so far.
Movies? The Menu was another cathartic fantasy like Glass Onion for foodies, saved by its cast. The Woman King was good old spear and sandal fun and history in the Kingdom of Dahomey, and I enjoyed it, if it’s a bit overlong. And Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes documentary, by Dick Cavett on his unlikely friendship with Muhammad Ali, was enjoyable viewing. He’s working on a Groucho Marx one, next. If you have HBO Max, the Ali doc and Dick Cavett & Mel Brooks: Together Again are diamonds in the infinite rough.
What are you reading, watching, or listening to that feels new and wonderful?