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Death Rock 2000

Anyway, I don't know if this Stones dynamic (and by the Stones I mean the Stooges-Pistols-GN'R as well) will remain a central tension for music in the 21st century, since punk nihilism-insanity-despair needs a social context of optimism to react against, an irrational sense that we're heading toward utopia and can break through all limits. I hope the world retains this optimism, as its legacy from America and Western Europe, but the real legacy might be economic collapse and ecological disaster, and Iggy & the Stooges just might not make any more sense. That would be sad.

I've been listening a lot to Turbonegro's Apocalypse Dudes, which is in competition with Kid Rock's for my rock album of 1999. And on the surface and in the sound it's part of the Stones-Stooges tradition. "Selfdestructobust"—yeah, they're going to kill themselves or die trying. But really, they're just unreconstructed layabouts, sitting at home with their Dolls and Stooges records, imagining that the world has stopped. So they're on their own cloud all right, but there's no call out to the world, no reason to respond, certainly no challenge to the would-be layabouts and pseudo-seven-day weekenders in their primary audience, or to anyone. And actually I'm baffled that this album is so good, given its insularity.

I don't know how overwhelmingly relevant this "two's-a-crowd" dynamic is at the moment, with Cobain laid to rest as a total denial and Courtney maybe having found her equilibrium. Eminem seems to be the guy now. "This guy at White Castle asked for my autograph so I signed it 'Dear Dave, thanks for the support asshole.' " I think Eminem's voice—a slow talk, unlike "real" rap not heavily into rhythm and rhyme—is perfect for what he's trying to do, for laying out his social pathology flat before us. (He's criticized for not being a good rapper, which is just stupid. I remember Tupac getting criticized for analogous reasons, as if he didn't have the rightto be emotionally effective since he wasn't dancing his tongue with the technique of a Rakim.) His lyrics are hyperbolic: "Since age 12 I felt like I'm someone else 'cause I hung my original self from the top bunk with a belt. Got pissed off and ripped Pamela Lee's tits off and smacked her so hard I knocked her clothes backwards like Kris Kross." On the one hand Eminem detaches himself from his narrator Slim Shady, which means that my emotional feelings towards Slim Shady's conspicuous dysfunction are tempered by my knowledge that there's a probably nondysfunctional guy (or at least one not completely owning to Shady's dysfunctions) pulling the strings of this puppet. But nonetheless I recognize that Eminem gets some poetic-intellectual-funny effects that he couldn't have gotten out of a more believable narrator. As for Slim Shady, there's a generational cool here—I'm young, I'm sharp, I'm slim, I'm a mess, isn't that cool?—with the last question very nonrhetorical, since Slim Shady is cool but simultaneously way too massively fucked-up to be cool, any possible self-control and grace under pressure long since thrown out the window. I'm your mirror. He straps himself into bed, with a bulletproof vest on, and shoots himself in the head. One's a crowd on his cloud.

Making note of the fact that Eminem's a white guy in the border country between hip-hop and rock, I'm thinking that in the future a Stones-like "Get Off of My Cloud" dynamic might become more relevant to blacks, to hip-hop, to r&b, since maybe in these genres the dynamic won't yet have been played through to its impossibility. I just bought the Kelis "I Hate You" song (which is really "Caught Out There" but I don't know anyone who calls it that). As the lyrics per se go, it's a standard r&b war-between-woman-and-man thing that doesn't enter the Stones' two's-a-crowd dynamic. Too much of a shout-along, an us vs. whomever we happen to hate. That's the lyrics per se. But the listening experience is a whole other thing: The I-HATE-YOU-SO-MUCH-RIGHT-NOW jumps right out and away from r&b, from black culture, from music. It's not about empowerment, getting even, taking control—it's not cool, not grace under pressure, not wit and wisdom of wronged sisterhood. It's just plain a scream of hate. She's losing it. Just completely losing it. Out of control. And that's where the song seems more white than black—not that whites lose control more than blacks, but that whites in music lose control more than blacks, because, for some whites, losing control is freedom, breaking out of oneself and one's world, from the inner contamination that binds one to the world. At the extreme this losing control isn't just going wild to the beat, it's Iggy Pop half bragging and half hating himself for being the most fucked-up guy on the block, the one who's going to die. It's about taking oneself out. Whereas for blacks, in general, freedom is about gaining control, not losing it. (BTW, I think that Kelis sounds great when she's breaking down, breaking out—far beyond most riot grrrls [most of whom just sound mannered or ugly and self-righteous].)

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