I'm overcome with nostalgia whenever I put on Moby's Play. It's so '90s.
Thirdhand news: Kid Rock's impersonation of Puff Daddy impersonating Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Le Tigre's impersonation of Bananarama impersonating Wire. Basement Jaxx's impersonation of C+C Music Factory impersonating Newcleus covering Remain in Light. Fountains of Wayne's impersonation of Elastica covering Glass Houses. Stephin Merritt's impersonation of the 20th century. I haven't had this much fun since I saw Rich Little at the Copa in '71.
If the state of pop music exemplifies a broader dumbing down of American culture, how come the major-league American movie biz is in such great shape artistically and commercially? The entertainment conglomerates have become shockingly adept at locating talented young filmmakers, letting them loose to pursue their visions, and marketing the shit out of the result.
Studio City, California
Getting hit over the noggin by pop music and the entertaining machinations of the American entertainment machine was a full-contact sport and my own preferred form of masochism. If you listened to the radio, watched TV, or went to the movies in 1999, it's a wonder you have a brain cell left in that pretty little head of yours.
I work in a CD store classified Pop/Urban. Pop means kids-with-discretionary-income (even big allowances get supplemented with Kidwages), Urban means U-know-what. They buy a lot of singles, and we encourage this, via in-store-only compilations we are mandated to play over and over. These include "featured tracks" which are also played over and over on the radio and MTVand which you have to buy the whole album to own.
The big industry story this year wasn't the consolidation of major labels. It was the consolidation of commercial radio, especially the clear channel-AMFM merger that made an 830-station monolith. Radio is in the hands of very few fools, outside of which it barely exists.
Long Island City, New York
Why did concert tickets skyrocket? Industry behemoth SFX Entertainment bought some 20 national tours that mainly played SFX-controlled venues. Prices up to $100 meant most young fans couldn't see Lauryn Hill, one of the few young artists whose music champions self-worth over materialism, and in San Diego she drew only 8000 to a 20,000-seat venue. But no matter, since SFX paid Hill a guaranteed $250,000 per show.
San Diego, California
For all their self-righteous breast-beating, you'd think Rage Against the Machine would just once hit their suburban fans where they live, with a song unmasking the emptiness of consumer culture.
What do we call Woodstock '99America's first consumer riot? We might have known that patrons of rock's most dreary serial theme park would take extreme measures to distinguish themselves. Luckily, by the end of the year America's second consumer riot revived active citizenship, kicking the shadowy WTO from the streets of the Northwest. Who knew we'd end the decade with Seattle redeeming the music yet again?
Mount Tabor, New Jersey
Without Rage, there's no way my local Taco Bell would have a big red poster on the door with the chihuahua dressed up as Che under the slogan "The Revolutionary Taco" let a hundred Mexi-Melts bloom! I used to think of them as a Chiapas holiday in other people's misery, but now I hear them as a Chiapas Trick at Budokan. .
Note to the cynics who sniffed at Rage for using their corporate rock pulpit to advance progressive politics among the head-banging masses: Survey the front line of young American left leaders in 2012 and I'll bet you'll find few who weren't inspired, if not galvanized, by The Battle of Los Angeles.
Brooklyn, New York
Mos Def and Kathleen Hanna's Le Tigre made identity politics sexy for the first time since Do the Right Thing. Both established an invitingly conversational vibe; both name-checked Nina Simone; both hawked inventive sonics that were obscured somewhat by "topics." I wish more righteous teachers could parlay the politics of outrage into the sort of great rap sessions you overhear on the couches of community bookstoresboth Afrocentric and feminist.
"You can look for answers, but that ain't no fun," Kid Rock yelped to the mayhem at Woodstock. But Prince Paul's A Prince Among Thieves and the South Park soundtrack revealed more about violence urban and suburban than all the op-ed pieces about Woodstock and Columbine. Paul introduces a conflicted Everyhomeboy who hustles for one week to fund his rap demo only to end up dead. Trey Parker, who grew up near Columbine, devises a too-human cartoon theology in which evildoers blame bad parents and bad parents blame a cartoon. Both have fun looking for answers, and find that violence has a multifactorial complexity that won't fit an op-ed piece.
I've been dealing with bouts of depression ever since my house burned down and my dad became severely ill two years ago, and Bruce Springsteen's shows were the first things in a long time that made me feel hopefulmade me feel it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive. I paid for three of the four, and every penny was well spent.