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Looking for a Mindset at CMJ’s Special Apocalypse Edition

Intermittently, "September 11" or "the WTC" or "the current situation" would surface. The hip hop panel produced one of the rare direct questions, which Guru answered by reporting that his New Jersey neighbors had finally started saying hello and opining that in his old hood terrorism was a fact of life. But mostly it arose as specific business difficulties, or black humor, or nervous interjections into hallway schmooze. Clearly, people were trying to concentrate on the biz at hand. And since panel attendance had been uneven—often full, never SRO, sometimes ridiculously low—I wondered how many interested parties wanted to hang around midtown for mine, which would supposedly climax the Marathon's talkathon after everybody had lunch on Saturday.

We drew better than I'd feared—just about SRO, in a big room. Those on the other side of the podium tell me we talked OK too. I laid out contradictions and broke down the musical question into business (transportation, recession), political (civil liberties, effective protest), and artistic (escapism versus realism). MTV's Tom Calderone talked quietly about the cravings of a post-Live Aid, post-Gulf War audience for information, comfort, and a way out. Rolling Stone's Joe Levy argued for serious sarcasm in a time when no one knows what reality is, and reminded us that inner lives have to change before art does. Israeli-born techno artist Raz Mesinai (a/k/a Badawi) threw away his prepared remarks to tell us about a Yiddish-speaking anti-Zionist Hasid with a picture of Madonna in his wallet, the airplane sculptures of murdered WTC artist-in-residence Michael Richards, and his credo: "Music is music, music is hope, making it is hope." Iraqi-Cuban manager-promoter Fabian Alfutany, whose deal to bring Ricky Martin to Lebanon has gone up in smoke, foresaw impassable visa problems for world music artists when America needs them most and doubted MTV offered much succor to young Hispanic, Arab, and Indian Americans. Iraqi-French Canadian Newsweek critic Lorraine Ali, who was vacationing in Cairo September 11, declared herself incapable of covering music in a nation that ignores the thousands of civilian deaths U.S./UN sanctions inflict on Iraq every month.

To sum up, Danny Goldberg, now president of his third record company, showed what great meeting he takes by responding to and expanding on everyone else. He defended Enya, Britney, and MTV's news function, told how one of his artists had changed a line about blowing up the neighborhood, and spoke up for music done cheap while never seeming like anything less than the well-to-the-left free speech champion he is. "Artists need to go where their consciousness goes," he insisted, probably not for the first time. "Art and music are part of the solution." Then those on the other side of the podium had their turn, describing their loss and their healing and tarrying predictably but appropriately in dovetailing folkie and alt-rock media critiques. As throughout this CMJ, self-promotion was minimal—I didn't get to exercise my authoritarian streak until a young woman volunteered to close out our session with a song. Siddown, sister. Music is hope. But as Goldberg also said, "Trite as it is, we need to have conversations. There's no evidence that life gets better without conversations."

I hadn't been seeing enough of my family, so I watched the Yankees win for the city before going out that night. Fronting Delaware and San Francisco's insane Zen Guerrilla, gigantic, flab-gutted Marcus Durant sustained a gallumphing MC5 imitation for over an hour. He called everything he liked "sweet." He pretended to bugger his guitarist. And as we cheered wildly, he called us—in shtick that for all I know he's rolled out for years—"the strongest, bravest, most sensual people in the world."

"I'll tell ya what," Durant said. "I'll tell ya what. The city of New York . . . I can't even tell ya. This is blowing my fucking mind."

Click here to read Robert Christgau's opening remarks at his CMJ panel.

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