The Black-Rock Revolution, and How We Rebooted It

Using YouTube to beat back critical malaise and bullshit race-baiting arguments

That said, I've also pursued other, more nostalgic, more classical passions at the site: vintage clips of Marvin, Curtis, Gladys (with and without the Pips), Phyllis Hyman, Marilyn McCoo and the Fifth Dimension, the Friends of Distinction, the Delfonics, and Chic. Plus Inner City (see "Good Life"), and 2 Puerto Ricans, a Black Man & a Dominican (see "Do It Properly"). Plus Otis Rush, Son House, the Bar-Kays, and Ronnie Laws. I was also glued to 10-minute chunks of hour-long Cecil Taylor solo piano concerts, and 10-episode Miles Davis concerts in his '69 Bitches Brew prime. Not to mention the Coltrane Quartet killing "Vigil" in '65, or Charlie Parker grinning at Buddy Rich. Or Ella, Sarah, Andrew Hill, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Joe Henderson, Tony Williams with Stan Getz in '71, Don Cherry with Sonny Rollins in '59, the entire Les McCann/Eddie Harris Swiss Movement concert, and yeah, Jimi Jimi Jimi James James James, plus 40 years' worth of the P-Funk All-Stars, Bad Brains (still my heroes), Fishbone, and the Wu-Tang Clan in Paris. In a nutshell, YouTube is where Real Black Music still lives, people: all kinds of Black music, in the most high-tech, 21st-century frame imaginable.

Of course, YouTube also has that clip of two girls gone wild for feces, but what could define American democracy more than Marilyn McCoo and Cecil Taylor sharing the same space as that shit? This is the best justification yet for the very invention of the Internet.

That said, Black Rockers (or Negroes Who Rock) need our own Pazz & Jop, and really our own Village Voice and our own Grammies, and of course our own extraterrestrial galaxy far, far away. If only because I'd love to show and tell the good news to all those other Black people who don't rock, but are maybe open to hearing something musical from American-raised coloured folk other than Beyoncé, Rihanna, Jay-Z, or Soulja Boy. Because such folk need—nay, deserve—to know how stupendously, consistently genius MeShell Ndegeocello's The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams is, or how tantalizingly terrifying Game Rebellion's (FYI: the heir apparent to the Bad Brains/Living Colour/Public Enemy/RATM mantle) In Search of Rick Rubin mixtape is, or what a galvanizing comeback the Family Stand's Super Sol Nova became. Or what a stone-cold genius freak singer–songwriter Lightspeed Champion must be to have crossbred Elvis Costello, Arthur Lee, and Jim Henson. Or what a super-stylish punk-rockitude stage animal Noisettes bassist/singer Shingai Shoniwa beez, or what a noisefest Trent Reznor cohort and word magician Saul Williams devised for The Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust (with all due praises to local guitar hero Jerome Jordan for that pun, tho'). Finally, praise those fools Apollo Heights for finally getting that album out and going head to head with MeShell for album title of the year with White Music for Black People, maybe the best Zen koan to come out of the whole rock 'n' roll nigra experience, like, ever. (Speaking of Zen, somebody toss ECM a bone for finally, 33 years late, re-releasing Bennie Maupin's gorgeous Afro-Buddhist gem The Jewel in the Lotus, featuring his Herbie Hancock Sextant bandmates; ditto to the Norwegians for also rebooting Dewey Redman's The Struggle Continues, both of which, alas, still sound like the future of jazz rather than the jazz of Xmas past. Honorable mentions need also go out to Maya Azucena's Junkyard Jewel, Imani Uzuri's Her Holy Water, and Felice Rosser for her band Faith's A Space Where Love Can Grow.

Because the world deserves to know about Me'Shell Ndegéocello
photo: Julie Hasse
Because the world deserves to know about Me'Shell Ndegéocello

Finally, there's Feist, neither Black nor a non sequitur here. Like Joni Mitchell back in the day, she came into my life through other Black people—not Rolling Stone, Spin, Pitchfork, or whatever. Specifically, she came through my partners/bandmates Jeremiah (a New England Conservatory–trained opera singer turned 21st-century soul man) and D-Maxx (a Brooklyn MC turned interdisciplinary performance artist), both of whom threw Feist on the van system during a Burnt Sugar road trip and chatted her up like she was the second coming of something, and made me reckon with her wry, jazzy, and whimsical (no easy combo) storytelling prowess. Then, just today, as if to prove my suspicion that Feist is so white she's black (as my aceboon AJ once said about Andy Warhol), our MySpace page just got a friend request from one Joseph Démé, a singer in Burkina Faso who has Feist high up in his otherwise quite Pan-Africanist list of friends. Like Joni before her, Feist's strange charms also extend to soothing the Original Man.

Now, I'm still trying to figure out the hoopla over LCD Soundsystem, but I remain quite comfortable holding down the minority opinion on that one up in this piece. Maybe I'll give those YouTube testimonials one more shot. . . .

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