Bye Bye Bipolar

I bet the fat fuck in ‘N Sync is real glad the band inked that deal with Mickey D—he probably averages a half-dozen Big Macs a day, I said to myself while band plus arm candy strolled down the red carpet at the MTV Video Music Awards last Thursday. Those of us outside Radio City Music Hall had already been treated to Papa Roach’s rap-metal generics, and the kids fenced in across the street loved it—they were a real eclectic bunch, made as much noise for Britney as they did for Rage. Other vanguards of popular culture whom MTV marched down the runway were Survivor‘s Richard Hatch (thankfully, little Richard was tucked safely away in a pair of slacks), Slater from Saved by the Bell, many talented models, and 98 Degrees. MTV had announced that Napster CEO Shawn Fanning would be making a cameo, so as you can imagine, the vibrations in the reporters’ cage became frighteningly frantic when they dangled Metallica’s Lars Ulrich before us. “I’m trying to ask a serious question,” one scribe in an astronaut suit frothed. A heated argument broke out between a cameraman and an MTV stool pigeon, culminating in something like, “If you don’t obey the boundaries for televised media you’ll never shoot at an MTV event again.” “Fuck you,” the cameraman dully responded, edging closer to the danger zone.

Back at press headquarters, where we were fed soggy subs, “Oops! . . . I did it again” became a different sort of catchphrase, as sweaty turkey and heaps of onions fucked with our excited gastrointestinal tracts. This foul portion of the evening was designed for us to grill what the moderator referred to as “the talent.” While we sat in folding chairs and watched the show on TV monitors, MTV would bring in the talent—the Rock, Shawn Fanning, and Kate Hudson, among others. Early on it was announced Robert De Niro and Ricky Martin wouldn’t be doing any press. Boy did that fuck me, I really wanted to pick De Niro’s brain about Sisqó’s “Thong Song.” The session with the Rock more than made up for that, though. We learned that he does enjoy a few chocolate chip cookies a week (I always suspected that anyway), and—are you sitting for this?—he believes that the best thing you can do for your workout is to have fun with it. Napster’s Shawn Fanning continued with his veneer of courage. Were you nervous about going onstage in a Metallica T-shirt? “Of course; I’m glad it’s over.” How much would you say you’re worth? The Shawnster bolted for the exit. Macy Gray poked her head in for a little post-afro-pubic spoof Q&A. When asked if she was agitated by the Wayans brothers’ skit, she delicately said, “I gotta gun, you know, if I get too upset.” The whole Bush Upset really epitomized MTV, backslapping while backstabbing. It’s like the Nike slogan campaign, “Love the Summer/Hate the Summer,” “Love the Shoe/Hate the Shoe.” Rage Against the Machine probably really hate MTV—just ask bassist Timothy Cummerford, who smashed his bass onstage and later was arrested for assaulting a cop after he climbed up a column of stacked televisions. I’d venture to say the dough from his MTV-inflated record sales will pay for his bail and a shiny new bass.

MTV really outdid themselves with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The evening was supposed to honor the Peppers, who have been nominated for 18 music awards in their 17-year career (though they’ve only won three times)—they won “Best Direction in a Video” for a video they didn’t direct. Love MTV/Hate MTV. I don’t have MTV, I want my MTV. —Lorne Behrman

I Was a Golden God

Popular music has long been associated with the devil. Bluesman Robert Johnson had a hellhound on his trail, selling his 27-year-old soul for a few decades of nimble fingers. The Rolling Stones had sympathy for the devil until Altamont, where he took his due out of the band’s fan base. Kid Rock is a devil without a cause. Why, then, is his only punishment hang time with porn stars and David Allan Coe?

Simply put, pop now pays its overwrought debt to a different D: Dionysus. He was let in by Jim Morrison, a man whom Kevin Coyne was courted to replace upon the Lizard King’s death. Although Coyne demurred, proceeding to release almost 40 albums solo, his career path exemplifies the decline and fall of the modern pop hedonist. He quickly went from being one of Virgin’s first signings alongside Mike Oldfield (“Tubular Bells” was used in The Exorcist —creepy!) to German import status (terrifying!) in a few decades flat.

“I’d like to make a grand entrance, but I can’t, certainly not in this place,” Coyne said on September 1. He held court at the Knitting Factory with a minimal backing band. James Jupee Little played drum (yes, a single snare); Michael Lipton played an acoustic guitar with pedals (Dionysus loves overkill, therefore pedals). Dressed in all black, his hair a bleached white, Coyne looked a bit like Falstaff, a little like a Weeble-Wobble, and a lot like Morrison would have had he reached age 56. Obviously, Dionysus—all that ambrosia, excess, cigarettes—has earned an aggravated case of the senior-citizen blues. “There’s an air of constipation about the whole thing,” he said at one point.

Coyne, though, has an overwhelming feel for the “real” blues. His voice and affect are certainly more authentic than that of his post-flower-power, British white-boy peers, less hep and citified than the Stones, less sanctimonious than Eric Clapton. He was devastating in tossed-off a cappella snippets from songs like “Happy Little Fat Man,” “Marjory Razorblade,” and “Lunatic” (“I’m a little Luftwaffe pilot/ You’re a little ice cream seller”) and stretches of improvised scat. Unfortunately Coyne doesn’t have an equal mastery of song craft. More straightforward offerings, like a second encore rendition of the ballad “Victoria Smiles,” were the work of a dissipated rocker humored by a too forgiving cult of fans.

Happily, Coyne spent most of the show flapping his arms like wings and jabbering his jaw and jowls, living up to his midset promise: “This isn’t entertainment, this is something entirely else.” —Alec Hanley Bemis

Numinous, Maximus

According to Nightline, poetry’s buck-wild scion, Hip-Hop, rules pop culture. And—flipping Jim Croce’s (yes, a brother’s quoting Croce) nod to his father, “I’ve Got a Name”—Hip-Hop’s living the dream that Poetry kept hid. Christening his second CD, longstoryshort (an Ani Difranco release), in BAM Café’s exposed baked-bean brick grotto last Thursday was one of those chocolate founding fathers, Sekou Sundiata (he’s Righteous, Babe). A by-product of the Black Arts movement, Sundiata writes free verse that’s equal parts surreal and sociopolitical; at BAM, his honey-roasted baritone wafted over his five-piece band’s frequently gritty and symbiotic bouillabaisse. Windy City guitarist Marvin Sewell’s ragas meandered through the funk juggernaut of “Urban Music,” and his Hawaiian lap-steel approach accented the bacchanalian calypso-township encomium “Mandela.” The supernal “longstoryshort” was anchored in a guajira-meets-bounce rhythm as zaftig Ronnelle Bay belted and shook the prodigious gifts her momma gave her. (The whole vibe wedded the numinous with the gluteus maximus.)

Sundiata’s solo showpieces “Shout Out” and “Space” were rhythmic, a cappella incantations that owned the evening. A postmodernist djeli, Sundiata mesmerized the crowd when his voice became the only orchestra—tenor saxophone shrieks and djembes included. “Space” was a paranoid scatsophrenic, rife with shell-shocked syncopation. During “Space,” Sundiata became equal parts Betty Carter, Bellevue outpatient, and Mensa spokesperson as he channeled more history through his head than he knew what to do with and became “nuts from the get-go, sane from the what not.” He transmuted himself into the kind of ranting, malodorous seer whom rush-hour commuters ignore, but now had paid to acknowledge their historical amnesia. And as deranged as he seemed, many BAM commuters must have been too, ’cause they knew every word—these weren’t merely fans, they were disciples. And poetry’s been known to like it when we call it Big Poppa. —David Mills

Her Back Pages

No hurry here: On Vagabond Ways, the 1999 album that belatedly came out here in the spring of 2000 and finally merited a New York appearance just last weekend, Marianne Faithfull unearths a Roger Waters track called “Incarceration of a Flower Child,” written in the late ’60s but never recorded. Notes on someone’s more-than-19th nervous breakdown (possibly Syd Barrett’s, but it really doesn’t matter), the song now looks back while looking forward: “It’s going to get cold in the 1970s,” Faithfull bellows brassily, relishing every lost hope she’s reviving. Few versions of classic rock nostalgia are bearable; this felt and campy mixture is exquisite. John Lurie can disguise himself as lounge singer Marvin Pontiac; David Johansen converted Buster Poindexter into a Harry Smith archivist. Faithfull, modest following or not, is an icon unto herself.

At Hunter College on Saturday, she had the benefit of a band fiercer than the one that made the record, including world-class bassist Greg Cohen (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, John Zorn) and guitarist Smokey Hormel (Beck, k.d. lang). A frilly mid-’60s pop hit that Jimmy Page and Jackie DeShannon wrote for her, “Come and Stay With Me,” chimed like prime Byrds. Yeah, she’s “Sister Morphine,” but she’s also groovy. The numbers from the 1979 punk-diva touchstone, Broken English, were as loud and pointed as you can ask. Better still, the tracks from Vagabond Ways played off the same vibe: As Cohen, Hormel, and drummer Courtney Williams built up serious fuzz, and the echo button switched on under Faithfull, “Wilder Shores of Love” gave off the bowed intensity of Lou Reed’s “Blue Mask.” Falling to her knees to do “Incarceration of a Flower Child,” Faithfull hit the 19 in 1970s, as if to say, My God, that was last century—file me next to Oscar Wilde. —Eric Weisbard

PS: It still isn’t clear whether, in “Vagabond Ways,” the lines “I like sex/And I move around a lot” are a list or a connected thought.

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