Doing Ecstasy: A Sprite Sings Wordly Vespers to Astroland
At Coney Island’s Keyspan Park, the procession of freaks began early Friday evening, all closing out summer with the high priestess of eclecticism. We were there, walking among the pagans, the redheaded women, the gay glamour-boys, the smattering of blacks (us). Despite the pending ceremony, the homestead of the Cyclones was inelegant as usual. There were kickass pistachio Italian ices, pretzels, beer, and a dude hawking Cracker Jacks. When the draft ran dry, the concessionaires poured red wine into large beer cups. When night fell, Deno’s Wonder Wheel blazed pink and white, and this was somehow right for the ageless pixie Björk.
A barrage of fireworks announced the Icelander’s arrival. She looked exquisitely ridiculous. There were no flamingos, just a black dress with a fuchsia star blooming from the side. Björk jerked awkwardly across the stage, beautiful and Bob Marley-like. Then her eight-piece string section whined the opening notes to “Joga.” Every time she wailed “state of emergency,” flame shot up in jets from in front of the stage. Bombs from the tip of the world exploded again. But her big voice outstripped the pyrotechnics, expanding out over the park. A baby began to cry. Some dude clutching an empty beer bottle and the handles of a stroller produced tiny earplugs.
Bah, the kid would have gotten over it. Who could have resisted the mighty litany Björk unfurled that evening: the vindictive “5 years,” the wistful “Heirloom,” the ascending “All Is Full of Love”? Or the unlikely ensemble she pulled together—a harpist, string section, and a dude triggering the programmed drums.
Her best rendition was of the worst song on her best album, Homogenic‘s “Pluto.” Those drums always feel like icicles at your ears, but on Friday they sent the crowd into a panicked rapture. My girl started hopping up and down like the white girls we used to laugh at. I wanted to hop around like a white girl too, but the song I hate had become hypnotic. This should have been her last number, but the crowd enticed her into an encore. We were grateful to have her back for three more songs. Even without explicitly howling that she was “no fucking Buddhist,” she still left her pagans ecstatically restless. —Ta-Nehesi Coates
Critic Attends a Sex Pistols Concert, Does Not Feel Cheated
A sunburned Johnny Rotten, clad in coppery clamdiggers and a sleeveless tee, sauntered onstage warning that “fucking immi-gration” hassles had left no time for rehearsals. Beaming a pop-eyed, gap-toothed grin, he waggled his rump, and the Sex Pistols lashed into “Bodies,” hands-down the best raver ever written about a bloody abortion. Amid hunchback seizures and wanking staggers, he flashed his own seedy body. “We may be near 50,” he shouted into the Jones Beach night last Thursday, “but the rest are 50 years behind!”
Rhythm section Glen Matlock and Paul Cook betrayed no loss of drive, while relentless guitarist Steve Jones—and a multigenerational crowd roaring every word— helped out the bemused frontman after he fumbled the lyrics to “God Save the Queen.” This gaffe only confirmed that Never Mind the Bollocks, the ’77 album that accounted for most of the set, is an indestructible corpus. With soaring hooks and lyrics that simultaneously evoke despair and ecstasy (“Anarchy in the U.K.” ‘s “Don’t know what I want/ But I know how to get it!“), Bollocks is the music NASA should’ve etched in gold and flung at the cosmos. Visceral performances evoking paroxysms of savage joy are a worthy calling card from humanity.
A turd on conformity’s doorstep, Rotten loves the unloved, the unwashed who have “No-oo-oo Future!” He answered some atavistic gobbing from the crowd by hocking into a T-shirt and tossing it back: “That’s a Johnny Rotten booger—that’s worth a fortune on eBay.” The Pistols are hilarious, but they’ve never been a joke. Unlike past bogeymen Little Richard or Elvis, mass culture can’t digest the Pistols; the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame has snubbed them, and you won’t hear “Pretty Va-cunt” selling Minis. But that’s all right—Johnny and the lads’ve already torn down more monuments than could ever be erected to them. —R.C. Baker
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 26, 2003