The Round of 64 for Sound of the City’s own version of March Madness—in which you, the Sound of the City voting public, help determine the quintessential New York musician—finishes up this week, with the Round of 32 scheduled to kick off Monday. (The schedule and results so far are here; the full, updated bracket is here.) This time out we head to the Downtown quadrant for a battle between the ever-provocative Madonna and the explosive Jon Spencer. Check out the arguments in favor of each below, and vote at Facebook for your favorite.
Madonna spent the first part of her career doing everything she could to provoke and titillate America: writhing around in a wedding dress while performing at the VMAs; finding the erotic in the Biblical in her “Like A Prayer” video; making a book about sex so literal it she could only name it Sex. The country was sufficiently outraged… and it eventually invited her to perform a highly homoerotic Super Bowl halftime set that offended few and delighted many. One could read this as mainstream culture’s tendency to sand away the edges of anything rebellious over time, but really it just proves how deeply Madonna has pushed her ideas of pop-as-art, may-the-best-dance-trend win and quit-pretending-you’re-not-constantly-thinking about sex in to mainstream culture. Conservative talk show hosts aside, this country has a much less uptight culture than we were when Ms. Ciccone started her career. Which is not solely due to her efforts, obviously, but she’s one of the best representations of the culture shift that made America loosen its tie and browse online for freaky leather garments. Also, she has more great songs than I can list in this space, but frankly the mere mention of “Prayer” should more than illustrate her genius.
Jon Spencer epitomizes two of New York’s great musical traditions: a New England boy heading to the city to make a name for himself, and the newly minted New Yorker repurposing rural Southern sounds as something more urban, if not exactly urbane. The New Hampshire boy initially came to town with the audaciously tasteless Pussy Galore, and then stayed to form the even more absurd Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. And the Blues Explosion is still going after two decades, even if it may strangely be a point in Spencer’s favor that they started to lose their brazenly tacky charm around the time he took his name out of the group’s official handle.