Thursday, March 21, 2013

Short Sharp Shocked

Seeing this map on Buzzfeed reminded me of a true story.

And it is a testament to what a fine H.S. student and upstanding brain I was, that it actually never occurred to me that Alaska was the biggest state in the union until i first heard the Michelle Shocked song, performed here by a French guy who knows English better than I know French.

Ms. Who & I saw Ms. Shocked at the Vic in Chicago in 1990. I was but knee-high to a married grasshopper then, and it was a standing-room only kind of deal; no seats, and we'd made our way up to the stage, very psyched. Then after perhaps two songs, up out of nowhere, Shocked waves out onto the stage this kid, "Dread" Scott Tyler. He comes out of the wings and stands there and waves. She asks the audience to cheer him, so they do. After all, people figured: Who knows what amazing thing he will do. Maybe he'll put drumsticks on either side of his nose.

I don't think too many people besides me knew who Tyler was (yeah i know it's "Dread Scott" -- get it -- Tyler but I prefer plain old Tyler, don't you?) and I only knew his name because I'd just finished editing an article about the big flag-burning case of that era, Texas v. Johnson, which I believe was still on cert or in any event not yet argued, and so I also was looking into, and following, and otherwise reading, the Chicago Tribune's accounts of this guy who had an installation at the art museum that required you to step on the American flag to get the full gist of it, thusly:

The VFW and some other veterans groups were annoyed by this public stepping onto the flag on the floor thing, and so it got into the news. The general thrust of educated opinion was, correct me if I'm wrong but you can't 'cause I'm not, that the protesting veterans had failed in their duty to be eloquent and were insufficiently sophisticated in the ways of the artiste, while the artist by contrast was hurt, yet surprised, yet puzzled and astonished that any yahoos would dislike his work and give him all this free publicity and moments of fame.

So meanwhile, back at the Vic, Tyler comes on stage, takes the microphone and basically told us, and I'm oversimplifying on account of the passage of TIME, but not by much, that America SUCKS, America has always SUCKED and America will continue to SUCK until the day it dies, said death not capable of coming too soon, and so please put your hands together if you agree that America SUCKS.

There was as you would expect, applause. I didn't join in on account of I thought he was acting like a jerk and talking like a moron but more importantly because he didn't sound anything like Michelle Shocked's music, which is the stuff that had lured us into purchasing pricey tickets we could not afford. But Michelle didn't think that applause was enthusiastic enough and so she took the mic back and said what's the matter, don't you realize the truth of what he's telling you? Your country SUCKS, right? or words to that effect.

Now this generated a couple more half-hearted whoos from people who agreed and also people who just thought, "I will cheer anything you say, indeed I will pee in the wind, i don't care, just so long as it has a chance of getting you to hurry the eff up and play some more, oh, i don't know, MUSIC?

There were also an equal amount of boos and catcalls, and then there were guys like me who had just assumed the old arms folded across the (in my case) massively manly hairy with muscles and pecs and all kinds of macho chest (i kid), because we were just flat-out disappointed. I wasn't rich as i may have mentioned several times, & I had to budget to get these tickets, and now Ms. Who & I weren't getting any kind of music what so freaking ever.

And as you can no doubt tell I also didn't buy that Tyler was any kind of victim or any kind of hero or any kind of brave. I was, nay still am, plain weary of people who deliberately insult some segment of other people and then act horrified when the people they've deliberately insulted act ... insulted. Who profess astonishment when they seek out controversy and get ... controversy. Who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated. Who -- sorry.

But plus it's twice as annoying when the artiste wants a medal for courage even though he, or it could be she, select only safe targets. There's a reason that the same museum that will display a crucifix in a bottle of urine will never-ever aint gonna happen piss on a Koran. And the reason isn't "artistic sensibility."

So all this to say, Nation: do not take Michelle Shocked's bizarre anti-gay rant personally or even seriously. She's not a really fine songwriter who suddenly mistook shallow, mean-spirited politics for deep thinking. She's a really fine songwriter who's often mistaken shallow, mean-spirited politics for deep thinking.


Alex said...

I saw her a few years after her "commercial peak." She was one of six or eight performers on a bill for a benefit and she was the least well-known of the bunch.

She insisted on coming on stage to the introduction "the following performer needs no introduction" and that was it. Then she started playing something obscure that no one there had ever heard before.

People in the audience tried to be nice -- it was a benefit after all -- but I heard more than a few folks after talking about how her opinion of herself and her place in the universe seemed so inflated that it almost seemed like a joke.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Alex, yeah, that pretty much nails it. Michelle is good, at times she's real good; but from whence comes the arrogance that other songwriters & bands -- and the peeps in her audience of varying persuasions -- are ipso facto less good? The bands & songwriters that last forever with me are the ones that have given me the benefit of the doubt. They keep in mind that their fans (many of us) had to work our asses off to earn the money to buy the outrageous tickets (or in your case, to help out a cause) ...