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Madonna, All Hail

This week, in a beautiful generational symmetry, EO and I went to Madonna’s Rebel Heart concert here in Hong Kong. My one and only Madonna show prior to this was a floor seat at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center on the Like a Virgin tour, May 1985, a few weeks before I graduated from high school. This spring, EO will attend her first formal dance and ‘graduate’ Y11 before beginning her school’s two-year IB program. Over thirty years between our rites of passage and yet here was Madonna – in fearsome form and wicked wit, middle-aged, twice-divorced, sex-obsessed, foul-mouthed – here was fucking Madonna.

Madonna cage

The Queen, in her cage.*

The fourth best-selling musical act of all time. Superseded only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.

Madonna.

The most successful solo artist in the history of the American singles charts. Let that sink right in while I say her name one more time.

Madonna.

Screw the haters. To hell with the ageist TMZ brigade. Go home if her show starts too late for you. I don’t care how old she is or who shares her bed or even what kind of person she is behind the scenes. All that matters is what she brings to the stage, and in that arena Madonna reigns. Unrivaled. Matchless. Supreme.

Madonna supper

Feast your eyes and pass the wafers.

She transported her full show to Hong Kong – not always the case with touring artists in Asia – and played for over two hours, joined by her band, back-up singers and about 20 dancers. The concert was a button-pushing visual feast of multimedia images, lights, poles, ramps, stairs, hydraulics and dance. Lots of dance. Throughout the show, Madonna moved seamlessly from one cultural theme to another: Samurais to start; Catholicism (of course) to heat things up; Matadors, Greasers and Flappers to express love and more sex, sex, sex; and then “Holiday” fun to finish. I expected the button-pushing and restless cultural curiosity; Madonna has always championed the unusual and the underground, the more provocative the better. She’s a human synthesizer, and I say that as a compliment. What surprised me, however, was the lightness and vulnerability she showed. She chatted, joked, queried and proclaimed to the audience: don’t ask questions, there is no answer. She wore the mantle of Queen both proudly and irreverently.

Madonna male dancer

Body by Madonna.

But if I could distill her performance, nay her entire artistic existence, down to one point, I would say very simply that Madonna is about the body. All shaking ass, thrusting bosom, beating heart. Her hand on a thigh and a head in her crotch. As a dancer first and foremost, she understands the visual power of motion, of open legs and intertwined limbs. Or as her concert showcased, the stunning impact of one shirtless, muscular man moving on an empty stage with only a billowing scarf for company.

Her raison d’être, if I dare to speculate, has always been about celebrating the amazing, ecstatic things we can do with our bodies, alone and in company. She made that statement with her very first single, “Everybody”, which was released in 1982. Every / Body / Come on / Dance and Sing. And she continued that manifesto by shining a light on how others try to stop us from said ecstasy, whether it’s an overbearing patriarchy, Catholic constraints on sexuality or our very own hang-ups. Every / Body / Get Up And / Do Your Thing. Madonna’s body electric is both personal and political, and she makes her stand not only with music and lyrics but movement as well. As if Martha Graham were a pop star…

After the show, EO and I speculated as to what Madonna would do between her two shows in Hong Kong. (If you see her hiking The Peak, tell her I said Hi!) I figured after 2+ hours on stage, in heels, she probably needed some serious physio, or at least a massage. The thought made me a little sad. Madonna’s getting older, her knees must be killing her.

I know a lot of people reckon she’s well past her prime, that the best she can do these days is hitch her wagon to Nicki Minaj or Drake. But I disagree. Though I hadn’t seen her in concert for decades, her Rebel Heart show was indisputable proof that her creative vigor and taste for provocation is alive and well. She still owns the stage, whether she’s alone and singing “La Vie En Rose” or leading her dancers down the catwalk in a fantastic rendition of “Deeper and Deeper”, everyone strutting and vogueing. Even EO said she didn’t think Madonna was trying to be a teenager. The Queen was dancing, singing, doing her thing, and we were lucky to be a part of it.

Madonna solo

Kneel, Genuflect, Rise, Repeat.

How many musical icons not only survive but prosper as they head gently in to that good night? How many still have something to say? The list is short. Prince, Jagger, McCartney, Aretha, Bruce? Maybe. Bowie we just lost, Streisand barely sings anymore, Diana Ross has been MIA for years. Sinatra got it right, but then who else? Who changed pop music forever? Who’s left?

Madonna.

 

*All Hong Kong concert photos courtesy of a lovely and talented friend who had way better seats than I did! 😉

 

’80s Week Continues: A Rock Playlist

So I set two small goals for myself this summer: to read Middlemarch and to watch the FOUR-hour, Peter Bogdanovich-directed Tom Petty documentary: Running Down A Dream. It’s slow going on both fronts, but I am loving each one. Friends had warned me that George Eliot’s writing wasn’t quite as ‘readable’ as say Jane Austen, but the novel doesn’t feel like a chore by any means. It’s got all the hallmarks of a classic English novel: a will is read, feelings are restrained, money’s a problem, love is unrequited and a young man finds out there is a fortune waiting for him. Great stuff.

runningdown-a-dream

I’ve just gotten past the mid ’80s and have reached the Dylan years with the TP and the HBs doc. Fantastic archival footage, performances and loads of interviews, as you would imagine in such an exhaustive documentary. I really enjoyed hearing about their work with Stevie Nicks and how influential their music videos were in the early years of MTV. I mean, seriously, when you look at Tom Petty’s body of work, the sheer number of incredible songs he’s written, he is right up there with the greats.

The doc inspired me to check out his latest release, Hypnotic Eye, as well as all that great early stuff. Just stop to consider his output in the 1980s: Hard Promises (’81), Long After Dark (’82), Southern Accents (’85), Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough (’87), closing out the decade with Full Moon Fever (’89). Come on! The man is a huge talent.

Funny how when we think of ’80s music, we tend to think of every genre – New Wave, Heavy (Hair) Metal, Rap, Punk and Pop –  except Rock. (Not including Bruce Springsteen of course, who was kind of a genre unto himself in the ’80s.) But plenty of rock musicians who’d gotten started in the ’70s were still releasing albums, touring and making interesting music videos that sustained rock radio through the decade. You could call this music kind of boring, MOR stuff but a lot of it is pretty darn good – a blend of blues, rock, jazz, New Wave. And I think these ‘oldies’ acts mix in well with college-radio rock bands such as REM and The Pretenders that went on to huge careers themselves.

So here’s a playlist of ’80s rock to start your weekend. Let me know what you think!

Monday Morning Music – Shovels & Rope

O’ Be Joyful! isn’t just the name of Shovels & Rope’s latest album, it’s also how I feel when I listen to their earthy, raucous rock-n-roll. They’re a two-piece combo consisting of Michael Trent from Texas and Cary Ann Hearst from Tennessee. They don’t like labeling their music, but if you had to describe it you could call it Americana, alt-country or just plain rock. Harder than your typical folk singer – more barroom than coffee shop.

Recently they recorded a couple of cover tunes for Third Man Records, and it turns out that Jack White’s Nashville label and S&R’s honky stomp make a great couple. Check out their versions of Springsteen’s ‘Johnny 99′ as well as an amazing cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Bad As Me’ on the Third Man website.

These kind of tunes make me homesick for a taco dinner and a Shiner Bock after a long day driving through the Texas hill country. I hope I get a chance to check them out this summer, but if not I’ll make do with a clip from their appearance on David Letterman earlier this year:

Find out more at shovelsandrope.com.

Have a good week y’all!

Who Took the Danger Out of Rock-n-Roll?

ATTENTION MILLENNIAL GIRLS EVERYWHERE:

Never fear, therockmom is here! To advise, to educate and of course, to embarrass you, as most moms are want to do. (Do what you’re good at, I say.)

Yes, I know you’re sinking under a mountain of college debt. Yes, I know it’s tough to get a job or even an internship out there. And yes, I realize you girls don’t even know how to date. Maybe you’re too worried about climate change or budget cuts, I don’t know.

Btw, if you don’t believe me about the dating thing, click here. Weird but true.

But I’ve been contemplating your various issues and crises (and watching Girls once a week) and I think I can help. After careful study, including an exhaustive, multi-generational survey and lots of web surfing, I’ve pinpointed the one area, the one crucial variable, where Generation Y women truly struggle. And if you can change this one thing – say it with me, “Yes, I can!” – I think you’ll find your horizons will broaden, the skies will clear and you’ll enjoy life more.

So what, you ask, is Gen Y’s missing X Factor?

You have no Rock Gods.

Let’s be honest here, your music has a serious masculinity problem. I mean, do you really want to see Jay Z or Pitbull shirtless? Can you imagine Mumford & Sons with groupies? Do they even have groupies? And while he may love his torso and his tattoos, raise your hand if you think Adam Levine is truly dangerous. Come on now, one of 2012’s hottest bands – Fun. – is by name and reputation absolutely not dangerous.

If you still don’t believe me, see my helpful chart below.

Suit and tie, my a**

Suit and tie, my a**

I blame it on two influences: the all-singing, all-dancing, sometimes acting Michael Jackson; and Kurt Cobain and his sweater. You see, the current generation of multi-talented pop types (Usher, Bruno, the Justins) all profess a huge appreciation for and a desire to emulate the King of Pop. And while you can clearly see the genius in “PYT”, you can’t say the man was manly. (Well, maybe in countries where English is not a first language.) Hence, the generation that followed him has somehow forgotten that when you grab your crotch you really need to mean it. Now, over in the rock world, Nirvana influenced huge numbers of bands with its groundbreaking sound, sensitive songwriting and rejection of rock norms. But perhaps Cobain’s lasting legacy will be the fuzzy cardigan he wore for MTV’s Unplugged in New York, released in 1994. With one piece of thrift store clothing he tells the world and young girls everywhere, I want to be comfy. I have no sex appeal, so just ignore my piercing blue eyes and stringy blonde hair.

And all the while the peacocks of old – Plant, Daltry, Morrison, Roth, Rose – wring their hands and cry out in a Jack Black call to arms, “Where is your chest hair? Where are your leather pants?”

Where are your Golden Gods?

Okay, I can tell you’re still a little confused. I thought you might be. Not to worry. I polled a cross section of female friends and asked them to tell me what rock star (past or present) they’d most like to go backstage to… um, meet. With their answers, I’ve put together some bullet points – a handy checklist if you will – that you can refer to as needed when you’re trying to find out if a Gen Y guy is worthy of Rock God status. Do I think there are any 20something rockers out there who compare to previous generations? That’s like asking if Harry & Taylor are the Mick & Marianne of your generation. Get serious. Nevertheless, here goes:

1. He should have hips.

Rock can be political, it can have a sensitive side, sure, but when it comes to the stuff of teenage dreams, you need to remember that all rock stars start with the pelvis – censored like Elvis’, immortalized like Jagger’s or photographed like David Lee Roth’s. And, no, Psy’s dance-y hips absolutely do not count in this equation.

2. He shouldn’t be ashamed of his body.

Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi? Both proud of their bottoms. As are Robbie Williams and Prince (maybe too much in their cases). Even a rock star as articulate as Sting is proud to take off his shirt and sport a little skin. The yoga helps. Justin T, we may have seen you shirtless, but we also know you still get carded on a regular basis, so that’s not quite manly enough for us.

3. He should date a supermodel.

This is really a given, as it furthers the whole rock-as-theater image that we need. Jack White is your best bet for Rock God status right now, being a kick-ass musician and having married and subsequently divorced a model (though I’ve never seen him shirtless, nuts!). And I don’t know where this trend came from of sensitive guys in waistcoats settling down with slim, thoughtful actresses (Gwyneth & Chris, Marcus & Carey), but it needs to stop. We want you larger than life!

4. He has to drive, or sing about driving, or sing about cars.

I know we’re all worried about greenhouse gases but how disappointing is it to learn that Millennials would give up their cars before they parted with their computers or cell phones? You cannot write a great song about being ‘Born to Telecommute’ or ‘I Love My Samsung Galaxy’ or ‘Life in the Wi-Fi Lane’. Rock-n-roll and cars, people, that’s a religion.

5. He needs leather, big hair optional.

Has Lenny Kravitz taught you nothing? Rock is not about fuzzy sweaters, it’s not about comfort. It’s about planting your foot on the edge of that Marshall amp in your motorcycle chaps and letting people worship you! Eighties style! Having said that, however, I’ll give Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl in their flannel a hall pass on this one, because they’re awesome enough as is. And because Ed ditched his first wife to marry a model, so he ticked box #3.

6. He must embrace androgyny.

Play around with your sexual identity, absolutely. But, please, not in some respectable-Rachel-Maddow kind of way. Look at Bowie, still subversive and provocative after all these years. David Lee Roth may have acted like the most hetero guy on the planet but he had long blonde hair and happily agreed to be tied up and photographed by Helmut Newton. So start with black eyeliner and something fishnet-y and work from there.

7. He should rock with the Devil.

This is an oldie but goodie and disappointingly rare these days. A loose connection to Satan – real or imagined – is not required but it helps. Remember: dark, aggressive, occult-ish. For reference, see Nick Cave and paganism, Jimmy Page, The Beatles, even Billy Idol in a pinch.

8. And finally – Act. Don’t Tweet.

When was the last time a young rock star trashed a hotel room? Exactly. Don’t just post something inappropriate, do something inappropriate. (Though not harmful to any member of any gender, natch.)

Wait, rockmom, you’re thinking, we’re 21st century women. We’ve evolved. We work at Google, we volunteer, we’re in charge of our own FB status and we like hanging with our parents. Why would we want to embrace any of these macho, misogynistic stereotypes?

Because you’re young! Because rock should be dangerous! And because rock stars should remember, by extension, that danger is their business.

I rest my case, Millennials. It’s up to you.

Rock on.

Jack White – here to save rock-n-roll. Did you notice that he’s driving?

PHOTO CREDITS

Roger Daltrey: last.fm

Robert Plant: The Sun UK

David Lee Roth: tcarsc.blogspot.com

Justin Timberlake: pastemagazine.com

Election iPods

The Whitest Shade of Pale. Ever.

In the spirit of factcheck.org and all of the other researchers who’ve worked so hard debunking the whooping great lies swirling around this election, therockmom has taken on the task of finding a picture of Mitt Romney actually listening to music.

Because it’s important.

We’ve heard about Romney’s iPod and the jokes comparing his musical likes to Paul Ryan’s. We’ve heard about Romney’s  taste for Kid Rock and The Killers – lead singer Brandon Flowers is a Mormon btw – and his preference for country. Mainstream country that is. We’ve heard that his campaign staff listed his musical tastes on Spotify (which I’ve just found out you cannot get in Hong Kong!) to try to keep their boss somewhat hip to social media. But you know if you search Google images for ‘Romney wearing earbuds’ or ‘Romney iPod’ or even ‘Romney music’, what do you get? Nothing.

Kind of like those oh-so-pesky details about his budget plans.

I’ve also discovered that out of Romney’s entire Spotify playlist (19 songs total), there is only one song by a woman – “All American Girl” by Carrie Underwood. I hear that, if Romney gets elected, Ms Underwood will remake that song, to be titled, “All American Girl With Ten Kids and Cervical Cancer”.

Now if you do the same search for Obama, you get photos of the President wearing headphones, hanging with Stevie Wonder, chatting with Jay Z and Beyonce as well as some great photoshopped pics of Obama as a DJ, Obama holding a huge boom box and Obama as Elvis on a postage stamp.

This is my favorite of the photoshops.

So it’s easy to believe him when he says he listens to the Fugees, the Stones, the Boss and Nina Simone. On his 2008 playlist, three out of ten songs are by woman.

Every faux blue collar, white boy poser, frat jackass image in one simple photo – genius!

Paul Ryan, of course, is another story all together. The 2012 undisputed king of the backwards-baseball cap, cheesy weightlifting, earbud-wearing totally-doofus school of campaign propaganda. The best description I’ve read about Ryan and his earbuds came from a great blogger who posts under the banner: Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs. He called Ryan’s snaps, “quite possibly the douchiest image ever captured on film.”

I can’t say it any better. Honestly, anyone under 60 who doesn’t see right through Paul Ryan – right through this guy! – is completely deluded.

Now, put on your earbuds and go out and vote!

mitt-romney-wont-release-his-spotify-playlist