Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kathy Wilson's Bunbury Critique in CityBeat

Jane's Addiction @Bunbury
Photo by Jake Mecklenborg
The internet's response to the Bunbury Festival has been a bit much -- any and all criticisms have been shouted down by a gang of hissing cobras.  And by criticisms I mean remarks by people (usually over 30 years old) pointing out the silly pretenses of such a festival -- one that borrows heavily from the multi-stage alternative festival model (even the title -- lollapalooza and bunbury function similarly in the context of alternative rock music festivals) pioneered by Perry Farrell.  Then, there has been a flippant attitude shown by the young (white) people toward Jane's Addiction -- with said young (white) people seemingly unaware of Farrell's role in inventing this type of festival back in 1991 AND the two incredible studio albums he recorded with Jane's Addiction in 1988 and 1990.  

Wednesday I sat down with CityBeat at the Clifton Skyline, as is my weekly routine, and laid eyes upon this:

Finally somebody said what needed to be said about this sort of music festival and the prevailing musical activities of college-educated whites. To expand on Wilson's remarks, the Bunbury Festival existed as a backdrop for camera phone photos that could be posted like trophies on Facebook, then "liked" by a cascade of "friends".  It existed to give Cincinnati some semblance of indie cred for creative class recruits who waste their time caring about indie cred.  It was commodified culture, period.  

But the even deeper issue which Wilson should have but didn't address directly is that music is almost always about economic class -- it either functions as an agent of the oppressor or as a heroic act of the oppressed.  Where it gets tricky is when the oppressor tricks the oppressed into thinking a particular song, performer, or genre is a declaration of defiance, and trickier still when the oppressed are tricked into playing oppressive music (but all that is the subject of some future post).  

Let's turn the clock back for a moment to Woodstock, where 28 year-old Richie Havens concluded his festival-opening performance with this wonderful improvisation: 

The next summer, Iggy Pop threw the peanut butter at Crosley Field:

Skip ahead to the 2000's and not a whole lot is happening for the white middle class.  Their music is neither a call to act out against their oppressors (who are as often themselves as the wealthy) nor a celebration of a modest life nobly lived.  Their primary activity is the advertisement of their accumulation of photos of themselves in social situations on Facebook.  

And again we must revisit the matter of the music of Jane's Addiction.  Those first two studio albums are way, way up there in the rock pantheon.  No, not quite Dark Side of the Moon (heard of it, you Euro-DJ leg-humping hipster?), but Ritual de lo Habitual, especially, only missed that lofty perch by a hair.  It's everything that everything since about 2000 (including Jane's more recent albums) isn't.  It's The Real Thing -- a work that sought change in part through pursuit of a secular ecstatic state, that characteristic which artist Dan Graham discussed in his 1984 film Rock My Religion:

Hardly any of the new music that has appeared in the past 10 years has been any good, meaning most young people haven't seen a good live rock & roll band comprised of people their age. At Bunbury, there wasn't any band who was really pissed off, any band who was really celebrating life, or anyone who did anything outrageous. No assumptions were challenged and no minds were blown. But thanks to Woodstock, Lollapalooza, et al., those outcomes are insinuated in the marketing of today's music festivals, and of course it's there in all the "liked" Facebook camera phone photos generated on Cincinnati's riverfront this past weekend.   



  1. Damnable modern-day lollapoloozers . . .

  2. Tell me more about this "real rock & roll"... But seriously if I listed the best albums/bands from the last 10 years would you disqualify anyone over 35 because they are from your generation?

  3. Dave you took me back with that one, he was an inspiration to aspiring curmudgeons like myself. I really wish someone had videotaped one of his monologues!

    Cincinnatus, the flame of rock & roll has gradually dimmed since its high point right around 1970. I say The Stooges "Funhouse" is the hardest record, ever.

  4. So you see rock & roll as the Ottoman empire in the late 19th century? Probably an astute analogy in some respects - it is in decline as a singular genre but there are many strong sub-genre's under the surface. There is still, and there will alway be great music. But is it rock & roll? Does it matter?

  5. Jake, you have to admit that Kathy Wilson's article was pretty ridiculous. Complaining that there were too many white bands and white attendees at an alternative/indie music festival?

  6. Damn somehow I missed the whole point by strolling down and enjoying some music on the river front.
    I always under think everything.