Sunday, March 11, 2007

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Why a festival instead of a show?

Some people may wonder why people would drive, camp, eat out of a cooler, and just take the genuine effort required to do festivals. Why not just take in a show?

For sure, the festival as form cannot be for everyone, but to me, daytime music is invigorating in a way the evening shows cannot always replicate. For the serious fan--not just of certain bands but of the entire carnival that is popular music--sometimes two hours of sound cannot suffice. Yes, sometimes you need 10 hours of nonstop jams.

Then, even though we go to the circus that is the festival to see a few of our favorites, we inevitably get turned on to something new, something special, something we've never seen before and will hereafter obsess about.

Last year's Bonnaroo was just this kind of festival for me, and I fear it was the first of several 21st century festivals that I seek out like the morning cup of coffee fueling this post.

Friday in Florida will hopefully be filled with such discoveries as I wait for the Saturday sets that are my reason for the season.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

On solo road trips

Am I crazy for wanting a solo road trip, even craving it?

For making music mixes for just that occasion?

Googling around (the online equivalent of 'puttering around the house'), I found some excellent posts on the art of the solo road trip.

Here are my two faves from that genre: here and there.

The sun is up, and it's time to turn the key and drive.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Matisyahu Is My Eminem

(image from

Matisyahu is my Eminem. Like his raunchier Motown predecessor, Matisyahu is a walking contradiction of a white boy reclaiming his masculinity through a pop culture patriarchal pose.

And despite this, I love his music. It’s like a guilty pleasure.

I love his earnestness. I admire the discipline of orthodox people who reject technology and consumerism every Saturday, pray often, and eat well. A post-reggae Jew who makes me think of the Jedi, Matisyahu waves his mic like a light saber over the massive crowds that come to his shows, invoking a future of mysticism that erases all boundaries, even those included in his carefully articulated image.

A few years back, I was astounded to find so many of my friends digging Eminem. Even my parents went to see Eight Mile and suggested I’d like it. It’s in the “to rent” corner of my mind even though I doubt it will do much for me except as a homesick-for-Detroit memento. Before that movie and his anti-Bush postures more recently, some writing students of mine traded essays as debate over the meaning of the Marshall Mathers LP. I found his emasculated misogyny so unsettling that I wrote an anti-Eminem rap-poem and performed it at a few campus poetry slams.

And I still didn’t get it when I went to parties and found all my friends dancing to his music.

What is it about taking pleasure in music where we know the mood of the lyrics is offensive? I know that conservative and religious kids all over the south love to get nasty with their hip-hop and dance to all kinds of devious things. Musically, the latter day bawdy bump and grind never got me hot and bothered, probably because I am already sexually tolerant to the extreme. (Or perhaps it’s because I can’t dance).

But frankly, there’s no scandal in the sexually explicit for me. With Matisyahu, repressed masculinity gets channeled into religion, beat-boxed into a flawed yet utopian sense of the divine, and shared with the mass markets via a reggae meets hip-hop meets jam band audiolage. Frankly, for the sexually dissident or defiantly secular, this kind of religion is the real nasty, a forbidden pleasure. The whole hybrid makes categories themselves messy, a sociocultural mashup that reflects the ridiculously confused, hauntingly millenarian, and recursively messianic times in which we live.

But it’s musically compelling on the records and even more charged-up when performed live—where Matisyahu reaches for Bono-like gestures of frontman gravity. For those who don’t like the music, I certainly wouldn’t suggest you go there for the religious poetry unless religious poetry is already your thing. But the music has merit on its own terms as marked by the excellent production of Bill Laswell.

And for those who just reject his message and how it’s being frontloaded as the flavor of month, I hear that. One writer expressed the concern like this: "I'm troubled by the continued lifting up of antiquated militaristic images and patriarchal roles." From all that I can garner, the spiritual politics of the rapping rabbi from White Plains are repugnant to the principles of inclusion. Any path to God that puts a penis on the prophetic (at the exclusion of the feminine) and places women in a subordinate role deserves our scorn. And though he claims to be for “peace,” his voluntary association with the theological right- wing of Judaism doesn’t bode well for his position in support of the people of Palestine.

But for what it’s worth, I am still listening to and loving Youth, which I’ve had in high rotation since it was released. His Sunday set at Bonnaroo buzzed across the Manchester fields with that magical sense of unity that makes us crave live music as a form of social communion.

I am going to give his set a real chance this Sunday at Langerado. And since I decided not to get tickets to the after-festival late-night shows in Fort Lauderdale, I will probably visit his late Friday Shabbat service. Check this blog later this weekend for the complete download on doing the campground-as-synagogue thing with the ‘Yahu.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Five Days Until Festive Dancing Ensues

I'm thrilled to have the opportunity this year to be covering the Langerado musical festival in south Florida during my spring break from teaching.

This blog will be my unofficial online journal of the week, while official stories will be posted on's Intermedia column.

Thanks to my editor Carrie Allison and to all the fine folks at Madison House Publicity for the excuse to go south this March.