Back in April, the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, KISS, Hall & Oates, the E Street Band, Cat Stevens, and Peter Gabriel at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. In addition, managers Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham won the Ahmet Ertegun Award, a prize for music industry intermediaries that was renamed in 1987 when the Atlantic Records founder received the honor. The ceremony aired on HBO, a broadcasting decision that allowed musicians’ blue language and sprawling performances to remain intact and gave the channel an opportunity to implicitly remind viewers about their forthcoming Foo Fighters documentary series.
Musicians are eligible for induction 25 years after their first recording. This makes Nirvana the lone first-ballot selection of the 2014 class. Such developments are, at first blush, unremarkable. Industrial institutions—which are often conservative and populist by design—frequently play catch-up when they distribute awards. It’s widely understood that Al Pacino won Best Actor in 1992 less for his scenery-chewing turn in Scent of a Woman than for the body of work that preceded it. This is also often true for institutions that commemorate those efforts from a historical remove. Often, the Rock Hall will recognize one to three recording artists as soon as they reach that 25-year mark. A few peer acts may receive nominations before being filtered out and recycled for consideration on the next year’s ballot.
The remaining inductees suggest the slow evolution of the Rock Hall and raise a few questions for the institution and popular music history moving forward. First, what music is “worthy” of the mantle of cultural significance? In a recent conversation with Alex Pappademas and Wesley Morris about Saul Austerlitz’s indictment of poptimism in the New York Times, Grantland music critic Steven Hyden argued that the decision to induct hard rock enterprise KISS and blue-eyed soul duo Hall & Oates demonstrates criticism’s influence upon the music industry to revise and reappraise the merit of history’s bad objects, corporate artifacts, and hybrid outfits. Such sentiments were reflected in guitarist Tom Morello’s induction of KISS. He identified their status as critical poison while simultaneously claiming that their “real” position were as schoolyard heroes for generations of disaffected youth, many of whom went on (like Morello) to pick up guitars and form bands. The quartet reinforced these points in their acceptance speech.
Questions of worth reveal a lot about systems of power. Who bestows worth onto another? When is the beneficiary’s moment decided? These questions continue to plague the Rock Hall, which has a notoriously opaque nomination and voting process that is often legible as “whatever Jann Wenner likes.” A few inductees challenged the effectiveness of such deliberations. Daryl Hall noted that his group was the only “homegrown Philadelphia band” in the Rock Hall. “Now, I’m not saying that because I’m proud of that. I’m saying that ‘cuz that’s fucked up,” he continued before rattling off a list of artists that included Todd Rundgren, the Stylistics, the Delphonics, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and Chubby Checker (!). Later in the ceremony, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic would offer a similar, albeit less polemical statement when he introduced Joan Jett during their finale as an artist who should be in the Rock Hall. I would add Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon before and after I saw her sing “Aneurysm” with the band, a moment which Courtney Love deemed “the punkest performance, the one that Kurt would’ve approved of the most” in a Pitchfork interview with Jenn Pelly.
Here’s a more basic question: what is rock music? This is a concern the Rock Hall has been struggling with for several years. It’s the question at the heart of rock’s existence as a genre. During our viewing, my mother-in-law asked if Linda Ronstadt qualified as rock. I don’t know. Where do the blues, R&B, and country end? How is a genre distinct and how is it reassembled to create “rock”? White privilege is one answer. The hegemony of electric guitar is another. But, as Hyden pointed out, the Rock Hall is one of the few institutions that stills treats “rock” as a catch-all term for “popular music,” an antiquated notion held over from its founding in 1983. Hyden predicts that less rock acts will get inducted in the future. First, there are now no longer as many rock bands that have the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and U2’s mass appeal. Second, the Rock Hall historically ignores more obscure rock bands like Sonic Youth and the Minutemen, despite their influence. Third, since the 90s, rock stars’ industrial and cultural significance shifted to hip-hop, R&B, and pop artists. Kanye West is this generation’s Axl Rose.
What generic hybridity and historical revision suggest is that essentialist definitions of identity don’t hold and, for many, never did. In my more cynical moments, I often reduce Rock Hall inductions to “a lotta blonde wives.” But feminism requires us to care about blonde wives, regardless of whether one of them is Courtney Love. This raises another question: how does identity shape our historical understanding of popular music? At the very least, it makes us think about how rock music is a product of male vanity (Gene Simmons’ hair!). But when Michael Stipe gave a touching speech about Nirvana’s disidentification with the mainstream and their negotiated outsider status among “the fags, the fat girls, the broken toys, the shy nerds, and the goth kids from Tennessee and Kentucky” in and beyond the historical context of a citizenry “practically dismantled by Iran-Contra, by AIDS, by the Reagan/Bush Sr. administrations,” it put Art Garfunkel’s bloviation at Cat Stevens and the condescending sexism of “Wild World” into stark relief.
I’m creating a binary I don’t entirely agree with. Rock Hall ceremonies are studies in pomposity, in overlong jam sessions and acceptance speeches, in hagiographies, in hot-air meditations on popular music as capital-a “Art” instead of sweaty traces of lowercase-f “fun.” But they also serve as evidence of industrial and interpersonal conflict. What does music do to workers? Bands like Blondie, Credence Clearwater Revival, and Led Zeppelin used the podium as a space to unearth past grievances around authorship and attribution. Members of groups like the Clash, the Beastie Boys, and Nirvana accepted their awards amid absence. Musicians like Peter Gabriel reinforced that “In Your Eyes” is an example of profound songwriting and an important collaboration, even though the singer lost his falsetto to age and work.
Since the Rock Hall represents music as labor, Bruce Springsteen inducting the E Street Band was especially poignant. In his speech, Springsteen reflected on negotiating his recording contract as a solo artist with his professional autonomy to hire “side men” who were collaborators with distinct skills, contributions, and artistic perspectives. He spoke with deep regret that organist Danny Federici and saxophonist Clarence Clemons were not in attendance. Guitarist Patti Scialfa navigated being the musician who broke through the boy’s club, the subject of “Red-Headed Woman,” and a member of another family with Springsteen. He also recalled a tense conversation with guitarist Steven Van Zandt on the eve of his induction as a solo artist in 1999. Van Zandt wanted Springsteen to stand up for the band, claiming that Springsteen with E Street was the legend. But this issue remains unresolved, as the broadcast edited down the band’s acceptance speeches and played it as background noise during breaks in their “Kitty’s Back” performance. Side men and women still struggle for legibility, even as they’re being recognized by their industry.
This is my favorite question to ask of the Rock Hall: what artists are put in conversation with each other? I watch the ceremony for the pairings and the performances. Who gets to induct these musicians into the Rock Hall? Who gets to share the stage with them? I remember being disappointed when Anthony Kiedis inducted the Talking Heads in 2002. First, the Red Hot Chili Peppers front man couldn’t hang up his butt rock Lothario image for one night; he had to emphasize bassist Tina Weymouth’s hipster sex appeal over her contributions to the band’s omnivorous sound. Second, I’m not sure what the two groups share except for their (wildly divergent) relationships to funk. But even such facile connections interest me, because they allow us to consider popular music as an exchange, as well as what relationships the music industry values and what heritage really means. Who matters to music’s past and future?
The 2014 ceremony had several interesting pairings. Questlove’s Hall & Oates induction speech highlighted the duo’s regional influence on Philadelphia’s musical identity, the feedback loop between the white soul group and their predominantly black early fan base, and the Roots’ drummer’s amusing childhood associations with “She’s Gone” and its various musical and paratextual elements. Carrie Underwood sang alongside Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, and Stevie Nicks during a Linda Ronstadt medley that begged the question: “is this a VH1 Divas concert?” Underwood’s performance of “Different Drum” also underlined a productive tension between her “Country Barbie” image and the song’s commercial flirtation with Sexual Revolution-era proclamations like “It’s just that I am not in the market for a boy who wants to love only me.”
Much of the press coverage surrounding the ceremony focused on Nirvana’s grrrl germs performance. A friend made a perceptive comparison between it and the 2010 BET Awards’ all-female Prince tribute medley. In addition to opening up opportunities for female artists to reinterpret men’s musical contributions, both performances make tribute an intergenerational concern. Also, would Cobain have clung to Gordon’s silver wedges like Prince did after Patti LaBelle kicked off her heels while taking “Purple Rain” to church? Would he have a hand in the selection process, as Prince did when he requested that Janelle Monáe perform “Let’s Go Crazy”? Would he bristle at homage’s patriarchal implications?
It was great to see Novoselic, Dave Grohl, and Pat Smear share the stage with Jett, Gordon, St. Vincent, and Lorde. I wish that there was more of interaction between the women during the medley, but I liked that Jett, Gordon, and Annie Clark accompanied Lorde on “All Apologies.” I was also moved by Love’s engagement with them as a spectator. On “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Jett nailed the ellipses, vague mumbling, and weird cadences of the song’s self-conscious teen-speak. Originally, I thought Gordon should’ve done “Polly” or “Rape Me,” but “Aneurysm” allowed the group to acknowledge Incesticide’s legacy and avoid misrepresenting Gordon’s erotic menace as a vocalist. St. Vincent’s take on “Lithium” was strong, but it also demonstrated that Nirvana’s deceptively primitive songwriting can limit a musician as accomplished as Clark. The cryptic imagery and discordant bridge on “Heart-Shaped Box” would have given her more to play. Lorde—whose presence I anticipated after Ann Powers argued that Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s mainstream elaboration on “young female voices finding themselves within a forest of electronically generated sounds” made her “the Nirvana of now”—may be the only pop star of her generation who can convincingly sing “I wish I was like you/easily amused.” Lorde approached it as a put-down, but she may connect more with it later as an expression of need. It’s both.
Such collaborations allow us to consider what the Rock Hall has become and what it could still be. It was exciting to see four women reinterpret men’s work. But we still have yet to fully challenge rock’s hegemonic whiteness. What if Tamar-Kali was there to perform “On a Plain”? I thought about Mariah Carey’s Hole fandom and imagined how the organization could break down boundaries of gender and race by providing space for artists to celebrate each other across musical genres. It raises one last question: who will share the stage with Lorde if she gets inducted in 2038?
Earlier this year, I wrote an entry for Bitch that considered Liz Phair’s burgeoning career as a TV composer. In that piece, I speculated that she started working in television for financial reasons, as she’d discussed elsewhere how indie cred doesn’t always pay your bills. This was confirmed in “Bollywood,” the first single of Phair’s sixth album Funstyle, which she released on her Web site last week. According to the message left on Phair’s Web site, we weren’t supposed to hear it and was responsible for her loss of management. I’m sure Funstyle‘s detractors can make hay of this.
Many have typed about “Bollywood” in the week since. After my friend Erik alerted me of the track, I checked in with Chriso at I Fry Mine in Butter who provided scathing commentary and linked Phair’s output to the law of diminishing returns. A contact of mine at Bitch believed it was decent enough as a bonus track, but a bad lead single. Veteran music critics like Ann Powers and Douglas Wolk evaluated the album in full. Powers defended Phair’s artistic merit, referencing Dr. Demento while believing the work to be insightful, funny, and political. Wolk hoped it was a palette cleanser following the artist’s disappointing attempts at commercial success in the 2000s.
As for me? I’m certainly not going to begrudge Phair the opportunity to release new material. Record ’til you run out of songs, Liz. And in truth, I’ll probably always give anything you make at least one listen, because I try to give all female artists that courtesy. We can discuss the systemic failures that force a single mom to take jobs she may not otherwise consider and attempt at corporate solvency in order to provide for her family. We can debate whether breaking from Capitol Records and releasing the album to an unsuspecting public was a smart move when listening to “And He Slayed Her” (a dig on Capitol exec Andy Slater). We can encourage her to be critical about the music industry and how short a shelf life many female musicians have in it, as “Smoke” alludes to. I support her on all counts.
But if we’re purely talking about the album as a listening experience, I hardly enjoyed it. “U Hate It,” Phair assumes in the opening track. Well, I certainly don’t love it. When it didn’t make my ears bleed, it bored me.
Much of what I didn’t like about the album was evident in “Bollywood”: Phair’s thoughtless racial appropriation. This is evident in the “ethnic” voice and grammar she employs while rapping, the broad humor she uses to cast evil record label execs as Noo Yawkahs (re: Jewish people), and her use of musical tokenism. It’s also evident in the title, whose only direct meaning is that the Hindi-language film industry (or ugly Americans’ notions of it) isn’t like the American culture industry that resides in a first-world cut-throat city posing as an idyll with which it rhymes. If you thought you wuz in the Bollywood, you wuzn’t. Let’s get real, Liz. You grew up in Winnetka as a member of a white upper-middle class family and went to Oberlin. You wuz never in the Bollywood and your conception of it and willingness to funnel it into a pop song is offensive.
Her tone-deaf racial ideations seem analogous to the condescending familial racial politics she offered on whitechocolatespaceegg‘s “Uncle Alvarez,” which told the story of a relative’s closeted Native American heritage. Though in fairness, Phair’s an equal-opportunity offender here. Suburban Midwestern housewives are her target in “Beat Is Up”. They sure talk funny when they offer hollow platitudes and mispronounce words while being cuckolded by their husbands and white-flight privilege, doncha know. But they’re such an easy target. Also, given how Phair is culturally insensitive in other ways, it seems like she may have more in common with these silly women than she may realize.
My disdain for Phair’s comedic sensibilities has deeper roots. She’s always entertained a broad sensibility that has gone largely undetected by her deadpan delivery. It’s most evident in her willingness to do voices, which goes at least as far back as “Why I Left California”.
And just because she’s deadpan doesn’t mean she’s always funny or insightful. On “U Hate It,” she admonishes music industry brass for being a “penius . . . colada that is.” This kind of faux-witty childish raunch didn’t curry favor with me when I watched Cougar Town or during the 45 minutes I could stomach of The Sweetest Thing. Phair is no exception. Frankly, I could draw a line between it and the awful “Polyester Bride” which boasts shallow lyrics about marked-down alligator boots and flirtatious bartenders as vessels for female empowerment. This doesn’t even get us into “H.W.C.” territory because . . . well, c’mon. You go girl. Or something.
When Funstyle didn’t make me wince with embarrassment, it left me with nothing else. The remainder of the album plays like the handful of unremarkable tracks on the sporadically great but overlong whitechocolatespaceegg or the majority of predecessor Somebody’s Miracle. Songs like “Satisfied,” “Miss September,” and “You Should Know Me” play like adult-contemporary album filler. It’s sad to me that Phair can’t provide interest for these songs, as I’m okay with “Why Can’t I” and “Soak Up the Sun,” a Sheryl Crow track she guested on. They weren’t favorites of mine, but I didn’t begrudge them their MOR success. She does take some other musical risks apart from rapping. This is most evident on “Oh, Bangaladesh” and “Bang! Bang!,” though only the latter urged me to listen again, as the former was another pan-Middle Eastern infused mess.
Maybe Phair is just being herself here, sending us postcards from some journey she’s on. I just wish I enjoyed reading her correspondence.
Week five of “Tuning In” begins with an entry on Sheryl Crow’s involvement with ABC’s Cougar Town.
Ya’ll, the Lilith Fair is getting a reboot this summer. I missed the festival during its original run in the late-90s. Honestly, I wasn’t too invested in it. I was happy that founder Sarah McLachlan was putting it together, but the majority of the bill offerings were pretty nice white lady adult contemporary at the time.
But co-founder Terry McBride has resurrected the festival and it’s coming to Austin some time next summer. I gotta say that this summer’s roster looks good: Loretta Lynn, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Cat Power, Gossip, Metric, Norah Jones, Jill Scott, Beth Orton, Emmylou Harris, Janelle Monáe, Teagan and Sara, Corrine Bailey Ray, fuckin’ Heart. Of course, we’ve still got plenty of nice white lady music, but it seems as if there was some effort to mix up the genres a little bit so it isn’t only about ladies strumming acoustic guitars (ex: Mary fuckin’ J!). On that tack, I’m pretty uninterested in Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert, Sara Bareilles, and Colbie Caillat’s involvement, but I understand that the festival’s gotta draw in some big MOR names. That said, I like that there’s some rad queer ladies and women of color on the bill.
As I don’t think the bill is 100% finalized, I’m hoping Thao and the Get Down Stay Down gets a spot on the bill. I’d also support additions like Jean Grae, Bat for Lashes, Neko Case, Marnie Stern, Shunda K, and Ponytail. I think it’d be cool if a stage was set up for local acts so folks like Follow That Bird, Yellow Fever, and Schmillion could get some more exposure — or even cooler if said bands formed their own counterfestival. Oooh, and if only they could get Sleater-Kinney to reunite. Can’t wait to see how this shapes up. For more up-to-date information, keep an eye on the festival’s Web site.
So, after writing about my nostalgia last week, I thought I’d reflect on truly borrowed nostalgia: the music of my mother’s generation. I’m specifically thinking about the emergence of the female singer-songwriter, who came into vogue in the mid-1960s New York-based folk scene and became a cultural juggernaut by the end of the decade and into the mid-1070s with women like Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon, for whom Sheila Weller wrote a toothsome, comprehensive biography last year called Girls Like Us.
The women’s sound(s), look(s), and message(s) would help destigmatize (if only for a moment) the feminist movement (if still largely configured to be a straight, middle-class, white woman’s struggle). They also helped pave the way for a revival of female singer-songwriters in the 1990s, helping result in the established careers of Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, and Björk, as well as the launch of festivals like Lilith Fair (which is rumored to make a return in 2010).
And, though perhaps a stretch, I kept thinking about these three women in relation to Betty Draper, Joan Holloway, and Peggy Olsen on Mad Men, three very different women beginning to weather and confront seismic shifts in gender and sexual politics at the beginning of the 1960s that the three artists featured in this book would at times undo, surrender to, and be blocked by at the end of the decade and into the 1970s.
Having read this book, I wonder if any of the women of Mad Men became fans of these artists. Would any of these women help make Tapestry one of the best-selling albums of all time? Betty and Joan may be a little too old, but I think they’d respectively empathize with Joni’s mother’s need to have a perfect Norwegian beauty for a daughter and Carly’s conflicting feelings about her sex-bomb identity. Peggy seems just the right age to follow these women, as she does accompany a co-worker to see Bob Dylan in season two. Personally, I think she’d be a huge Carole King fan. Two tough Brooklynite professionals with a knack for commercial pop art? Yeah, I think they’d find one another.
The key thing I appreciated about Girls Like Us, which does an exhaustive job documenting these three women’s personal and professional lives, is its committment to dialoging the artists with one another. Often, when attempts of this sort are made, it results in playing women off each other or reducing them to one singular entity (in this case, chick singer-songwriter seems the most apt dismissive). Weller does an admirable job individuating them (further enforced by using a different font for each woman), while at the same time highlighting where they overlap or interact and putting them in a gendered generational context of women and girls coming into their own particular feminist awakenings.
Notably, these women were all self-made. Carole Klein and Canadian-born Roberta Joan Anderson became Carole King and Joni Mitchell, toiling for years in the Brill Building and the coffeehouse circuit before becoming legendary. And Carly Simon, born into the New York elite as the third child of the Simon family (yes, of Simon & Schuster), had to start from scratch after years of following artist boyfriends, watching her sisters get married, and working odd jobs before landing a career. They also established themselves as icons at the same time. 1971 would be the year that King released her second solo album, Tapestry, culminating in one of the few Grammy wins for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year for a female artist. That same year, Mitchell would release Blue, a huge artistic breakthrough. And in 1972, alongside King’s sweep, Simon would win her Grammy for Best New Artist for her self-titled debut.
One unfortunate commonality all three women share is a need to make men happy, almost always the wrong man or the undeserving man. This is a lesson I saw many of my mother’s generation learn the hard way, and fear it will continue to play out with other women and girls, but hope we’ll learn from history. For Carole, this meant four marriages — first to her Brill Building lyricist Gerry Goffin (who would father singer Earl-Jean McCrae’s daughter Dawn while still married to King), then to bassist Charles Larkey, then to two chauvinist mountain men named Rick. For Joni, this meant marrying a man named Chuck Mitchell who (in her account) forced her to give up an infant daughter (her pregnancy, and giving up a daughter, would haunt Mitchell for years until she was reuinted with Kilauren in the late 1990s). For Carly, this meant using her sexual wiles to snare a man at all costs, a lesson she learned from her mother Andrea, before casting her lot with a man that would remain a drug addict for the majority of their marriage before unceremoniously dumping her.
Both Carole and Carly suffered considerable heartache, though Joni, perhaps a typical only child, often would cut and run, preferring solitude and creative freedom to being tied down, a lesson she learned by following Crosby, Stills, and Nash while living with Graham Nash. The woman who wrote “Woodstock” would not be cast as another man’s groupie.
As Carly’s man was James Taylor, it seems important to point out that all three of these women had some connection with Sweet Baby James. As James (along with almost all male rock stars of the era) was in awe of Carole King’s legacy as a Brill Building composer, he often covered her work extensively, most notably “You’ve Got a Friend.”
King nursed an unrequited crush, though her songwriter Toni Stern wrote “It’s Too Late” after the end of her affair with Taylor.
Joni dated James for a while. It ended, but at least she and Carly became friendly later in life.
And Carly presumably expedited the matrimonial process by writing “You’re So Vain” and getting one of her rumored paramours, Mick Jagger, to contribute back-up vocals. Taylor proposed shortly thereafter, creating the first rock star marriage. However, he would often get sidelined by his ongoing battle with heroin, as well as his wife’s meteoric rise to pop stardom. She would often worry herself sick and modify her behavior for Taylor, a symptom Weller believes is linked to wanting to please her disengaged father.
Yet, I don’t want to suggest these women are patriarchy’s tragic casualties. I certainly don’t think they would. Carole continued a long professional partnership with Goffin, and also accepted Dawn, Goffin’s daughter with McRae, as one of her own children, something her biological children did as well. In addition, she became very politically active, lobbying hard for environmental issues, particularly working to preserve Idaho’s wildlife after falling in love with its woodlands.
Joni kept pushing herself further artistically, regardless of whether or not she was met with critical acclaim. She most notably began incorporating jazz elements into her music, hiring reputable session musicians and expanding her sonic and lyrical styles (though also began playing with race and lauding “natural” blackness, which Weller takes to task, specifically when talking about Mitchell’s black alter ego Art Nouveau, which she poses as in blackface for the cover of Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter).
And Carly was most prominent in the mainstreaming of feminism (though not without its own issues — in the 1970s, feminism was often a Seven Sisters game and Simon, a Sarah Lawrence dropout born from a wealthy family, fit right in). She also promoted the celebration of female sexual agency and autonomy, complicating the widely-held belief that all second wavers were man-haters waging a war on sex. She also had a liberated attitude toward sex, which Weller supports with conjectures that “You’re So Vain” is actually about multiple men. In addition, Simon has alluded to having an open marriage and being bisexual, as well as being an advocate for LGBT rights.
In short, these women mattered. They shaped the perspectives and actions of millions of women and girls of my mother’s generation. They proved that female artists could garner a huge mainstream audience (a lesson that needed to be reminded to A&R folks, concert promoters, and radio programmers in the 1990s, resulting in countercultural movements like riot grrrl and mainstream enterprises like Lilith Fair). And they continue to influence female recording artists and their listeners. And, most importantly, they continue to work, just as their male counterparts do, regardless of whether or not they are deemed culturally relevant. Let their voices be heard.
As readers of the blog may know, I’ve been keeping my eyes and ears on the Kristen Stewart/Dakota Fanning Runaways biopic. While you may know the leads, the director and screenwriter may not be as much of a household name. But hopefully that will change, as first-time feature director Floria Sigismondi has been making amazing music videos since the early 1990s. Some of her more famous titles include Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People,” The White Stripes’ “Blue Orchid,” and Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter.” Also, Sigur Rós’s “Untitled #1” knocks me breathless each time I see it.
In keeping with the spirit of the blog, I thought I’d focus on the female musicians Sigismondi has worked with (click on the artists’ names). Also, having read a delightful post on music videos inspired by horror films from my friend Caitlin at Dark Room, I thought I’d continue in the spirit.
Back to Basics
Quixotic (retitled Anything upon re-release)
“Anything But Down”
The Globe Sessions
Season three of 30 Rock ended last night on a high note (ugh, pun). Sending up celebrity charities and benefit concerts will always be funny. You can watch the full episode here.
Now, I could get into a discussion of my qualms with the past season — particularly how episodic it became and how it tended to give the show’s supporting players the shaft in lieu of more screen time for the leads and many, many guest stars.
I could also get into a larger discussion of my feelings about the show’s gender politics (some of which you can read here) — I will say that Pete calling Liz a bitch last night hurt my stomach, and that bisexuality was not invented in the 90s to sell hair products. As the show goes on, sometimes I’m not sure if misogynistic jokes are made as a commentary on misogyny or if they are simply misogynistic jokes. Tricky. But I’ll bracket it for now.
Things I liked.
1. Cindy Lauper: Still drunk after all these years.
2. Norah Jones: Hello, cutie! Like your hair. Hope that Lonely Island makes a video with you for “Dreamgirl,” the song you did together.
3. Why is Sheryl Crow the only one getting paid? Give some money to Mary J.
4. Jenna singing, if only briefly. Jenna singing = comedy gold. Kudos to Jane Krakowski for a) being a great singer and b) mining it for laughs. More of Jenna singing next season, please. In fact, how about a 30 Rock musical episode?
5. The Beastie Boys (minus MCA, where have ya been?) and Talib Kweli rapping about how good things don’t always come in pairs, like heads or attack dogs. I’ll always have love for the Beasties, who’ve renounced their early mookish persona and embraced feminism. I’ll also always love Talib Kweli, who has written celebratory rhymes about fatherhood and childbirth. Yay, dudes who get it!
6. Mary J. Blige’s foundation is still looking for that Loch Ness Monster. Keep hope alive.
7. Clay Aiken is totally Kenneth Parcell’s cousin.
8. Elvis Costello is an international man of mystery, as I’ve long suspected.
9. This storyline a) sent up the vapid, self-serving do-goodery celebrities are known for and b) brought us closer to the inner workings of putting on TGS, two things that I’ve always loved about 30 Rock. It also reminded me of Musicians for Free-Range Chickens, a charity group SNL gave a platform to in the mid-90s.
Can’t wait for season four!