Monday, July 2, 2007

Well I'm E.B. and I'm here to say...

...that I got more words than a farm has hay!

Yeah, so that was me, uh, rapping. On a blog.

It's all because recently I've gotten back into the Beastie Boys. I was never out of them, I just hadn't used my iPod for a long time, and now, listening to the B-Boys in traffic makes my blood pressure that much lower... and doper, word! They had made a comeback (like L.L. Cool J's "don't call it a comeback" non-comeback comeback), but I brushed hat off as mere pop fluff, which is why I hated U2 throughout the 90's: they were just so recrudescently cool and popular that I ignored them on principle. I only got into the B-Boys in college, with Ill Communication and Check Your Head, and this based on the influence of one of my roomies who was very "with" the best in contemporary music. (Pretty much anyone born between 1976 and 1982 was "into" the Beastie Boys just because you could never shake the brass monkey, there was no sleep till Brooklyn, and you always knew you had to fight for your right to party.) When the same roommate, seeing I had taken well to the B-Boys, said I definitely had to get Paul's Boutique, I was, strangely enough, skeptical. For a new B-Boys fan, Ill Communication and Check Your Head are as close to a complete musical universe as you'd need, so the thought of interdimensional travel to a B-Boys world outside what you knew and love was, paradoxically, threatening.

It's like my past with Aerosmith. In middle and high school, I was a HUGE Aerosmith fan, and still consider them one of the greatest rock bands of the 20th century, but I have stopped buying any of their albums after Nine Lives (1997). To enter the world of Aerosmith thereafter is to enter a hall of mirrors made of overplayed soundtrack ballads that only detract from the once-whole Aerosmith cosmos you knew and loved. The same goes for me and Chicago. Once you got to know the timeless essence of Chicago from their first, truly astounding album as CTA (before Mayor Daly forced them to change their name), you could only look with horror at what happened to them in their "Karate Kid days" (i.e., the late 1970's and the 1980's). And then there's Rush, which is an awesome band, one of my favorite rock groups, EXCEPT for what they were doing -- to us and to themselves -- throughout the 1980's.

Perhaps you see a pattern emerging? Even Bob Seger and Aretha Franklin got stale in the 80's. (The former ended up becoming the voice of Chevy commercials while the latter, in a mysterious parallel, became the voice of pink Cadillacs on the freeway of love.) Country western went pop in that decade, only to be followed by mega-pop glitz country in the 1990's... much as cancer progresses from benign to malignant. Worst of all, jazz died in the 80's. Musically speaking, the only three things that redeem the 80's, in fact, are 1) the rise of indy punk & hip hop (the Clash, the Specials, the Beastie Boys, Run DMC, etc.), 2) U2, and 3) the fact that MTV made otherwise programmatic music cooler only by making programmatic music into VIDEOS. (Well, all right, Herbie Hancock's Rockit was also a saving grace.) Contemporary Christian music has only recently begun to escape from the industry boom it saw in the 80's, rife as it tends to be with the aesthetic brittleness of that decade. Lazarus was raised from the tomb but he still had to take off his graveclothes.

This is why I'm always proud to say I was born in 1979, and, I must admit, why I look down on people born in the 80's. I may have only made it by less than five months, but I can officially, proudly, say I am not an "80's kid." The 1970's may have been to the 1960's what the 80's were to the 70's, but that's just the point: even if the 70's were decadent and derivative compared to the 60's, they WEREN'T anywhere as banal as the 80's. The 80's were as aesthetically defunct as the 1990's were socially and politically self-absorbed. I can only cringe anytime I see RENT, a diabetic razzle-dazzle apotheosis of the 90's, and something that belongs in an anthropologist's curiosum as much as the Tucker. What makes RENT so arch is that it is completely self-aware as camp. It's every beat is not a pure musical production, but a mere cipher-like syllable in its tottering, operatic you-can-run-but-you-can't-hide-from-it message about the "new way of life" the 90's had finally achieved. (Robin Williams's What Dreams May Come is the metaphysical equivalent of RENT's treacly social commentary: and for that reason I hate both films to the same immeasurable degree, albeit with different organs of my soul.) The reason RENT will always be more comedic than earnest or even witty is that, if you stop to think about it, the question you must ask yourself is, "Wait, you mean I'm actually supposed to care if these people get evicted?" Their eviction would only perfect their beloved vie boheme, so let them have it. RENT is the 90's. So, in this respect, the 90's were as self-possessed as the 60's, but again, totally derivative and adolescent -- probably because much of that decade was engineered by the same generation that wished the 60's could happen again. I will say, though, that the musical value of the 90's lay in its raw passion for performance, with soul, as was the case in the 60's, just as the main flaw of 80's-music is that of Aught's-music: both are programmatic and technically sweet without any soul (think of Creed or the new Metallica).

In any case, the Beastie Boys are their own kind of pleasure, and although I did get Paul's Boutique, it took me a long time to enjoy it nearly as much as Ill Communication and Check Your Head. It wasn't until my short scooter rides forced me again and again to listen almost only to Paul's Boutique -- from the top of the B-Boys playlist each time -- that I really came to see the depth and soulful playfulness of Paul's Boutique. Now, strangely, enough, I find going back to Ill Communication or Check Your Head disappointing in comparison. Boutique is so free-wheeling and multifaceted, even if too frenetic, that the smooth, professionalism of Ill and Check are too tame by comparison.

In any case, what got me posting about all this was how many times I've heard the B-Boys say the phrase "I got more ____ than ____'s got ____!" For example, "I got more rhymes than Jamaica's got mangoes!" Or, "I got more stories than J.D.'s got Salinger!" Or, again, "I got more hits than my man Rod Carew!" This kind of comparison is a rhetorical commonplace in hip hop, I know, but I've been mostly hearing it form the B-Boys, so they've got more influence than the ocean's got salt. Er, yeah.

So, I leave the gates wide open for reader submissions: Can you think of other comparative lines like these?

I got more stress than England's got tea!

I got more books than there's s--- in the zoo!

I got more allergies than M&M's got color!

And so forth. Bring it on!


Craig said...

You missed a classic B-Boys comparative line!

I got more flavors than Fruit Stripe Gum!

the Cogitator said...

Oh, and one I heard last night:

"I got more thoughts than I got gray hairs, and that's a lot becuz I got my share!"


Erick said...

I've got more burninating than you're medieval village has peasants.

Anhkhoa said...

I always thought that being a child of the (fill in the blank) decade meant that you spent your formative years in that decade, whether or not you were actually born in that decade. Therefore, I would say that we were children of the 80's and possibly 90's, though I don't know if the teenage years count. Anywho, I finally bought To The 5 Boroughs and I'm not really feeling it.