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“Chicago Music, and Other Things”

The last time I was in Chicago, this poster hung on the wall of a train station for something, depicting a “Jazz Festival” that was to take place somewhere around town in a big park, was to cost something like $40, at least, and the poster featured a picture of this colored guy probably close to 60, wailing on this saxaphone. There is not a vital person with blood coursing through his or her veins on this planet who would not be bored by looking at this poster. It’s long since been a collected fact that jazz is kaput, invalid as a musical art form. This is the primary reason for the salience of hip-hop, a genre stupefyingly vilified, a genre the crucial parties of which put jazz back to life within a sociologically relevant rhythmic anatomy.

I’m 30, and I have a friend my age who extols, for his sake, the power of “Chicago blues,” holding them, for better or worse, as something vital. All this stuff, to me, is a status symbol. We take sundry museum relics, as they ostensibly are, these antiquated musical genres, and say, well, if you can survive on these, on bread and water alone, you’re extra cool. Kids aren’t even curious to ask about most concerts they can’t afford, because the performers don’t care enough about THEM to channel out music hip enough to act as an exuberant guide, and spiritual beacon.

The Highest Low, right now, is the best hip-hop act I’ve heard from Chicago — they belt out an exciting, quick style, never getting caught in pomp or sentiment, but incorporating a wide spectrum of life’s settings, sort of like a Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth used to do. None of it, from what I sensed, was misogynistic at all, so this topic should not be brought up by anyone discussing Chicago hip-hop. It therefore stands to reason that a “hip-hop festival” is perfectly viable, and that anyone who would object to such a thing is deliberately crippling artistic progress, and is acting deleteriously upon the spirits of citizens. The Highest Low, enthusiastic and invigorating as they are, are also very conventional, and in order for the craft to grow and blossom, it needs its rightful settings, it needs the electric input of humanity’s blinding light as an antidote. I’d hate to think that we’d have to steal some more Africans and bring them over in order for this to happen, but there’s definitely an epidemic fat whiteness oozing out toxins on our very arts outlets, these days. It’s the same thing here in my town, jazz and folk, everything treated, everything cased in an obstinate cultural glass.

Admittedly, this is half understandable, because, at least here in my town, you attract a whopping avalanche of attention if you express yourself. I could see violence breaking out, actually, from an artistic performer simply giving it to you raw, giving you the new style, so these guitarists, these pianists, they tow the line. The give you the SCRIPT. This is how the concert’s supposed to go down. And it goes down, and you see flyers for this type of tepid walk-throughs everywhere, because people don’t really CARE about new, live music. They’d just as soon curl up in front of the TV and watch the GRAMMYS, the very antithesis of musical relevance, because it’s all a fashion show, the extended arm of Entertainment Tonight. Half of the damn musicians are famous actors and actresses too, for Christ’s sake. That’s not music, that’s mass-marketed sound rations, it’s government cheese.

Just today I shared Black Milk’s “Sonny Jr.” on facebook, and you always look lame when you share music on facebook, and I didn’t have the balls, but I was going to write, “As a white person, I have no real right to comment on this song, but this is what jazz IS nowadays.” There’s sure as hell no gunshot-snares; the drums are methodical and organic and the strains shirk classical intervals true to urban form. It’s as sophisticated as it is HIP, an instrumental on No Poison No Paradise, the new LP by Detroit rapper/producer Black Milk. Chicago is always voted one of the best cities to live in. And even though I live so close to it, I really don’t go there that much, but maybe I should still quit bit**ing. I mean, its record store market is still doing great, unlike the case with most other places in the country. And maybe it’s all the bloodshed in Detroit that grants all the gripping, meaningful music from there, like the culturally elusive Wolf Eyes, who, strangely, have probably done the best job of anyone ever in fusing hip-hop and punk, because they do their sonic homework — they coat the whole thing in a lacquer of unforgiving, ear-piercing squall. And so the drums can come in, and the artistic statements are made, with no deliberateness, no vacuousness. I’d say it’s their Ann Arbor attachments that inform their punk inclinations, and their “Detroit” ones that precipitate their hip-hop ones. Now we see how it takes a triad of styles — noise, which oversees rhythmic and rudimentary elements of both hip-hop and punk, in the former of which is probably spiked some acid house — to birth a sagacious, active musical experience, these days. I obviously never go to Detroit either, but the last guy I saw with a Red Wings jacket on was holding up this sign advertising something that was going on in some eatery in that plaza or something, and he was standing with it out by the street, where I was riding my bike. He was this wiry little guy of about 45, chiseled, somewhat tanned face, and as I rode by, my eyes caught by his bright Red Wings jacket, his eyes told me one thing and one thing only: you’re dead. He’s seen too many flyers.

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