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“Gary Clark, Jr. — Music for If You’ve Never Heard of, Like, Rock and Hip-Hop, and Stuff”

I barely remembered to tune in to Saturday Night Live tonight, which had Don Cheadle (who’s in this movie Manic I really like) as the host and Gary Clark, Jr. as the musical guest. In total I think I caught Clark’s last song and about three skits or so, which I have to say weren’t too bad, in typical SNL form of the last couple years.

And in general, I’ve been known to claim myself as a Gary Clark, Jr. fan for some time, having first heard him on a PA in a record store in my hometown and thought, Man, The Black Keys really learned how to shred.

Well, this is part of the problem with Gary Clark, Jr. today: he’s still doing that “shredding” stuff… he’s still wowing us with all of these “guitar solos,” as if by just playing all of these notes on that same old Fender Stratocaster he’s going to somehow stumble upon some meaningful message (like Morse Code or something) and magically become better than Jimi Hendrix [1] (spoiler alert: he ain’t better than JImi Hendrix).

Well, to do that, he would need to actually TWEAK SOUND in some way, whereas what we have now with Gary Clark Jr., along with those trite and clichéd solos, is also this unfortunate cheap ploy of upbeat reggae stabs, the exact type of thing which threatened to ruin “When My Train Pulls in.” “When My Train Pulls in” sucks anyway? Hmm, good point.

But with what scrap of patience for this guy I had left in me, I embarked on watching his run-through of “This Land” from the new album of the same name. What’s he doing but basically complaining about being black in America, complaining about Trump [2], basically calling America a toxic wasteland, meanwhile all the while during which he porks a white chick in his spare time, with whom I’m pretty sure he has a kid.

And he sings like he screws a white chick. That’s all there is to it. There’s zero emotional urgency to his new music. There’s zero stylistic originality. There’s zero anything, other than this suffocating shroud of repugnant political correctness we’ve all been made to suffer through probably since Trump took office (sh** Clark is so thematically sterile it makes me want to listen to Fetty Wap sing about a**es once again). It’s the type of music that would really impress you if you were like Brazilian or if you had no idea what rock and rap were — it moves the 1965 genre benchmark ahead (which again would predate Hendrix by a year) but not the 2015 benchmark. Even though Clark is berating America for being noxious and viewing him as a criminal, again, this message isn’t delivered with any real urgency other than a sort of cheeky, contrived mournfulness, as if he picked up his music “assignment” from Steven Colbert and wrote these songs on command, and what’s worse, on someone else’s terms.

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[1] Now herein lies an opportunity to make an interesting point, you might say, which is that since the dawn of rock and roll, in general, there was only been one “black” everything: there was Chuck Berry for straight-ahead rock and roll, Jimi Hendrix for blues rock, Bad Brains for heavy metal, Fishbone for skacore and Living Color for grunge. The great ones know not to copy but to rather branch off and do their own thing and it seems that over time, Clark is getting exposed as the most unfortunate exception to this rule of “black” originality.

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[2] Other obligatory “interesting point” footnote: in a recent interview Kamasi Washington made the beautiful remark that politics “has nothing to do with the way he show love to his brother,” and for such a reason his music would never be political.

 

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