My early days as a rock scribe pre-dated most indoor smoking bans. I used to keep a separate wardrobe of club clothes — stuff I didn’t mind getting infused with ashtray aromas, since even repeated tumbles in the wash didn’t remove the smell completely. I stopped smoking at the dawn of the ’90s, but my transition was made easier by working within the clubs’ secondhand cloud. When I was a critic again in Chicago the last few years, it was always strange to be seeing a band clearly and exiting the club not reeking of cigarettes.
Nathan Jurgenson (he of the smart arguments against dualisms of online-offline, virtual-real, live-mediatized) recently tweeted: “lol-op-ed idea: ‘the rock club’s cigarette-haze has been replaced by screens & now we’re all coughing in the digitality.’” Funny, but true — and perhaps a useful metaphor: the eversion of cyberspace is an exhalation, a long stream of bits billowing into our various environments, from the backrooms of clubs to the backseats of cabs.
Janelle Monae’s latest jams have been lighting up my social media feeds with exclamations of joyous discovery. Glad to know the girl’s finally getting around. Easily one of the most talented artists my generation has seen thus far, Monae has suffered a bit from exactly that kind of sudden, superlative praise. As Pitchfork noted in its review of Monae’s newest LP, “The Electric Lady,” “She arrived so thoroughly anointed by so many key figures in the entertainment industry that it has sometimes felt pointless to try and touch her.”
Two more dead rappers were resurrected this weekend: N.W.A.’s Eazy-E (died of AIDS complications in 1995) and Wu-Tang’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard (OD’d in 2004). Using the same technology that brought Tupac Shakur to the Coachella stage last year, both late MCs reappeared as simulated holograms to perform alongside their surviving cohorts at the L.A. stop of the Rock the Bells hip-hop tour.
An astute critic I know recently reminisced about the particular genius of Elton John’s 1975 album “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” and it sent me reeling back through what is easily the peak artistic achievement of John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin. Sure the album was a hit (the first LP to debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s pop chart) but the scale of John’s eventual career — writing the very consumer-driven treacle he disparages on this album — has somewhat overshadowed its majestic legacy. A snobbish question: Does it take a writer to truly appreciate this album about writing?
The first time I saw Hatsune Miku in concert, I started scribbling notes. “It’s Rei Toei!!” was the first thing I wrote. That was the 2011 Live in Sapporo show, simulcast to movie theaters in nine U.S. cities. Last weekend, celebrating the Japanese digital idol’s sixth birthday (well, her sixth 16th birthday…), Miku’s Magical Mirai concert was broadcast on delay to just two cities here (LA and NYC) — but the show was a remarkable improvement and a blockbuster performance all around. I couldn’t help but scribble more notes, including this possibly more telling one as Miku appeared with a guitar: “Transformation to Madonna complete.”
I'm THOMAS CONNER, Ph.D. in Communication (Science Studies) and culture journalist.