Friday, April 20, 2012

Jay-Z, Kanye, and Us

I am not a music critic or a music expert, nor do I have any music training beyond childhood piano lessons. I enjoy music and like many different kinds. Rap is not one of them.

So why, last December, I found myself at a Jay-Z and Kanye West concert with my eleven year old son is something of a mystery. If you are thinking "wildly inappropriate," you are right. Read on. If you are thinking "who is that?" you better keep reading too.

We were the guests of some very generous friends who, inexplicably, like rap music and like to sit in very good seats close to the stage. I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm your average 40-something mom who is aware of Jay-Z and Kanye through my kids but I turn the radio station to something else when they come on. If my kids try to play it I ask them to use their earphones. Not my thing. But my son, who loves music, thinks they are awesome.

I had read that the concert got great reviews, so that, plus a little arm-twisting from my friend ("it will be fun!"), and I found myself at the concert. There were no other children in sight. I was fully aware that bringing a kid to this concert was wildly inappropriate, so I looked on it as an adventure for both of us. 

My son, who was beyond excited to go to this concert, was uncomfortable when we sat down. The smokiness bothered him, and it wasn't cigarette smoke. The place reeked of pot and I had to reassure my son that he was safe. All the concert-goers around us were conservatively well dressed, polite (and stoned) mellow people mostly in their twenties. There were few women.

My son and the dude next to us.
The stoned dude sitting next to us was clearly disdainful of the kid and mom sitting next to him and he tried to crowd into our space with his odd jerky dance moves. My son warily watched him for a bit and then decided he was harmless and crowded him back to his own space. He even eventually was able to engage him in a short conversation which resulted in a high five from him and a few of his friends sitting around him. I have no idea what was said, I couldn't hear anything but the music pounding in my ears. Later I learned that it had something to do with the dude's jacket, which had a logo for a custom auto shop in LA which my son recognized. The dude was so impressed that my son knew the shop. From then on we were tolerable neighbors during the show. Or my son was anyway.

When the concert started, I felt even more like a fish out of water. What the heck was I doing here? I didn't know any of the songs, and I couldn't understand any of the words except for the plentiful profanity. I was clearly not the target audience, and I brought my kid with me. I looked over at my friend, her son, her husband and their daughter. They appeared to be enjoying themselves. I looked at my son. He was trying to process it all.

So naturally I started taking notes. I know very few of my friends would attend such a concert, but they might be curious what its like. In fact I'd be willing to bet that most of my friends don't really know who Jay-Z and Kanye are other than when they appear in People Magazine.

First, before I start into my description of the imagery of the show, I'd like to share my son's impressions when it was over. He was no longer a fan of their music and he was disappointed because the two performers were "really angry and not having any fun." There was just one song he really liked (see video), and apparently they played it several times which I failed to recognize because it all sounded like noise to me.

The concert set-up was very dark and sparse. There were two giant cubes, or stages, with a single performer on each. The sides of the cubes showed still and moving images, along with another huge screen, the main background behind the performers. Any musicians or back up singers, if present, were hidden. The only thing to look at was the imagery, the limited movements of the performers, and their outfit changes.

The imagery was overtly masculine and aggressive. They showed a barking, snarling dog with teeth bared in slow motion, a shark, a roaring lion, a tiger, a cheetah hunting and killing something, a riot scene, and atom bomb explosion, police cars crashing, other car explosions, a growling bear, a black panther (the animal kind), a snarling wolf, a fighter jet, a flying eagle, people wearing gas masks, a little white boy in a KKK outfit, a little black girl getting baptized in a river, a slow motion rocket blasting off, MLK Jr. speaking. As far as the music goes, the lyrics are angry and have every swear word that exists and little else. The people around me, a mix of races, all seemed to know every word. The people in the front rows were all white and didn't seem to know all the words (I could see them pretty well from where I was sitting).

The artists themselves, to either balance or complement the imagery, I'm not sure which, choose clothing that seemed to either embrace a stereotype or fly in the face of a stereotype. Black leather miniskirt (yes on a guy). Jeans, a plaid shirt tied around the waist, a leather jacket, and a large pearl necklace, with a sequined and bedazzled scottish bag worn across the body. Later, all black, with a hoodie (this is before the hoody became a symbol of violence against youth), which was removed to reveal massive amounts of gold chains, while singing "bring me money c*nt," Louis Vuitton logo wear. Everything seemed to have a faintly feminine touch which was an interesting contrast to the overloaded testosterone imagery going on everywhere.

At one point, after loosing his way in a song several times, one of the artists talked about preventing suicide. My son leaned over to me and shouted "at least there is something educational!"

I thought there was a whole lot more that was educational going on. For example, while I found some aspects fascinating, I learned rap concerts are not my thing. And my son lost respect for these artists and learned they are not his thing either. Like he said, "at least there is something educational."

Thanks (I think) to TL and RL for inviting us and making us go. How about Andrea Bocelli next time?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sign of the Times

I have much to catch my readers up on! We've had an eventful couple of months, which I will go into more detail on, but first, I want to share with you a story about one of the many ironies of being a mother of teenagers.

Both of my older boys recently shaved for the first time. The oldest, while he has very light hair, has been growing a bit of fuzz on his upper lip that, in certain lighting, is becoming visible. His brother had a few rebellious hairs growing out of his face that became visible when we could see his face better after a recent haircut.

At the same exact time these hairs, little squiggly signs of maturity, have made themselves visible in my house, I've lost my ability to see them.

Friends have warned me but I didn't quite believe it. I'm in my mid-forties, and right on schedule, suddenly I can't see the fine print. I have to hold my smart phone further away. Reading in bed at night is no longer the pleasure it should be. The menu at the dim romantic restaurant . . . seriously, how am I supposed to read this?? It's depressing. I need "readers" but I've resisted because I need some seriously cute ones that don't make me look old or dorky. I'm going to go for more of the young sexy librarian look but I don't know where to find glasses that will transform me into that. Surely not the local drugstore? Then there is the question of how to wear them. On top of my head? Around my neck?
These are in the dorky catagory.

I used to wear glasses and contacts before I had the miraculous lasik procedure done more than ten years ago. That was different. I wore glasses because I couldn't see. Now I need them because I'm old.

These look fun.
Reflecting on this situation, I realize there is a lesson in it for me. I am not supposed to worry about the little details, the little hairs, in my life right now. It's the big picture, the view from 10,000 feet, the perspective, that I should be thinking about. Who needs that little stuff?

OK I don't need the little stuff but it really does bother me that I had a hard time reading that menu. I'm going to restaurants with better lighting and bigger print on the menu from now on, or at least until I get some cool looking readers.