Like it or not and say what you will, but my daily web meanderings always include a stop by Pitchfork. If nothing else, it gives me songs to search for when downloading, which I can listen to at my leisure and make my own conclusions about. Occasionally, however, I make the mistake of reading some of the twaddle that their poor writers crap out.
Today I was happy to see them post an article self-explanatorily called “100 Awesome Music Videos”, complete with embedded YouTube links. Awesome! Simply flipping through the first few pages of this feature I see loads of videos that I need to watch (some for the first time, most again). Then my browsing through these pages stopped abruptly at H, because I had to catch my breath at what Joe Tangari had to say about Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” video, especially in light of my last post:
“In the future, every home will be full of half-constructed robots dancing to the least challenging keyboard part Hancock ever played.”
WTFuck? Wait, hang on, I need to read that again. Did he just diss on “Rockit”?!? Both the song and that amazing video that fried my 8 year-old mind when I first saw it? Seriously, the image of that robot-mannequin thing with no body above the waist thrusted permanent damage upon my young brain in the best way possible. Watching it now, it still makes me feel like I’m touching the future.
Holy shit, he dissed on the jammiest prince of all jammy jams with one flippant sentence and then strolled the fuck on. Wow. Okay, I’ve regained my composure enough to continue.
Comparing “Rockit” to older Hancock is apples and oranges. Aside from “Rockit” being the awesomest breakdancingest, poppinest, lockinest house-burner of an electro track EVER that will STILL make a room erupt almost 25 years later, it’s a different genre of music than his preceding works. It has the funk, but it’s electrified and supercharged. It’s an old master demonstrating that he not only “gets it”, but that he’s going to possess your mind until your ass follows and gets it too.
The keyboard part is simple, but therein lies its beauty. Challenging? I just have to rant because I fucking hate that word in music criticism. It reeks of the worst degree of pretension. It supposes that every song’s quality is steeped in its ability to forcefully expand the listener’s palette of what is musically digestible.
I can swallow “challenging” as a positive, just not as a negative. Used positively, it can accurately state something crucial about a piece: you may not like it at first, but trust me, be open-minded and let it into your life and this music will change it. Used negatively, however, it holds every song up to a criterion that doesn’t always fit and reveals how close-minded the author of these sorts of statements is. It makes for inept criticism, with critics complaining about music not being challenging enough seldom able to elaborate on such generic accusations.
When “it’s not challenging” is used to discredit a song, it fails to see all sides of the equation. It means to say “it’s not challenging to your mind”, which is still a pretentious and boring non-critique, but it’s also an essentially intellectualist and rockist oversimplification. Funkadelic told us to free our minds, after which our asses would follow. Sounds simple enough but it would be a directive well heeded if you find the keyboard part in “Rockit” not challenging enough for you. It’s dance music, man. Get up and shake what yo’ mamma gave you. Shake that shit to the left AND the right, brothers and sisters! Stop overthinking it and get to the groovin’ like you know you should!
Bridging the mind-ass divide isn’t a discussion limited to the musical realm, it’s one that manifests itself at the center of our existence: the schism between our minds and our bodies. The mental often feels so separate from the physical. As a middle-class luxury most of us can spend the majority of our time being mental instead of physical, to the extent that the mental can begin to feel much more important and significant than the physical. We forget the simple truth that they’re equal.
When I hear “Rockit” and can’t get up and dance to it, for example when I’m driving, my brain dances. I can feel my synapses firing in time to that most exciting keyboard part: bomp-BA-bomp-BA-bomp-BA-BA-BAAAAA… DA-da-DUM… DA-dum… ba-duh-DUMP (don’t stop it, rock it)! I’m singing it to myself right now in my head. I don’t need an mp3 of it, ‘cos Herbie’s etched this one directly into my cerebral cortex, child, and once the groove has sunk this deep, there ain’t no erasin’ it!
And when I can get up and dance to it, I cross the great divide: my body dances with my brain and you can hear the harmonies they produce echoing for miles. They join with the brainbodyharmonies of everyone rockin’ it. Right about now these echoes are landing on the shores of distant planets. The extra-terrestrials all the way out there, being more unified than us, have no internal divides. They just are. And as these echoes of our dances absorb into their skin, they smile with understanding and feel happy that we tripped into the intergalactic groove…