“Big Girls Don’t Cry”
“Big Girls Cry”
So What Is The Truth?
I stumbled on this tag by an unknown artist while on Museum Mile recently.
I love my fans so much… I love my fans, because they always let me be myself… they don’t care what anybody says… and the reason that that’s important… is because, something you probably don’t know, is that when you’re not yourself, it’s so much harder… it’s so much easier to be yourself, than it is to be someone else… because when you have to pretend to be someone else… like things you don’t like… do things you don’t want to do… it eats your soul inside, and makes you do stupid shit… so I wrote this song about all the things I’m sorry for… and I’m mostly sorry to myself and I’m so sorry to myself that I, I don’t always be myself … – The
MockingjayLady Known As GaGa
In case you were wondering what’s behind the swine … existence of the living gold mine … the reality that human traffic runs through vinyl, video, and grapevine … that spectacular misery is of industrial design … that the vomit you spew, pre-emptive anesthetic to the polity coup: our very own blood red, sterilized white, and royal blue … the surrender in silence, the deafening void, the sadness… the sadness… the lament and suffocating isolation of that human capital demise … that behind the lids are empty exes where once haused Tiresian eyes. #pawsforfoundprophetsinlostprofits #southbye
Last Friday evening as I toiled away on the computer curating content for Art Nouveau I was snapped out of my mundane existence by an image from Paige Powell’s latest exhibition Jean-Michel Basquiat Reclining Nude. I felt many emotions, but perplexity was the main one. I was intrigued, but not in the way I normally am when I see a great work of art, intrigued in the same way you can’t look a way from a horrible car wreck. Intrigued in the way I need to comprehend what would posses someone to release these images at anytime, let alone decades later. I was so intrigued I was the first one in the Suzanne Geiss Company’s space on Saturday at noon to see the show for myself.
I’m not one to argue the merits of art, what it is and what it isn’t, but this isn’t Art. This is exploitation at it’s finest and there is a stark difference between exploitation and art. More importantly, this is exploitation of Basquiat’s comfort around Powell. The two dated for two years. How would you feel if an ex showed your goods to the world decades later? The main room featured four of the 35mm nude portraits blown up to massive proportions. The Black and White images against the white wall immediately recalled images of slaves on the auction block.
If these had been images of any other artists, I don’t think I would have been so appalled. But noting Basquiat’s treatment by the art world as the other this came across as disrespectful at worse and tasteless at the least. I left the gallery with more questions than answers. The only positive take away though was that two decades after his death after being name dropped by Jay-Z in his latest album Magna Carta…Holy Grail, a recent star-studded Gagosian exclusive exhibition, a host of imitators (Swiss Beatz, Ron Bass, KingPop) and now this, Basquiat is still as relevant than he ever was. Even more so for a generation that is just discovering this brilliant artist’s work.
If you’re interested Powell’s nude photography exhibition runs though February 22 at Suzanne Geiss Company, 76 Grand Street. And if you just came here to see Jean-Michel’s manhood take a breeze through the images below.
So … that’s involving GaGa, Rihanna, Naomi, Cher, and 36 others … non-commercial “artistic and political” #secretproject directed by Steven Klein. A rumor has it that it’s about American involvement in weapons distribution; which would would be amazing considering the reacquantice of Pop and the Military Industrial Complex – but from the other side… This has the potential to be the apocalypse of that Pop Military Industrial Era (Elvis, Laurel Canyon through to American Life and G.O.A.T.)
If you look up Industrial Design on Wikipedia today, these are the pictures that are included with the article: an iPod, a blender, a rotary phone, a typewriter, a guitar, a car, and a chair. It is the last of these objects that interests me today. As I am drinking a coffee and writing this, I am sitting on a chair. The chair I am sitting on is certainly not an aesthetic product of a brilliant industrial designer, but nonetheless, in order to serve its function as ‘chair’ it must have followed some sort of design. It is made of cheap particle board, has a trapezoidal seat which gets wider toward the ledge, and a slightly obtuse back rest made up of a frame and three vertical slats. To be honest, its not very comfortable, but it serves its purpose, at least until my back starts killing me and I’m forced into all kinds of neurotic personalized stretches.
Whenever people talk about industrial design, the chair is almost always one of the main cultural objects discussed. Indeed, almost every famous designer or architect has their signature chair: from the first industrially mass-produced No. 14 chair by Michael Thonet, to the Bauhaus school like Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Marcel Breuer, to more modern designers like Alvar Aalto, Charles Eames, and Arne Jacobson, to name a few popular figures. So why the chair?
An over-simplification of industrial design goes something like this: we need objects that function, and most aren’t found ready-made in nature. So someone somewhere needs to conceptualize what it should look like, how it’s made and with what materials, and how we interact with its functionality. The degree to which aesthetics, artistry and innovation come into play can vary from non-existent to excessive formalization. Great industrial design sits at the crossroads between form and function.
Now, the simpler it is to derive the function of an object, the more personalization a designer can inject into its form. The chair is one object that effortlessly offers up its purpose, meaning its function is relatively easy to achieve. For example, with an mp3 player, a blender, a typewriter or a telephone, all must contain mechanics and/or electronics as well as exhibit simple user interface, and this can greatly limit the design possibilities to serve their function. For a chair to be symbolically recognized as such, it needs only to be somewhat elevated and to have somewhat of a flat surface roughly the area of an human ass. Because the qualifications are so basic, the chair has a wide multitude of aesthetic possibilities without compromising its core function.
Let’s think of an early primitive caveman exploring the virgin landscape around him about four million years ago. This Australopithecus had just gotten a tibia upgrade and has started walking around, seeing over tall grass, and using his newly-freed hands to pick things up and examine them, all of which could be very tiring activity. He comes to a rock, one of the oldest and most natural objects in nature, in-itself serving zero purpose for living beings, just sitting there. But that’s it, the rock sits, and our hominid plops down on its rugged surface to have himself a sit as well. Is this the first industrial designer? Not really, for he didn’t design anything, if anything, he is simply a survivalist. But he did transform a natural object into a cultural object simply by giving it a function: something to sit on. The rock became a tool for rest.
Why The Chair
But not just for rest. This chair also became a tool for contemplation. I’ve already talked about this hominid’s newfound abilities: standing upright gives it a wider range of vision and more available hands. Seeing more in the distance, and holding more things for up-close inspection greatly increases the amount of sensorial information to process. And what better way to have a good think, than to have a good sit along with it? In imagining the possibilities to transform the natural world into one of anthropologically-based functionality—giving objects a human meaning, naming, claiming and possessing them—the rock-turned chair would be relocated, reshaped, and redesigned, and ultimately, signed and branded.
Perhaps this is why the chair is so important for designers. Design begins with new ways of looking and imagining how form can serve function, and how we can transform raw materials into culturally-specific objects. In contrast to the pure necessity of function, which has no use for aesthetics or individualistic expression, a designed object comes from the leisurely negotiation of function and form.
If function is more natural and form is more cultural, than the difference between sitting on a rock, a stoop, a ten dollar Ikea folding chair, or million dollar Pininifarina desk chair, is simultaneously participating in the natural act of rest as well as the cultural act of creation, or at least creative recognition. Our caveman may have lacked culture according to our standards, but the conditions of survival that he had to negotiate opened up the evolutionary possibilities of creation that today’s designers take as their primary raw material.
The writer Anaïs Nin once said, “I am lonely, yet not everybody will do. I don’t know why, some people fill the gaps and others emphasize my loneliness. In reality those who satisfy me are those who simply allow me to live with my idea of them.” How many times do we meet some extraordinary being, the ones who make us question if life prior to meeting them even qualified as living, only to find ourselves falling into the stereotype of the cursed artist who possesses so much unbounded love and passion, yet unable to apply these to anything and anyone other than our work. Why does the thought of healthy, sustainable relationships put the stamp of death on our artistic integrity?
Maybe love is best summed up by the Romantic period: inspiration from nature, solitude and unrequited love. Yeah, that’s it, we seem to love most the things that we don’t understand and cannot have. We’re always trying to discover the new, tap into the unknown, turn nothings into somethings, generally looking at life as an endless experiment of fucking things up and seeing what happens. As we wade through our existence shackled by adventurous truth seeking terms, how can we free our partners from our own nihilistic rules and produce a tangible and substantial relationship? Why can’t we see humans as they are, instead of dragging them along as vessels in our personal life experiment?
As Bill Withers once said, “we all need somebody to lean on.” Of course we do Bill, but at what point does this “someone” become more than a walking, breathing post to cry on? Can that special someone ever be more valuable than the object we scream our “its complicated” rants at, and evolve from the default muse we turn to when inspiration stops coming from everywhere else? Everyday I wake up plagued by this, wondering will I ever have enough time and patience to devote to a lasting relationship without compromising the energy I put into my writing?
My own relationships always end because right as honest feelings blossom, you know the ones that demand staying up all night to talk them over together, I suddenly remember that tending to the wild contradiction of fire I call my soul is more crucial than making effortless attempts at trying to understand someone else. I’ve realized this discovery and mastering of self can only come about through experiences induced by everyday interactions with the hordes of people that encompass this earth, a category into which relationships rightfully fall under. See, this unraveling of society and piecing it back together is all a process, and artists have to keep moving with the momentum of it all or get left behind boasting about our greatness with nothing to show for it. There’s no time to complain that life isn’t like the old fleeting days of youth when the only things to worry about were what magnitude of peanut butter chunkiness satisfied our deepest desires or what outfit most effectively displayed our heart’s temperament. There is no spare time for the pleasures of falling in and out of relationships, and having to listen to someone complain that they’re not the most important thing to us anymore, because we’re spending too much time with ourselves creating “art,” or whatever it is we do all day.
Unearthing the holy high that the production of art evokes unfortunately is not easily replaced, however good the stand-in may seem. Yeah, it is comforting to take someone along for the ride, but they have to be down for the times when we aren’t speaking to the world for extended periods of time. They have to be down for us not always being available, because we’re down in the (insert ill-suited cliché that describes your sacred place here). Does that make us selfish, cynical and disillusioned? Maybe. Effective relationships aren’t about compromising one’s artistic values to submit to another persons needs, they’re about hinging flaws together in way that allows both people to continue their lives as effectively, if not better, than they would alone. If that isn’t happening in a relationship, well, my good friend Jack Kerouac seems to have a logical solution, “therefore I dedicate myself to myself, to my art, to my sleep, my dreams, my labors, my sufferance, my loneliness, my unique madness, my endless absorption and hunger – because I cannot dedicate myself to any fellow being.”
OK wait, before surrendering to a life of solitude, what about Picasso and Maar, Khalo and Rivera, Lennon and Ono, Ike and Tina, Cobain and Love? Their relationships all seemed productive, actually they were more of a self serving effort at combating craziness by getting with another crazy person. Are relationships different when the involved parties are artists who understand the debilitating and never-ending process of having to understand the world in its entirety because its the only way we can make sense of anything? Is it easier to be with someone who is as muddled as us, who realizes the alienating difficulty of constantly debating the importance our own lives, let alone attempting to care about another’s? Its no wonder the only couples that make international headlines and set pop royalty standards are of the notorious artist-famous person combo. No one bothers to pay attention when an artist has a relationship with a “regular” person because deep down there’s the sense that the facade of a relationship is doomed to fail because artists only understand each other, which really isn’t true anyways because no one really understands artists, do they?
I’m going to start this piece by changing the subject… Am I throwing you off yet? I want to take this back to square one, wherein lies our original question, “Do artists have time for love?” The query is a valid one, but irrelevant nonetheless. Consider the subject, the artist. For him, time feels time too trivial a constraint. Therefore, what becomes the more relevant question is whether or not the artist is ever able to define and interpret love within the limitations of a lifetime. The common misconception is embedded in the belief that artists know love best because they are the most passionate. The latter statement is true, yes (personal bias), but reality couldn’t be farther from the former. An “artist,” aside from being a slightly (ok, majorly) ambiguous title, is really an embodiment of obscurity. If existent in his purest form, he is a passionate, open-minded force. The root of his creation, his being, his everything, is L-O-V-E, Love.
Yet, in the artist’s eyes, love is not simply a notion between two. He sees that love is expressed throughout, that it breathes through hatred and pain just as much as it does sex and euphoria. So, from it he creates what he deems a possession of his own, an inanimate manifestation of which he takes full control. Whatever it may be – a painting, a photograph, a song – he may do to it what he pleases, when he pleases. And love in this context may seem a definite, advantageous thing for the solitary creator. Why? Because he is a romantic.
Despite that, for every good there is a bad; for every high there is a low. No matter how romantic the person, love befriends just as much as it tortures. Like an untamed creature, it breeds fear in those within its domain. Moreover, Love reigns even more frightening, for it is abstract – always was, is, and will be. But, “Why”, the artist asks, “does it make one do the things he does and feel the way he feels?” Oftentimes, he seeks this question through the affection of another. This time, another who is not-so-inanimate and fully capable of loving in a fashion of his own. He envelops this person into his or her world. Unlike an art piece, a partner is not a boasted wall ornamentation; they too have emotions. Alas, they are selectively subject to the progressive interpretation. Many a time, it is lust that manipulates and masks the face of love, playing the lover a fool. For the artist, the romantic, he falls every time because he is open to the game. As love plays the vital organ of his career, his sole constant, it also leaves multifariousness in characters a dominant influence.
While every artist is different, some patterns remain a thread amongst. The concept of outsmarting love or of settling for its subservient brother are nonexistent in this realm. I don’t remember the last time I shared a true love with someone, but as an artist I can tell you this much: We don’t love because we know; we love because we lust what it feels like. Regardless of whether or not time allows, our lifetimes tend to be a series of fondness and follies, interpreting and misinterpreting this L-O-V-E, Love thing along the way. As each entering and exiting character and concept comes, we create; for, time is precious and creating from such is what we have come to love.
I’m hooked on reality television. So as much as I tried to act like I wouldn’t watch, I tuned in to R&B Divas. In the now typical reality TV show format, Divas follows the
scripted lives of 90’s R&B singers Faith Evans, Monifah, Keke Wyatt, Syleena Johnson and Nicci Gilbert, who are in the process of recording a charity collaborative album. The idea here is there’s strength in numbers. And as they stress, “nobody is buying R&B records anymore.” This got me to thinking.
I grabbed a clove cigarette and took a walk with the question heavy on my mind. Where did R&B go? Admittedly R&B lost me in the early 2000s, but why? Not before long I passed a block party that was blasting sweet R&B songs of the 90’s. They played Mary J. Blige’s “You Are Everything” and R.Kelly’s “If I Could Turn Back The Hands of Time” back to back. These reminded me of R&B’s golden days. This is my attempt to turn back the hands of time and find out when R&B jumped the shark.
The term R&B originated in the 1940s and was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans. Over the years the term saw a number of shifts in meaning.
In the early 1950s, the term rhythm and blues was frequently applied to blues records. Starting in the mid-1950s, after this style of music contributed to the development of rock and roll, the term “R&B” became used to refer to music styles that developed from and incorporated electric blues, as well as gospel and soul music. By the 1970s, rhythm and blues was used as a blanket term for soul and funk. In the 1980s, a newer style of R&B developed, becoming known as “Contemporary R&B.” #FromTheHorsesMouth
Taking small cues from the disco era that preceded it, R&B took bold moves in a few key directions. A new generation of producers including Teddy Riley and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis began to incorporate slick synthesizers and thumping mechanical drum machine beats. Michael Jackson and Prince were at the forefront of a sound that still heavily influences today’s male R&B singers. The Dream, I’m talking to you. It’s important to note, R&B was pop music at this point in time. Heavyweights included Michael Jackson, Prince, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson.
Richard J. Ripani wrote that Janet Jackson’s third studio album Control (1986) was “important to the development of R&B for a number of reasons,” as she and her producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, “crafted a new sound that fuses the rhythmic elements of funk and disco, along with heavy doses of synthesizers, percussion, sound effects, and a rap music sensibility.”
This was also R&B’s first flirtation with Hip-Hop as Teddy Riley began producing R&B recordings that included hip hop influences and samples. This style, dubbed New Jack Swing produced a heavy dent of the sound of the late 80s and extending into the early 90s, with artists such as Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, Guy, Jodeci, and Bell Biv DeVoe incorporating the sonic styling in their records.
Janet had #Control
Prince had Purple rain
& Whitney had it all
Heading in to the 1990s, R&B and Hip-hop had already began to merge. It hit a peak in the early 90s with the gritty East-Coast hip-hop inspired tracks of Mary J. Blige, early Aaliyah and Brandy tracks, and the Bad Boy camp. Oversaw by Diddy, then Puff Daddy, this sub-genre was titled Hip Hop Soul.
To contrast the grittier hip hop soul, there were the squeaky clean ballads and lighter pop inspired records from Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, TLC, Brandy and Boyz II Men–to name a few. These artists continued to break the barriers of popular music and broke records with some of the biggest hits of the SoundScan era. Producer/songwriter Babyface was at the forefront of this style, producing a bulk of records for the aforementioned artists.
The late 1990s saw a bevy of what would be dubbed Neo Soul acts rise as a “realer,” eccentric alternative to the aforementioned squeaky clean R&B. D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Maxwell, Kelis and Jill Scott would be a the forefront of the Neo Soul movement that incorporated contemporary stylings with throwbacks to 1970s soul.
Mary’s “My Life”
“CRAZY, SEXY, COOL”
Baduisms and we go #OnandOn
By the 2000s, the line between R&B and hip hop became increasingly blurred. Rappers were singing and singers were rapping. Mainstream modern R&B began to sound more processed. The early 2000s were ruled by Destiny’s Child, Alicia Keys and Ashanti. The mid 2000s saw the rise of Beyonce’s massive solo career and the undoubtedly sexed up attitude we see now in Contemporary R&B. Granted, R&B was always sexual, but the early 2000s saw it hitting a fever pitch that even coerced goodie goodie singers like Brandy to strip all for the sake of a video.
Speaking of sexed up, by mid 2000s “CrunkNB” had begun to takeover. After the success of Usher’s “Yeah” and Ciara’s “Goodies” the Southern style became quickly saturated, see Amerie’s “Touch” Houston’s “I Like That” and Chris Brown’s “Run It.” After the short lived “CrunkNB” moment, R&B took it back to love and ballads with the production of Jermaine Dupri, Bryan Michael Cox at the forefront of the sound that included Mariah Carey’s resurgence to popular music with the massive hit “We belong Together,” Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You” and Usher’s “Confessions.” When it was all said and done all that was left was Bey. With the closest competition being maybe Rihanna, who is not exactly R&B, Mrs. Carter closed out the 2000s with hit single after hit single and dominance on tap.
Remember when Ashanti was foolish?
And Bey was crazy in love?
And the South just wanted to get Crunk
and #DoRemember we lost one of the best
With all that said, where does that leave us? Stuck with Chris Brown? Hopefully not. R&B’s downfall is ironically what made it great–a rigid adherence to style. This fixed sonic perspective took it through many sounds, but is ultimately what killed it. What I really think killed R&B is the same thing that killed Hip-Hop–self-righteous, purist obsessed fan bases. Like Hip-Hop, R&B fans are purists. If it sounds like this it can’t possibly be R&B. But is genre strictly sonic based or visually ruled? This preconceived agreement between artist and fan extends to the creation of music, which doesn’t think outside the box, unless that box is inside a neatly produced Bryan M Cox production mid-tempo groove.
After iTunes became the standard for distributing music, genre was rendered archaic. Give listeners the chance to have the Beatles brushing up with Britney Spears in their iPods and iPhones and genre became rendered redudant. This even began to reflect in the music being produced, which started to cross genre lines more and more. In 2012, is there room for a genre that hasn’t added anything substantial to the table for close to a decade? If Brandy and Frank Ocean have the last say, I’d bet yes.
Brandy’s tone is unmatched in modern R&B music. Nevertheless it took Brandy a minute to get it right. After the commercial missteps of Afrodisiac and the creative missteps of Human Brandy got a team that gets it, and in turn gets her. One listen to “Wildest Dreams” taken from her upcoming sixth studio album 211 and you can’t deny, B’s the illest.
Like Brandy, Frank Ocean is driving the male R&B market at the moment. His witty lyrical excursions on his latest album Channel Orange and his amazing work for Brandy, Beyonce, and Jay-Z are proof that he’s here to stay.
The disregard for Blackout as a snapshot of American society on the brink of beautiful collapse is the only portrayal more accurate than the one it denies, because of that innate delusion.
The L.A. Times [recalled], “Hero though Reagan was to so many Americans, his legacy is marred. Economically, the Reagan years were epitomized by a freewheeling entrepreneurialism and free spending. But the affluent got more affluent and the poor got poorer. The number of families living below the poverty line increased by one-third. The Reagan administration’s zeal for deregulation of industry helped create the savings and loan debacle, which left taxpayers holding the bag for billions of dollars in losses.”
Despite inspiring some of the best rap music of all time, Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Mobb Deep’s Infamy, I surely praise him for everything Biggie, “10 Crack Commandments” anyone?, but the bad seems to outweigh good here. Alzheimer’s in 1981, The Cold War, debt on top of debt, eradicating the middle class, conducted one of the most absurd invasions of American history targeting the tiny island of Grenada, One-Sided Debates, and lest we forget–Aidsgate.
The Death of a $ale$man. “Reaganomics,” 2011 mixed media collage by GREATeclectic.