It seems like a passing memory now, but two weeks ago Israeli hip-hop group Hadag Nachash put on a terrific show at Noyes Community Center. Unlike other music acts that the Cornell-Israel Public Affairs Committee and Hillel have brought in the past (DJ Yahel and Teapacks) Hadag Nachash represented a very different kind of Israeli celebrity.
For several years now, the Cornell Concert Com-mission has attempt-ed to balance between a demand for two very different kinds of musical acts on campus. It would be silly of me to try to come up with names to categorize these two genres, but suffice it to say that they can be represented by the opposing cultures of the Decemberists and Yo La Tengo at one end and on the the other, T-Pain and Twista.
While certainly many people go to both kinds of concerts, we are looking for something different each time. With T-Pain, it’s obvious why people go. With bands like the Decemberists, the Walkmen, Yo La Tengo and the National, I think it is less clear. Why do people flock to the Decemberists? Do we want catchy sing-alongs? Intellectual stimulation? Something else?
Are Ithaca’s police stealing our money? Cornell and the Ithaca Police Department may have a complex relationship, but I don’t think that I am the only student here who feels as though there is serious extortion involved. They roam Collegetown looking for open containers, public urination, drunk, loud pizza eaters and most interestingly, loud parties. They write a ticket, we oblige or get thrown in jail for an obligatory moment, and then we are forced to pay a, relatively speaking, outrageous amount of money for these transgressions. One gets the feeling that Ithaca sees Collegetown as a great source of revenue from “rich kids” who make alcohol-induced mistakes.
Last weekend, when Jason Moran and Big Bandwagon played at Bailey Hall, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt slightly out of place.
Moran’s show was a tribute to Thelonius Monk’s 1959 Town Hall concert and while he succeeded powerfully in recreating the freshness and excitement of that famous concert, it was a little strange to see this go down from a quiet balcony seat, sitting in silence.
Surely Town Hall was not all that different, but the raucousness of Moran’s slamming arrangements and the catharsis of so many screaming horns seemed like it should be in a dingy club on the lower east side of Manhattan.
In most parts of the world, the campaign season lasts a few weeks to a few months at most. In the U.S., it used to start around Labor day, yet somehow this year we’ve been staring at the faces of Obama, McCain and their forgotten opponents since before March, and we’re still well over a month from election day.
To me, this is less of a true democratic political process and more like an overlong season of American Idol. Sure, we didn’t start with nationwide auditions and the playing field was never more than a few people, but watching everyone fall in love with one candidate over the other feels a lot like the loyalties we feel towards Kelly, Reuben, or … well, those are the only names I can remember. I don’t watch it anymore.
Towards the end of last year, I was planning my summer jaunt through Israel and Palestine and watching the debate about human rights and China’s Olympics, and it was suddenly very difficult to find good topics for my Arts columns. Music just didn’t feel weighty in the same way that the political opinions and discussions that seem to push the world around did.
Watching the process of the ongoing election with a lot of skepticism, however, I’ve come to see the lines between politics and the arts as a lot blurrier. I hope to help make those lines blurrier this semester.
Thank you to those who have read Noses Up and put up with my brief, self-indulgent attempts to talk about music this year. Looking over my columns, it seems that my bias towards the Middle East as a topic for discussion was perhaps more obvious than I had thought. At the same time, I have tried to keep my political attitudes toward the region outside of the Arts section.
Death Cab For Cutie recently released the first single of off their new album, Narrow Stairs, and the song, predictably titled “I Will Possess Your Heart,” is a pretty normal pop hit in every way but one — lead singer Ben Gibbard begins the first verse over four minutes into the song (which stretches out to a whopping eight and a half minutes). The music builds slowly, with vibraphones and a meditative bass-and-drums cycle, in a gloriously self-indulgent fashion. Gibbard’s lyrics are a little melodramatic, as the title suggests, but in the end they are swallowed by the wash of orchestrated drama.
How quickly things change. Before Spring Break I wrote a column about PitchforkMedia.com for this week, and the first two sentences read: “Vampire Weekend is a band of Columbia University graduates who have become the next big thing. Please do not be surprised if you have never heard of them, as I hadn’t either before consulting the internet.” The hastiness of that assumption became pretty clear to me when, less than a few weeks after releasing their first album, this preppy sweater-around-the-shoulders pop band was on Saturday Night Live and the cover of Spin magazine.
Kim Jong-il has allowed the largest contingent of Americans into his country in over half a century. They come bearing cameras, pens, paper and every other means for recording their experiences in his totalitarian bubble, which has been closed off in the most disturbing, anti-democratic way possible for an extremely long time. I met one Canadian who had the chance to tour the country, and he was legally forbidden from leaving sight of his tour guide.