The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Thursday, March 8, 2001

Letter From Canada: Where's The Appetite For Destruction?

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: While "The InsiderOne Daily Report" is generally the place for my own daily musings, on occasion I open it up to other contributors. Today we hear from the esteemed Johnny Walker (Black), whose excellent reviews you'll find in our "44.1 kHz" reviews section.

Dear Michael:

Of course, there's a good reason why Americans laugh at us Canadians, or "Canucks," as you so fondly (?) call us in the States. I was reminded of this today when watching a news report on what we here call "The Juno Awards," an (ahem) Canuck version of the Grammys. Something called "Nelly Furtado" cleaned up, apparently, along with the Barenaked Ladies and even grizzled (some might now say grisly) old Neil Young. Up until about the mid-1990s, when he somehow metamorphosed from rock icon into opportunistic embarrassment, I might have at least felt some pride about Neil Young's Canadian citizenship; now, I listen to the recently exhumed Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979 and realize that, apart from a few acts from here that never made it, like Vancouver's terrific Sons of Freedom, Leonard Cohen is about the only musical reason left to feel happy, instead of mortified, about being Canadian. Thank God, on the sporting front, we've still got Vince Carter to hold over your heads for another year or so, or things would REALLY look bleak!

Not that things are so great in YOUR neck of the woods, either. I do wish I could've written about the Grammys for you, but after that opening "it's 1979 all over again" disco shtick by Madonna, I just HAD to go play computer golf. I mean, just how is it that Maddy is this great visionary artist I always read that she is? Just because she can retro-trend-hop and hire the producer du jour? She's a female "Bowie," I've also been told by some feminist types. But while ol' Ziggy may be resting on his laurels now, I really don't think Maddy has ever come close to equaling his artistic run in the 1970s: from The Man Who Sold the World to Scary Monsters, Bowie continually redefined rock through inspired avant-garde collage; it's only lately that he's adopted Maddy's much less elevated trend-hopping formula. But in these superficial artistic times, it seems genius just ain't what it used to be. Personally, though, I find Janis Joplin a lot more "transgressive," even now, than ol' Maddy, and I ain't no warmed-over hippie, neither. Maybe her singing was a bit histrionic at times, but Janis's very attitude and personal stance were a slap in the face to the whitebread, "proper" middle-class society that had always treated her so shabbily. Next to Janis, Ciccone is an utter artistic lightweight.

What it all really boils down to, I think, is that rock music is now sorely in need of some inspired degeneracy. I know you hate them, but I've really been finding solace in Guns N' Roses' supercharged Appetite for Destruction album recently. Axl Rose, to me, is the rock-'n'-roll version of hip-hopper Eminem, a white-trash guy filled with rage who takes verbal aim at a world that's always told him he's not meant to amount to anything. The lifelong rage engendered by such treatment is something most middle-class types have trouble understanding, and something that I, as a working-class guy who got a Ph.D in English, understand all too well.

I'm always puzzled by middle-class critics who want people like Rose or Marshall Mathers (the Elton duet aside) to suddenly become politically enlightened when they hit it big: it's like a woman who marries a guy because she's attracted to his aura of danger, and yet expects him to immediately change into a rules-following nerd as soon as the vows are spoken. Ain't gonna happen. As Jim Goad points out in his controversial-but-worth-a-read book The Redneck Manifesto, the middle-class liberal's notion that merely "being white" automatically confers some kind of privilege in America (or Canada, for that matter) is one that needs serious revision. And such truly off-the-mark sentiments are part of what drive those like Axl Rose and Eminem (and yes, Kurt Cobain, whose publicly-evinced PC politics, it seems, were symptomatic of the huge character contradictions that helped to kill him), in both the positive and negative senses.

Finally, though, what was great about GNR, and what rock is sorely lacking now, is a sense of danger, the careening, thrill-seeking, beyond-the-edge sensibility that goes with truly living outside of convention (as opposed to merely adopting the stance, as so many do today). Watching an old video of GNR at the Ritz from the Appetite days recently, I was still more excited by the music and the stance presented in songs like "Mr Brownstone" and "Night Train" than by most of what I've heard since. The key? It wasn't just an act. And if you haven't lived there, how can you talk about it, or transmit it? Perhaps, "for the gelded inhabitant of today's so-called counterculture," as writer Bruce Benderson puts it in his excellent book Toward the New Degeneracy, what is truly needed now is "a mental coalition between the disaffected bohemian and the culture of poverty." Which is another way of saying that those of us "rock 'n' roll" types — artist or critic or fan — who don't go along with the current program need to regain our appetite for destruction — after all, destruction is vital in order to clear the way for new growth.

Now, can we start with Barenaked Ladies? Please? Yours, Johnny Walker (Black)

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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