Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Rock of the City

Ever so cautiously, I have dipped my toes into the music blog tidal pools. Not ready yet to dive into the oceanic blogosphere, but just finding what washes up on more accessible beaches.

The following paragraph, from Laura Barton's blog at the UK Guardian, was enough to snap be out of my Monday morning torpor and write an entry I have been meaning to write for some time.

"I always think America is the only nation that could have birthed rock'n'roll. It is to me such a perfect example of Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier Thesis, the notion that "what has been distinctive and valuable in America's contribution to the history of the human spirit" has always been owed to what he referred as "the transforming influence of the American wilderness" - that is, the American frontier, the stretch between civilised society and the untamed wilderness. And it is here, I think, that rock'n'roll resides - right on the very frontier, the brink of the wilderness, among the things not quite yet tamed." (,,2276104,00.html)

Interestingly, after I committed to using that quote for my intro, I noticed that Barton also wrote a blog about a musician who evidently records not far from where I grew up:

"[Andrew] Bird often records in his barn near Elizabeth, Illinois. He says the way the birds and crickets permeated the songs... to listen to it again now is, for him, a little like echolocation. 'I still listen to those tapes all the time because immediately, I feel like I'm back in that space again. You can feel all the corners of the barn,' he says." (,,2268504,00.html)

My brother and I grew up out in the country-- if you start here, it's about two-thirds of the way to Elizabeth. And rock was the music we listened to when we grew up. To this day, I will rarely listen to rock within the boundaries of a city. No, that's for back home-- a gravel road, a hot summer night, sky of stars and fireflies, drinking beer on the back porch and blasting Led Zeppelin so loud that every dog in a three mile radius is barking a chorus.

We moved to Chicago the same year-- my bro was going to UIC, I was looking for my first real job after college. We did identify a couple musical acts that adapted happily to our new environment. One was Tricky. In fact, the other major trip-hop acts-- Morcheeba, Portishead-- also made equal sense among brick walls or rolling fields. But the other major fence-straddler was Godflesh-- the seminal industrial metal surrealists led by Justin K. Broadrick. Around the time of our defection to the city, Broadrick was taking a break from his band to work with Kevin Martin (dub mechanic of The Bug fame) on the Techno Animal album "Brotherhood of the Bomb". That timing caused a resonance with us (it's hip-hop collaborations).

But mainly, we discovered underground hip-hop, and dubbed it the "Rock of the City". It vibrated like the used and abused pavement, it crackled like the dripping power lines, and it pulsed with the collective consciousness of the city's occupants. The strange songs revealed the inner workings of a race of beings who had secreted an endless steel-and-concrete hive in which to imprison themselves, a race which wove glass minarets to reach the clouds.

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