You don't want to hurt me,
But see how deep the bullet lies.
Unaware I'm tearing you asunder.
There is thunder in our hearts.
Is there so much hate for the ones we love?
Tell me, we both matter, don't we?
Kate Bush, "Running Up That Hill"
When I first read about Lorde on October 1st 2013 - even though the article was written by Jon Pareles who I greatly admire and respect - I quickly dismissed her.
"What can a 16 year-old possibly have to say?" I thought.
Obviously, at 47, I have grown old, crotchety, jaded, weary and wary. I recalled all of the hubbub about Norah Jones' first album. I remembered literally running to Tower Records to buy the CD and returning it a few hours later. "Vacuous," "lifeless," "insipid" were the only words that sprung to mind. Firstly, the young woman had no life experience to sing about; secondly it was immediately obvious that her father's genes were passed primarily to her astonishingly soulful half-sister, Anoushka Shankar.
Nonetheless, twelve years later - trying to be open to new experiences, doing my best shed my jadedness - after winning a Grammy award, I ordered Lorde's "Pure Heroine" from the local library (in order to avoid having to return it to Amazon).
But as soon as I put it on I found the tones and rhythms and lyrics of "Pure Heroine" to be exquisitely delicious. Honestly, it is the tastiest album I have encountered since Gaslight Anthem's "Handwritten."
Unfortunately, though, I had the same experience with Lorde as I had with Gaslight Anthem. I listened to "45," "Handwritten," "Desire" and "Mulholland Drive" over and over and over for months when suddenly the brilliant idea popped into my head to check out their live act. I saw that they weren't coming to Los Angeles for some time so I decided to watch their live performance at Coachella on Youtube.
I almost fell out of my chair.
Soulfree, talentlite, stupidly-sober, consistently off-key, hipster-wankers, phoning-in a performance that's as exciting to watch as watching someone meditate. Not once did any of them look at each other or revel in each others' musicianship. Zero camaraderie - actually negative camaraderie. The sum was actually lesser than the parts. Much less. Much much less.
The opposite of love isn't hate. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of love is indifference.
Mick and Keef. Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey. Liam and Noel Gallagher. They famously hated each other at times but that only added to their rocking live performances.
However, the hipster-wankers from Gaslight Anthem were completely indifferent to each other. Insouciant bordering on comatose. The bass player bopped around a little on his own, but the other members of the band were automatons.
The album "Handwritten" is a production masterpiece. I would stack the four above-mentioned studio songs right up there with Bruce Springsteen's finest four live recordings any day for pure spirit, unadulterated passion, angst, and fury. Listening to those songs at a decent volume is like walking through a fucking tornado. And yet, watching them performed live was as much fun as an eye exam.
Just to make sure I wasn't completely delirious I re-watched Led Zeppelin's "Live at the Royal Albert Hall" concert from 1970. Watching Jimmy Page and Robert Plant perform together is like watching the head and tail of a snake. Yes, alcohol and heroin may have been contributing factors to their mystical union, but isn't that exactly part of the Dionysian, cathartic ritual included in the price of admission to a concert?
Rock 'n Roll means "us" against the world, "us" against "the man," "us" against the establishment.
But actually, Gaslight Anthem IS the establishment. Highly highly glossy, corporate, studio songs that evaporate into thin air when played live.
Sadly, this is the same phenomenon I experienced when I made the mistake of watching Lorde perform live. "Buzzcut Season," "Ribs," and "White Teeth Teens" are some of the most gorgeous, poetic, lovely, and smartest songs ever written. The girl is clearly a genius. Not artificially precocious, simply light years beyond her physical age.
And yet, watching her sing along to backing tracks of herself made me want to drink bleach.
For the love of god, Lorde, would you please hire some back-up singers!?! Rehearse with them. Go out and get drunk with them (when you reach the legal age to drink in five years). Ride for days on a tour bus with them. Play board games with them. Watch bad reality television with them. "We've got Richard Pryor on the video..." sang Jackson Browne about tour bus camaraderie. And then put those singers right at the front of the stage off to the side and sing with them, sing to them, sing through them.
Does it not seem both cheap and narcissistic to sing along to pre-recorded backing tracks? Is there not something shameful about Britney Spears' lip-syncing? Do we not find it pathetic when it is revealed that a singer has been caught lip-syncing?
And all of this was made much worse for me by attending Hiromi's mind-bending concert. If I had Hiromi's vocabulary of riffs and harmonies in my head for just one day I could die a happy man. Watching her play "Brand New Day" with Simon Phillips on drums and Anthony Jackson on bass, I was catapulted out of my seat like Billy Preston in "That's the Way God Planned It" from "The Concert for Bangladesh." The music physically lifts him up, transports him to the middle of the stage, and dances his legs.
If you don't know what I mean just watch Ani Difranco play "Shy" or Patti Smith play "Summer Cannibals" and you'll watch the songs flow up through their bodies and be released into the world through their mouths. It is their bodies that are singing. Their bodies are singing. Not just their mouths. In comparison, watch Brian Fallon from Gaslight Anthem sing "Mulholland Drive" and his body is merely a podium for his face.
Hiromi's non-verbal communications with Simon Phillips and Anthony Jackson - raised eyebrows, tiny smiles - were joyous, gleeful shared surprises of the embodiment of musical notes ripping through the air between them. The three of them reveled in the magic they were able to create through the distillation of their combined fire, heart, and brains. If you know anything about music, if you truly love music, just listen to this recording of "Brand New Day" a few times. If the ersatz steel-drum crescendo at the end doesn't make you bop your head and tap your fingers then I'm afraid you are legally dead.
Again, the trick to transcendent music is camaraderie. The sum is GREATER than the parts. Much greater. The magic is created by human beings working in harmony, in symphony, together.
So Lorde, please go to a Hiromi concert, hire some back-up singers, and become the Kate Bush of your generation (but don't be afraid to fly - it's actually quite a silly phobia when you realize that more people die every year falling in their bathtubs than in plane wrecks).
Because, when it comes down to it, Lorde, it's still us against them, us against the royals. That's what delicious music is truly about... communion... feeling that our united harmonious voices will enable us to overcome whatever is confronting us... us against them... running up that hill...