By Elliot Alpern, Daily Music Columnist
Published September 4, 2012
We’re idling in the front of the crowd for Matisyahu, the formerly Hasidic Jewish reggae singer, to take the stage, when my friend leaves the cramped, sweaty club for a dose of fresh air. He looks flushed and out of breath.
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“I just need a minute,” he says. Five minutes pass before I’ve been alerted that he has passed out on an off-duty EMT, who assumes he’s on some cocktail of drugs. The ensuing few minutes are one of those intangible concert experiences, where music, drama and the buzz of a Friday-night show converge into one bonfire narrative for the ages.
But wait, hold on. I can’t really start my newly inherited column with a story like that, right? I mean, sure, it’s loosely tied to the matter at hand, but beginning with that kind of anecdote does little to display my credentials as a music authority. For that matter, I don’t want to come off as a reggae enthusiast who parties with lightweights. So let's cry “Mulligan!” and start with a fresh story.
We’re waiting at an outdoor stage set on the bank of Pittsburgh’s rivers, when Colbie Caillat takes the stage — the opening act for Gavin DeGraw. By some divine combination of heavy humidity, thick heat and the short mayfly mating season, Colbie is getting dive-bombed by thousands of the fluttery creatures. She even has to stop mid-song to collect her sanity, and eventually asks the crowd: “Can I go?” Her set takes on a panicked pace as she takes breaks from strumming to backhand away the odd insect. The moment is unforgettable.
I'll admit, I’m not that fond of using this tale either. We’re getting closer — I managed to work in Pittsburgh, my hometown, and also one of the only times I’ve cried from laughing — but we’re not there yet. Colbie Caillat isn't the kind of hip, obscure name I need to drop to establish my music cred; too bad it wasn't The xx or Wilco touring with Gavin instead.
Maybe I’m looking at this wrong. Following in my predecessor’s footsteps isn’t an easy task; I had hoped that strong storytelling could somehow keep me afloat. Maybe I need to try my hands at a different approach. Music writers are always ranting about something, right? Let’s roll the dice on a well-placed temper tantrum.
What ever happened to mainstream rock? Where are the days of yore, when the Eagles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin would graffiti their names all over the Billboard charts? I’m not talking about any of that Maroon 5 crap for squares, I mean the soul-thumping beats and brain-itching riffs that put generations on bended knee. The Black Keys and the like are clinging to the last vestiges of rock ‘n’ roll, bless ’em, but when did the genre become “alternative”? I think we need a little less of lyrics such as “Call me, maybe” and a little more “Won't you guess my name.”
Okay, so how did that go? In hindsight, not spectacular — borderline hostile, even — but at least I’m starting to hone in on the function of this column. So what final point am I sloppily attempting to drive home?
This (hopefully) won’t be your conventional music column. I’m not going to be the one to don thick-framed glasses and discuss the fringes of the hipster-sphere over a local mocchiato. I’m not the one to come to when Lady Gaga drops her newest release (please do see our talented music staff, though).
I’m tired of the usual arguments and opinions, the re-hashed debates and over-analyzed pop stars. I don't want to have to tread water against the thick sea of musical arrogance.
Instead, I’ll try to represent a fresh, untarnished view of the music world at large. Sometimes I like to weave stories, hoping that some thread will link my tales to a grander idea. Maybe I’ll get sucked into a rant every now and again, falling into the same better-than-thou complex that befalls a great many music writers.
In the end, I’m here for the fun. (Not the band — but more on that at a later date).