Above all, 1999 was a great year to be a white man, as much in music as anything else. Granted, the white man's unprecedented umptillion-year streak of maintaining hegemony makes it hard to notice when we're in ascendance. But there's nothing like several thousand pounds of frothing, steroid-fortified, pyromaniacal mosh-pit mayhem to get your attention. The battle of the sexes is over.
I never fully grooved to the utopian vibes supposedly set astir in the golden age of alternative rock. Sure, kids on both sides of the chromosomal divide meant well, but the road to Alice in Chains is paved with good intentions. Then again, I never thought I'd look back at Anthony Kiedis as a paragon of progressive manhood. So let me tell you something about my particular demographic. Stray onto our turf when we're feeling edgy and all of a sudden the gloves come off. Oh, I know--we only start showing our teeth when our power starts eroding. But ain't we got some half-nasty modes of resistance available to us neither, eh?
Let's start with Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit leading his hordes in the inverted Take Back the Night rally known as Woodstock '99. This should challenge our liberal assumption that violence is always rooted in fear and insecurity. Sometimes it's just rooted in the fact that you're a big dumb jerkoff.
Whether or not Limp Bizkit is "to blame" for Woodstock is ultimately irrelevant. (After all, no one's holding Dave Matthews accountable for the white riot that fans staged outside his Connecticut show later last summer.) There's something insulting about attributing such a simple Pavlovian response to rock fans, as if the more gullible and zombielike they're painted to be, the more magazines can be sold ("Kids Who Listen to Marilyn Manson Become Gun-Toting Neo-Nazis Overnight," see story page 47). When it comes down to the bottom line (and there's nowhere Durst is more comfortable), Limp Bizkit are guilty only of selling more copies of their mediocre funk-metal record than any of their mediocre funk-metal competition.
Still, regardless of the band's largely financial intentions, their success does have certain cultural ramifications, and Limp Bizkit have become the epicenter for the rage of a far-from-oppressed class that seems less likely to topple the pop machine than to lash out at the easiest target. At Woodstock we caught that rare glimpse of anarchy as something more than a symbol carved into a study-hall desk and--surprise--the "weakest" in the crowd got trampled, groped, and discarded. Strange how much that sounds like the reigning ethos of any consumption-based economic system.
But the myth of guitar as instrument of liberation dies hard, and so pundits were more likely to identify rampant transglobal capitalism with the more "disposable," "lightweight" teenybop. The argument that the replacement of guitar bands with well-groomed harmony lads is an insidious Disney-Imagineered plot was helped along this summer by one particular pro-punk, anticorporate screed in the liberal-left Nation magazine. The author was the far-from-disinterested Johnny Temple of Girls Against Boys (as telling a name as Limp Bizkit, no?), a far-from-uninteresting alt-rock band who've parlayed being dropped from their major label into a career as sadder-but-wiser elder spokesmen vis-à-vis the Industry. Call them the Jimmy Carters of modern rock.
Temple's thesis is intriguing, but, if you'll pardon my debased, commercial language, I don't buy it. First off, the GVSB flop in question, Freakonica, was not a misunderstood work of art, as sources from MTV to the New York Times have dutifully reported. It was, in fact, a bad work of art. Second, how many of those who protest that the Backstreet Boys are watering down "genuine" black harmony stylings actually dig Boyz II Men or Jodeci? And third, what's with the way biological impulses are being categorized and divvied up here? Sensitivity is fake and commercial, but violence and aggression are real and transgressive? Three guesses as to which gender gets to claim which mode of expression.
Personally, I don't plan on sublimating my libido to anyone's political program. Back-pats are certainly owed to Rage Against the Machine for trying to put the latent, misdirected unrest to progressive use, with a huzzah for their genuinely useful Web site. But if pure thoughts and good deeds accounted for anything artistically, Joan Baez would be a more seminal rock 'n' roller than Mick Jagger.
And if Rager Tom Morello's ability to make a guitar sound like virtually anything--a buzz saw, an air-raid siren, a turntable, bombs bursting in air--could be put to the service of one killer riff, I'd follow Rage onto the parade ground. But entreaty to "raise your fists and march around" isn't much of a platform, even if there are a greater number of incipient Zapatistas among the RATM faithful than I suspect. Not only is the assertion that Americans have nothing to lose but our retail chains a half-truth at best, but I'd like my revolution to be a little looser in the hips.
If it seems like I'm placing more of an emphasis on the male half of the Great American Overclass than the white half--well, I am. While an undeniable convenience if you're looking to secure a bank loan or hail a cab or land a job, whiteness remains a slight embarrassment on video. When it comes to flaunting the teenage trappings of the phallus--the attack cars, the gilded goblets, the 23rd-century bachelor pads--black men are still more male, and mainstream hip hop grabbed that phantasmal privilege with one hand and its nuts with the other. Since hip hop has reached the supersaturation point, it has remained vital subculturally, regardless of the quality of its best-selling exemplars. Case in point: genuine wunderkinder such as Prince Paul or overrated oddballs such as Kool Keith, and the many bohemian practitioners flourishing as abundantly as negligible Wu Tang spinoffs. Consumers preferred the pathologically haunted DMX, regardless.