Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Night Antihoot, September 20 and stuff that's on my mind

I'll admit that I'm in a weird mood or something but I thought tonight was one of the most lackluster nights I've experienced at Sidewalk in a long while. Maybe all the good stuff happened when I was chatting at the bar or something, but when I was in the back it seemed like mostly I was hearing a string of boring songs about frustrated love. I mean of course great songs have been written about love but if you're going to try to take on the Beatles or the Gershwins, your favorite writer of amazing love better have a damned original way of looking at it. Just because YOU have intense desire, or problems with your mate, or a secret love affair, or whatever, doesn't mean the world needs to hear a song about it unless it opens up some new idea or perspective. Alright, I know that there were some more interesting performances peppered throughout the evening, but I swear during one long swath when I sat there listening it was nothing but "I want you, but I can't see/how come baby you don't love me...(or words to that effect).

Everybody always thinks that their heyday in the scene was the best--and I'll admit that I probably sound like a curmudgeon-y old man by saying (with wobbly, weathered voice) "back in my day....."

Well, it's true, that I have seen many amazing songwriters grace the stage at Sidewalk, and it seems as if many more of them were concentrated in years past--but setting that aside for the moment, what about the sheer over-the-top energy that would frequently strike out from the stage? Just two examples--I only saw him once but I'll never forget this guy Thomas Truax who brought out some sort of Rube Goldberg-like mechanical wheel that had a protruding clapper attached which would make an electronic beat every time it rotated, and of course there's my friend Preston Spurlock who for a long while specialized in creating songs with Casio keyboards, electronic toys, tape recorders, and slide whistles. When Preston and his cousin Chase played a show at Sidewalk they wore matching outfits and pummeled each other with their fists, like something out of an old Loony Tunes cartoon or ancient vaudeville bit.

I'm not arguing that extremity is worthwhile for its own sake. It, of course, has to be accompanied by artistic merit. But what I am saying is that I hope people can push themselves past the easy answer and into uncharted territory of creative expression. Things go in cycles and that goes for Sidewalk too. You never know what's going to happen next I will see you there, for sure.

So while I'm being cranky--I saw from Lach's email today that the Anti-idol competition is returning to the Antihoot at Webster Hall. I beat around the bush about this in my last post, but I still can't quite wrap my head around the idea of grafting a competition onto an open mic. From my perspective an open mic should be the opposite of competitive. This is kind of an ideological issue with me--I don't even really believe in the Academy Awards. How can you have a "best" of anything when you're talking about art? I praise Lach up and down for providing people with opportunities over decades to perform and have their work heard here in New York (I even made a half hour film about that once). He created a brilliant scene that has given thousands of people, including me, a place to grow as artists, meet collaborators and friends, and find an audience. I know that he is doing what he thinks best to keep the scene strong at Webster. But again I say, forget the competition, it's nudity that will draw them in. Try nudity Lach, and cotton candy.

Next time, less pompous ranting, more reporting. Till then....


  1. Herb,

    I share your fears sometimes. However some songs inspired over the years by this phenomenon make me think it has always been the case. There is I think Elastic Ono Band's "Emotional Tourism"; Rav Shmuel introduces his song "I Hate You" as his own attempt to write a song of the type I think you are describing. I'll have to go back and listen to "I'll Be Here All Night" by Brook Pridemore and see if he comments on that situation. Of course Dan Penta's "Blunted on the Williamsburgh Bridge" has the most stark portrayal of someone's reaction to vapid singing that seems to succeed even on a scene such as this if mixed up with good looks. But I guess it boils down to the notion that the only thing necessary for mediocre songwriting to prevail is for good songrwriters to do nothing. No comment on the Lach thing. But if it encourages some of the really good songwriters, say the singer of that song about building the mosque downtown, to come out and show newcomers, who might be tempted to vagueness and lazy songwriting, to hear what it is all about it might be worth it.

  2. Herb-

    It's not a competition, it's a party. Sometimes at parties people play games. That's what it is. Everyone good-naturedly cheers everyone else on and everyone who has attended the Anti-Idol has had a blast. Any night that produces Rob Shapiro, The Fools, Brook Pridemore, Supercute etc as 'winners' and hands 'em 100 bucks must be doing something right.
    As for nudity and cotton candy come to The Fort at Webster Hall Saturday nights at midnight starting on Oct.2nd for your fill.
    The times they've done changed!

  3. JJ-yes, I'm sure it has always been so, but, at least at Sidewalk, it has usually been counterbalanced by much more vivid work. I don't known where all the good songwriters are hiding at the moment. Like I say, I guess this stuff goes in cycles....No matter what, I think it's great that even the love diary type songwriters have a place to play. Maybe they'll find more depth to what they're doing in time. Thanks for your thoughts about the mosque song. It took an issue like that to inspire me to write my first new song in about two years.