For the last column of Pride Month, I am writing about pop music. The lesbian-led Dusty Trails is the first band I want to tell you about. Josephine Wiggs, an out lesbian who used to be play bass for the band The Breeders, has teamed up with Vivian Trimble, a keyboardist formerly of the late, lamented Luscious Jackson to form the group and to record an album that sounds like the soundtrack to the movie playing in your head. "Pearls On A String," "You Freed Yourself," "Spy In The Lounge," "Est Ce Que Tu," "Regrets In Border Town," "St. Tropez," "They May Call Me A Dreamer," and the swirling piano of the brief "Unhand Me You Wretch," all sound as if they fell out of Catherine Deneuve movie from the '60s and landed in your brain. "Roll The Dice" comes the closest to satisfying a Luscious Jackson jones, while Emmylou Harris's vocals on "Order Coffee," also serve as a Luscious Jackson reminder, since Harris contributed vocals to Electric Honey, the last LJ disc. Delirious, yet serious, you would be wise to follow these Dusty Trails to wherever they lead.
k.d. lang also pitches a pop tent on her latest disc Invincible Summer ( Warner Brothers ) .
As far as I can tell, the remaining discs are all of a heterosexual nature, but are appealing for their queer pop sensibilities. For example, E, the lead singer of the Eels once sang a song called "Fitting In With The Misfits" ( on his brilliant debut disc A Man Called E ) , so he's something of an honorary queer. Now fronting the band the Eels ( best known for their hit "Novocain For The Soul" ) , E and the Eels have released Daisies Of The Galaxy ( Dreamworks ) . Coming after the dark and disturbing Electro-Shock Blues ( which was the result of losses within E's family ) , Daisies is a shade brighter, but no less compelling, as you can hear on the gorgeous title track, "Grace Kelly Blues," "Packing Blankets," "A Daisy Through Concrete," "Jeannie's Diary," "Selective Memory" and "It's A Motherfucker," one of the most beautiful ballads I've ever heard ( complete with strings and horns! ) . Depression has never sounded so gorgeous.
On their last couple of albums, Yo La Tengo has been moving toward a more luxurious sound. It's the kind of music that changes the temperature in the room or the car or wherever you happen to be playing it. And then nothing turned itself inside-out ( Matador ) continues the tradition, while also becoming more personal. Yo La Tengo's exploration of relationships ( specifically the committed kinds ) speak to all kinds of people ( straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered—did I leave anyone out? ) , and in these particular aural settings they get under your skin and go straight for your heart.
Yo La Tengo's label-mates Belle And Sebastian also excel at making a distinctive brand of pop music. Reminiscent of '60s Brit-pop, down to the synthesizers and strings, with Stuart Murdoch's vocals guiding almost every song down the retro path. Sumptuously nostalgic, their latest disc Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant ( Matador ) , wraps the listener in music that suggests the past while the lyrics are firmly rooted in the present. Even though the band members all identify as straight, they have been known to write on queer themes.
One of two CDs that the band Ida recorded while under contract at Capitol ( a label from which they were dropped during the ongoing "reorganization" ) , Will You Find Me ( Tigerstyle ) is so pretty it makes my eyes water. Harmonies as comforting as herbal tea in arrangements ( featuring Wurlitzer and Silvertone organs, melodica and accordion ) that both support and suspend the songs for the listener's enjoyment. Tracks such as "Maybelle," "Shrug," "Shotgun," "Man In Mind," "Georgia," and "Don't Get Sad," are the antidote for what ails radio.
It's hard to believe that the melodic pop on The Waxwings' debut disc Low To The Ground ( Bobsled ) is based in the same general vicinity as the vicious rap metal of Kid Rock, but it's true. I prefer The Waxwings' influences ( '60s pop—the Beach Boys ) and the way they synthesize them into something new, something borrowed and something shocking blue. The best tracks, "Keeping The Sparks," "Fragile Girl," the single "Ten O'Clock Your Time," "Into The Scenery," "Low Ceiling," and "Untied," give you a pseudo-psychedelic buzz that could become habit-forming.
Recently, a war of words raged out of control on OUTVOICE, a queer music website. Insults were hurled and feelings were hurt. The debate, over the value of rap music, and the homophobia prevalent in the music ( see Ice Cube ) arose due to the release of the venomous Eminem's second major label disc The Marshall Mathers LP ( Aftermath/Interscope ) . Gay journalist and folk hero Jim Fouratt even wrote a scathing account of the Eminem situation which was published in Billboard. Ironically, this rabid, gun-toting Michigan-resident's decidedly homophobic rantings were released in early June, which is Gay Pride month. This column is written in the spirit of Gay Pride, in an effort to find redeeming value in rap and hip-hop music, for the gay and Iesbian listenership.
There has long been talk of some mythic queer rapper, a Great Gay Hope, if you will, but I have yet to discover who that is. In the mid-'80s, openly gay singer/ songwriter David Lasley had a beat-box driven rap song called "Don't Smile At Me ( I Already Know ) ," on his Raindance album. Every once in a while an artist, such as Queen Pen, from a few years ago, raps on a queer theme. But where is she now? Lil' Kim is supposed to have appeal to the gay male community, because she's sexually provocative. So, where does that leave the lesbians? After al, I've seen Lil' Kim's fingernails. As with many things, we have the straight community's examples to follow. Here are just a few of them.
The Marshall Mathers LP ( Aftermath/Interscope ) —Eminem: From the state of Michigan, where Ted Kaczinski was educated and the Jenny Jones Show murder was committed, comes bilious rapper Eminem. An equal-opportunity hater and slanderer—gays, women ( including his mother and girlfriend ) , his own fans—Eminem doesn't realize the irreparable damage that words can do. "How many retards are listening to me/Running up in the school and shooting/when they're pissed at the teach/er?" How many indeed?
On the track "Steve Brown," Eminem is called into a record executive's office and berated for the content of the record. On "The Way I Am" he raps about "lyrical content" and "responsibility," without accepting the responsibility for the contents of his lyrics. He wants to be "dropped from his label"? Not a chance with sales like this.
If this is supposed to be funny ( or ironic ) , it's lost on me. When Eminem says "Get a sense of humor," he can say it from the top of the charts ( The Marshall Mathers LP debuted at No. 1 and, as this column is being written, is spending its second week in that position ) . What Eminem needs to understand is that antigay violence or violence against women is not a laughing matter. And what is gay-friendly comedian Kathy Griffin doing in the music video for "The Real Slim Shady"?
The production values on this album are, of course, impeccable. Puppeteer Dr. Dre has his hand so far up the young blonde's butt, that he can practically wave at you from his mouth.
The History of Rock—Kid Rock ( Lava/Atlantic ) : Cashing in on the success of his 1998 major-label multi-platinum album Devil Without A Cause, another Michigan resident, Kid Rock offers up history lesson for his newfound legion of fans. This compilation features a couple of new songs ( including the appropriately nasty "American Bad Ass" ) , along with tracks from earlier, out-of-print albums and demos. The scrapbook photos in the CD booklet are also rather telling. Kid Rock poses with a diverse assortment of celebrities and contemporaries including Eminem, Jay Leno, Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas, Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst, MTV's Carson Daly, and assorted topless women. You almost as much about him from the company he keeps as you do from his songs.
New Millennium Hip Hop Party ( Rhino/BMG ) —Various Artists: Eighteen artists, over the course of as many tracks, represent a brief history ( 1982-'95 ) of hip-hop from its roots in the African-American community. The rappers' powers of observation and their ability to comment on what they see, no matter how straightforward or hurtful, has always been their greatest gift. Whether it's Mellow Man Ace calling his girlfriend a "skeezer" in "Mentirosa," De La Soul taking a closer look at themselves as they do in "Me Myself & I," or Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" which is a walk through the neighborhood with commentary. The coast is clear/no gay-bashing here.
Los Grandes Exitos En Espanol ( Ruffhouse ) and Skull & Bones ( Columbia ) —Cypress Hill: The inclusion of Mellow Man Ace's Spanglish rap track "Mentirosa" on New Millennium Hip Hop Party reminded me about Cypress Hill. Mellow Man Ace was in the group in its pre-Cypress Hill days. Los Grandes Exitos En Espanol is Cypress Hill's long-awaited Spanish-language disc, featuring Spanish versions of many of their biggest hits ( such as "Insane In The Brain" ) and Mellow Man Ace even makes an appearance on the track "No Piedo Nada." Shortly after the release of the Spanish-language disc, Cypress Hill released the double-disc set Skull & Bones. The "Skull" ( or headier ) disc is Cypress Hill-style rap bravado, while the "Bones" disc is CH's hard-rocking contribution to the world of rap-metal. Be aware, however, that CH's lead singer has been known to make anti-gay comments.
Like Cypress Hill, Kottonmouth Kings sing about smoking weed, as you can plainly hear on songs such as "First Class," "Daydreamin' Fazes," "The Joint," "Good As Gold," "The Lottery," "Round & Round," "King's Blend," "Size Of An Ant," and "Coffee Shop" which extols the drug pleasures of Amsterdam. Also, like Cypress Hill's "Bones" disc, Kottonmouth Kings' High Society ( Suburban Noise/Capitol ) is on a rap-metal bender, even featuring a guest appearance by TSOL's Jack Grisham. If you want party music, this will work just fine, especially if you aren't looking for deep meaning.
If you want something more substantial, check out Dilated Peoples, and their major-label debut disc The Platform ( Capitol ) . Their mature and intelligent sound and style will appeal to fans of The Roots. The Mudkids from Indianapolis, Indiana ( ! ) have a recently released full-length album called Upward ( Surf ) which finds hip-hop thriving in the home of the Indy 500.