From The Desk Of Bird Streets’ John Brodeur: “Yo! MTV Raps”

Omnivore just released the self-titled debut album from Brooklyn’s Bird Streets (a.k.a. John Brodeur). In addition to self-releasing records over the past two decades, Brodeur also worked as a music journalist (poor guy). For Bird Streets’ debut, Brodeur enlisted Jason Falkner (Beck, Air, Paul McCartney, Jellyfish, etc.) as co-writer, co-player and producer, while Miranda Lee Richards and Luther Russell contribute to a few tracks as well. Brodeur will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Check out the Bird Streets track we premiered in June.

Brodeur: To help triangulate just where I was at, pop-culturally, in the mid-to-late ’80s, please consider the following facts: My first cassette was Licensed To Ill; my first CD was Mama Said Knock You Out; I know every word to “The Humpty Dance.” I loved rap music from the first time I heard it, which could only have been “Rapture.” What was not to love? Old-school hip hop was elemental—rhythmic and catchy, with lyrics that were easy to process and memorize. The clothing was fresh, and the breakdancing was mesmerizing. When rap had its crossover moment, with Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, I was so there for it. I’m pretty sure I wanted to be a rapper for a few years. My parents didn’t like rap, so I knew it must be really cool.

By 1988, I was already hooked on radio, but cable was new in my family’s house, and now we had MTV, and MTV was in its prime. This coincided with the “golden age” of hip hop, which was in full flourish by ’88. The genre was truly wide open during the years that followed, and Yo! MTV Raps was there to document the genre’s incredible growth. Originally a weekend show hosted by Fab 5 Freddy, the Yo! I remember best is the weekday version, hosted by Ed Lover and Doctor Dre (no relation) and with a Today tacked onto the title. The show aired at 4:30 EST, if memory serves, which tucked comfortably between whatever cartoons I was rolling with at the time. (Probably DuckTales.) Every day Ed and Dre would clown around hard—y’all remember the Ed Lover Dance?—while bringing new faces and voices into my rather sheltered suburban universe every afternoon. Eric B. and Rakim. Ice-T. N.W.A. Slick Rick. Tribe. De La. Big Daddy Kane. Boogie Down Productions. Public Enemy preached militancy over abrasive sound collages, while Kool Moe Dee rapped about how good he was at rapping over prototypical New Jack Swing. Like I said, wide open. The show sputtered to an end in 1995, but it left a mighty long shadow. Yo! is a crucial piece of music history.

Live Review: Pioneering People Basilica Benefit: Courtney Love, Hudson, N.Y., Oct. 27, 2018

Courtney Love (and a few friends) paid tribute to Courtney Love at Basilica Hudson’s biennial Pioneering People fundraiser in upstate New York. MAGNET’s M.J. Fine (words) and Chris Sikich (photos) traveled to the absolute outskirts of civilization to celebrate “the magic and the power” of Love.

When you’ve broken as many boundaries as Courtney Love has, people eager to pay their respects will drive through flooded roads and wait in massive puddles of dirty water until you’re good and ready to receive them. And when you’ve burned as many bridges as Courtney Love has, people will drop you harder than a crowdsurfer in a pit full of spindly armed selfie queens. Both principles were in play at Hudson, N.Y.’s Basilica Hudson for a sold-out tribute to “the magic and the power” of the rock star/model/actress.

Pioneering People Basilica Benefit: Courtney Love—announced with a snowballing all-star lineup that never quite materialized—was part New York society outing, part amateur hour. It was wildly uneven, significantly disappointing in certain respects and heartwarming in others. In short, it was not the tribute that Courtney Love, the pioneering musician, deserves or the one that fans who’d traveled long distances had come to see. But it was the tribute that Courtney Love, the polarizing person, has in some ways earned and one that made those who will defend her to the end grateful that she and we are all, somehow, still alive.

The highlight, unsurprisingly, was Love herself (would she have had it any other way?) performing three songs from Hole’s 1994 tour-de-force Live Through This. For an audience so starved for Love’s presence that they’d trekked out to the absolute outskirts of New York civilization, as one guest put it, it was admittedly fabulous to hear three beloved songs recontextualized. Accompanied by Melissa Auf der Maur (Hole’s former bassist, co-founder and director of Hudson Basilica and de facto hostess for the evening), Love sang an acoustic version of “Softer, Softest” with Imperial Teen’s Roddy Bottum on piano, followed by “Doll Parts” and “Miss World,” which gained an electrical charge from Rebel Girls Rock Academy guitarists who weren’t born until well after Hole disbanded.

It was a genuinely powerful-sounding, emotional three-song set, and if the teen musicians seemed less than awestruck by the moment, Love is at least partially to credit for making the occasion seem so normal, both by her quiet presence and her early-career bulldozing.

Love’s influence was most clearly articulated by Meredith Graves, the former Perfect Pussy singer/music journalist/new Kickstarter music director, who started playing guitar at 11, shortly after Hole’s epic Celebrity Skin came out in 1998.

Graves recalled the impact of Love’s lyrics, “Doll Parts” in particular, and the way instant adages like “I want to be the girl with the most cake” and “Someday you will ache like I ache” tapped something deep within her and girls like her. Love didn’t just give voice to the pain and anguish so many listeners felt; her underrecognized talent as a songwriter, inextricably coupled with her lightning-rod status as Kurt Cobain’s outspoken girlfriend, wife and widow, helped those who were drawn to her find each other. Life is unfair—whether you’re a millionaire rock star with no secrets or a precocious tween with many—but if you’re lucky, you can create a supportive community out of people who make you feel less alone.

“Twenty years ahead of women in music joining the larger societal discourse around #MeToo, we were writing Hole lyrics on our three-subject notebooks to accomplish the same ends,” Graves said.

While her speech was worthy of its subject, the night’s other tributes were more in the vein of Night Of 1,000 Kates, Philadelphia’s annual camp homage to Kate Bush—but mostly without the same level of ambition and artistic commitment. The best of these was a snarky cabaret rendition of “Old Age” by Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman. The rest included a tragicomic reading of “Teenage Whore” by Orange Is The New Black star Natasha Lyonne, via video; “Good Sister/Bad Sister,” acted out by multimedia artists Zia Anger and Annie Bielski, complete with black goo and partial nudity; and an interpretive dance and lip-sync to “Violet” by the singularly named enigma Davon, whose chiding of the audience about its overwhelming white privilege felt longer and stronger than his performance.

But with cryptic pre-show communication that allowed rumors and speculation to flourish—including hopes that surprise guests like Billy Corgan might play with the night’s honoree; that Michael Stipe, the event’s most notable announced performer, would serenade her with R.E.M.’s “Crush With Eyeliner” or duet on “Doll Parts”; or even that there would be a full-blown Hole reunion—the night left a chunk of the audience disappointed, including some who’d paid three-figure VIP ticket prices for seats that turned out to be much further back than they’d been led to believe.

Stipe beamed in from his sickbed to beg off, matter-of-factly and without abject apology, saying that he had wanted to be there for his friend and goddaughters (including a grown-up Frances Bean Cobain, looking lovely in the front row next to her mom), but instead offered a short snippet of “Doll Parts.” Since he’d been advertised as one of the event’s hosts and was still listed in the program as the top performer aside from Love, it seemed odd that Stipe’s absence wasn’t mentioned until the finale, almost as an aside, and that he said more about feeling sick and missing his friends than about what made Love worth celebrating in the first place. Corgan, whose potential appearance was always more wishful thinking than grounded in fact, was a no-show, as were Chloë Sevigny and others who’d been confirmed, compressing a scheduled three-hour running time into slightly over two hours.

As for Love’s former bandmates, Patty Schemel and Eric Erlandson sent their regards in a “video bouquet” of salutes, which also included Rufus Wainwright, John Waters, performance artist Marina Abramowić, and fashion designers Marc Jacobs and Jeremy Scott. If you showed the montage to someone who was unfamiliar with the guest of honor, they’d never know that she made music, let alone wrote and recorded some of the most piercing songs of her generation, or that she’d had a surprisingly respectable side career as an actress.

Auf der Maur did what she could, as side musician, emcee and interviewer. While her questions were too basic and fawning to elicit anything new from Love, there were a couple good anecdotes, including a one about how she came to know the truth about Harvey Weinstein and one about Fleetwood Mac playing a private show so Hole could study them up close. Auf der Maur’s affection for her former boss was evident, matched only by her cheerleading for the venue itself, a lovingly refurbished factory whose aim is to connect artists and create sustainable community in a rapidly gentrifying area.

But while it was sweet to hear her urge Love to save the world from this precarious time we find ourselves in, and cool to see her candid photos from Hole’s touring days projected on the big screen during the Q&A, the overall effect didn’t inspire much hope. As much as some of us would love to see Love take center stage musically and culturally again, it doesn’t seem any more likely to happen.

In Graves’ speech, she imaged the unfolding moment as “acolytes of Babylon feasting at the feet of our high priestess.” We don’t actually live in a world that recognizes women in their mid-50s as high priestesses, and, to be honest, not much of the music Courtney Love has released this century has been worth feasting on.

With Love seeming more like she was doing a favor for an old friend, and most of her own old friends nowhere to be found, it’s long past time to push past the desire for a heroine or some other savior, and figure out how to build bridges—or rebuild the ones that have been burned down—to create those supportive, sustainable communities already.

From The Desk Of Bird Streets’ John Brodeur: The Grays’ “Ro Sham Bo”

Omnivore just released the self-titled debut album from Brooklyn’s Bird Streets (a.k.a. John Brodeur). In addition to self-releasing records over the past two decades, Brodeur also worked as a music journalist (poor guy). For Bird Streets’ debut, Brodeur enlisted Jason Falkner (Beck, Air, Paul McCartney, Jellyfish, etc.) as co-writer, co-player and producer, while Miranda Lee Richards and Luther Russell contribute to a few tracks as well. Brodeur will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Check out the Bird Streets track we premiered in June.

Brodeur: I made an album with Jason Falkner?! No way! (It’s in stores now.)

This is a Big Freakin’ Deal for me—I was a fan of the dude’s work for almost 20 years before we became friends. Jellyfish was one of my favorite bands in high school, and Jason’s solo debut Author Unknown was one of the guideposts that led me to one-man-band my first solo record. Despite the novelty having died down a bit, I still get that OMG feeling sometimes when listening to the music that so inspired me in those formative years, particularly this brilliant 1994 album by the Grays, Falkner’s band along with Jon Brion, secret weapon Buddy Judge and drummer Dan McCarroll, a fellow Albany expat who went on to become president of Capitol and Warner Bros. Just an absurd collection of talent. Along with my beloved Sloan, this band and record was one of the reasons I attempted being part of a multi-songwriter band in the late ’90s. (That didn’t last long.)

Beavis & Butt-head may have panned it, but “Very Best Years” is some incredibly easy listening.