In some ways, it's easy to love Miranda July's work. Her portraits of lonely people speak to the outsider in all of us. Some of her characters in No One Belongs Here More Than You, for example, broke my heart. But there's also something uncomfortable about her work, something creepy and alarming that comes as a shock. (In her book, you start off thinking that her characters are the Jane Adams character in the movie Little Children, but sometimes they end up feeling a little closer to the Jackie Earle Haley character instead.) July's series of photos for Vice magazine, in which she calls out the extras in old movie scenes, conjure up the same intriguing, unsettling feelings.
The older I get, the more I appreciate this kind of unpredictability. It's the same thing I love about the TBA Festival. I have an idea of what the terrain is going to be, but I have no idea where I'm going to end up. The journey will hold the kind of intellectual surprise that seems like a real rarity for me these days.
I was thinking something along these lines while listening to Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome" recently. Where have the Public Enemies of the world gone? When is the last time a band stood up for something in such a direct and formidable way and demanded to be heard? When is the last time a band felt really, truly threatening to the status quo... and made great songs, too?
Leonard Pitts, who's probably my favorite op-ed columnist, wrote an interesting piece about the lack of authentic rebellion in music recently. He wrote: "Popular culture is increasingly home to artificial outlaws and fake rebels, revolution on the cheap that looks like the real thing unless you look too close."
I know there are plenty of bands out there now who are making political music, but why haven't any of them acquired as large a following as Public Enemy? Is it because they're not being picked up or promoted by increasingly conservative record companies? Or is it because there are so many bands one can choose to listen to now (via web and filesharing) that their impact is diluted? Is it because we, the audience, don't want to be challenged or made uncomfortable? Or is it because record companies don't think we do? Or something else?