"Dude, there was a mom in the mosh pit!"
What I learned when I chaperoned five boys at a hip-hop concert
Remember back in June when I told you how I thought my youngest son was just asking for money to buy concert tickets but was really inviting me to go with him (and pay, of course)? Well, this week we went, and it showed me so much about how his generation relates to the culture. If you usually skip “What I’m listening to” or are new to the newsletter, you can catch up here.
Read: How the AP caused “linguistic pandemonium and why everybody should just chill, my wife’s genius tweet about Joe Biden, and why he is dominating social media, why JPMorgan is reading the President’s tweets, the surprising new thing about the U.S. workforce, why the Texodus might not be over, how high voter enthusiasm is (very), why the President should be glad he called off the peace talks with the Taliban, the weird thing about whales, the dangers of categorization, the cool new thing about little green Army men, the super creepy thing about murders these days, how many couples match a Democrat with a Republican, how often female Supreme Court justices are interrupted, the only news app that the youngsters are using, what Americans think about journalists expressing their personal opinions on social media, the robots who fight disinformation robots, and the mean girls responsible for why we think we can’t wear white after Labor Day.
Watch: Ethan Hawke’s directorial debut about one of the originators of outlaw country
Listen: Jason Isbell wrote the perfect song for the Highwomen, Austin’s Khalid covered a Tracy Chapman song that’s pretty close to perfect, Walker Lukens co-produced a Kae Astra song that’s pretty druggy, and Hobo Johnson wrote a sweet song about buying a Subaru Crosstrek XV. It’s called “Subaru Crosstrek XV,” and when I say it’s sweet I mean adorable and not cool. But honestly if you don’t listen to “If She Ever Leaves Me” by the Highwomen, you should re-evaluate your life choices. Spending five minutes to listen to a perfect song should be something you work into your life, otherwise what are we doing here?
But first: Going to a hip-hop show with my son taught me how young artists are connecting with even younger audiences.
“You better be nice to me in there, otherwise if your friends ask me if I like Ariel, I’ll say, ‘I love The Little Mermaid!’”
“Dad,” he said, “It’s Aries. But it would probably be funnier if you kept calling him Ariel.”
I had a little dad anxiety taking my son and his friends to a hip-hop concert on 6th Street on a school night, but mostly I was worried that I’d look old and out of place around all these teenagers. I kept trying to find my footing with dumb jokes and offers of pizza and soda pop. I reminded my son about the time I had taken him to this same venue a decade earlier when our cousin played SXSW. It wasn’t crowded at all, so when my cousin started playing, my son, then seven, walked to the middle of the dance floor and sat down to watch the show. Eventually I got over the fear of embarrassment and joined him. He didn’t know the right way to watch a live show was to stand around holding a plastic cup while feigning ironic detachment. He figured the way to watch his cousin sing was the same way he watched Shrek.
My son and his friends were too excited about seeing Aries to give much thought to having a dad around to dad all over everything. Over pizza they yabbered on about how Aries started out making wry hip-hop how-to videos. He’d remix beats to achieve a different effect, like making a sad Drake song happy, or, my favorite, “How I made 21 Savage less savage.” He started doing this about two or so years ago, and for a while this was all he did, producing music to entertain a YouTube audience.
It caught on, and his audience grew. So after a while he would answer questions that people DM’d him on Instagram, which is what you and I would call “fan mail” but he just labels Q&A. It’s just a ball batted back and forth with his audience, no intermediary, no record label, nothing but sliding into his DMs. I once wrote Huey Lewis a fan letter and had to send it to his record company. I needed a stamp and to do some odd research to find the address. My son can watch Aries and message him with the same device without ever have to go to the effort of standing.
While we ate our pre-show pizza, M, my son’s best friend, bragged that Aries had picked one of my son’s questions to answer in a video.
“There were, I don’t know, thousands,” my son said in the muted way he has of sharing his enthusiasm. “He only picked five.” (For the record, his answer was that there is no boring part and the worst thing is trying to get it exactly like you have it in your head.)
After a while Aries started recording his own songs and posting videos that retained his low-fi, DIY vibe. And because’s just starting out and does have a record company giving him notes, he produced songs all over the map. The more popular tracks off his April debut album Welcome Home sound like trippy, SoCal hip-hop. Others, swear to God, would sound more at home on the soundtrack of The O.C. in the aughts. He could have titled the album Emo AF, except that would have come across as too aggressive. If Welcome Home had pronouns, it’d be they/them, because all influences and expressions are welcome.
The audience has been a part of it from jump. This is music as a communal act, not a commercial creation. He made all music this right in front of them, creating himself from the ground up. This music is born of the relationship he forged with his audience and now it’s theirs, not just in taste but in experience.
An album begged a tour. Aries crowdsourced the route, and he plotted points on the map to go and find his people. I was not prepared for the unbearable sweetness of this enterprise. Aries, bless his dear soul, sang over his tracks, vocals and all, like a kid singing along with the radio. He’s a YouTube creation. He didn’t grow up on a stage. The audience sang right along with him, beaming, making shockingly happy sounds. I don’t know the sound of one hand clapping, but I now know what a couple hundred happy teenagers sound like: sweaty joy. It felt like sunshine on my chest.
He left the stage abruptly, awkwardly. He looked like a boy unsure how to exit a conversation. The kids went through the motions of calling him back up for an encore, but they weren’t quite sure how to do that. An attempted chant of “Aries! Aries!” fizzled before they settled on “We want Aries! [clap clap clapclapclap],” and out he came, announcing, “This is my last song,” after which he awkwardly left the stage, again lacking the rock-starry performative gestures of gratitude I’ve come to expect. Then the kids started chanting “Sayonara,” which I thought meant they were thanking him for the show, but come to find out they were naming the one song in his catalogue he hadn’t done yet. This was their music, too, and they were in on the joke. When he said it was his last song, he was offering his real fans an Easter egg.
And then he just… stopped. Just walked off the stage without even a wave of thanks. Like I said, he hasn’t learned how to perform live yet. The lights went up, and the boys gathered around me. They were drenched in sweat, beaming, exactly what your most generous self imagines boyhood to be. On the way to the car they were full of exclamations. Everyone was so sweaty they were slippery! There was one guy there who was kind of mean! They were the youngest ones there! A friend of theirs got a high five from Aries!
“You’re probably going to want to roll all the windows down, Mr. Stanford,” said M as the boys piled their man-sized bodies into my car. Half of them are taller than I am, and all of them can do math I never attempted. About the only thing I can do that they can’t is go to bed when I please. It used to be that one of the perks of adulthood was getting to eat ice cream whenever I wanted, and now a doctor and vanity have taken that pleasure from my life. M is the unsmiling one in the picture below. He’s actually the sweetest one, so he tries to cover it by trying to look tough. He knew what a carload of sweaty high school boys could do to a closed atmosphere. But I had also once been young, and smelly, and was already lowering the windows and opening the sun roof. It was a nice night, a couple days past the heat of summer, which around here meant that after 10 o’clock it was only in the upper 80s. The summer was not completely done with us, but we could enjoy it more now.
Driving them home, I heard the happy chatter in the back seat. “Dude, there was a mom in the mosh pit!” said one.
“Yeah,” answered another. “And she was pretty, too.”
What I’m reading
The thing that the deadliest shootings since Columbine all have in common? Sharks. Actually, it’s that they used assault rifles, which seems obvious, which was also my reaction.
After reading this, I better understand the AP’s new hyphen guidance that caused “linguistic pandemonium.”
Of the 100 stories about Joe Biden that got the most social media traction, 77 were negative. He’s getting social media traction because he keeps putting his foot into his mouth, which brings me to my lovely and brilliant wife.
JPMorgan has created the "Volfefe Index” to gauge the impact of Trump's tweets on U.S. interest rates.
Huh: “For the first time, most new hires of prime working age (25 to 54) are people of color, according to a Washington Post analysis of data the Labor Department began collecting in the 1970s.”
Texodus might not be done yet; “There have been rumblings, according to GOP and Texas sources I spoke with for this piece, that Congressman Chip Roy,Michael Burgess,Michael McCaul, and William McClellan “Mac” Thornberry might not seek reelection in 2020.”
Since CNN began asking in 2003 whether people were enthusiastic about voting, Americans have never at any point in any election cycle been as enthusiastic as they are now more than a year before Election Day.
The polling on the endless war in Afghanistan does not explain the President’s secret peace talks to end the aforementioned war at all, and I’m being serious.
The voices of many species of whales have dropped in pitch since the 1960s. No one knows why, but there are a lot of theories, each of which involves people.
I really want to know what my friend D.B., the recovering pollster, thinks about this HBR piece on the dangers of categorization. Oh! I just remembered he was the only who turned me onto the Harvard Business Review as a way to find new ideas, and once time he left a copy in my office, and I ended up writing this column about an idea I discovered in there.
We now have little green Army women.
Smart piece, here: “In sum, men around the world would rather burn down democracy than do the dishes.”
People get away with murder almost half the time, and some people think that’s because serial killers are getting smarter.
Latest Studies Indicate: Only 1 in 10 straight couples is a Democrat-Republican combination. Female Supreme Court justices are interrupted three times as often as male justices. When male executives speak up, estimations of their competence increases; the opposite occurs when female executives do so.
News Nerds: The only news app that young people are using? Reddit. It’s not the bias, it’s how you label it. About a third of Americans approve of journalists expressing their personal opinions on social media. Robot on robot action: An AI bot can detect disinformation with 92 percent accuracy, and I can’t even recognize the faces of people I know.
Last Word: The whole thing about not being able to wear white after Labor Day was some 19th-Century old money mean girl business.
What I’m watching
Blaze is Inside Llewyn Davis for outlaw country, set mostly in Austin. It’s a lovely story that doesn’t try to make too much of this singer named Blaze Foley, very little of whose work survived a lot of bad luck. The film is structured around a live recording of him in a bar in Austin that, like him, no longer exists. We remember his running buddy, Townes Van Zandt, for good reason. Blaze’s work deserves not to be forgotten, and this movie by Ethan Hawke is an excellent way to get to know him.
What I’m listening to
This week we’ve got lots of recs and two — 2! — videos, so scroll down.
Thanks to A.G. for sending this Tracy Chapman song by Austin’s Khalid along. It’s good stuff.
There’s a new Walker Lukens-produced single in the world: “Medicate” by Kae Astra.
There’s a kid named Frank who slept in his car after his dad kicked him out of the house when he was 19, which is when he adopted the hip-hop name of Hobo Johnson. His song about buying a Subaru Crosstrek XV is pretty sweet.
Here’s Blaze Foley singing his most famous song, “Clay Pigeons,” on a damn porch. Almost every one of his surviving songs is a perfect example of song craft, and this one is perfecter.
The Dixie Chicks backed up Taylor Swift, and it’s worth a listen.
The best thing about country music is that a new song can be an instant classic. Loretta Lynn and Elvis Costello did it with “Everything It Takes” in 2016. Midland did the next year with “Drinkin’ Problem.” But, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Highwomen, and “If She Ever Leaves Me,” which is enough to make you cry if you listen to the words. Oddly, as this video makes clear, it was written by Jason Isbell, the husband of one of the Highwomen, and the song just came out gay, which gives it more layers than three-level Spock chess. For example, I give you the line, “She don’t have a single tattoo,” which reveals a lot more than it’s saying. Lord, people, this is a perfect song.
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