Whoa, the plankton is alive again, with appetite renewed! Herewith, a heretofore unpublished blog post I wrote eight years ago when I thought this day was going to come a lot sooner. Please do stay tuned for future updates; they will… well, at this point in 2022 we should all know better than to make any sort of predictions ever again, but let me assure you that my intentions are much better than they were in 2014.
So it’s been awhile! On the blague! It broke, and then it broke some more, and I sort of stopped caring, and then it broke/caught on fire/was sucked down a black hole semi-permanently, and as I’m writing this, I don’t actually know what state it’s in – will my backup work? I mean, has my backup worked? Or will I end up hand-scraping old entries off of the Internet Archive and re-potting each of them on a shiny new WordPress1 installation somewhere? [2022 note: hiiiiiiii from n00b WordPress land] Or will I just let the Internet Archive take care of my posterity and start again all new right here? I mean, have I already let the Internet Archive etcetera? WHO KNOWS? You do! But I don’t yet! [2022 note: god bless the Internet Archive but they stopped scraping Ravenous Plankton in 2009] I am composing this entry in the irksomely tiny “new” gmail compose window – if you want to know what’s killing civilized correspondence, incidentally, it’s line breaks every twelve syllables like it wuz a goddamn haiku in here – anyway I am composing this entry in the gmail window prior to any actual resurrection of le blague du Ravenousplankton, entirely because I saw something you guys oh man I saw something I just *have* to tell you about.2
This past Friday, by which I mean March 7th, 2014, was the fifteen-year anniversary of Salesforce dot com. How do I know that? Because they sponsored a party at Justin Herman Plaza involving a semi truck full of donated canned goods, and a live performance by Kansas City’s finest export, JANELLE MONÁE. Janelle Monáe! Was she awesome? Of course she was.
The crowd was full of Salesforce people smiling and handing out free water. I found it a little creepy, though I was thirsty, especially standing there for half an hour waiting for it to start. (The internet told me it started at noon. Sarah Davis said it started at 12:30. Shouldn’t I already know who to listen to?) The bunches of balloons and logo mascot and t-shirts and tote bags all made me worry that there would be a lot of corporate pep rally before we got to the main event, but they kept it concise: a little back-patting by one of the honchos, and a mayoral proclamation presented to them by the actual mayor (I did not know those came with a personal presentation – that must not leave the mayor a lot of time to do other things). The honcho declared Janelle Monáe to be his favorite artist – even all his favorite artists, rolled up in one – “she’s Michael Jackson! She’s Prince!3 She’s Ella Fitzgerald!” And, advantageously, 67% less dead and thus proportionately more available to play your party! [2022 note: *wipes away a tear*]
Then the honchos left the stage – as did, alas, the ASL interpreter4 – and the show began. The band – guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, horns, back-up singers who looked like mod astronaut Supremes – posted up at their positions, the PA played Thus Spake Zarathustra, and our heroine was wheeled onto the stage in a tearaway straitjacket and a cloud of smoke. YES. YES YES YES. Why, o why did I not bring binoculars? Because they would interfere with my dancing, I suppose. They tore into a song which I did not recognize, but should have – then one that I did recognize, but couldn’t name offhand – then “Sincerely, Jane,” which is one of my all time favorites and sort of made me cry5 – and after that I lost count in sweaty rapture.
I can tell you that they played “Electric Lady,” which is clearly supposed to be the anthem but has a whiff of obligation around it (this one’s for the ladies) that made it much less interesting than the rest. She’s got plenty of other socially-conscious songs that don’t sound like she set out to EmpowerTM anyone – the abovementioned “Sincerely, Jane,” with its lament for the vicious circles of racism and poverty and its gorgeous pleading chorus, or even “Cold War,” whose lyrics don’t exactly jump off the page but which I totally buy when she’s singing it. Or, come to think of it, “Tightrope,” which is more or less about not letting the bastards get you down (an extra dimension added by the video, which is set in a dystopian mental hospital). Or “Q.U.E.E.N.” – “am I a freak?” – featuring fellow noted music weirdo Erykah Badu and the line “I’m tired of Marvin askin’ me what’s goin’ on.” Or, you guys, all of these videos have millions of views on youtube. Did she get famous while I wasn’t looking? [2022 note: yes!] How come none of those millions of people were at the show on Friday? The crowd danced like they were dancing to their boss’s favorite band. After five songs half of them left and went back to their desks.
I was so baffled. Because you guys she was so good! She was so riveting! She has that awesome show-person-ship6 that makes it impossible to look away from her no matter what she’s doing, but she’s also got the musical chops to back it up. Get this: in the middle of the set – the middle of the set! – they covered the motherfucking Jackson 5. And then they played some more of their own songs. How was the cover? Spot on – she sings like an 11-year-old Michael Jackson, and dances better – but it was so spot on, it was almost like “fuck you guys, here you go, we can do this song you want because you’ve heard it a thousand times, now listen to something new for a minute.”
Which was a perfect way to deal with it, really. I don’t mean that they tossed off that cover, either. They played it with the requisite glee – can you even hear the bassline to “I Want You Back” without grinning? – but without artsiness or mindless imitation. They played it like Olympic figure skaters do triple axels in warmups, like calligraphers write the grocery list, like a major-league batting champion in the back yard hitting baseballs out into the night, over and over, just because it feels good to do something beautiful.
…and then they played some more of their own songs. It was just about the nerviest and most fitting display of artistic chutzpah I had ever seen – until ten minutes later when one of the backup dancers came out and wrapped Janelle Monáe in a cape and they finished the song with a few laser-cut-precision hit-it-and-quit-it’s7 and my jaw just dropped and I laughed and laughed – and then she threw in some zoot suit moves and hi-de-hi-de-hi’s and for a moment my fevered brain thought she was somehow commenting on Black celebrity8 and its fraught relationship with the mostly-white pocketbook of power9 [2022 note: of course she was, among other things], until she grabbed the beribboned mic stand and did a little Steven Tyler, directly into a little Joe Strummer, and then galloped off the stage, covered in glory.
1 – yr correspondent having learned something about supporting small independent businesses in industries I only marginally understand – though, don’t get me wrong, it’s that last part that’s the problem. If I had more modern web savvy, and cared more, I would have noticed that my beloved cool web host was crashing and burning well before my own little garden plot went with it
2 – but probably not urgently enough to get the RP back online any sooner than, hm, July. I’m guessing, of course. How did I do? [2022 note: not very well!]
3 – the comparison is common, but I actually hear quite a bit of musical difference [2022 note: I am heroically resisting deleting this with the benefit of “Make Me Feel”-based hindsight] – Prince is solidly funk-based, Janelle Monáe is much more rooted in soul, early rocknroll and the occasional swoop into movie soundtracks. But they are both beautiful fashionable sui generis Black pop stars, which puts them in the same small category, I guess. [2022 note: *wild sobbing*]
4 – it would’ve been cruel to just throw any ASL interpreter at the show, but a prepared ASL interpreter would’ve had a great time, I think – ASL translations of pop songs are their own particular art form
5 – what is with nearly everything sort of making me cry these days? Happy things? It is ruining my tuff image.
6 – ok there’s one more thing she has in common with Prince
7 – apparently James Brown kept his band in lockstep by fining them, and sometimes firing them, when they fucked up. I suppose one should be grateful that the Godfather of Soul didn’t have them whacked.
8 – mostly specifically *musical* Black celebrity; I did not see her dunk anything, except metaphorically.
9 – you know, soul and the selling of it; working for The Man even as an independent entertainer; the most powerful Black man in the world is a boring politician [2022 note: OMG please come back, all is forgiven] and the richest rappers are barely junior investment bankers on good years; all that crap
reading: Sara Gran, Infinite Blacktop (to prepare for her new one!); Diane Kochilas, The Greek Vegetarian; Bessel A. Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score; Sari Solden, A Radical Guide for Women with ADHD
eating: dude it is my 30th vegetarianiversary! I’ve been vegetarian for 30 years today! yesterday I had very elegant vegan sushi with Erin, to demonstrate just how much I’ve grown and gotten sophisticated in the past three decades; today I ate buttered macaroni with too much cheese like I did four times a week when I was 13
listening to: Du Blonde (is anyone else comparing her most recent album to David Bowie?), Rufus Wainwright’s “Peaceful Afternoon,” Smurph’s stellar 2021 post-punk mix
looking at: the awesome Helen O’Leary show at Patricia Sweetow Gallery, all faceted landscapes like Diebenkorn and Thibaud and Max Ernst’s “Garden Airplane Trap” but I like Helen O’Leary better – her work frolics at the border between painting and sculpture but also demonstrates why everything is actually a sculpture and how sculpture actually stomps all over painting (sorry painting)
making: well dang mostly I guess just this website right now but hold the phone, don’t go too far, more soon!