By Matt Meade
No matter how good your year was it was nowhere as good as Bob Christgau’s who must have been a good little rock and roll critic because on December 3rd, he received an early Christmas present.
You see, 2015 was the year the rock and roll world finally lost Scott Weiland to his addiction. Christgau, the self-proclaimed Dean of Rock Criticism must have curled his slice of a mouth into a sick little smile because he’s apparently been longing for this day since he first heard Core all the way back in 1992.
Unfortunately, sometime after they’ve set you up with their best power chords, you figure out the title is “Sex Type Thing” because it’s attached to a rape threat. They claim this was intended as a critique… (b)ut at best that means they should reconceive their aesthetic strategy–critiquewise, irony has no teeth when the will to sexual power still powers your power chords. And if it’s merely the excuse MTV fans have reason to suspect, the whole band should catch AIDS and die. B-
In the critic’s defense, he may have had a point in regard to the song’s themes. The lyrics of the alt rock hit are certainly troubling. They carry much of the language that has been pinpointed in recent years as being the parlance of rape culture.
I am I am I am I said I wanna get next to you
I said I wanna get close to you
You wouldn’t want me have to hurt you too, hurt you too?
I am a man, a man I’ll give ya something that ya won’t forget
I said you shouldn’t have worn that dress
I said you shouldn’t have worn that dress, worn that dress
Here I come, I come, I come, I come… [ad infinitum]
I certainly see why someone would object to this, particularly if one were to imagine college-aged frat boys banging their heads to it, spilling alcohol from from their red plastic cups, emptying them like they will eventually empty their little penises into the unsuspecting and unconscious co-eds from Sigma Kappa Sigma.
It doesn’t even bother me that much that Christgau incorporates what Weiland said about the song outside of the confines of its 3:39 run time into his reading of the song. It doesn’t bother me that the song confronted him and he didn’t do the job of the critic, which is to wrestle with the ideas built into the piece. What bothers me is that he went outside the song for help unpacking it and then ignored the explanation he found. Maybe it didn’t jive with the way he wanted to imagine the song, but in the review he still seems skeptical of Weiland’s intentions.
Certainly rock critics should feel no need to be consistent, but it seems a little hard to fathom that a mere decade later the same critic, in his 2003 review of a record called Elephunk, would laud The Black Eyed Peas for song titles that use the word ‘Retarded.’
Titles like “Let’s Get Retarded,” “Shut Up,” and the guitar-driven “Anxiety” are what you’d hope except cleaner–tremendous ups every one. You can bet new member Fergie, a showbiz lifer who also put in a tour as JC Chasez’s girlfriend, lured her pal Justin down for “Where Is the Love,” an actual hit that actually called out “the CIA.” Terrorists, the song claims. Rhymes with “The Bloods and the Crips and the KKK.” A-
Now, I am not suggesting the Black Eyed Peas should not have called a song “Let’s Get Retarded,” I am merely pointing out that they did use the word that many people in 2015 (and 2003, for that matter) find offensive and derogatory and they used it to describe getting drunk and dancing. I am pointing out that Christgau claimed it was the title for which he had been hoping. What I am pointing out is that Christgau somehow prefers The Black Eyed Peas to the early work of The Stone Temple Pilots, he somehow does not associate The Black Eyed Peas with rape culture, that he didn’t go looking for an explanation from will.i.am about why he used a problematic word, and that Christgau is somehow still considered the Dean of Rock Critics.
No rational lover of art (yes, that includes pop music) thinks artists (yes, that includes STP as well as The Black Eyed Peas) should avoid using any of the words people find offensive, including the word retarded, nor avoid any of the topics that are uncomfortable to discuss, including rape. Artists are supposed to challenge and artists sometimes do that by becoming a manifestation of their own id or the id of the collective unconscious. I think one could make the argument that it’s what the song “Sex Type Thing” was trying to do.
I know that at the time the skeptical Christgau might not have beleived that the song was about how Weiland’s high school girlfriend was gang-raped, and could not have known that Weiland himself would later reveal that he had been raped at the age of 12 which hints at the idea that by writing a song from the perspective of the aggressor was some sort of way to continue to fight the battle against these demons; the battle that he lost earlier this year.
It was impossible to know those things upon first listen, of course, and the song certainly appears to be a Zeppelin-eque, cock swingingly aggressive, hard rock number with a slithering and sexual lead singer making some pretty titillating claims, but the ensuing years taught us much about the complexity of grunge’s favorite also-ran, saying nothing of what can be learned by allowing a persona to confront you. Perhaps the accusation that he was pro-rape was the least damaging of Weiland’s career as he was often accused of being a poser, a calculating and cynical phony, and a useless addict.
And maybe he was all those things. Maybe he was a phony and his revelations about the way rape affected his life were all the lies of a cynical junkie trying to position himself in a marketplace where his competition was people like Kurt Cobain and Madonna. This very month Weiland, in death, found his way into articles that mentioned him alongside the names of some of the most important artists of the last fifty years, B.B. King, Lemmy Kilmister, and others we lost. Perhaps Weiland’s death was the ultimate PR move.
Whether or not the goals of the song and its 25 year old composers were insidious, the 50 year old critic wished death and, curiously, AIDS upon the entire band. Though I find that to be equally or even more problematic than the song, I do not wish AIDS on Christgau. I wish upon him the exact life he has led.
Because regardless of whether he fulfilled our expectations, was the soundtrack to a generation of date rapists, or was a relevant rock star, Scott Weiland longed to be a singer in a cool rock and roll band and that is exactly what he ended up being. He will always be the bed wetter who sent transmissions from a lonely room; always be smellin’ like the rose that somebody gave him on his birthday deathbed. He will always be the guy who sang “Big Empty.”
And no matter what he does with his life Robert Christgau never wished to write anything great or beautiful. He used his one wish on Scott Weiland. No matter what he does with his career, or where he falls in the pantheon of great critics (because is there one?) Christgau will always be the guy who wished an agonizing death on a talented drug addict because he didn’t like his music. He got exactly what he wished for this year. And I hope anyone reading this gets exactly what they wish in 2016. Just be careful what it is.