Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Kat's Korner: Pink's not dead or silent

Kat: I'm Not Dead reads the title of Pink's latest CD and, no, she's not. Not brain dead, not mute, not playing "War Got Your Tongue?" or boring everyone the way the Disney Kids do.
I can't remember which members asked me first to review this CD. I can tell you that a lot of e-mails came in on it. I was reminded of that when I read Matt Rothschild's piece on how a Florida school refuses to let a ten-year-old, Molly Shoul, perform the song.

Reading the piece, Shoul's passion for the song didn't surprise me. It's like the e-mails I've received (Goldie and West's e-mails stand out). Music matters to them. There's a parent who's posted a response. Read it to find out their view but here's how it reads to me: It's not censorship, the school was right, children are not able to grasp the concepts (e.g. the song is too mature). West is a few years over ten (but still under eighteen) while Goldie's only a few years older. But more to the point, the ten-year-olds of today are not the ten-year-olds who learned "Blowin' In The Wind" in school. To claim that ten-year-olds could grasp the Dylan classic better than Pink's is too much of a stretch for me to make. Dylan's poetic language might leave more kids today confused than Pink's very direct message in "Dear Mr. President" ("Where is your compassion?" is the message).

But it is censorship, no matter what the parent who posted a reply thinks. I can remember my own school days. A racy album cover didn't mean you couldn't bring that vinyl record in to listen to, it just meant that the teacher would prefer the cover not be brought to school and, if it was, she would confiscate the cover (while allowing the record to be played) until the end of the day when it was time for you to take your record home.

By the same token, Molly Shoul would be singing a song. She's not lip synching or dancing to a recording of the song. If "You've come a long way from whiskey and cocaine" is offensive, if it is, then Molly merely sings "You've come a long way." That happened all the time at talent shows in my day. A Rolling Stones song got "pruned" -- it didn't get kicked out.

"Gay" is not a dirty word. I'd guess that any ten-year-old, that's not being home schooled, has an idea what "gay" means.

Since Bully Boy has noted his drinking and was arrested for it, he has come a long way. Might that not be a positive message for children? See, kids, you can have a drinking problem and move beyond it?

But it is censorship to tell her that she can't sing the song. I help out friends' art classes just for the fun of it. That's college and it's also public school. I was helping a friend's fourth grade class last week. The kids know Pink's "Dear Mr. President." They were rushing over to me between working on their projects to tell me about the song. Finally, my friend had to tell them to stay at their stations and they could all talk to me when I made my way around.

I think there's some innocence being projected on children that isn't actually present. I'm not sure if I knew "gay" when I was ten -- we're going back many years and, as Lou Reed once put it, "Those were different times" -- but I knew what drugs were. I knew what drinking was too.

Kids know who Pink is. And, here's the thing, you should too.

Green Day stormed the barricades and, in a sucky slump for music sales, ended up with a multi-platinum album, Grammys and some actual hits on the pop chart. Other real artists who've followed have ended up with credibility, support and attention but radio hasn't opened the gates the way it should have (and would have in a previous era). Pink's the first one since Billie Joe & company whose songs actually get heavy rotation.

She's done it the hard way. The Nation noted she started out the decade as, my term, a good time girl. I think they were attempting to underscore how things have changed. But it needs to be noted, she was a 'round way gal. Like Aretha, she didn't seem to be playing. While Britty played at rebellion (before and after the chest expansion) and Christina couldn't decide if she was the next Madonna or Mariah-Whitney combo (she still seems torn), Pink was fierce for the landscape.

You could argue that she was fierce period. Not a lot of artists, male or female, were singing songs like "My Vietnam" (from M!ssundaztood, same album on which she tried to "Get The Party Started"). While other gals were flashing their flesh while pushing their supposed purity (shades of the manufactured sixties products?), Pink, like Lady Soul, was too busy being comfortable in her own skin to give a damn.

Christina certainly has the "pipes," but she's done very little with them. Consider her Anne Murray on steroids. Britty? Let's not get that party started.

Pink has a soulful voice. It's why she caught fame as an R&B artist. And while the Disney kids were happy to pair up with fuzzy talents from Disney soundtracks (Justy and Elton?), Pink was singing a duet with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler.

I got the point of The Nation's juxtaposition, I just felt it grossly short changed Pink.

I wasn't a fan though. I could admire her as a tuneful middle-finger flipped at her silly, pampered contemporaries who populate the pop charts, and the sad public that listens to them, but I didn't rank as a fan.

When Pink started popping up with interviews about "Dear Mr. President" (the news hook for the coverage of the album), I thought it would be worth picking up and figured if it had even one "Just Like A Pill" track, it would be worth the purchase.

It's got so much more to offer than just one track. Listening to it, you may regret the fact that she's apparently backed out of the Janis Joplin bio-pic because her bluesy voice beats the others now being mentioned for the role.

The album opens with "Stupid Girlz:"

Maybe if I act like that
The guy will call me back

In high school, I spent two summers as a camp counselor and what this song reminds me of is Cheryl, a sixth grader. I'm sure I went through that phase and have forgotten it but I remember Cheryl going through it. She was a very cute young girl. She had curly red hair, a pretty smile, thin, attractive.

But the Amys and Jennifers got all the attention with their blonde hair and, honestly, their playing dumb and more than budding breasts. Cheryl was smarter than any kid her age (and had the grades to prove it). But she was mooning over this dweeb named Tommy. (No offense to Cheryl, I've mooned over many a dweeb myself.) I knew Cheryl and her parents, from Church.

They were supportive and loving parents but "strict" in Cheryl's eyes. (She was forbidden, at the threat of a mouth washing, from using the term "ain't.") So one afternoon, I'm making time with Doug, a dweeb in retrospect, when my jaw drops as I see Cheryl emerge in a shirt she's tied in the middle and a pair of shorts she's taken scissors to. As I watched, she walks over to Tommy, who was Billy Idol blonde and just as mentally challenged as his look alike. She starts tossing her head back, laughing at everything he says and flattering him with lies about how smart and how cool he is. Then one of the Amys struts up in a bikini and Cheryl's forgotten.

Doug was saying something about having a stash and maybe tonight . . . But I was already headed after Cheryl to see what was going on. "Boys don't like smart girls," she told me through tears.

I grabbed her by the shoulders and told her, "You're going to be a scientist or a doctor or an astronaut and Amy's going to be lucky to be working the counter at Carl Jr.'s. Do not play stupid for any boy."

Happy ending, Cheryl became a doctor. Amy or any of the Amys or Jennifers? I never heard of them accomplishing anything. Tommy? In high school, he kept getting nabbed for stealing cars and then moved on to an attempted robbery which led to a prison sentence that his parents couldn't sweet talk the judge out of.

Cheryl's got a daughter now. Smart one, too. But instead of middle school, she had to set her daughter straight in the third grade. Whether they grow up faster now or not, they're certainly aware sooner.

On the first track, Pink's singing about something that I think most women will identify with. Maybe, like me, you'll see it in someone else or maybe you'll see it in yourself, but we've been there or know a friend who has.

And it's not an after school special. It's a song full of rage. Which is the emotion to go with that experience. That's the key to I'm Not Dead lyric wise, it's messy, it's loud, it's life. She's not playing Pretty Baby singing "Oops . . . I Did It Again." She's giving breath to some very real experiences.

(She also name checks 50 Cents and Cedric offers his guess on why here.)

"The One That Got Away" is the song Steven Tyler should be covering on the next Aerosmith album. But I doubt he could do it better than Pink who grabs a hold of that song and doesn't let go. Maggie dubbed it "Melissa Etheridge with a vocal range." Pink's got the chops. The woman can sing. But she's not leaving you exhausted as she repeatedly tries for the gold in the field of Olympic Gymnastics. She knows when to be soft in a song and when to pour on the volume. She also grasps that some songs don't require that you demonstrate every note you possess. She's a singer.

Pairing up with the Indigo Girls for "Dear Mr. President" was a smart move. They both benefit from the mix. The song that caught Molly Shoul's attention?

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?
How do you walk with your head held high?
Can you even look me in the eye, and tell me why?

Want to argue it wasn't censorship? Again, she wanted to perform the song at her school's talent show. Pull "cocaine." Pull "whiskey" if you must. (I won't support the pulling of "gay.") But there's no reason, other than the message, that this song can't be sung.

When the Stones went on Ed Sullivan, they had to sing "Let's spend some time together" (and not "let's spend the night . . ."). Mick Jagger, back in the days before every piece of video came back to haunt you, used to claim that he hadn't sung that. He can be fact checked today. (He did sing "time.") But it happens all the time and always has. It's what the school could suggest be done with "Dear Mr. President" if they really weren't censoring Molly Shoul's song choice.

Pink means something to young people. I see it when I go to a friend's class or when I read the e-mails from younger community members. If you're not "too old" to get it, she'll probably mean something to you as well. And you can justify the purchase on the basis of the bonus track, "I Have Seen the Rain." This song was written by her father, James T. Moore, about his own experience returning from Vietnam, and the two harmonize on it. It's Betty and Wally's favorite track on the album:

Spend my days just searching
Spend my nights in dreams
Stop looking over my shoulder baby
I've stopped wonderin' what it means
Drop out, burn out, solidier ho-oh they've said I should've been more
Probably so if i hadn't of been in that crazy damn Vietnam war.

So what do you have here? You've got a singer who can sing. (That's amazing in and of itself these days.) You've got an artist who's co-written some songs that actually have something to share. (I won't say something to say, the album's like a conversation, not a lecture.) And you've got a more mature album than a forty-ish woman pushing her (now imploded) love life could muster last fall.

While her contemporaries (it's an insult to call them her peers) play at peak-a-boo sex and mistake their romances/pick ups for life traumas (that they quickly attempt to market), Pink's CD persona is that of someone with her feet firmly planted on the ground and very much of this world. If her label (LaFace) has any guts, "Dear Mr. President" will be the next single. But thanks to her stature, and her willingness to use that platform, she's already reached an audience with it. Count me as a new fan.

[Note: This is the fourth of at least seven reviews Kat has planned for the next few days. Saturday, she contributed "Kat's Korner: Neil Young's Living With War -- key word 'Living'" and Monday she contributed "Kat's Korner: Richie Havens: The Economical Collection." Yesterday, she contributed "Kat's Korner: Need deeper? Check out Josh Ritter's The Animal Years." She won't post tomorrow. Her next review will go up Saturday.]