What a fucking week. The current President is taking our Democratic Republic to places it has never been in 200 years, and all in his first week in office. The nation has had to mobilize in ways that we haven’t seen since the Vietnam Protests, and 4 million people, mostly Women, marched for their rights fearing that they’d be taken away in the course of four years. And I went to a TV on the Radio concert, as part of a Yale conference in memory of Prince and Bowie called Blackstar Rising and the Purple Reign. Fuck Donald Trump.
The event’s coordinator, Daphne Brooks, put together an incredible four days of discussion and music in tribute of the two seminal artists that kicked off with a Symphony and panel between herself and mononyms, Questlove and Kimbra. The orchestral renditions of Bowie and Prince tunes fell quite short of the originals (how could they match up?). The quite literal translations were an academic way of saying that these musical geniuses are worthy of the four days to follow and Donald Trump said he saw multitudes that weren’t there. What I will say though, is that the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s Undergraduates did sound great—the flourishes were all there, and especially the first violinists solo to start “When Doves Cry” was a testament to their abilities.
The Questlove/Kimbra section was painfully short. After Brooks introduced the pair, we were offered stories of how each came to know the artists. Kimbra was a late in life adoptee of these artists and Questlove first discovered Prince when his grandfather died. He said he remembers being ushered upstairs to his sister’s room and hearing Prince’s “Soft & Wet” being played through headphones forced on his ears so he wouldn’t hear his mothers cries. Or the cries of millions of people who will be poisoned by even just this week’s worth of environmental cutbacks from Donald Trump’s executive orders.
With events like this, there are things you can learn that you might otherwise never have known. Questlove went on a tangent about D’angelo’s Black Messiah after Kimbra cued up “African Night Flight” off of Bowie’s Lodger. Apparently that track specifically and the album generally were inspirations for the record dating back to it’s inception over a decade ago. (D’angelo also apparently has Bowie covers in the vault that need to be released. Just like the refugees and immigrants stuck in airports because of Donald Trumps most aggressively unconstitutional executive action barring refugees from seven Muslim majority countries.) Questlove and Kimbra were themselves brilliant for the short period they had to speak, but we could have listened to them all night.
Solange, Sheila E., Greil Marcus, D.A. Pennebacker and so many others spent the next three days in discussion over these two artists ranging in topics from their gender-bending sexuality (We have to protect our LGBT family) to the conceptions of race (We have to fight for equality and equity) and obviously the heights of art that these two musician/actor/artists reached (We have to remember the Arts). The conference ended with a special performance by DJ Ryan Sawyer and TV on the Radio.
Sawyer’s duty as DJ would be to get people dancing, ready for the closing act, but on the stage in a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, he took a different route. Doing the best he could limiting himself to two artists, he played a very political set: interspersing the apocalyptic “Five Years” and “1999” with the critical “Young Americans” and Prince’s “America.” Right after that last song he blasted into Bowie’s cover of “White Light/White Heat.” Just like the white supremacists who are apparently controlling the entirety of our government, like Steve Bannon whose contributions to society have had nothing but a detrimental effect. By the end of his set, Sawyer was playing the hits and trying to get people to dance, but not before he made his point.
And finally TV on the Radio. What a great band. They played their fucking hearts out, launching into “Young Liars” and with lead singer Tunde Adebimpe trying to get more positive vibes into the audience. Kyp Malone remained most vocal about the situation at hand saying that we were going to have to work together, and calling out the privilege he saw in a packed room of a free concert at Yale. The applause at privilege was disconcerting: in one way, it’s great that it’s acknowledged, but in another it seems like no one thought Malone meant them. Either way, they too ripped through their more political verses, complementing “Young Liars” with “Happy Idiot” and “Lazerray.” The latter of which is a weapon that I’m sure Donald Trump believes we have and is trying to figure out how to use it against people that don’t look like him.
Overall, the set was cathartic in its amplitude. They played loud, and the crowd was moving the building, especially for “Wolf Like Me,” probably their biggest hit from 2006s Return to Cookie Mountain. But even through all the joy in celebrating these two major artists, hearing stories about them, declaring their importance, there was the looming threat impregnating every thought and note that the outside world was crumbling. Is this what this is going to be like every week for the next 200 weeks? Is every concert, every event, everyday going to have Trump looming in the background? I think yes. I think yes and I think that means we have a lot of work to do. Everything’s gonna be OK. I keep telling myself. Fuck Donald Trump.
Article: Christopher Gilson