There's a reward at the end of this post for those of you who read it, by the way.
There are a few words that you don't hear in mixed company, and two of them are hegemony and diaspora. Actually, I've never used either of them in sentences not specifically about the words themselves, and but Hegemony would be a good name for a drinking game at the Experience Music Project Pop Conference, held annually in Seattle and going on right now. Hegemony (“leadership or predominant influence exercised by one nation over others, as in a confederation.”) was tossed off in the first five minutes of last night's keynote, entitled “Ritmo Blues: Hidden History Shaking Up 'American' Pop.” And if we're playing Hegemony during today's first full day of panels, I'm pretty sure I'm gonna be drunk by noon. Diaspora, too, will flow like Seattle rain, and we're sure to end up in a few different cultural nexuses. Which is fine. They're useful words. But it gets annoying when rock critics (who comprise half the constituency here) start talking hegemony, because it seems like they only use the word here. And it's annoying when academics (who comprise the other half) use the words because, well, that seems like the only words they ever use, and I'm not impressed. (Note to self: good idea for next year's EMP paper: “Oxford Comma-ners: The Hegemony of the Ivy League Music Critic Cartel in the Pop Music Diaspora.”)
If it seems pointless to write about writers writing about music — as if music writing isn't boring enough, why would any of you want to hear about a song twice removed? — at the pop conference, it often is. The beat's no longer there, the melody's gone, and all that's left is some dude or dudette uglier than you would have imagined (with three shining exceptions) reading from a printout of their words. But that said, I'm here, and I've presented papers in each of the past two years; I really look forward to this every year; and the only reason I'm not presenting this year is because those fuckers turned down my proposal. (I kid. They did turn it down, but they're not fuckers.) I come here because I like learning about music I don't know about, and like hearing it from people who know a lot about it.
I feel like I should discuss the Ritmo Blues panel, which had as its focus the influence of Latinos on rock & roll and popular music, because it featured some of L.A.'s most noted Latino musicians – Louie Perez of Los Lobos, Raul Pacheco of Ozomatli, El Vez and Martha Gonzalez of Quetzel – discussing the climate in which they began creating music, and where they were drawing their influences from (short answer: East L.A., and from everywhere.) But it was kind of a No Duh panel for me, and seemed a little patronizing. No Duh because, well, no music – especially American pop music – lives in a vacuum. And patronizing because it felt like, well, let's give “The Latinos” some face time this year.
And if that seems like a half-assed argument or poorly conveyed criticism, I'll cop to it. A lengthy discussion is something perfect for a conference, not for this blog post. (Note: I snuck out of the panel three-quarters of the way through to grab dinner with some colleagues, so it may have turned remarkable just after I left, and if there were any fist fights I missed them.)
That said, the first thing I'm going to do when I get back to L.A. is collar a few of these panelists and start individual conversations with them. Hearing Raul Pacheco's story of the formation of Ozomatli was fantastic, and I'm looking forward to checking out Quetzel, who I've never seen.
Now, as your reward for reading this post, I deliver you something that no amount of words could capture; even Proust would be left with writer's block.