I’m 200 feet from the stage, but on the Jumbotron I can see Big Boi’s weird plaid pastel quadruple-breasted suit-short combo thing, and that André 3000’s black jumpsuit says “Art or Fart?” in big white letters. He is wearing a platinum wig. I have been at the Governor’s Ball for the last ten hours, and I am officially too old for this shit.
I’m cranky and my knees hurt and I don’t know where my friends are and even when this concert is over there’s a 45 minute walk and a four hour drive before I can sleep. The crowd is so tight that every time somebody pushes past, I have to grab a stranger’s shoulder to keep from falling over. André keeps ramping up the crowd by saying “We’re just getting started.” I hope that’s just rhetoric.
But if I’m too old for it, how about the performers, who are a decade older than I am? Is it just that they’re cooler than I am? I have to admit that they are that.
How come André 3000 is wearing an oversized tag on his jumpsuit that says “Sold”? Is he saying he has sold out? If so, to whom, and what did he sell, and in exchange for what? Or is he making fun of people who care about whether somebody has sold out or not?
I’m too exhausted to sort it out. I try plugging my ears to see if I can make out the words, because they are clearly very good at saying words very fast. But I’m pretty sure this concert is for people who already know all of the words to all of these songs, not the greatest-hits-only crowd. Unless the people around me are pretending, too. I look around to see how into it they are. Pretty into it, looks like, although who can tell?
Oh phew, there’s Miss Jackson, I know this one, but oh crap, my critical faculty is still going full throttle, so I can’t just enjoy; I have to try to wrap my head around what exactly we are doing here. How come we are all jamming out and Woooo-ing along with the chorus to a song about a custody battle? I don’t understand, am I supposed to dance, weep, or dance so that I don’t weep?
Just when I think that maybe trying to pierce the different levels of irony will be enough to get me re-absorbed in the concert — yeah, that always works, irony always helps you enjoy things — the stage show starts to get porny. André introduces the next song, She Lives In My Lap: “If you came to the show without any panties, you can come to the front, I promise you.” Behind him on the screen, the twenty-foot-tall naked woman (André is strategically blocking her groin) slowly takes off hers.
Oh, I get it, that’s what “The Love Below” means.
I’ve been here before. Ten years ago when I visited a friend in Atlantic City, his friends introduced me to a game they liked to play: you drive up and down the strip, and when you see a prostitute, you open the window and yell out “ONE!” and then when you see the next one you yell out “TWO” and so on.
At the time the only thing I ever wanted was to forget about myself, stop worrying, and enjoy life; I was the perpetual Cameron to everyone else’s Ferris Bueller. But I couldn’t play that game. I didn’t like that game. I wished they would just stuff me in the trunk and forget I existed.
When I told my friend Amos1 about it later, he said, “I can’t imagine a universe where that would be funny.” Which is why I text him now:
I'm stuck at an Outkast concert. Help
And he does help: he helps me remember that when I get tired, I get scrupulous, which is why I’m uncomfortable about bobbing my head to music I don’t know set to a backdrop of images I don’t approve of, but I’m also uncomfortable just standing there like a chump. A double bind that only a weirdo would understand. Amos does:
I tried to explain ur dilemma to [my wife] but it is a mystery to all but those who r both socially and aesthetically scrupulous
I text back
Oh my gosh thank you for understanding
and start to think that I’m not supposed to pick it apart, just enjoy it, which is probably what my friends will tell me when they read this post, but then “Hey Ya” comes on, and the crowd loses their shit, and I try too, too, I mean, I like the song — but if you listen to the lyrics (are you supposed to?) it has such a weird dynamic, André getting more and more ponderous as the beat gets dancier and dancier:
If what they say is “Nothing is forever”
Then what makes – then what makes – then what makes
Love the exception?
So why oh why
Are we so in denial
When we know we’re not happy here?
And then, he rebukes the audience for dancing to his dancy song instead of being serious about it:
Y’all don’t want to hear me, you just want to dance!
Or maybe he is rebuking himself for being serious when he is supposed to be dancy? Either way, the rest of the song is about fellas being cooler than cool, and ladies shakin’ it.
But okay, André, did you really want us to get all contemplative? What would you have said next, if we did want to hear you? That things fall apart? That everything, even love, especially love, eventually succumbs to the second law of thermodynamics? I’m reminded of an Irving Howe quotation that used to hang, for some reason, on our fridge:
A modernist culture is committed to the view that the human lot is inescapably problematic. Problems, to be sure, have been noticed at all times, but in a modernist culture the problematic as a style of existence and inquiry becomes imperious: men learn to find comfort in their wounds . . . The problematic is adhered to, not merely because we live in a time of uncertainty when traditional beliefs and absolute standards, having long disintegrated, give way to the makeshifts of relativism — that is by now an old, old story. The problematic is adhered to because it comes to be considered good, proper, and even beautiful that men should live in discomfort.2
So I dunno. Maybe the point is to juxtapose heartache with danciness, because real life isn’t scrupulous about juxtaposing the two; like the other day, when a stranger outside my Kung Fu school interrupted Sifu’s fart joke by getting hit by a car.
You can’t pretend fart jokes aren’t good and funny,3 and you can’t pretend getting hit by a car isn’t bad and sad. But you have to live with both. If you’re André 3000, you can’t pretend naked ladies aren’t awesome, but you also can’t pretend that custody battles don’t suck.
I get it, but that doesn’t stop me from being sad for André 3000. Imagine if the best thing you had to hold back the darkness was “Yes, all love eventually dies — but at least I can dance”?