At the close of four days of fractiousness, defensiveness, tepid consensus, heated debate, masturbation unabated, plugs for products, plugs for services, plugs for personalities, plugs for personae, plugs for personal agendas, plugs for drugs, and live performances plugged and unplugged, a ballroom full of people found themselves on the receiving end of a sexual threat. Diamanda Galas, New York- based anti-diva, stepped onto the table at which she and ten other rock and near-rock artists were seated, to deliver their observations on the state of the music industry. Standing tall and turning her back to the audience, she invited everyone (loudly, twice) to admire her buttocks, then inquired, “How many of you limp dicks can get it up with a condom?” What began as a series of mundane remarks on stylistic homogenization and fading undergrounds suddenly had to make room for a disturbing gesture in AIDS activism, complete with sexual role reversal: Galas in the phallic role, on the rampage. “With this fine ass, I CAN’T EVEN GET FUCKED because none of you can get it up with a condom on!” (When Galas began partially undressing, Jim Dreschler of New York band Murphy’s Law left his position at the opposite end of the table and appeared to take up her dare, but came no closer to her than photo-op distance before backing down.)
As many have come to expect at New Music Seminars, this rupture of star-panel conventions led to one incendiary moment of near-connection, then largely fizzled into the poses of angry egoists. Having seized attention to force the issue of proceeds from rock charities upon the panel and audience—the previous night’s AIDS benefit featuring Galas, Soul Asylum, Prong, and the Butthole Surfers (whose leader Gibby Haynes was chairing the rock artists’ panel), had generated little research money and widespread accusations of profiteering—Galas ceded center stage to voices that were just as loud but lacked her frame- breaking conviction that public-health concerns outweighed those of the rock scene. Panelists attempted to move the conversation away from bitter exchanges with audience members (“How much did youget paid, Gibby?” “Give it back!” “This is pathetic . . . this makes me want to quit the music business”) toward various personal and collective responses to the fabled greed of the industry. Psychic TV’s Genesis P-Orridge, for example, in a Sun Ra Venusian hat and an oracular tone, spoke at length of Chinese atrocities toward Tibetans, his own forcible exile from the U.K., the value of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy) in pacifying football hooligans, and the relative political triviality of the music-industry concerns that are the Seminar’s raison d’etre, concluding that everyone should “stop buying records, save the money, and travel.”
But a final collective gesture against the structure of the Seminar itself—the exasperated departure of the whole panel and audience to join the rap artists’ panel next door, which had been walled off from the rock panel as if to embody physically the apartheid-like status of stylistic categories—produced only a short-lived sense of collective purpose. Ice-T and other rap panelists welcomed the largely white rock crowd, but an audience member took the floor mike angrily to pierce the balloon: “If you’re not down with our concerns . . . not just today but tomorrow, we don’t want your support.” Exit collective adrenaline. Harry Allen, Public Enemy’s “media assassin,” came down from the dais to hug and thank the angry audience member; most whites in the room began looking limp. What looked for a moment like unpremeditated Woodstocking was quickly reinscribed as grandstanding.
It has become standard operating procedure at each year’s New Music Seminar for participants to dismiss, disparage, and disrespect the New Music Seminar. There was more to the 13th NMS than sound, fury, and nonsignification, but one could hardly leave the Marriott Marquis with an impression of having viewed a discursive community engaged in productive intercourse. This annual event represents the alternative-rock world’s uncertainty over its status as a self-analytic profession...