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Ripped Off By Public Enemy

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To the editors:

Bill Wyman's comment ["Bringing the Noise: Public Enemy on the Front Lines," August 31] that "Public Enemy blows every other rock 'n' roll band on the planet away," makes me feel embarrassed for him. I saw P.E. last New Year's Eve at the World in New York, and it was the worst, most disappointing show I've ever seen. After showing up two hours late (at 2 a.m. instead of midnight, in spite of dimmed house lights and flashing stage spots that started at that first second of 1990, creating an atmosphere of anticipation that dragged maddeningly into acute frustration), the "band" then spent the first twenty minutes boring the tired crowd with their desultory, self-serving, self-righteous preaching, including a pointless and moronic tirade against John Wayne (?!).

When the music finally started it was just Chuck D. and Flavor Flav jumping around to the record that was playing (spun by a lordly-looking fellow in the back), while a brigade of plastic-Uzi-toy-wielding cats stood there striking stupid poses. The entire presentation reeked fraud. The feeling that we had been taken for a ride hung in the air like a stale fart. It seemed that they were cashing in on the naive enthusiasm of the fans who had eagerly waited in the cold rain that night.

The scattershot handful of tunes they did "play" was drawn out by long gaps of frustrating, thoroughly unorganized silence and racist babble. (Wyman admits that Prof. Griff is a racist, yet applauds him anyway; no one in the American press would say such a thing about a living white man.) Unless the show at the UIC Pavilion was very, very different, I doubt seriously it was, as Wyman put it, "a jaw-dropping concussive assault of sound and propaganda."

Wyman seems to have fallen into the trap of scrambling to declare allegiance to the moment's critical vogue, which is to gush breathlessly over Public Enemy. I question his description of P.E. as a "rock 'n' roll band." (Or as a band, for that matter.) What they are is a group of rappers who orchestrate sound bites, more like sound editors than a band. To my mind, rock and roll means guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, and vocals. Obviously there can be more to it than that, but that bedrock is where the particular category of rock and roll finds its definition. (Just as bluegrass is largely defined by its instruments: guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo; and its inclination toward certain musical intervals and patterns.) Rap isn't rock. It's in a category of its own.

I think the first item on Wyman's agenda was to say something bold and provocative--a trait he has in common with P.E.--without bothering to first make sure it isn't bullshit. Or pure hype. As for his statement that P.E. is the best rock band on the planet, maybe it's time for Bill to give another listen to his Rolling Stones and Replacements records.

Jake Kutz

Chicago

Bill Wyman replies:

I thank Mr. Kutz for taking the time to write, but I object to being characterized as "applauding" Professor Griff. The article was an attempt to lay out the terms of the Public Enemy debate; it included a full recitation of the band's sins and duly enunciated condemnations of them. To ignore these things, and then assert that I applaud an anti-Semite, doesn't strike me as constructive discourse on the subject. The flaccid Rolling Stones--noted jokesters on the subject of beating up women (the Black and Blue campaign) and the sexual proclivities of black women ("Some Girls")--are a strange group to bring up in this context.

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