>>DOWNLOAD: DJ Ms. DD, The Trannysphere #1 [mp3]
About once a week, for as long as we can remember, one of the Phoenix's most senior critics, Michael Freedberg, would come into the office to pick up his check, and then, on his way out, as a way of saying "hello," he'd stop by the arts desk and launch into a monologue, often aimed at no one in particular. It wasn't idle conversation: he was professoring. He has one of those lawyer's voices (he being, in fact, a lawyer): the iron-plated, stentorian tone you'd associate with someone who'd watched old Abe Lincoln biographs from the 1950s. He would talk about Led Zeppelin, about electro, or spend an hour hectoring us to listen to some new Mylene Farmer album, or a Prince b-side, or an Arabic dance band he'd found on some European offshoot of Amazon.com. Michael Freedberg is one of those Rushmore-sized visages of the legendary-rock-crit days: although he spends his fruitful hours doing legal work, and is happy discoursing about the Greek and Latin classics, and has for 25 years or so voted conservative Republican, he has also been one of the most insightful and unique chroniclers of African American dance music of our time. At some crucial point in the '70s he ignored punk, embraced disco with both arms and both lobes of his brain, and ever since his has been a singular, lone voice in the wilderness -- his canon is no one else's canon, and as such he has sometimes found it difficult to communicate with his editors (except for the Phoenix's Matt Ashsare and Jon Garelick, who have given him the most work in recent years, and former Village Voice editor Chuck Eddy, whom Michael adores and who understood him completely). In the '70s Freedberg covered the greats of R&B, and had his Almost Famous moment touring with P-Funk for a week for the long-lost music rag Gig. In 1981, he discovered (then Roxbury-based) electro godfathers the Jonzun Brothers, and even provided the title for that group's most well-remembered song: they'd wanted to name it "Pac Man," but it was Freedberg, who knew what kind of legal trouble would come with that title, who convinced the label to call it "Pac Jam."
For the past decade, Freedberg's passion has been house music -- a genre universally discredited and ignored and reviled by mainstream music editors, but which he has written about insightfully, tirelessly, and beautifully. Freedberg also adores French variete, though not the kind that usually gets written about in indie-rock magazines. Long before the blogs turned "rockism" into a dirty word, Freedberg was railing against the tunnel vision of what he called "the SPIN crowd," by which he referred to the magazine but meant to indict, by association, not just all of American rock and roll but most of what passes for youth culture. (Because he spends so much time listening to music his own way, he sometimes has odd blind spots in his repertoire: one day in 1997 he came into the office raving, at high volume, about a new song he'd just heard on the radio, and was ready to canonize its creators as the best new artist of the year -- except that he didn't know what the record was or who'd made it. After some vigorous searching, it became apparent that the song was Nine Inch Nails's "Head Like a Hole," which had then been out for about eight or nine years.) He maintains that the French do rock and roll far better than Americans. In 1991, while everyone else was writing about grunge, he published a definitive guide to the best 800 disco records ever, almost all of which he owns on vinyl. Michael finds most contemporary American top-40 music insipid, weak, poorly produced, dumb, talentless, and offensive. He is often dismissive of hip-hop, but has been -- for far longer than you -- a great champion of R. Kelly, whom he had elevated to the pantheon of the greats (Otis Redding, Prince, Robert Plant) way before indie kids discovered "Trapped in the Closet."
But sometime around the time "Trapped in the Closet" came out, maybe before, we found out that Michael, himself, had been trapped in the closet. We'd approached him about doing a podcast, with the intention simply of commiting some of his best rants to tape -- many was the time we kicked ourselves for not having hit "record" the minute he walked through the doors. There's a Led Zeppelin rant that he's never written but deserves to be in the hall of fame; we still hope to coax it out of him again someday. But instead Michael proposed something completely different: a podcast that would be hosted by his cross-dressing alter-ego, DJ Ms. DD. The existence of such an alter-ego briefly turned our brains into scrambled eggs. Then, thinking about it for a few minutes, we found that the emergence of Ms. DD explained quite a bit about what we knew of Michael Freedberg. After an aborted attempt to bring Ms. DD to the airwaves last year -- aborted not for lack of effort or enthusiasm, but merely by OTD's lack of technical ability -- we have two episodes of "The Trannysphere" (title courtesy of Ms DD) in the can, as well as the above video trailer. Our production values, we hope, will improve with practice. And we hope to coax Michael into the studio as a special guest, so that we can share with you some portion of the wit and wisdom that he's brought to these halls.