But, seeing as the problem with CMJ stems from people?both musicians and fans?striving to appear as if they're not striving, I suppose it's worth making an effort to support the cause of effort. If I had a bully pulpit from which to address all the college-radio brats who come here for CMJ, I'd say, "You guys bring a mixture of clueless innocence, which is refreshing, and clueless posturing, which is not only annoying, but also in violent conflict with our local traditions (despite what you see in the East Village?that's new). So be comfortable with yourselves. The same air of ennui that got you so far on campus?all the way to station manager!?here just means you're lazy rich kids. No matter how many CMJs you've been to, you are inexperienced tourists, and the whole New York thing is to be what you are, without fear. It takes courage and energy. Also, be mindful about blocking the sidewalk and for chrissakes don't wear your festival badge to brunch."
Despite my endeavors, CMJ crowds won't dance. Incredible boogie sets by master DJs will be wasted on lemur-like beings mysteriously compelled to gather around the turntables and gawk. Through complaining (for the moment), I'll simply point out that at CMJ it's wiser to see shows featuring bands, where at least audiences who stand around watching are actually watching something. That means on Wednesday night skipping the empty promise of the opening-night party at Roxy?which features the Jungle Brothers, Aphrodite, Wiseguys, Cut Chemist, Jurassic 5, Femi Kuti, To Rococo Rot, Fantastic Plastic Machine and Hardknox?even though that bill seems to present a decent sampler platter of what's new and good in new college music these days. (9/15, 515 W. 18th St., betw. 10th & 11th Aves., 645-5156.) It'll all fall flat at the nailed-down feet of self-conscious badgeholders. Better to go see what Willie Nelson pulls out at the Bottom Line (9/15, 15 W. 4th St. at Mercer St., 228-6300) or, if you insist on at least new-ish music (this is, after all, the newish Jew year), Sparklehorse, Wheat, Beulah and Richard Colburn of Belle & Sebastian are at the Knitting Factory. (9/15, 74 Leonard St., betw. Church St. & B'way, 219-3055.)
Seeing bands at CMJ presents one problem you don't get as much of at deejayed events: A&R weasels. The indie-country scene at this year's CMJ will be as infested as ever, with guys in Don Johnson suits and goatees hoping to sell music inspired by the Band, Byrds and Neil Young to Garth Brooks' audience. That's depressing, but maybe not as much as having your expectations for real rock dashed. Nonetheless, in the spirit of energy and courage I recommend diving headlong into that very risk on Thursday. Distortion Felix and Caustic Resin play early sets at CBGB (9/16, 7 p.m., 313 Bowery at Bleecker St., 982-4052), then try either the Donnas (9/16, 10:30 at the decidedly non-rockin' Life, 158 Bleecker St., betw. Thompson & Sullivan Sts., 420-1999), who might barrel straight through the bullshit, or the Quasi/Spoon show at Brownies (9/16, 8:30, 169 Ave. A, betw. 10th & 11th Sts., 420-8392), where the crowd might be so densely packed and the bands so professional as to incite rocking in trendoids otherwise not inclined to rock (shutup!?I've seen it happen I swear). Then the move is to Wetlands for Queens of the Stone Age. (9/16, midnight, 161 Hudson St. at Laight St., 966-4225.) I'm hoping that people there will be drunk and stoned enough to enact the pagan response the cult of Kyuss demands. If I were optimistic I'd go to the Herbaliser show back at Roxy, where the London hiphop duo will play with a full funk band and guest MCs, and it'll be extremely fun if a critical mass of people who are not record collectors somehow shows up.
Friday brings a show where you're actually supposed to watch the DJ, and as it's not part of CMJ, the Technics/ DMC DJ World Championships (9/17-18 at Hammerstein Ballroom, 311 W. 34th St., betw. 8th & 9th Aves., 307-7171) should bring a crowd willing to have fun in public. On the very same night, the New York rapper bent on bringing the old battle mentality to college-aimed hiphop, Pharoahe Monch, will be at S.O.B.'s (with Reflection Eternal, High & Mighty, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Afu-Ra and others, all opening for Rahzel of the Roots). Former Organized Konfusion member Monch should be appointed New York's Commissioner of Nightlife for his current hit "Simon Says," in which the bullhorn-voiced MC exhorts the knapsack crowd to "Get the fuck up!" explaining, "If you're holding up the wall then you're missing the point." That and the certainty of a rip through Monch and Sahdeeq's collaboration "WWIII"?the most raucous hiphop track of the year until "Simon Says" came out?make this show the most likely exception to CMJ 's lemur rule. (9/17, 204 Varick St. at W. Houston St., 243-4940.)
That'll all happen on the late side. For early Friday night, John Strausbaugh offers this reminder: "Marianne Nowottny, the Jersey teen, sings in an astonishingly grownup voice and accompanies herself on keyboards she most often programs to ooze up and down like a calliope or glockenspiel on the bottom of the sea. Her beautifully wobbly dreamscapes are reducing rock critics like the Times' Jon Pareles to utter confusion, which is one good sign. But I really knew she was onto something when I was playing her CD in the office earlier this year and somebody came down the hall to offer me $1 to turn it off." She's at the Knitting Factory's li'l Old Office.
Friday's looks-good-but-won't-be option is the Breakbeat Era/Roni Size thing at Westbeth (9/17, 151 Bank St., betw. West & Washington Sts., 741-0391), and the alt-country tossup is the Pernice Brothers, Sally Timms and Jon Langford show at Mercury Lounge. (9/17, 217 E. Houston St., betw. Ludlow St. & Ave. A, 260-4700.) At least at that one Don Johnson Junior won't be shouting into his cell phone about possibly signing the headliner, but on the downside, it's hard to imagine Langford being all that psyched to play for conventioneers. Better, perhaps, to get drunk and try Continental, where Electric Frankenstein, Raging Slab (I wonder how it feels to play for college students who weren't born the first time you played for college students) and Jersey's Atomic Bitchwax lay groundwork for the next hard rock revival. (9/17, 25 3rd Ave. at St. Marks Pl., 529-6924.) More contemporary collegiate "punk" style will be on display Friday at Jade Tree Records' showcase at Wetlands (Jets to Brazil, Promise Ring, Joan of Arc and Euphone), so go check that out if you're long past graduation and curious about how things have changed?unless earnestly emotional indie-rock pussies who can't quite write a good song upset you.
Saturday brings another of those hugely promising bills, like the opening-night party, combining a bunch of disparate beat music in a multileveled venue. With Ming & FS at midnight, then Cassien, Raymond Roker, Jungle Sky's Wally and Soulslinger, L.A. underground-hiphop comers Styles of Beyond, Brooklyn's Medina Green and illbients 'til dawn, it'd be interesting any other weekend. On this one, even material from Ming & FS' singularly bugged new album Hell's Kitchen is unlikely to jar anyone out of touristical self-consciousness. After four days of round-the-clock cocktail hour, college-station program directors can be given a pass for failing to participate in this one, as they surely will (it's also at Wetlands).
One more time: Saturday's to-rock-or-not-to-rock dilemma will be presented by Sub Pop's showcase at CBGB (Hellacopters, Zen Guerrilla, Murder City Devils, Go), and the hope-for-the-best hiphop ritual will be up at Downtime, brought to you by Subversive, the new (formerly 3-2-1) indie-rap company run, in part, by Bigg Jus of Company Flow. Jus himself will perform for the first time in a while, along with some of the excellent and mostly unheard groups he signed: Chicago's Rubberoom, Minneapolis' Micronots, Brooklyn's Skeme Team and Jersey's Scienz of Life. (9/18, 251 W. 30th St., betw. 7th & 8th Aves., 695-2747.)
Don't forget that at CMJ you can always do like the A&Rs do and choose bands by their name. In my case that'd mean seeking out Gay Dad (Fri., 10 p.m., at Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey St. at Bowery, 533-2111), Yanni DiFranco (Fri., 11, at the Baggot Inn) and Gangsta Bitch Barbie (Thurs., 10, at Acme Underground, 9 Great Jones St. at Lafayette St., 420-1934), and, probably, finding myself face-to-face with dudes in Spam t-shirts, checkerboard Vans and keyboards on guitar straps. Like I said, all we can ask for is that everyone does their best. Anyway, the complete festival schedule (there's also movies and panels, y'know) is very well presented at www.cmj.com.
Finally, those interested in skipping CMJ should know that starting Thursday the Guinness Bass Import Co. presents "Laugh Your Bass Off," featuring special promotions and performances at all your favorite standup venues. Also pretty amusing should be the Animal Defense League's "Bloody Fur Giveaway" at the Macy's in Rego Park Sunday, where activists will "offer free furs to Macy's customers from a pit of blood." (9/19, noon-3 p.m., Queens Center Mall, 90-01 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, 718-274-4443 for info.) For more laughs, the new Fox program Action premieres Thursday night at 9:30?I heard from a reliable correspondent that it's the funniest and ballsiest show to be seen this fall.
Three notable readings this week: Kurt Andersen from his Turn of the Century (if you read enough media to know who Andersen is, you'll probably enjoy his book), Thursday at Coliseum Books (9/16, 6:30 p.m., 1771 B'way at 57th St., 757-8381); Edmund White, universally acclaimed (that means I haven't read him) biographer of Proust and Genet, Tuesday at KGB (9/21, 7 p.m., 85 E. 4th St., betw. 2nd Ave. & Bowery, 988-1197); and one of Heimytown's heroes, the always entertaining and provocative New York novelist Daniel Evan Weiss, reading from his epic poem Honk If You Love Aphrodite Thursday at Housing Works Cafe. (9/16, 7 p.m., 126 Crosby St., betw. Houston & Prince Sts., 334-3324.)