Saturday, November 7, 2009

The State of Contemporary Music?

How long have I been living a lie? I need to know, because for the last, I don’t know, 27 years I guess, I’ve been living with the assumption that music was art, something meant to compel us, force us to think and re-think, to challenge our ideas about the world, both seen and unseen, and to reevaluate what we believe to be unequivocal and universal truths. Apparently I was wrong. Apparently, music is simply supposed to entertain us. Fuck progression and evolution of thought, we want to dance! We want to feel good. The idea that we would actually choose to listen to songs that might make us even slightly uncomfortable is simply stupid; we want “feelin’ great” tunes that force us out of our seats, not out of our comfort zones. Personal growth, expansion of thought…unnecessary, bullshit in fact. We want to party and if that shit ain’t up-tempo, it better at least be a “slow jam” and not simply a slow song (well, unless it’s about how much we love someone, or how we loved someone a whole bunch but fucked it up, or maybe they fucked it up. And of course, it’s okay if it’s about how everyone, tall or short, skinny or fat, drop-dead sexy or mildly to extremely physically unattractive, is special and beautiful in their own unique and special way). That stuff’s cool, but we’d prefer it to be something about drinking booze (probably something expensive), “doin’ it” (probably someone cheap), or any other number of innocuous and cliché sentiments meant to insight groove and grind, because, let’s face it, we don’t have time to think. We need to feel right now, this instant, and in only the most base, animalistic way, lest we become too advanced, too intelligent, too uppity. Music that attempts to coerce us into becoming something greater than we already are is for the over-intellectual, the “art house junkie” perpetually stuck in the coffee house, wearing a black turtleneck, smoking clove cigarettes while discussing the merits of German film and engrossed in a rousing game of French Scrabble while sipping on their sugar-free, caramel-infused, non-fat latte.

I admit, this fella (or fellain’t) is quite possibly one of the most annoying individuals on Earth (even though I do enjoy a good game of Scrabble, drank a sugar-free, caramel-infused, non-fat latte courtesy of “The Bucks” this afternoon, and think the Djarum company makes a wide range of quality products), but to disregard the tunes simply to spite the kretek firmly planted between their index and middle is absolute lunacy. People, this way of thinking is a cancer, a disease of epidemic proportions that is eating us alive and it has to stop. We’re slowly dying inside, and we’ve decided it’s not only acceptable but desirable.

It is at this point the naysayer will choose to start babbling on about fun and “people’s right to listen to whatever they want” and, of course, I have to imagine the world “elitist” will be tossed around, even though my rant is still in its’ most infantile stage. So, in hopes of quelling any unnecessary comments (look at me, thinking anyone will not only read this but feel compelled to weigh in…aren’t I cute?), I don’t think the vapid entertainer/musician has no place in existence. I love a wide range of musical acts and artists alike. Find me a “Wham!” song that doesn’t kick at least this much ass (if you could see me right now, I’d be holding my thumb and index about one inch apart). Kelly Clarkson…shit, that chick can blow and she has this, I don’t know, this intangible that makes me need what she’s dishing out on a seriously intense level. And frankly, I’ve never heard a K-Ci and JoJo jam (trust me…I know) I didn’t want play at least once more. Without a doubt, this is the most appropriate time for the “exception to the rule” crowd to begin screaming their platitudes from the mountaintops. It is absolutely true, the Radiohead’s, Pearl Jam’s and Modest Mouse’s of the world exists, but as the statement in the previous sentence implies, they are not the rule, they are the exception to it.

The fact that this non-detrimental music exists is so fucking far from the point. In fact, I’m pretty sure if you were literally standing on top of “the point”, you wouldn’t even be able to see the vacuous jams that pollute our airwaves and haunt the dark recesses where songs get unintentionally wedged into our minds. If anything, it’s a great thing they’re there. Sometimes we need to cut loose. Sometimes we do in fact just want to dance. The problem is, we stopped wanting anything more. We’ve fallen so madly in love with easy that we no longer see any value in the complex.

So, come at me now. If you weren’t ready before, you are now. I hear all of the derogatory gems flying my way: music snob, over-intellectualizer, douche, maybe? Fine, maybe all of those terms apply (although they actually don’t. No one can think Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” is one of the greatest rock records ever recorded and be an elitist), but that doesn’t change any facts. The fact is all of the mass-production, over-produced, carbon-copy, cookie-cutter pop, rock, rap, and country music that has been shoved down our throats for who knows how long has become not only a viable commercial product, but the only viable commercial product in the U.S.

Think about it this way. Twinkie’s are delicious. If you don’t like Twinkies (I’m not sure how that’s possible, but whatever) then think of your own personal favorite sweet, high-fructose corn syrup laden snack that is inevitably filled with some sort of equally unhealthy, lard-choked filling; it’s probably at least related to the “cream” family, but it’s your goody, not mine, you envision it, and then insert that name every time you see “Twinkie”. The Twinkie is not evil. Twinkie’s are and always will be good. They’re sweet, always delicious; they always satisfy that nagging sweet tooth that just refuses to quit. You always know exactly what you’re getting when you grab a Twinkie; the one you are about to buy will taste exactly like the one you bought last week, or last month, or two years ago because every Twinkie is made in the exact same way with the same ingredients. One Twinkie doesn’t differentiate from another. Always the same, always good. The Twinkie is in fact a beautiful thing, but the Twinkie will never be a meal. As long as you choose to enjoy Twinkie’s in moderation, you will live a happy, fruitful, Twinkie-filled life, but once your diet begins to consist solely of Twinkies, the problems begin. You begin to gain weight, you begin to lose color, your arteries start to clog and harden, before you know it, you can barely lift your flabby arm to knock on Death’s door without breaking a sweat and getting winded. Live with Twinkies, live a happy life, live only on Twinkies, die out of breath and miserable. Guess what, when it comes to music, we stopped eating Tuna steaks and Couscous with Pine Nuts a long time ago and we’re about to keel over with a sweaty brow and a seizing heart. We’re trying our damnedest to live on Twinkies alone, and I think we may have already died.

I’m glad Twinkies exist, I’m glad Lady Ga Ga exists (well, maybe not glad, but I’ve made my peace). The problem is, just as mass-produced snack cakes should and do co-exist with brown rice, asparagus and acorn squash in our diets, mass-consumption pop music like Britney, J.T., and whoever else “the kids” are diggin’ on these days should co-exist with The Mars Volta, Wilco, and The Flaming Lips on the Billboard charts and the ever-decreasing space for music videos on the Music TeleVision cable network, but they don’t. Oh, these and other bands like them sell some records, fill a decent amount of seats at their shows and have a reasonably strong fan base, they will never sell records on the same scale that our contemporary pop stars do. Are they niche market bands? I guess I would say yes, because clearly the exist in a niche market, but that’s the problem, they shouldn’t. It shouldn’t take a special kind of person to hear Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” or “Creature Fear” and find value in those tunes, any normal kind of idiot should be able to hear those songs, hear that voice and that guitar and think “Holy Shit! This is something.” But my guess is, Wilco could have released “Radio Cure” as a single, and no one other than the people who already had tiny hardons for Tweedy would have cared in the least. Radio stations wouldn’t have been playing it, no one other than Wilco fans would have heard the stark beauty and subtle complexities of that brilliant, touching, heartbreaking song. That sucks. Not only for Jeff Tweedy and the rest of the guys in Wilco, but for all of the music lovers out there who don’t get a chance to appreciate such a moving song.

So ultimately, this is my point, and I guess it’s a call to arms for all in agreement and a challenge to all those out there who disagree with me. Let’s attempt to push the artists that matter into the forefront with the entertainers that don’t. Let’s not wait for artists like Conor Oberst to make concessions with his music to start listening to him. Let’s not fear the challenge. Art (and music is in fact art, whether you want to agree or not) is supposed to challenge us. Art, or I guess in this case I’ll just say music, is supposed to challenge our views of life and society and culture and beauty. Music shouldn’t be easy. It should force us to re-evaluate what is compelling and wonderful about it, and in turn, force us to re-evaluate what we think of life and reality itself. Good music should remove us from our comfort zones and make us rethink what we know to be real and true. Let’s not fear the visceral experience or look at it with contempt. Let’s not allow albums like Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” and The Flaming Lips “The Soft Bulletin” be niche albums, niche music. Instead, let’s challenge ourselves with everything we listen to, find the good, the beauty, the brilliance in music that isn’t necessarily easily accessible to us, but is truly worthwhile and thought provoking art. And above everything else, let’s stop just eating Twinkies.


  1. 1)I have to agree with Jess. I'm starting to get a headache. The white or is it grey? on black combo is no good.


    3)Twinkies have changed. They were originally made with a banana cream filling. They switched to the current cream filling during one of the world wars due to sending all of the bananas to the troops to keep them healthy and strong.

  2. While your blog is most certainly about the state of music today and in the future...I think your advice..."to stop JUST eating Twinkies"is a good advice to live by.

  3. your meatloaf comment, does actually make you an elitist....

  4. I think what makes me an elitist is pointing out your incorrect use of a comma in your comment, but that's just me.

  5. nice!
    i for some reason put a comma everywhere
    i think whenever there is a pause in my head, it gets a coma, so technically, the comma might be justified.

    -elited in my pants

  6. But to rebut your initial comment, "Bat Out of Hell" is one of the best selling records of all time. Maybe your definition of an elitist is different from mine, but based on my definition, you can't be both elitist and like monstrous commercial successes. The word "elite" implies a small, select group. The Meatloaf/Steinman juggernaut appealed to wide and vast group of people, certainly not an elite few. But we are all entitled to our own opinions, no matter how wrong they may be. I might have just elited all over your face. Hugs and Kisses...