Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why doesn't anyone talk about how bad a name "The Beatles" is?

I have spent the last 3 weeks actively avoiding writing about The Beatles. This is decision coincided with the release of The Beatles reissues and Rock Band. This “historic” event gave everyone who writes about things an impetus to write about The Beatles. This was somewhat fun because now I know that Let it Be is just as good as the new Girls record by Pitchfork’s standards. Mostly, however, it was a lot rehashing of the same trivia, analysis, Baby Boomerisms. I am pretty sure the world decided at least 30 years ago that The Beatles were the greatest band ever – similarly, I am pretty sure greatest ever doesn’t have an expiration date.

So why am I about to write about The Beatles in 21 words from now? Because, apparently, The Beatles were the greatest band ever (who knew!*) and I have unequivocally determined why this is the case.

The Beatles were the greatest band ever, because they had to be. The Beatles came to be exactly when the world wanted/demanded/needed the greatest band ever to exist and to their credit they became that band. This was due to two reasons:

1. The market place

2. The generation that created said marketplace

There was probably fewer Rock N’ Roll bands in the 1960’s than there are now – definitely less that were commercially viable in one way or another. Fewer bands means = less dispersion of talent. Moreover, less bands means the bands that do exist have to do more to appeal to more people. Similarly, if progress was unavoidable**, then the less bands were responsible for the brunt of it.

Still it isn’t just a numbers game. There isn’t just a large pie of progress/greatness that fewer bands were allowed to split up. At the end of the day there was still that one band that carved out a Garfield sized slice of the pie. If The Beatles were Garfield***, then the Baby Boomers were Jon.

The Boomers were a collectivist bunch, especially for Americans. As a whole they looked to build a community bonded by a fundamental ethos. Kennedy was shot – racial tension was reaching its apex – the Vietnam War polarized the country – parents were being squares – students were being gun down – impending nuclear holocaust – (insert the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and The Police’s “Born in the 50’s”) – and the youth just wanted to be together, to love one another, to be at peace.

The result is a generation of long-haired team players. And the team’s mission was to promote the potential of a world bonded together. What came of this were communes and free love and the general hippy pastiche. The other result was a culture environment rife with universally decided upon greatness. Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation, Woodstock was the greatest cultural gathering, The Beatles were the greatest band ever.

So what has changed in the 40 years since? Well other than everything, those hippies who thrived on being so supportive of their community birthed babies. In turn, those same hippies thrived on being equally as supportive to those babies they birthed. The Millennials**** are those supported babies and they are out for blood. Blood in this case represents individuality.

Thus there are tens of millions of people using their culture not to bring them together but to set them apart. And just like the 60’s the culture itself has responded to the demands put upon it. However, now the response is a culture that is more fragmented, more dispersed, more niche. Millennials do not want the definitives but my definitives. Meaning they are not looking to define their generation but themselves as part of it.

A Beatles cannot be created in this environment because this environment is diametrically opposed to a band being the sole greatest entity. Instead greatness is dispersed to a lot of different bands for the individual to pick and choose from. Where once you were either a Beatles or Rolling Stones***** person, now the youth creates a patchwork of hundreds of known artists******.

The Beatles first record was released in the states in 1964. Not coincidently, that same year the first Boomers (born in 1946) were entering college. At a time when individuals are most expected to define themselves and their place in the greater culture, The Beatles immediately allowed for that definition to based around commonality. Furthermore, I believe that in 1964 you had a youth culture prepared to come together (pun 100% intended), thus creating a fertile environment for The Beatles to begin cementing their legacy. A classic self-perpetuating cycle – this culture needed a Beatles and The Beatles needed this culture.

Now if you look at the first year the first Millennials (born in 1982) entered college, 2000, comparable conclusions could be drawn. Artistically speaking, Radiohead’s Kid A along with Outkast’s Stankonia were both released the same month that Fall and mark the emergence of the divergence of culture. Outkast introduced a completely left-field approach to popular hip-hop and Radiohead asserted digital music importance to the future of music. Both records were polarizing and I believe began the fraction of what became popular music. Possibly more importantly, however, is that Kid A is credited as the first major record to be leaked months before it was officially released (available on Napster July 2000).

The Fall of 2000 when these Millennials entered college many were talking about not only the artistic merits of the revolutionary Kid A, but how it was available before it reached the general public. At this moment the mass creation of a generation “in-the-know” began. Accordingly, as the Internet slowly became a viable medium to both learn about and acquire music a generational identity began to coalesce. What was created was a generation of experts, with almost infinite access to both content and information, actively looking to distinguish themselves from their equally as voracious counterparts. The fact is it is fundamentally impossible for millions of people to distinguish themselves by everyone loving the same thing – it is fundamentally impossible to have another Beatles.

Hence the release of The Beatles reissues couldn’t have been timed better. As this decade (the first decade culturally dominated by the Millennials) comes to a close, The Beatles serve as a perfect antithesis of the popular culture that exists today. Simply, no one wants another Beatles or more broadly no one wants universally agreed upon cultural certainties. Instead, the Millennials have quite possibly brought about the second greatest period of contemporary music, one defined by universally disagreed upon cultural uncertainties.

• Barbara Mikulski

**Which I think it obviously was. The genre was being invented still so almost anything done to expand its definition was progress. Rock n’ Roll was not going to be gussied up 12-bar blues progressions forever.

***It was a known fact at the time that The Beatles loved lasagna and hated Mondays.

****They were even supportive enough as to give us a cooler name when we complain about being called the highly derivative “Gen Y.”

*****The fact that collective unconscious of the day basically forced The Rolling Stones to record psychedelic albums, really cements home the idea that bands needed to be everything to everyone.

******I can’t even imagine a comparable example for today. The Killers vs. Grizzly Bear? Kings of Leon vs. Dirty Projectors? Lil’ Wayne vs. LCD Soundsystem? Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West? John Mayer vs. Yeah Yeah Yeahs? There are none.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

29 - 11

There is a trend that plays out mostly in 29-11 that I found particularly interesting. BALLADS!!!! This section has a number of ballads by bands that usually are on the more rockin' side of things. I guess this says something about a really good ballad. The louder/faster songs of the world might be more immediate and visceral, however as is the case with a lot of these songs, ballads offer something deeper. So as time goes on I found myself revisiting these songs and allowing them to grow on me.

That is the great thing about making this list, I really had no idea about this trend until now. Anyway, enjoy...

29. “Encore” – Jay- Z (specifically some unknown remix I have on my computer)

28. “Young Hears Spark Fires” – Japandroids

27. “Stuck Between Stations” – The Hold Steady

26. “Knife” – Grizzly Bear

25. “Beating Heart Baby” – Head Automatica

24. “505” – Arctic Monkeys

23. “Ordinary People” – John Legend

22. “Love Dog” – TV on the Radio

21. “Level” – The Raconteurs

20. “OK Apartment” – The Oranges Band

19. “Used To Vacation” Cold War Kids

18. “Sweetness” – Jimmy Eat World

17. “First Sight” – These United States

16. “Videotape” – Radiohead

15. “Lengths” – The Black Keys

14. “Last Night” – The Strokes

13. “7/4 Shoreline” – Broken Social Scene

12. “4 Kicks” – Kings of Leon

11. “One Thing” – Amerie

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My Favorite Song of the Decade 50 - 30

This list was really, really, really hard to make. I thought I finished it two weeks ago, until I realized I didn't love many of the songs. I was putting important songs on the list that I merely liked a lot. "Maps" is a great and all but I have no real connecation to it, thus it was removed. After a few more weeks of editing I am left with the list that will be posted here. I really, really, really, really like these songs and deeply care for them.

So please enjoy the list, I have included links so you can listen to songs you haven't heard before/listened to in awhile. Again I implore you to make your own lists, it is a fun/revealing/rewarding process.

51. “Family Reunion” – Jill Scott*

50. “Vindicated” Dashboard Confessional**

49. “Untitled” – D'angelo

48. “Marry You When Yr Sleeping” – Voice on Tape

47. “Warning” – Incubus

46. “Sunday Morning” – Maroon 5

45. “Intuition” – Feist

44. “Die” – Iron & Wine

43. “Distractions” – Zero 7

42. “Seed 2.0” – The Roots

41. “While You Were Sleeping” – Elvis Perkins

40. “Stronger” – Kanye West

39. “When Did Your Heart Go Missing?” – Rooney

38. “My Love” – Justin Timberlake

37. “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” – The Postal Service

36. “Nantes” – Beirut

35. “Captive Train” – Holler, Wild Rose

34. “Daylight” – Matt & Kim

33. “I Found A Reason” – Cat Power

32. “Heartbeats”- Jose Gonzalez

31. “Blue Light” – Bloc Party

30. “Arms of a Woman” – Amos Lee

*I am aware that 51 is not included in 50-30. This song is great and remarkably silly (I would argue the most silly of the decade). On one hand, I knew I wanted to list this song and on the other I knew it was never going to be top 50. And since this is my blog, I will do whatever I want.

**The last song added to the list, appropriately comes in at #50. This song is the closest thing I have to a guilty pleasure (I don't personally believe in this term). Nonetheless, I have two very dear memories involving this song, which have earned it this placement.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Isn’t it weird that Marketing sounds like Marketing?

So as I was driving home from work I noticed multiple benches with Courtney Cox Arquette’s face on them. This seemed pretty harmless; she is famous and famous people’s faces always find themselves in the strangest of places. Eventually, I realized the ad was telling me that CCA was a real estate agent in some magical* land named “Cougar Town.” I am aware that “Cougar Town” is actually a soon to premier television show starring CCA. I am also aware that this bench is an example of viral marketing. Wikipedia tells me:

“The buzzwords viral marketing and viral advertising refer to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives (such as product sales) through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of pathological and computer viruses. It can be word-of-mouth delivered or enhanced by the network effects of the Internet.”

So yes, this bench is an example of viral marketing - albeit very lazy and boring viral marketing. More than anything it is a direct theft of the much better viral marketing done by team behind District 9.

I have been told by a lot of people that District 9 is a very good movie. More importantly, those lot of people always mention how well done and even fun the marketing campaign was. It is very similar to the way LOST fans talk about the viral marketing master J.J. Abrams’s ability to create a mystique around his flagship show through his exceedingly clever promotion ideas. So this is what I thought about when I looked CCA’s generally attractive face, until…


An epiphany.

I must digress for a moment to set up a metaphor. In my days as a psych major at University I learned about a phenomenon called infantile vegetarianism. Basically, young children have a concrete understanding of words, in which every word represents a separate distinct thing. Eventually they stop being stupid babies and start thinking. Sometimes this thinking leads to this very adorable scenario in which a child will proclaim, “it’s weird that chicken (the word for the food) sounds like chicken (the word for the animal).” Once they learn the two are actually one-in-the-same they cry and swear off eating meat (stupid babies). Nevertheless, at this same age, kids still define their morality completely around what their parents say so they eventually end their hunger strike because their parents tell them to (stupid babies).

The point:


So why do we care so much about it?

I came of age in the 90’s where I think I thought marketing was bad. Did I miss interpret a decent portion of early-mid career Pearl Jam records? I thought history looked really poorly on yuppies and loved hippies/punks/counter-culturists. Commercialism is bad, no?

I guess somewhere along the way this view has grayed. The most obvious example is the general blanket acceptance of band licensing their music to commercials***. More than acceptance, there is a celebration of sorts. Advertisements have become the place to hear new music (in GRE… video : Radio-star = commercials : Video-star), In a time where everyone has become experts of sorts, Apple has become the western hemisphere’s top tastemaker. Isn’t this bad?

I don’t know if it is bad but it definitely is telling. You may ask yourself; well…How did I get here?

My answer to this question is inspired by a theory created by essayist/scholar/famous person/professional sandwich eater**** Jesse Fox. In his essay entitled “I Haven’t Read 1984 in 9 Years. You?” he pontificates, quite eloquently I might add, that culturally we are approaching a future in which we are all famous. Because of the rise of reality television and blog-culture we are putting ourselves out to the world in ways never before available.

The fact is the difference between the famous and the non-famous has shrunk to a point of sheer non-existence. I know at least 4 people who have been on a reality show for at least one episode and I assume I know more who will eventually be on one. The result is we can easily picture ourselves being famous – we can picture ourselves as content and like any content that has come before, we will need to be marketed. So like an overzealous reality TV star we care how we are advertised or at least how we could potentially be.

Similarly, it is a lot easier to be in a band and to have that band reach thousand of people. Just the other morning I wrote two fairly weird songs, recorded them that afternoon, and then posted them on the Internet that evening. Hypothetically, if they were remarkable (which they weren’t), I could have had hundreds of fans by the end of the weekend. The result is that we are more likely to see these bands as real people because at anytime we could be that person in a similar band. Selling out is so 90’s because finally as fans we can put ourselves in the bands’ place and realize we would do the exact same thing.

Still, is this bad? Probably.

However, let’s assume it isn’t. The economy is really horrible currently so maybe it is a good thing that being famous exists as a career option. Other than the lack of quality health benefits (yet!?!?!?!?!?!?!) being in a band can become a responsible career option. Moreover, though being surrounded by a web of viral marketing can be exhausting, at least the marketers are thinking and trying to be clever. And isn’t that point? People thinking - people being in bands - people being clever. Hell, I have no reason to believe Cougar Town is going to be a bad show, it might be the best show since Joey (I loved Joey). Hmm, wait I guess I do have one reason, its called "Cougar Town" - I guess they aren't that many people being cleer.

* What is the opposite of magical? I wanted to use whatever word that would be in this situation but I still haven’t thought of it.

** A lot of people***** have told me my blog is not onomatopoeic enough.

*** Matt & Kim have a song placed in a Bacardi commercial. This is crazy!!!!!!!!!! Could they not get the rights to a Team Robespierre song? I have tried but I cannot imagine a scenario where Matt or Kim would drink Bacardi. Maybe if it were a commercial for smiles, PBR, biking, contact lenses it would sit better.

**** Today I got an e-mail request from a start-up lunch company asking for my “professional opinion” on their new line of sandwiches. Top 5 e-mails ever received.

*****A grand total of 0 people have told me this but I have to assume at least one person has thought it. So for that person….