Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is This It? - This is It: The Rise of The Democracy of Pop

In October of 2001 The Strokes released Is this It? With it, a previously trite 20-somethingism, rang oddly true. The Strokes were the reflection of a generation of disaffected youths at the turn of the millennium. This massive youth culture was slowly coming of age and was not happy with what they saw. Actually, it was more about what they didn't see, themselves. Now, almost exactly 8 years to the day, the film of Michael Jackson's concert rehearsal is soon to be released and is titled This Is It. In those 8 years what was "it" to the Strokes slowly approached its demise, and the Michael Jackson film (and corresponding death) marks that finally that "it" will no longer continue to exist. We have witnessed the fall of the King of Pop and in his wake has arisen The Democracy of Pop*.

The Democracy of Pop is defined by three features:

1) The Democracy of Information
2) The Democracy of Content
3) The Democracy of Fame

The Democracy of Information is the most simple of the three concepts. With the Internet reaching near omnipresence there is no longer exclusivity to information. Before bands like Dirty Projectors were relegated to radio station kids, but now they can just as easily be heard on a particularly adventurous suburban 13 year-old’s Bar Mitzvah mix. Similarly, give me a week and the Internet and I can become an authority on any somewhat relevant director of the last 90 years. The result is a marketplace of experts, who both contain a greater passion for culture and demand more from what they take in. From this stems…

The Democracy of Content, which is a concept I touched on with “Why doesn't anyone talk about how bad a name ‘The Beatles’ is?” No longer is our popular culture defined by its monolithic entities. In its stead we have a fragmented culture meant to appeal to niches of varying sizes. We have a generation of individuals looking to separate themselves from the masses, not find their place within. Democracy of Content means the individual has complete control over what they involve themselves with and those in power are forced to respond to these demands as best they can. Still, it doesn’t matter if they fail to because the content’s creators themselves have the tools to reach its audience due to…

The Democracy of Fame, which is a concept I touch on with “I Haven't Read 1984 in 9 Years. You?” and “Isn’t it weird that Marketing sounds like Marketing?” Fame in the broadest sense is now remarkably attainable by the masses and in turn has become much more desired. We are able to put ourselves out there in ways never before possible and to a scale never before imagined. And it is more than just reality television, for the ascension of the Internet has allowed artists direct access to their audience. A band can develop a noteworthy national fan base without once playing a show outside their hometown or receiving any major press. Like Bon Iver, who recorded a simple 10-song demo alone in the Wisconsin wilderness with no intention of releasing it. Yet slowly but surely a hungry marketplace was able to seek out his remarkable music. He became a legitimate superstar (to those who care to know him) without really doing much other than genuinely creating his art. Democracy of Fame means everyone has complete access to fame and an equal say in who becomes famous.

Subsequently, just like our political democracy, there cannot exist a ruling monarchy. There cannot be another Michael Jackson (at least not for this generation) because our culture is no longer built for it. Maybe we can have a President of Pop** or some Senators and Governors. These hypothetically appointed positions would be filled by artists that honor the fundamentals of our democracy. Meaning, there will be a rise of artists who have reached their stature directly as a result of their fan-bases and who respect their role as part of a culture of niches.

Like The Strokes did as a young New York buzz-band who begged the question, “Is This It?” which for last 8 years has seemed to be an ever present nagging to our culture. Every step of the way the question was there – when Ruben Studdard won American Idol - when we cared that Kim Kardashian had a sex tape – when Radiohead let the individual decide how much they wanted to pay for a record – when Kanye West asked Jon Brion to produce Graduation - when Grizzly Bear had a Top 10 album without any semblance of mainstream publicity - when food blogs readership surged as Gourmet was going under – when 4 of the members of The Strokes released side-projects that sounded like niche versions of The Strokes. Almost poetically, the lead singer of the Strokes is set to release his solo record on October 20th, perfectly timed to be his (and everyone else for that matter) last chance to rally against the “it” of the last 8 years. For just a week and a day later “This Is It” will be released and serve as the goodbye lap for the “it.”

Michael Jackson will be projected on thousands of movie screens, a shell of what he once was, singing the songs that united the globe. This film will seem quaint in the coming years, not because the songs will feel like classics (which they are) but because the concept of a globe uniting song will be oddly dated.

Now, I am aware this sounds particularly unromantic, however I very much beg to differ. I think the fact that I can genuinely record whatever music I want to with no backing money - no big studio production - no marketing push – and be able to have it listened by anyone all over the world is romantic. I think that a college student through the viral promotion of his Facebook group was able to raise thousands of dollars (and a ton of awareness) for Darfur is romantic. I think that an art collector being able to bypass the major gallery system and buy a photograph off an art student’s Flickr page is romantic. We are a generation that has been told that we can do anything we dream of, and maybe that means we are millions of capricious ne’er do wells, or maybe it means we can do anything we dream of. Maybe “this” was not ”it.”

* Consider the phrase coined!!!!

** I will not alone appoint a President of Pop because that would go against the Democracy I am currently celebrating (though Justin Timberlake and Kanye West are possible candidates). Still for fun, I would like to bestow the position of House Minority (maybe Majority) Whip to Girl Talk. Who to better rally people behind a fragmented popular culture than a man that will mix dozens of songs into one track. One song in the first 70 seconds layers Lil’ Jon on top of Procol Harum, which leads into Kanye West and BLACKstreet, which then leads into Michael Jackson and a different Kanye song and Radiohead, and it continues from there still while maintaining a breakneck pace. What Girl Talk is doing throwing everything out there and letting the individual choose what to respond to. I might like 7 of the 35 songs he will mash-up in any given track, but I will be really happy when they come up. Moreover, Girl Talk is known for his live shows, yet he doesn’t really do much onstage. Instead, his shows are selling out large venues across the country because of the fans. People go see Girl Talk to be part of the show, not to see him put one on. What could be more democratic than that?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

My GRE Vocab Flash Cards Are Cheeky

Below are direct quotes from a GRE flash card...

side 1:

(taa sih tuhrn)

side 2:

silent; not talkative

The clerk's taciturn nature earned him the nickname Silent Bob.

Synonyms: laconic; reticent

Thursday, October 1, 2009

10 - 1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The most interesting trend that I came to realize when making this list is how important lyrics were. I have always considered myself not a lyrics person. I viewed the lyrics as some sort of afterthought. However, when I look at my top 50 and especially my top 5 this seems to not be the case. Sure there are songs where the lyrics couldn’t mean less (I’m looking at you “Beating Heart Baby”) but from what I see from looking over the list is that the songs that I really care about have lyrics I really care about.

10. “Fake Empire” – The National

Speaking of lyrics, The National win. They are the only band that I actively sight lyrics for the reason I care for the band. “Fake Empire” is no exception ("Let's not try to figure out everything at once" is a lyrical hug) however it is the music that places it here. It is subtle and comforting like any good National song. But then there is the big horn break down, which knocks me on my ass every time. I would say we are looking at a 70% success rate of aural goosebumps by song’s end. (“7/4 Shoreline” also features a similar closing – I apparently like big horn arrangements to end songs)

9. “Daydreamin’” – Lupe Fiasco ft Jill Scott

I can’t imagine liking a hip-hop song more than this. First, you have Lupe doing what he does best, rapping about the trappings of “the game.” Beyond being exceedingly clever, the track showcases the fact that he is one of the few rappers with actually understanding of melody. And then there is Jill Scott showing off her remarkable range as a singer. But fuck range, the song is about her being an absolute powerhouse for the last 80 seconds. This song remains a master-class in hook singing. More than anything you get a feeling that the two performers actually care about what they are talking about, which is pretty much a revelation in the world of modern day hip-hop.

8. “Extraordinary Machine” – Fiona Apple

Every single time I listened to this song I am surprised. From the first time to right this moment when I am listening this song while writing, I am taken aback. Amazed by how peculiarly it is, how remarkably executed it is, how idiosyncratic it is. It feels like some sort of future-past, both so classic and so contemporary concurrently. More than anything it is pretty. Very, very, very, very, very, very, very pretty.

7. “Since U Been Gone” – Kelly Clarkson

This is not a guilty pleasure. “Since U Been Gone” is a kickass song. I believe I started taking it seriously when she performed it on the MTV awards. During which a bunch of water fell on her and her in-ear monitor went out. Kelly responded by basically screaming her voice off. She went all over pitches but I thought it was the greatest thing ever. Only in the Aughts could a TV competition winner singing a song written by two hired gun Swedes result in the best rock song of the last 10 years.

6. “For Reverend Green” – Animal Collective

I signed up for about two years ago. Also about two years ago I heard “For Reverend Green” for the first time. If you go to my ( you will notice there is no song I have played as much. To me this symbolizes that at this point in my life, it is exactly what I am looking for. At its core it is a straightforward rock song, however one filtered through the Animal Collective prism. The lyrics are mostly the silliness you would expect (I always somewhat related to the “A thousand wasted Brooklyners all depressed” line) and man, he is the best screamer I have ever heard. Basically, it’s a song I always, always want to listen to.

5. “All My Friends” – LCD Soundsystem

I somewhat like minimalist classical music. I don’t listen to it often but I definitely do enough to know that it is the first thing that attracted me to “All My Friends.” Musically, the song is deceptively simple and arrestingly beautiful. Still, what takes this possible Top 10 song and makes it a Top 5 are the lyrics. It is a song about getting older but also a lot more than that. If in the future they develop a solely aural dictionary and if you hypothetically looked up “bittersweet” in said dictionary, you would probably hear “All My Friends” (obviously depending on the hipness of the dictionary’s publisher). The fact is the song gets me every time.

4. “My Mathematical Mind” – Spoon

Most people reading this probably already know I am pretty OCD. Not in some Danny Tanner, need to clean things way, or that I need to turn the lights on-&-off 4 times before entering a room way, but its there. Generally, I am more compulsively obsessive than obsessively compulsive. I digress, “My Mathematical Mind” is the anthem of this part of me. A song about getting out of your head and just live for a second. “My mathematical mind can see the breaks/So I’m gonna stop riding the brakes” has become my mantra. Musically, it is what Spoon does best – acts really cool and throws in cool/rockin’ noises. In this case the song features a classic Brit Daniels anti-solo that has greatly influenced my guitar playing ever since. I need this song to exist, at least the OCD part of me does.

3. “The Rat” – The Walkmen

This song was my #1 for almost the entirety of the list’s existence. Though that didn’t work out, “The Rat” still remains securely in my top 3. This is mainly because if I was going to use one song to define my taste in the last 10 years “The Rat” would top the list. I first heard the song really by chance when they performed on Letterman (don’t worry, tis the attached link) and I was drawn to it immediately and still remain so ever since. The song is exceedingly immediate and undeniably brash. It is a song that defies you to try to listen to it passively – from the drum beat to the vocal ticks, the song confronts you. The song, like the character created by the lyrics, cannot be ignored.

2. “Skinny Love” – Bon Iver

I first saw Bon Iver when he was touring solo as an opener for Elvis Perkins in the winter of 2007. Completely unaware of his music, I went into it not really expecting much. Two songs in I was impressed and definitely interested, but than he took out his resonator guitar and started strumming the chords now burnt into my brain. By the end of the first verse I stood with mouth agape. And then there was the brief pause before he entered into the chorus…

“And I told you to patient...” he sung, with his voice cracking a little bit from trying to hit that note just out of his reach. I literally had a hard time breathing for a second and probably teared. This was the most genuine moment I have ever felt with an artist. Still there was another chorus and more strain on his voice. The second chorus ended with (and always ends with) “If all your love was wasted/Then who the hell was I?/And I am breaking at the britches/And at the end of all your lines,” which he sang like he really meant it (I wish it wasn’t so trite to say, but that night he did mean it). At that moment I was overtaken – I wanted to leave the show so I could go home and listen to the song again. I did make it through the whole show; however, I did rush home and listened to it again and again and again. About two years later and I still cannot stop. I am still overwhelmed, I am still affected, I am still taken aback every time his just misses the note when he sings “told.”

1. “Biomusicology” – Ted Leo & the Pharmacists

I think it’s beautifully apt (maybe too so) to end my list with this song. Simply, “Biomusicology” is a song about how important songs are. I don’t have an elaborate story behind hearing this song for the first time. I heard it junior year of college and loved it. Time went on and I loved it more. More time - more love, etc. Still one thing holds true, no matter when I am listening to it, I always want to hear it a second time. Everything in the world seems right as long as the song is playing. The song ends…

“All in all we cannot stop singing
we cannot start sinking
We swim until it ends
They may kill and we may be parted
But we will ne'er be broken hearted”

Which cues my heart to pump its fist in agreement. It is not a definitive Ted Leo song but it is without a doubt my favorite. Still what it came down to is this, “What song could I not live without?” This song was at #3 at first but then when I tried to play the list in order it just didn’t feel right. If I am going to listen to music, I need to be able to listen to this song. So when it is all said and done, Ted Leo earned the top spot the old fashioned way, by writing a song I could not imagine not listening to.