in which i go off for no particular reason about music.

I’ve probably written about this before, but I’m going to do it again.

I can’t put an exact date on when I decided irony (or the perception thereof) was killing music. Yes, my perceptions are clouded by the social climate of the city in which I’ve spent the majority of the past decade, but if nothing else, this means I’m a bit closer to the pulse of the zeitgeist–really, shit happens on the coasts before it happens anywhere else, and while the east coast tends to have marginal social groups innovating before anybody else, the west coast is where the dominant social paradigm seems to have stashed its younger, more creative selves. In short–the white people in the know represent the west side.

Lest I avoid a lengthy (and, yet, so typically Darryl) examination of my past and present relative to the musical scene at large, I’ll skip to the meat: the style of the youth, at least on the west coast of the U.S., directly relates to the music of the times. We’ve seen this pretty much since the transistor radio was plunked into cars around the country; whereas cinema is still too prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for the average (middle-class) Joe to contribute to much cultural change (although Youtube, for good or ill, seems hell-bent on changing this) and the finer of the fine arts are still the exclusive province of people with the luxuries of time and money to create, all it takes to record music these days is a decent enough microphone, your computer, and whatever instruments you can buy or borrow. (To phrase it better: how many “bedroom filmmakers” do you know–and no, you can’t count either pornography or Lars Von Trier.)

Somewhere between Kurt Cobain’s untimely suicide (really, he could have waited until he was old enough to see his first Rhino Records compilation rape his legacy before putting a gun to his head and subjecting us to the frustrating, if not amusing spectacle of Courtney Love raping it) and the awkward dueling spectacles of Kanye West’s id and Lady Gaga’s ego, music took hold of the emergent technologies available to it and, just as white people concocted the comparatively safe spectacle of the Beatles to create an iconic template for a safe, compartmentalized “revolution,” rich white males created a variety of interesting pop archetypes. Seemingly overnight, we got things like gangsta rap, to simultaneously keep the simmering Black urban youth from successfully integrating into middle-class culture and keep the rebellious white suburban youth from truly thinking outside the box by making it easier to rebel once they realized it’s a lot easier to ape Eazy-E than it is to, say, create and sustain a musical political movement. In fact, as a means of making sure the DIY rock scene never really achieved a level of relevance as the punk scenes once did, the cultural gatekeepers anointed their own safe, manageable proto-punk superstars (Green Day and, later, their legion of significantly lesser imitators).

I’m not telling you anything new, here–in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m treading on redundancy in my own corners of the blogosphere–but it still never ceases to amaze me how today’s musical (and, by extension, youth cultural) paradigm is so influenced by the superficial trappings of the 80’s that they completely missed the point of all of it. The 80’s, despite some of my vitriolic insistence to the contrary, did contain a lot of useful cultural details–but most of that useful, valuable culture developed as a reaction to the dominant culture of the time. It disappoints and disgusts me most of the time to see people completely having missed the point. To see spikes, mohawks, power chords and basic 4/4 songs in a time in which just about anyone with a couple hundred dollars and a little time on their hands can learn how to play their instruments well enough to sound like they actually care about how they sound is annoying enough–to see those useless anachronistic trappings carrying an ideology amounting to little more than “I like to get fucked up” borders on sacrilege.

Boring, nauseating, cringe-inducing sacrilege–and that’s not even getting started on the whitewashing of hip hop, by which I mean the dumbing-down to guarantee its listeners and advocates lack the motivation to reach any degree of social relevance. I do enough carping about that bullshit in shorter forms that I feel expounding upon it here would be useless–but I do think it’s especially telling about the designated social impact of rap music when the common justification for its existence in its current form is the condescending question of “well, don’t you want white people to buy it? Don’t you want some representation of ‘African-Americans’ in popular media?” Short answer: if that is the type of Black American archetypes white America wants, it’s clearly the exact OPPOSITE Black American archetypes that should be presented to young Blacks, and especially young whites.

Because anyone belonging to the dominant social paradigm is going to intrinsically be lazy about their cultural perceptions and projections. I don’t blame white people for that–well, okay, maybe I do a little bit, but y’all fucking deserve a little harsh judgment when people like me have to bend over backward to be nonthreatening in order to do something as simple as solve a workplace dispute (whoops–almost broke my silence on something I ought not to have) or, say, shop in peace. But, I digress. It’s unfortunate that white youth have become so lazy about their own culture and attendant subcultures that they go out of their way to find aspects of themselves in which they are marginalized. (And yes, I did just lump all white Americans into one culture. Deal with it.) With respect to music, it’s even worse (and prevalent) to see all young people marginalize themselves by staying within the comfortable confines of one paradigm. I’m referring to people who have to wear an immediately identifiable uniform, whose artistic sensibilities are as myopic as their worldview. Deliberately doing so is the trademark of a culture so ignorant of what the struggles of the marginalized were intended to accomplish that they take the pretty parts of that struggle and gloss over what it all was for in the first place, all the while claiming some winking meta-reference that never seems to be clear to anyone observing and certainly not for anyone involved.

Because, let’s be honest–not every winking reference, not every embrace of some stereotype for yuks among your enlightened liberal friends can truly be that well thought-out. If people really put that much thought into the content and observation intrinsic to their art, people like Jay-Z or Kanye West would be desperately digging through crates trying to come up with some catchy thing to mash-up with legendary producer Flying Lotus’s latest platinum-selling opus and selling it from the trunk of their car at Chuck D’s sold-out stadium tour. Hydra Head Records would be a major label, John Vanderslice would be as big as John Lennon, and Jack White would be perfectly content releasing his (admittedly) pretty decent music on CD. To put it another way–if everyone were truly “in on the joke,” there’d be no need for the joke in the first place. So, when I see acts like Die Antwoord or Das Racist getting paid for essentially embodying a subculture they’re ostensibly lampooning (pop for Die Antwoord, “underground” for Das Racist), or talented musicians like Lady Gaga adopting a meta-referential art-rock posture while churning out the same boring shit every other pop whore has been putting out since Madonna actually made pop whoredom somewhat interesting and provocative, I usually find myself trying as hard as I can to embed my face firmly in my palm. And, maybe most tragically, the thing that people like Robyn, Jemina Pearl, Jack White, or any of the slew of completely fucking soulless, ball-less, libido-and-soul-numbing-bitch-ass-wack-synth-pop-wink-wink-nudge-nudging-Soft-Cell-Gary-Numan-Depeche-Mode clones you read about in Pitchfork fail to comprehend throughout their peddling of their wares as some kind of postmodern interpretation of a classic theme is this: if it looks and sounds like the same old shit, it doesn’t matter how many “post” prefixes you slap on it–it’s still the same old shit.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: