Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lady Ga-Ga did it with Homer Simpson

A list of my favorite songs in the past 10 years would include thelikes of Foo Fighters “The Best of You”, “ Audio Slave, “Show Me How to Live”, Gavin DeGraw “I Don’t Wanna Be”, Maroon 5, “She Will Be Loved”.
I could go on, but the point is that my tastes have grown alarmingly mainstream.

The question is this: why did I feel compelled to use "alarmingly" in that last sentence? So a lot of people like the same music as me--so what? What's the big deal? Doesn't this mean I have good taste?
Of course it doesn't. To the vast majority of humanity, my mainstream tastes make me an unhip schmuck. Which is rather aparadox, I think. I mean, mainstream by definition means that lots and lots of people like it. So why, when I look around me in my little neck of the woods, do I find no sign whatsoever of Hootie fans or "Desperate Housewives” watchers?

I'm not just talking about my immediate circle of totally hipper than hip friends here. I'm talking about the girls behind the counter at the quick stop changing the station whenever a Joan Osborne songcomes on. I'm talking about the guy pumping gas telling me he finally watched an episode of "ER" to see what all the fuss is about and it was the biggest load of crap he'd ever seen.

Hatred of anything mainstream is endemic to our society.
Growing up, of course, everyone goes through a phase of the “if-it's-popular-it-must-suck” mentality. This is why all the bands on the college radio charts have names like Pap Smear and Homer's Other Tonsil and why film societies hold regular screenings of Fassbinder and Jarmusch as opposed to, say, Schwarzenegger andSimpson/Bruckheimer.
I went through this phase just like everyone else, though as far as I'm concerned, all distinctions between underground and mainstream became meaningless as soon as the Fox Network decided to give Matt Groening a prime time show. Don’t get me wrong, I love “The Simpson’s” but Homer on prime time? Gimme a break. Even the creator of the show can’t believe it’s still at the top after all these years.

When it comes to music, however, two things have conspired to make the mainstream loathsome and detestable to the teeming millions without making a sizable dent in sales.
One was the advent of "alternative," a concept which allows everyone to sneer at the mainstream while proudly slapping down that multi-platinum CD at the checkout counter because, hey, MY musical tastes are cool and "with-it" and, therefore, alternative, never mind if every teenager in America can identify each song by name in two D-tuned, reverb-laden power chords or less.

The other, more nefarious movement, was the trend towards playing popular music EVERYWHERE. To the point where you can hardly set foot on commercial property without being bombarded by ClassicRock, Top Forty, Adult Album Alternative, and every variation within.
Remember Muzak? Remember, better yet, silence? No, of course, no one remembers silence any more, but with Muzak we didn't know we had it so good.
All Muzak did was play the most innocuous, disposable classical music of all time, or take innocuous, disposable pop tunes and transform them into barely recognizable, instrumental laxatives that shot out your ass the moment they entered your ears.
It was annoying, sure, but you could forget about it the minute the automatic slidingdoors closed behind you.
I suppose Muzak still exists somewhere, but in my neighborhood, even Wal Mart plays R.E.M. now. The originals, mind you, muttered vocals, fuzz-tone guitars, and all. No clarinets standing in for Michael Stipe here. And now that I think about it, that would probably be an improvement. I’m so sick of Stipe and Bono and their “I hurt for you” bullshit that I’m ready to take a hostage…but I digress.

So… there's no escaping it. Any hit song, no matter how excellent, is pummeled into bland monotony as you hear it twenty times a day on the radio, in the store, on TV and blaring out the stereo of a passing car or even in your own car.
The result is backlash. Even those who went out and bought The new U2 album now flip the dial whenever that fucking “Uno,dos” song comes on again. The album sits at home gathering dust as they wait till they actually feel like playing the damn thing because they finally made it through a day when it wasn't forced on them by the Great Hype Machine and its determination to stamp out silence in all its insidious, revolution-fermenting forms.
Another song I can think of that underwent this form of reduction-thru-repetition is Green Day’s “American Idiot”. The first time I heard it, I probably liked it. Now, it has about the same impact on me as acommercial jingle about feminine itching.
I can only hope it doesn’t attain the same level of saturation as “The Macarena”.

The thing is, why have media saturation at all? There's enough good music in the world to go around, as anyone who has even the most vaguely eclectic taste can tell you. There's also plenty of opportunities for silence. Personally, I've found that "Just the Way You Are" does not help me pick out a better brand of toothpaste. And sorry, Ford and Chevy, but no amount of Bob Seger or Foghat can make me want to buy a truck.

Legend has it that some fraternities had a unique way of hazing their pledges. They would lock the poor kid in an empty room for 12 hours and pipe in some annoying pop ditty over and over again. Apparently their preferred tools of torture were songs like "Oh Mickey You're So Fine" and "Karma Chameleon," which would drive even the most patient quite insane but the point is that ANY song, played over and over again for a long enough period, begins to resemble the sound of one thousand dump trucks backing up.
Or, for me…ONE freaking Lady Ga-Ga song. Jeeezus H. Cracker! Make it stop!

Radio programmers, store managers, and canned music purveyors of every stripe would do well to remember this.

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