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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Gospel According to Fitz - Chapter 16: Music

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The fact of the matter is that you're all blind. Every last one of you.
No matter if you love screamo, ____core bands, rap, or good music, you're an idiot. Everyone has their own opinion about music, gear, and life, but at least they all think the same about the music business right now: wrongly.
Music is, was, and always will be a form of entertainment - showbusiness. I've brushed against this concept in my last blog, but I'll explain it in more general terms here.
My generation was one of the first to be full-fledged subject to the theory of multiple intelligences. The theory was started in the early 80s by someone named Howard Gardner and the underlying concept is that there are 8 ways people are smart. Absolutely everything anybody does in any way makes them intelligent. The folks who play hockey and can't spell or count can be considered to be in the same league of intelligence as doctors with no physical clout whatsoever.
There's absolutely no way you're stupid. But you are. YOU are. I'm not talking about idiots - I'm talking about YOU.
When I was at my grade 8 graduation (yes, the fact that it exists makes me sick) I was one of FIVE class valedictorians. If memory serves, there was the academic valedictorian (me, the real one), the artistic valedictorian, the athletic valedictorian, the religious valedictorian (Catholic school), and the school spirit valedictorian. The fact that they found the need to give awards to students who essentially cannot fail at age 13 is pathetic - but the need to make the odds of becoming valedictorian to about 1:10 is just nonsensical. Plus there were other awards.
Fast-forward 4 years. My kid sister's graduating from that school. The class is bigger, the kids look younger and smaller, but the concept's the same. She was also one of those five. Plus, the half of the rest of the class got some sort of subsequent award, beit for science, music, dance, gym, etc. Quite literally 50% of the entire class got some sort of personalized award of some sort. 1:2 kids.
Then the principal started handing out the generic awards.
That's right; every single kid in that class not only left with a diploma signifying their completion of a curriculum you cannot fail, they also left with some sort of extra award. You're EXTRA special in some sort of generic sentiment!
That same year I also graduated highschool as class valedictorian. The proportion of awards:students was befit the concept that the awards actually meant something. I'm still thefitz, dammit.
I'll'nt get to political but I believe that freedom is of utmost importance and that equality should not be enforced. People should earn their worth and if you're the best, you'll be considered the best no matter your race, age, or sex. If you're useless, you're useless because you're unskilled - not because you're a certain race, age, or sex.
I can understand the drive behind trying to introduce other sexes and races into vocational environments historically dominated by white males, even if I wholeheartedly disagree with it and think it does more harm than good. Requiring there be a certain number of women or visible minorities in a certain institution is more of a human rights violation than letting the cream rise and the shit sink. But still, I understand the reasoning.
But we were raised with institutions doing that with people's actual intelligences. We were raised being told that not only were we special in some way (which is fucking stupid but fine), but that specialness was directly translatable into intelligence. Not ability - actual brain thinky smarts.
We were raised knowing that we're all smart, special, and important. Then an anomaly occurred - people realized that there's a difference between self-esteem and ego. Put simply, self-esteem = 'I'm as good as...' and ego = 'I'm better than...'. So us kids had as low of a self-esteem as any generation before us, but with a raging ego that's never been seen before. 'I'm a piece of shit, but I'm still better than you'.
We were raised being told that things we were good ate/that made us smart/that we enjoy made us special and that absolutely nobody could tell us otherwise. After all, there are 8 forms of intelligence. Everything you like makes you smart in some way.
Then folks started feeling that way about music. Movies and music are pretty much the same in every logistic way; you act instead of playing an instrument. You recite lines, via bass or off a script. You have to deal with a fickle business and if you want to be successful you have to have mainstream appeal. Yet somehow folks started attaching songs to their personal existances in ways that movies just didn't.
Music is not art. Music is not life. Music is entertainment. Music is showbusiness.
Music's just a lot easier to get into, easier to experience, and easier to express interest in visually. It's hard to dress like a fan of slasher flicks but if you're a punk rock stoner...
And we were told that things that we find easy make us smart. And they're just as worthwhile as anything else. Hockey and the human genome. It's all good as long as you're all happy.
I mean, think about it - if everything we've ever done in school has made us smarter in some way, there's no way something we take interest in can be as simple as showbusiness. Nononono - there has to be some significant personal and academic purpose to it. That three chord shit about a generic love interest that applies to you because it's basic CAN'T NOT be meaningless.
Collect yourself for a second. Understand what I'm saying before we continue.
Now back to business. Literally.
Our music world is absolutely positively fucked up. Yes, there are a lot of idiots on UG/TB who say "it's all good as long as folks are out there making music" (and the fact that all their hopes, dreams, and best years are behind them nonwithstanding) but I have one fact that'll stare them in the face for the 10 or so years they have left to live:
There's a genre called pop.
Think about it for a second.
Pop stands for popular.
A song is considered to be popular before it is written. A band is considered popular before it is formed.
But pop's been around forever! Look at the Monterrey POP festival!
Look at it, asshole! Hendrix. The Who. Captain Beefheart.
I own a copy of Deep Purple's "Made in Japan", and on the inside of the sleeve it says "file under Pop Groups". Why? BECAUSE IT WAS POPULAR. People heard it, people liked it, and people purchased it. The PEOPLE made pop music. All the record companies did was print and promote.
As time went on, record companies became larger, and they began inventing bands - yes, we all know that, great. But people still hated that shit.
But the biggest change happened over the last few years. Here's an EXAMPLE - and ANALOGY. It perfectly illustrates exactly what I'm talking about so you can understand my concept. THAT'S ALL IT'S MEANT TO DO. ANALYZING IT FURTHER IS POINTLESS.
A few years ago there was a series of Juicy Fruit commercials featuring some faggy douchebag with a high-strung acoustic guitar singing a campy song about the product. "Get your skiis shined up, grab a stick of Juicy Fruit, the taste is gonna move ya..." The song was irritating as hell and each commercial ended up with the guy's guitar getting smashed or him ending up dead.
The song was irritating. People were happy when the guitar got smashed. A very successful campaign.
Now watch television. You'll see a smoking-hot-but-somehow-completely-generic-America n-looking girl named Julianne Hough promoting the product. How do I know her name? Because the commercial took the time to mention it in the corner. Chewing gum is now promoting a "pop" star... but anyway, yeah. She has great looks and no personality and she dances while promoting the NEW JUICY FRUIT STICKS! Wait, it's the exact same gum that's been around for 283902 years. Same shit under a new package. So what's that unremarkably mint piece of ass dancing over? Oh, what do you know? The exact same fucking Juicy Fruit song from years ago! The lyrics are identical, with the exception of "get your skiis shined up" becoming "get the beat turned up". Same melody, same key, same chords, same song. A different version of the same song. Quadruple tracked vocals covering an irritating and not-that-gifted voice.
Somehow, the song that was written to irritate the entire public is now cool. I'm not going to emphasize that point.
The television and the internet is telling us what to like and what is cool.
And since we were raised being told that we were super-smart and special, there's no way those stupid tricks would work on us. Right? RIGHT?
They've been doing that with music since post-grunge. And it's been a long, long time forming. And what really started it all? Rap. Yes, I blame Rap. Not the OGs who actually had a point to their music, but the second and 3rd generation jackasses who allowed a complete lack of singing or melody to become musically accepted. Starting at around Tupac.
But it wasn't so much their music that fucked everything up - it was their concepts. Rap had such a huge impact on the music business because it was so cheap to make, required so little effort from producers or musicians, and birthed some of the most visible personalities the business has ever seen. It was sound at it's most basic and easy to ingest. That approach then spread to every single genre in music and is the reason we're in the shit we're in.
I'm going to introduce to you the concept of THE THREE MOST DAMAGING CATCHPHRASES IN MUSIC HISTORY!
1 - 'Only God can Judge Me': This is when shit started going south. The phrase's original intention didn't last very long as suburban white kids started using the phrase to counter the fact that their parents were embarassed of them. This marked the point where "fuck you" became a legitimate response to "this song sucks". Music simply needed to exist to be considered legitimate and noteworthy.
b) 'Don't Hate': The most damaging phrase in music history, bar none. Not only is it on the banner of everything that's wrong with music and society today, but it's bastardization is yet another example of exactly how things went wrong. 'Don't Hate' was derived from "Don't hate the player, hate the game", which the Urban Dictionary flawlessly defines to mean: "Do not fault the successful participant in a flawed system; try instead to discern and rebuke that aspect of its organization which allows or encourages the behavior that has provoked your displeasure". That noble and intelligent concept turned into 'Don't Hate', which, from what I understand, means... I have no understanding of what it means. The best way I can describe it is that it means "you're just jealous and being jealous is not socially acceptable because you're smart in your own way and should have no reason to be jealous of my preferred medium because your own is just as good but no better than mine no matter what it is". That, or "I disagree, but feel like an asshole for having the opinion you have because I say so". This marked the instant where it was fine to have a positive opinion about something while all negative opinions are taboo.
iii. 'Nickelback doesn't suck. You might not like Nickelback but they don't suck. 30 million people like Nickelback': OK, so I might have paraphrased the actual quote, but that's pretty much how it went. It signified the instant where the rap concept of "fuck you I'm rich bitch" crossed over to rock. I don't suck because I have record sales. Seriously.
I had a conversation about music with a friend and all 3 quotes manifested themselves in his speech in some way. I countered them all with the Ahmet Ertegun line "Record sales don't mean you're good. McDonalds sells a lot of hamburgers." His response was that he likes McDonalds hamburgers. My response was that he was absolutely no taste in hamburgers.
Why are these quotes so damaging? Why is this a problem? Back to that in a sec.
People always blame the record industry for ruining music. They're idiots. The record industry is the only thing that's never changed. Since day 1, all the record industry wanted to do was make money. That's it. They wanted to make money with the least amount of effort possible. It's a business - that's what businesses do. Most return for the least effort. Boom. Keep scouts in the underground to find a big sensation, bring them to the mainstream, ride the wave with copycat acts until the scene has gone stale, and then bring up the next underground act your scouts have been looking for the whole time. That's how every era of music has gone up until rap became mainstream. The industry found a whole genre of easy-to-market music that required almost no musicianship, studio time, or post production. They found a whole wealth of up and comers. They found a genre that scared their audience into keeping them fresh.
If anyone says rap sucks and has lost it's way, the rappers will say "don't hate," the fans will say "don't judge", and the companies will say "they don't suck, they sell lots". And this generation has been taught that every single person is smart in their own way and they should accept what people do no matter what those people are doing to the industry they love. Let people do way they want, no matter what it does to me.
Now every single genre has unlimited life (metal and core bands, anyone? Death metal hasn't changed since 1991), the musicians are being sampled so they can pay them for 1 hour of their time instead of 10, and the musicianship is so stripped down everybody can identify with it. Since if you can identify with something, it makes you smart. And nobody wants to feel stupid.
So, how is this NOT the fault of the industry?
Simple. The music industry is the one that's calling the shots. This is the first time in the business' history that it reached structural equilibrium - the companies are telling the people what they want. And the people are lapping it up. They were raised being told they're brilliant and therefore there's absolutely no way they can make an uninformed decision.
Just like the Big 3 auto industry. Not the recent crash - the one from before with the oil crisis. When was that? The 70s? 80s? American companies told people they wanted huge cars with big engines that drank gas. Then the gas prices went up considerably. So the people switched to fuel efficient and smaller Japanese cars. And all of a sudden those guzzlers weren't so popular. And the Big 3 never recovered. They're all fucked now.
That's what's happening with music. The record companies are telling us we want this watered down, homogenized, robotic, easy to swallow, easy to make garbage, and like those gas guzzlers, we're lapping it up. Plus we were raised by schools and the industry to be super-accepting and to never be critical. There will be no oil crisis if things keep going at this rate. This shit will g'wan forever.
Critical feedback is extinct in this society and it's the reason the music business sucks. It's the fault of the people we're in the situation we're in. We're buying what they're selling. The industry's been selling and that's all they've been doing since their inception. We've just been telling them what we want up until the 2nd/3rd generation rap craze.
Every word you say about music that isn't "we need to burn down every record company warehouse" might as well be "I support the state of music today." Every time you hear Lady GaGa on the radio without smashing the device into pieces is allowing music to continue behaving the way it is. If you think "I can understand how someone could think that Amy Winehouse has talent beyond her hard-living gimmick" you're really thinking "I hope I never hear a song I like again". If an out of shape, non-dancing, lip-synching Britney Spears is coming to your town pretending to sing to songs she never wrote and you're not there with a torch, you might as well let aliens murder every member of every band you've ever listened to and enjoyed.
It's all on you. It's been way, way too long since you were allowed to openly dislike something.
"Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game" is exactly what the music industry and all its minions need right now. We need to be proactive. "Not my thing" no longer cuts it, and if you keep it up, you won't have a thing. You let the industry turn in this direction, and you're the only one who can turn it back. Screamo is the new hair metal. Modern rap is the new New Age. Let's grunge. Now. Get an axe and start grunging.
Music is dying and it's all your fault.
9:49 pm - 6 comments - 4 Kudos - Report!
Mr. Saturn wrote on Jul 29th, 2009 9:40am

Music will never die, it will always be alive inside each and every one of us...


skippy_moogoose wrote on Jul 30th, 2009 7:43pm

Nice article, but the end does sound like you just want another 90's alt return. rather than lets be new, you're saying lets be the new Mudhoney or something, thus hitting hypocritcal time! But Im all for a new Mudhoney, I love grunge, its why I dont like Nevermind!


mwhan2209 wrote on Aug 3rd, 2009 5:50am

great blog


jazz_rock_feel wrote on Aug 5th, 2009 5:35pm

The music is business not art thing was incredibly depressing and a little bit confusing as reading later into the article you were basically editorializing on the fact that music has turned into a money grubbing industry with no real talent whatsoever. Anyway, the whole back half you pretty much hit the nail on the head with all the bullshit going on. High five!


Black Ox wrote on Aug 7th, 2009 4:45am

Damn, that juicy fruit stuff was deep and those three phrases were genious. Great blog.


samskii wrote on Aug 17th, 2009 10:44pm

Fitz, your blog seems to briefly address a wider problem than just music. As long as everyone is thinking the way you describe, most everything will be "This sucks!" "Screw you!" situation. I was a little disappointed that you ended without at least a slight widening of view. Still, inspirational in a Fahrenheit 451 style.


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