Friday, May 20, 2005

More Dogs - March to the Scaffold

"Reality TV" is a misnomer, and thank god. Can you imagine how even more pathetic and soul-crushing TV would be if it bore any resemblance to your daily life?

"Next time on Jersey Turnpike Commuter, Carol can't believe how expensive gas is, and Peter is promoted to shift manager at the North Hoboken Starbucks!"

No thanks. Not that this should be news to anyone, but the term "Reality TV" is simply a marketing term to grind more grey matter because it's easier (and more pleasant) for people to imagine themselves on, say, Blind Date than on Homicide: Life On the Streets. (Which is ridiculous, given that Blind Date makes me pray for California and all its inhabitants to sink into the ocean, while Homicide was one of the most unflinchingly real, morally ambiguous shows on television. Guess which one is still on the air?) That's the paradox of entertaining the public: they crave something tangible, something they can relate to, something that "keeps it real", but that "something" must be so colourful and kinetic that they've only experienced it in their dreams.

It doesn't matter that Prince wrote "Raspberry Beret", a song about the spark of infatuation that we've all caught - he's still some weeeeeeird bastard who changed his name to some symbol and what the fuck was up with the face-painting? People can't relate to that. But apparently, people can relate to Snoop Dogg because he has a kid and coaches little league - and despite the fact Doggystyle was the first debut album ever to launch at number one, affording Mr. Broadus a lifestyle of such luxury that he spends more on a car than most people do on a house.

We prefer our authenticity spiced with ambiguity, with just a dash of exaggeration and white lies. It's much more fun to imagine Tom Waits asleep in your hat and stinking of gin than living on a farm with his script-editor wife and three children. In the realm of music, this leaves plenty of room for mythology and the cult of personality (provided our idols are defrocked by common humiliation and despair). While it's not necessary to commit murder to write about it, it's a better story when told by an ex-junkie Australian who dug his boots into the audience than by a bunch of white suburban boys from New jersey.

Which is why I can't be sold on a band like Man Man. They've got the whiskey-throated vocals and cabaret clatter to do a fine impression of Waits' Rain Dogs, but Waits was a genuinely gin-soaked boy who smoked like a locomotive to lacerate his larynx. I doubt Man Man's art-student singer is anything other than a good mimic. The crumbling Old World elegance of Man Man's music isn't the story of world-weary troubadours, but the product of well-read New Yorkers with Kurt Weill in their record collection.

But I am totally sold on More Dogs' continental quirk. Maybe it's just because I know their hometown of Baltimore is home to true thugs, brigands, bohemians, thinkers, and tinkerers; I've seen the junkies passed out on church steps and heard the songs of street-preachers. Maybe it's that More Dogs, rather than merely memorizing Bone Machine's clang-boom-and-steam, weave together cartoonish percussion, krautrock rumble, and Nino Rota's melodic whimsy for a more singular sound. Maybe it's distinction between study and lunacy that Plato made: "He who approaches the temple of the Muses without inspiration in the belief that craftsmanship alone suffices will remain a bungler and his presumptuous poetry will be obscured by the songs of maniacs."

Maybe it's none of these things. But I do like it.


perplexed said...

surely you fabricated that quote. NJ is home to some of the world's cheapest gas. I even managed to find some for $1.99 (cheap-fuck regular, of course) when I was there for mother's day. and the poor bastards in the hats are required by law to pump it for you.


Seb said...

I just pulled the whole "Turnpike Commuter" thing out of the air because it struck me as potentially the worst show possible. (Though be careful what you wish for.) I've never had a car, so I'm not really qualified to compare regional gas prices. Forgive my maligning of the Garden State, sir!

randy said...

Sounds like the Oompa Loompas are restless.

Jim H said...

oh man, if you liked Homicide, check out The Wire - made by the same crew but really no holds barred and all the stuff about the police they couldn't do on network TV.

I too have my Baltimore crime stories - the criminals there are infinitely more interesting than the boring smash and grabbers here in DC. At least they talk to you and tell a good story while they're robbing you.