Sunday, July 17, 2005

Rock 'n' Roll Jihad

From the first time I saw the late, great Dismemberment Plan, I've had nothing but repsect for Travis Morrison. The man is a gifted embassador for funky white kids everywhere, a charismatic performer whose humour defuses pretension - both in himself and in his audience. As a participant in the indie scene, he's a sceptic who refuses to let people buy their own bullshit - a kind of college rock Jon Stewart.

So I was thrilled when Mr. Morrison, in a recent interview, eloquently explained an unease I've felt while surveying the musical landscape over the past year:

"Because of this impatience for intellectual comprehension – usually within 24 hours, within one listen – I mean, it’s very odd how the audible voices in intellectual discourse in music at this moment are enforcing an extremely pop view on things, as pop is any 15-year-old who wants records from Mandy Moore. It’s a very strange state. It’s the main reason why I don’t read rock press much anymore, because I can’t read all these smart people talking like 15-year-olds who are listening to Kelly Clarkson mp3s. I don’t feel like it’s very amenable to art. It’s not my definition of art."

In other words: since when the fuck did it become hip to buy into the Top 40? It's epidemic among the underground - both within artistic and critical circles - to find praise being lavished on music manufactured by Madison Avenue, and specifically for Ms. Clarkson. Offenders have included everyone from former Soul Coughing singer Mike Doughty (who praised Clarkson and prefab pop tart Ashlee Simpson on his blog) to New Yorker rock critic Sasha Frere Jones (whose current top five songs are by R. Kelly, Clarkson, Mike Jones, Amerie, and Lady Sovereign). Apparently activist singer/songwriter Ted Leo's disgust with mainstream America doesn't preclude a cover of Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone". Even the obscurist snobbery of the blogosphere is giving it up for heavy-rotation hits: critically acclaimed music blog Music For Robots has repeatedly and unabashedly praised Darling Kelly for her ubiquitous *ahem* "rock" hit.

Please don't get the impression that I have something personal against Kelly Clarkson, because I do not. She merely and dutifully follows the command of her pimps at RCA; she's a saccharine Horatio Alger story born of a television talent-show, and all she wants to do is sing, sing, sing. We should all be so lucky to have our dreams come true.

But I do have an axe to grind with people who should know better than to praise test-marketed, formulaic, auto-tuned, quantized self-advertising jingles. Among the offenders listed above, the partyline being towed is a refusal "to discriminate in pop music." This seems to be a semantic problem, with people confusing "discriminate" and "prejudice". Contrary to its conventional use, to discriminate is not necessarily a bad thing: it means your senses are tuned to detect the nuanced distinction between good and bad, high and low, art and bullshit.

So who the hell wants to be recommended music by some schmuck who refuses to dismiss tripe when he tastes it? Is no one else suspicious of music that comes ready to please and dying to entertain? Or is this some new nadir of irony, where the capital-H Hip outdo the common hipster by going against underground convention and buying into the mainstream?

Fuck that. Fuck all y'all. I refuse to see the Art I adore be tarted up like some cheap whore, eager to please and passed around for cheap thrills. Borrowing the phrase from Death From Above 1979, I declare ROCK 'N' ROLL JIHAD on anyone who is foolish enough to entrust the Big Five and other corporate cutthroats with the future of sound.

No amnesty for artistic treachery.


mo said...

preach it brotha. Awesome rant, very fun read. Miss you both.

::bode:: said...

'scuse me while i pretend to know what i'm talking about for a minute...

doughty's had a pretty strong yen for most things pop for ages, discriminating against neither country nor era of origin. ok, that's a weak defense, but we all know how i feel about mr. doughty.

ted leo's stuff has enough pop sensibility to begin with (discounting the lyrics), and in his clarkson cover he switches straight into "maps" because the guitar is exactly the same. could be a comment on homogeny or prefab. maybe.

point being: yeah, damn the man and most of the crap he produces, but don't hold me accountable for the christina aguillera on my playlist.

just sayin' is all.

jon the revelator said...

when the revolution comes
you'll hang for that aguillera stuff . . .

i mean in effigy,
we're not really gonna hurt peole for their taste in music.

are we?

(in heart i am a moslem
in heart i am an american
in heart i am an amercian artist,
and i have no guilt - patti smith)