Dave Matthews and the Golden Calf

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Dave, when he read my blog.

Those of you who read these scholarly posts may have picked up a certain distaste for the gentleman to the left over there.  More than likely you have had one of two reactions: a) you have pumped your fist in the air above your head and cheered me on, or b) you have felt a little sorry for the poor sod, sensed that I am just another merciless critic, hiding behind my computer and loquaciously getting even with all of the pricks in junior high that were more popular than I was (which was mostly everybody if I had to be precise). Honestly, I am still bitter about junior high but that is not why I pick on Dave Matthews.  Here is the weird thing: I really have nothing against Dave Matthews (except his dancing, which is not so much reprehensible but utterly clownish and therefore absolutely hilarious). To me he is like unsalted butter – flavorless, textureless. People say, “Dude, what’s there not to like about Dave Matthews? His band kicks ass!” To which I say, “Exactly!” What is there not to like? And therein lies the problem.  Dave Matthews, to me, is a symbol for all that is wrong with the current music industry.  Notice that I did not say music scene. Dave Matthews is like the golden calf that Aaron threw together when Moses took his ill-fated trip up to the tippy top of Sinai. They had nothing cool to worship, so they frikken’ made something! Like the golden calf, most popular music is all bling and no substance.  Now all of that is just fine until the masses get duped into believing that the statue is God.  The calf does not challenge one to be a better, more open minded, deeper person.  It allows you to remain exactly who you are comfortable being.

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Dave as Calf.

I remember playing “O Superman”, Laurie Anderson’s first 12″ single, for a couple of friends an eon or so ago.  They listened for a minute and said something akin to this: “You call this music? She’s not even singing.  There’s no melody.  This is weird!” If memory serves, I was forced to remove the record from the turntable.  Which was fine with me as they had a shitty needle anyway. But I remember thinking to myself, what the hell is wrong with people?  Here’s an artist pushing the boundaries of musical expression, experimenting with new structures and sounds, defying classification, and I’m forced to remove the record to make way for the latest dreck from Eddie Rabbitt and witness the self-satisfied look of placated contentment plastered across the visage of someone suckling from the mother’s milk of top ten radio. My feeling was not so much angry or resentful, elitist or smug, but hurt. I was not trying to offend anyone’s sensibilities.  Far from it.  I had brought this new music to my friends with absolute Love!  That little record had rocked my world and I wanted more than anything to share the experience.  So understand this:  When I write these blog posts and rail against the machine, it is out of love – love for the artists that continually take risks, love for the infinite human capacity towards creativity, and love for you, dear reader, for opening your ears to music that challenges the norm, that bucks the system… music that deserves and needs support!  Laurie Anderson says in O Superman:

When love is gone, there’s always justice.
And when justice is gone, there’s always force.
And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom!

Isn’t that a great line?  The humor, the depth, it’s all there.  Eddie Rabbitt says:
Well I love a rainy night 
I love to hear the thunder
Watch the lightning
When it lights up the sky
You know it makes me feel good
Isn’t that crap? C’mon, please, just admit it.  That song was #8 on the Billboard Charts in 1981, the same year O Superman was released. It was played on the radio every five minutes.  It was inescapable.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard Laurie Anderson on the radio.  Methinks that all kinds of folks out there are under the impression that songs are on the radio because people like them.  Thus, public taste governs radio airplay.  I am firmly convinced that it is precisely the opposite.  The radio plays it, therefore the people like it.
Imagine a world where all radio was like college radio.  Would record sales shift? You’re damn tootin’ they would!  If Dave Matthews and John Mayer were regulated to some static-y radio station so far down the dial that your carpal tunnel acted up just getting there, then I sincerely doubt that they would be household names.  Here is my plea:
Listen to something new.  If you don’t know how to find something new, go back and check out any one of my earlier posts. Find something you’ve never heard of.  Relax and really listen.  The artist created it because they thought it was beautiful. Find that beauty.  Relish it.  Try this every day.  Challenge yourself and your conceptions of beauty.  Why should you do this? Because it is good for the soul.  You may decide to say, “Fuck you, lacunamusic man. Fuck you and all of your blathering on about art.  I like Dave Matthews and there’s nothing you can say or do to change my opinion. So there!”  To that I say, fine.  Shun my love. You’ll be sorry when I’m dead.  (That’s something that my grandmother used to say to me when I was  kid. It’s very effective.)
Something else my grandmother used to say.  After quietly watching some musical performance on TV she’d mutter to herself, “Ah, they’re only clappin’ ’cause it’s over.”  My grandma was a smart lady.
For your first listening assignment:

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Thanks for that cigarette….Thank you very much.

Who is this masked man?

In my last post, I preached mightily on the virtues of comparison restraint.  I am now going to completely contradict      myself.  Can I do that, you may ask yourself?  Of course I can!  I can do whatever I want.  I mean, really, look at Congress.  Here’s what I am about to do… prepare yourself, because it might piss you off.  I am about to compare an artist with balls to an artist without balls (at least on his last outing).  I am about to compare an artist who has just birthed an album of lyrical complexity, humor, and adventurousness to an artist who has just put out an album that is about as dull as a bag of hammers – with lyrics that seem to have been penned as a afterthought and music that verges on self-parody.  Get ready everybody, because I’m about to tell you who these artists are. One of them only a handful of you will recognize, the other all of you will feel like you know intimately… and then you’re going to get all self-righteous on me… “God, dude,” you will say, “you are so uncool.”

But first, let me rant about one thing:  the music industry is unjust. (See my interview with the brilliant Richard McGraw as case in point.)  All my life (well, at least since I was old enough to formulate this idea) I have bitterly resented the fact that exceptionally creative artists often are woefully underappreciated.  Yet there has been another, perhaps more diabolical, side to me that has relished the obscurity of my heroes. Perhaps this is based upon the, sometimes very real, fear that if said artist were to get “popular”, then they would lose their edge.  Would I begrudge my musician friends wealth and popularity so that I could have them all to myself?  Of course not, silly!  But I would feel awfully sad if those artists started putting out a load of crap to satisfy the throngs of people so ravenous for drivel; those who wish to be spoon-fed their music – music so formulaic that it should be distributed through tiny nipple-like ear-buds… oh wait… it is…  Dave Matthews comes to mind.  (Just kidding, I just like to pick on Dave Matthews. Mostly because of the way he dances, but that is beside the point.)  You are probably asking yourself at this point, what is the point?  Not of life, but of this article.  I guess there are a few points.  I’ll put them in bullet points:

  • Why is the musical taste of the masses so crappy?
  • Why do I think that the musical taste of the masses is so crappy?
  • Why can artists, who are so popular that it hurts my brain to even think on it, put out music that is so incredibly crappy, and then be lauded the world over for their “brilliant” new best selling record?
  • Who is putting these records into the charts, Congress?
  • Most importantly, is it possible for listeners to hear true genius if it comes in the clothing of a foreigner?

I don’t actually plan to answer these questions,  but they are very good questions, don’t you think?

{As an aside, I had a friend whom I respected deeply for his incredible mind.  He was also just a really nice guy. One night over dinner, I made a snarky comment regarding Beyonce’s music.  He replied that he loved Beyonce and thought that she was a genius.  After I wiped the food from my lap, I admitted that perhaps I had been perhaps overly critical.  Here’s the thing:  I can listen to and thoroughly enjoy music that many others would consider to be really crappy – “noise”, one might go so far as to say.  But put on a Beyonce song and I immediately start to recoil in disgust. My fingers begin to form little knots. My face gets all ugly and squinched. My feet transform into ugly, warted talons. I hunch over and my bones protrude. If the government is reading this, you now know how to coax information from me. No need to pluck fingernails from my dainty little hands; just put on a Beyonce record or worse yet Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, any of that ever so popular ilk… wow, I even had a hard time typing those names. I think I need to salve my typing fingers with a bit of Traumeel…  I’ll be sure to tag them for this post so that I get some readership.  See?  See how quickly we sell out?}

By now you are probably irritated with me, and for good reason because I have not yet told you the artists to whom I am referring.  Ok, fine, I’ll tell you.  One artist is Dan Carbone (Kingdom of Not) who has just released his new album “Journey to the Far Side of the Room” which is so utterly and completely and mind-blowing-ly good that I’m still reeling weeks after first laying ears upon it.  The other is the new Thom Yorke project, Atoms for Peace (AMOK), which is so utterly and completely and mind-blowing-ly crappy that, well, I just can’t believe how crappy it is.  Here’s the deal, just so’s you know, I really tried.  I really wanted to like AMOK. I did.  I even purchased the deluxe edition with the trust of a suckling babe in arms that Yorke would, yet again, put out another great record.  I’ve been a rabid Radiohead fan since The Bends.  I loved The Eraser.  Now, admittedly, I was put off a bit by the presence of Flea as bassist.  But even those decisions I trusted.  “Thom knows best”, I said, starry-eyed. I listened to it again and again… to no avail.  My boredom went from simply lackluster to stupefying.

Dan Carbone has just unleashed into an unsuspecting world a silver disc so brimming with creative genius that it’s amazing it doesn’t get all over you when you remove it from its modest fold out slip case.  Thom Yorke has placed in elaborate and ridiculously costly packaging the most boringest turd of an album in an otherwise illustrious career.  Allow me to simply recite a lyric or two to illustrate my point:

“Dropped” (Thom Yorke)

It slipped out of my hands

went deep down

wandering

stumbling

I don’t wanna start

don’t want to start

when I got your heart

I got your heart

it slipped down

out

of my hands

and flipped

out

went wandering

stumbling

and I fell apart

I fell apart

I’m sorry, but what the hell, Thom?  If you are going to pen lyrics with such incredible vacuity at least do what Led Zeppelin did and wrap them in some testosterone fueled rock and roll, some swagger, a little empty-headed pride.

Now Mr. Carbone:

“Why Do Kitty Hide Under My Bed?

Why do Kitty 
hide under my bed? 
The pretty, pretty baby 
All under my bed?

Does she sniff at the dust? 
Does she nibble on strings? 
Does she scratch at the floor? 
Does she stare at the springs?

There’s so much out 
In the big, wide world 
There’s goldfish tales 
And mother-of-pearls

There’s a mountain or a valley 
Or a forest or a lake 
So why do kitty crawl 
In cold, dark place. 
With her big yellow eyes 
And her furry, little face! 

Why do she hide 
there all day long 
When little yellow 
Birdies are hopping 
On the lawn?

Now a king or a queen 
Might go to sleep 
On a satin sheet 
Or a feather mattress 

But Kitty will snooze 
On top of old shoes 
And old fingernails 
And lost eyelashes

Why do Kitty 
hide under my bed? 
Pretty, pretty baby 
All under my bed?

She might look for just a 
Just a moment at your diamond ring 
But then she runs back to 
Her ugly little things

Leave her alone with her 
Ugly little things

She is very, very happy 
With her ugly little things.

AMOK is filled, beginning to end, with signature jittery drum programming (supposedly there’s a drummer on the album… someone find where he is playing and tell me, ok?), and Thom whining lyrics like the above to nifty little guitar riffs.  Journey to the Far Side of the Room, on the other hand, is like strolling through the most excellent of acid trips, an adventure waiting around every corner – a panoply of lyrical and musical delights.  I laugh, I’m puzzled, I’m delighted, I’m touched, I’m astounded… all these responses just within one song.  During Radio Beam in Your Dreams there is a freak-out guitar section spanning well over three and a half minutes with Dan intoning the words, “I see you…  In your dreams.”  Whatever you might think of things like this, you have to give it this:  It’s got balls!  Balls and vision.  Vision to see behind the dark corners of musical flavors and textures, and the balls to dwell in the chthonian shadows of myth with a wry grin and a ball-point pen.

I urge you, I implore you, watch Dave Matthews dance and try not to laugh (again).  Here’s something else to try: take a sip from the elixir of weirditude.  You may spit it out the first time, but then, maybe weeks later, you may find yourself craving it or just curious.  Give in; take another sip.  It may taste differently.  Come on, admit it, at first blush you didn’t like the taste of beer.  Now you’re all like, “I fuckin’ love beer, man.”  Am I right?  Broaden your horizons.  Go listen to one song by Kingdom of Not.  Better yet, buy the damn cd because I said so.  I guarantee you will not be bored.  Then you will perhaps care to join me in my little hater-of-all-things-commercial world.  You will join me in my “Why do the masses have such crappy taste” chant.  You will hold up little banners extolling the virtues of the adventurous.  The idea brings to mind the Kevin Ayers song (Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes) where the bartender with the nasty disposition is offered a “special” cigarette:

He said, my oh my, I have suffered to long

And this cigarette seems to be very strong

I don’t make the rules, I just get what I take

And I guess every rule was made to break

You can take what you like, it won’t hurt me

Cause I’m just working for the company

From the green cigarette, he took a long drag

And said, I think I’ll pack my travelling bag

I’m tired of cheating, and wasting my head

And filling the boss’s bags with bread

I want to get out in the sun and rain,

And feel the wind on my skin again

The world is large, and I’ve got time yet.

And, by the way, thanks for that cigarette.

Thank you very much.

You’re welcome. You are very, very welcome.