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.

 

 

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