Crimes against Humanity: Clear Channel

During an exchange with the good Historian over Twitter a few years back, I learned that the flagship alternative rock station of Boston MA, WFNX, has been sold to the media conglomerate Clear Channel. While much of WFNX’s ‘identity’ (its catalogue, call letters, etc.) remained the property of the local media company Boston Phoenix, it is a sad day when one of the better radio stations in the country goes the way of the evil empire.

Why is Clear Channel Evil? First, let’s be clear about what Clear Channel is: it is a media corporation that not only includes billboards (sight pollution) and hundreds of radio stations across the country (noise pollution), but it has also dabbled in television, live events and news. Its modus operandi is to buy a station, strip it down to bare bones, and deliver one of its common formats like Kiss or Magic or some other anodyne and boring fare.

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Songs of the Year—1997

Go ahead you can laugh all you want
I got my philosophy
Keeps my feet on the ground
And I trust it like the ground
That’s why my philosophy
Keeps me walking when I’m falling down
–Ben Folds Five

Songs of the Year: “Super Bon Bon,” Soul Coughing; “Bury Me,” Guster

Runners-up: “Philosophy”, Ben Folds Five; “Stickshifts and Safetybelts,” Cake

Honorable Mentions: “Firestarter,” The Prodigy; “Tubthumper”, Chumbawumba; “Hypnotize,” Notorious B. I. G.

In 1997, I went to college. I had the grandest of opportunities to re-invent myself. In life, rare are the occasions when you can literally trade in your old mask for a new one. So, I changed my clothes (a little); I broke up with a girl over Limp Bizkit and I went off to conquer the world.

Or something like that.

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Everything (is) Good (On Criticism)

“When the critic has said everything in his power about a literary text, he has still said nothing; for the very existence of literature implies that it cannot be replaced by non-literature.” Tzvetan Todorov
“Fuck y’all, all ya’ll / if ya’ll don’t like me, blow me” Dr. Dre

In The Simpsons Episode 229 (“Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner”), Homer’s ability to speak eloquently and evocatively about food—from his own gluttonous experience—earns him a position as a restaurant critic. His early enthusiastic reviews attract the gratitude of the restaurateurs and the scorn of fellow critics who see his approach as too easy and, I suspect, unsophisticated and popularizing.

Under the spell of the evil critics’ cabal, Homer becomes an all too easily recognizable caricature of a critic who barely deigns to judge his material and whose blistering reviews can be explained only by how elevated and sophisticated his taste has become. Of course, Homer can’t have it both ways—he cannot be the food-loving hero of the people and the gastronomic esthete.  The restaurateurs conspire to poison him.

What does this have to do with music? It flirts with several issues at the center of criticism—issues that make the act of reviewing or judging music, for me, nearly paralyzing. What is the relationship between the critic and the object of criticism? Is it love for the form/genre? Is there a profit/commodification link between the two?

These questions are not restricted to food and music—indeed, anyone who has followed the 20th century crises in literary criticism will recognize some of the same issues. Why does a critic make judgments? Is it to  understand the specific instance of a genre or the genre as a whole? Or, more problematically, how can we tell when the review stops being (primarily) about the object of criticism and instead is really about the critic?

In reverse order. Criticism almost always reveals more about the judge than the judged. And this isn’t a bad thing. For instance, each generation’s reaction to Shakespeare communicates the values, emphases, and historical contexts of that time. On the other hand, a great deal of criticism suffers from personality cults. Too many critics write for the purpose of glorifying the critic by revealing through the sensitivity of the critic’s judgments and the dexterity of his/her writing the superiority of the critic over the creator of the object, other critics, and, of course, the reader.

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Female Artists, Part 2: Mama can Rock

Brittany Howard from the Alabama Shakes gets the award for most bad-ass female of 2012. I listened to their record last year on a loop to the point where I can’t listen to it for a while. I went to four weddings that summer and it seemed it was always this or Otis Redding in the cd player. Mama can rock!

As promised, I’m finally bringing in the sequel to my post about Female artists and how we sometimes neglect to discuss them. The math test was a bitch and I am still working on that real job, but I must make time for this blog. So, here at 6:38 am on a day off from my other job, I will continue my exploration of females that I think rock. I foresee many future posts relating back to this topic until it’s just part of our natural discourse to write on the opposite sex.

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Songs of the Year—1997

Go ahead you can laugh all you want
I got my philosophy
Keeps my feet on the ground
And I trust it like the ground
That’s why my philosophy
Keeps me walking when I’m falling down
–Ben Folds Five

Songs of the Year: “Super Bon Bon,” Soul Coughing; “Bury Me,” Guster

Runners-up: “Philosophy”, Ben Folds Five; “Stickshifts and Safetybelts,” Cake

Honorable Mentions: “Firestarter,” The Prodigy; “Tubthumper”, Chumbawumba; “Hypnotize,” Notorious B. I. G.

In 1997, I went to college. I had the grandest of opportunities to re-invent myself. In life, rare are the occasions when you can literally trade in your old mask for a new one. So, I changed my clothes (a little); I broke up with a girl over Limp Bizkit and I went off to conquer the world.

Or something like that.

Continue reading

Crimes against Humanity: Clear Channel

During a recent exchange with the good Historian over Twitter, I learned that the flagship alternative rock station of Boston MA, WFNX, has been sold to the media conglomerate Clear Channel. While much of WFNX’s ‘identity’ (its catalogue, call letters, etc.) will remain the property of the local media company Boston Phoenix, it is a sad day when one of the better radio stations in the country goes the way of the evil empire.

Why is Clear Channel Evil? First, let’s be clear about what Clear Channel is: it is a media corporation that not only includes billboards (sight pollution) and hundreds of radio stations across the country (noise pollution), but it has also dabbled in television, live events and news. Its modus operandi is to buy a station, strip it down to bare bones, and deliver one of its common formats like Kiss or Magic or some other anodyne and boring fare.

Continue reading

Everything (is) Good (On Criticism)

“When the critic has said everything in his power about a literary text, he has still said nothing; for the very existence of literature implies that it cannot be replaced by non-literature.” Tzvetan Todorov
“Fuck y’all, all ya’ll / if ya’ll don’t like me, blow me” Dr. Dre

In The Simpsons Episode 229 (“Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner”), Homer’s ability to speak eloquently and evocatively about food—from his own gluttonous experience—earns him a position as a restaurant critic. His early enthusiastic reviews attract the gratitude of the restaurateurs and the scorn of fellow critics who see his approach as too easy and, I suspect, unsophisticated and popularizing.

Under the spell of the evil critics’ cabal, Homer becomes an all too easily recognizable caricature of a critic who barely deigns to judge his material and whose blistering reviews can be explained only by how elevated and sophisticated his taste has become. Of course, Homer can’t have it both ways—he cannot be the food-loving hero of the people and the gastronomic esthete.  The restaurateurs conspire to poison him.

What does this have to do with music? It flirts with several issues at the center of criticism—issues that make the act of reviewing or judging music, for me, nearly paralyzing. What is the relationship between the critic and the object of criticism? Is it love for the form/genre? Is there a profit/commodification link between the two?

These questions are not restricted to food and music—indeed, anyone who has followed the 20th century crises in literary criticism will recognize some of the same issues. Why does a critic make judgments? Is it to  understand the specific instance of a genre or the genre as a whole? Or, more problematically, how can we tell when the review stops being (primarily) about the object of criticism and instead is really about the critic?

In reverse order. Criticism almost always reveals more about the judge than the judged. And this isn’t a bad thing. For instance, each generation’s reaction to Shakespeare communicates the values, emphases, and historical contexts of that time. On the other hand, a great deal of criticism suffers from personality cults. Too many critics write for the purpose of glorifying the critic by revealing through the sensitivity of the critic’s judgments and the dexterity of his/her writing the superiority of the critic over the creator of the object, other critics, and, of course, the reader.

 

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The Desert Island List

Popular culture is filled with lists and list-making—from top 100 (or 25 or 10) shows about sports, music and movies, to magazine articles (top 65 sex acts!) to, yes, blog entries. We can’t seem to resist making ranked lists. I don’t remember this being as ubiquitous when I was younger. Indeed, from my reading of literature and history this seems to be a peculiar mark of our age.

(That is not to say that the act of ranking or other judgment was any less important for prior generations but rather that the particular form of the rank listed seems at home and entrenched in the past 20 years or so.)

The ranked list is at once enchanting and distorting. By selecting and sorting items we create hierarchies of value. So, perhaps one influence on the ranked list may be found in the particular form of American free market capitalism (although, I wouldn’t jump to defend this point). We like the list because it is a simple, even elegant, expression of where items stand in relation to one another—essentially of how much they cost. The list, then, is a statement, a declaration of relative worth.

The list, however elegant, is also a fine way to distort value because it says nothing about the quality of items on the list in relationship to categories excluded from the list (e.g., a list of great books compared to a list of great paintings), it provides no information about the relative quality of the items on the list (is item 1 as much better than item 2 as 2 is to 3?), it indicates in its absolute form nothing about the context of the list composition or the parameters imposed upon or by the list maker.

Yet, I suspect because of this distortion, we continue to make lists. (We like the simplicity of the leveling effect.) Another feature of this may be that our world of judgment, especially when it comes to taste and choice (restaurants, music, movies, etc.), is so crowded that to make any decisions at all one must at some level ignore most options. Yes, as horrible as it is to admit, most of our consumer decisions are rendered arbitrary by the overwhelming number of our options. We can only choose by disavowing either many aspects of the choice or a plurality of options. Listing becomes a convenient way to carve a manageable set out of an endlessly replicating and expanding field.

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What the fuck?

What the fuck?

What the fuck? This is a question I find rolling around in my head far more often than I’d like and I don’t think I’m in the minority. Anything can trigger this, from a stoplight taking too long to odd developments in personal relationships to learning that the whole country is running out of orange juice due to a hard frost in Flordia. It is hard to define as it’s so universally applicable, but its safe to say everyone has their own “what the fuck” moment. Many are associated with music due to the cathartic nature of listening to your favorite tunes to relieve stress.

What do I mean specifically? Those times when you feel like the world is out to get you and your response is “Well, what the fuck?” In times of more clear thought, most of us realize that shit happens and this is the way of the world. It’s almost certainly not a personal thing, but rather the randomness of existence. This can be easy to say but hard to actually accept all at once. In time though, at least in my case, I calm down and realize you have to roll with the punches.

One of the biggest uses of music is therapy in whatever form helps you the most. I can say from experience that listening to music and playing it is one of the healthiest ways to deal with stress of any kind.  This is why we can be listening to something and say,“This is exactly how I feel”, like whoever created the music just built a door to your soul.. I know I have a lot of these moments and everyone else does too. Ideally, we would have other people contribute these types of essays to really show how music helps so I will try and offer a good model for future contributions.

Moment: It’s the beginning of spring and nearly everyone I know is either not working or working very little. Gas prices are shooting up and from my observation, if this continues, the economy will tailspin right back into the shit. I have a Master’s degree that is doing me more harm than good as I live in a rural area that doesn’t value my field and will gladly take someone with less education so they can pay them less.

Thus, I work four part time jobs that are all on vacation or super slow this week so I’m at home. I have been doing yard work but mostly seeking more real jobs and lamenting the state of the world and my lack of female companionship. Again, this has to do with my location and conceivably my financial situation: I am in my mid-twenties where it really does matter how much money you’re making for romantic purposes. Basically, what the fuck? Here’s what I’m listening to.

1. Aenima-Tool: This has been a song I’ve listened to almost every day for probably six months now. I always knew of Tool but didn’t KNOW Tool until this summer when I spent some time reading about them and what they are all about. My verdict is that they are a truly amazing band with a sound philosophy and not a whole lot of obvious rock star bullshit. Their name is literally meant for the purpose of people using their music for whatever purpose they see fit and the reason their lead singer Maynard doesn’t explain the lyrics to their tunes.

This song is pretty clear though as it takes some of its lyrics from a Bill Hicks’ album called Arizona Bay. Youtube that shit right now for sure so I don’t ruin it for you! To sum up without ruining it, it is a sketch about the idea of a massive earthquake breaking off California into the Pacific which would now wash up on the shores of Arizona. From my interpretation, the song mostly outlines how Hollywood culture has pervaded every aspect of our modern lives–the chorus states: “the only way to fix it is to flush it all away/learn to swim/see you down in Arizona Bay”. This is all done over a clever combination of looping bass and guitar lines backed up by Danny Carey’s pounding drums. ( He is probably the best rock drummer in our day.Just to clue you in, the rest of the band will be in 4/4 time during a song and Danny Carey will be playing around them in like 6/8, which to me as a novice musician is mind blowing.)

Anyway, I am feeling this song right now due to my own frustration with the economic situation and the fact that you can’t turn on the TV without seeing another shade of this “reality” bullshit. You want reality? How about paying bills and struggling for health insurance? How about borrowing money from a complete stranger to pay for milk for your kids which is  a scene I just witnessed? Bleak, I know, much like the song, but maybe the only way to fix this whole thing is to flush it all away.

2. “The Ballad of Jim Jones” –The Brian Jonestown Massacre: I discovered this band, or rather rediscovered it, through the show Boardwalk Empire HBO. The theme song is another ill BJM tune, who are pretty awesome overall by the way, but this one just popped up when I was searching for different tunes by them. It sounds like a drugged-up Bob Dylan circa The Times they’re changing but actually able to hit the high notes. The song is a musical tale of the band’s namesake, the Reverend Jim Jones himself, his journey to his utopia and eventual mass suicide south of the border in 1978. He made everyone drink poison-spiked kool-aid in an attempt to  prove to the world you can refuse capitalism and embrace socialism. Yeah I know, it makes little sense to me too.

Oh yeah, Jesus was in on it too, which only further twists this lunatic philosophy and created a nice verse for this song:

“I prayed to Buddha, to Allah, and to Jim
I turned to Jesus and I stayed there with Him
I fell in deeper and I learned to swim”

Now I don’t condone mass suicide or extremism of any kind, but I do suggest an exploration of all faiths as this has worked for me. I got it from my old man who used to read from the Koran, Bible, and the Torah on a daily basis, saying “They all got some good shit to say”. Jim took this the wrong way and I think it’s an example of the crazy things people will do when they are down on their luck. This why it occurs to me now as I routinely witness Pyramid schemes at the banquet hall where I work part time and the general sense of desperation it what an apparently failing economy. Also, it connects back to Aenima with the swimming line and I didn’t realize that until right now as I am writing. That’s fucking cool and deepens the links between the songs.

3. “Indoor Games”-King Crimson: I’ve been on a prog-rock kick for a solid couple of years now and it doesn’t seem to be waning. It all started with an afternoon spent in a Subaru Outback driving slowly around a field and listening to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s greatest hits. Although also a huge Yes fan, I think King Crimson is the most badass of the prog-rockers and the most eclectic. With the lead guitarist Robert Fripp being the only constant member, their sound rarely stays the same for long and their third album Lizard exemplifies this. From the more pastoral epic sound of their first two albums, this one is almost like jazz metal and is unlike anything recorded before it.

My crazy neighbor Fred, whom I will describe in a later entry, told me to check out this song and he’s never led me wrong. He also has tinfoil in his hat but, again, that story is for another day. “Indoor Games” means little to me lyrically as I can’t understand many words and even less as I just glanced at the lyric sheet. I like it more because of the wide variety of sound, even just the multiple uses of guitars from distorted dissonance to simple strumming. I listen to this tune everyday as of late and I keep hearing different stuff which is something I look for in music. Lastly, during the late nineties, King Crimson toured with Tool as they are a very clear influence on the band affirmed by the bandmembers. So yes, everything does link back to Tool….or does Tool link everything? What do you think?

To start…


Why ?

As in almost any endeavor, this blog has several motivations behind it. First, and foremost, we decided to start this blog as something of a public conversation between us. This cooperative project, we hope, will allow us to hear each other’s voice and opinion more frequently than life currently permits; the public nature, additionally, will also let others tell us when we’re full of it. Second, both of us are also passionate about writing and were eager to establish a venue where we could write regularly and, at times, savage each other’s language and logic (in the nicest way, of course).

Third, and most importantly, we have both found ourselves dissatisfied with the way people talk about popular music. From the perspective of the popular critic and the fan, the myopic focus of new album reviews and the commercial emphases of old and new media have rendered even great music temporary and disposable. From the perspective of academic and theoretical studies—with the exception of some post-modern philosophers/cultural critics and their followers who see any cultural artifact as worthy of serious consideration—the high-culture/low culture divide has prevented popular music from receiving the reflective and insightful study it deserves. While the two of us will approach our topics in popular music in different ways, both of us maintain the strong belief that the songs that we hold dear possess deep and resounding meaning and, further, that the pursuit of such meanings will teach us much not just about what it means to say that a song is good but also what a song can mean to a specific time and place and, perhaps most importantly, what the love/hate/mere appreciation of a song can tell us about ourselves.

We are not so arrogant as to assume that we are really doing anything all that original or radical. Instead, our hope is that we can combine the many disparate strands of our own individual lives into something that, at the very least, we can learn from together. At the most, we hope to invite and excite conversations from others. At the least, we are happy with a virtual version of the debates we have when get together and try to convince the other to listen to a song.

Who?

We are two brothers—nearly seven years apart in age—who grew up in the backwoods of a New England state and who are now separated as well by several thousand miles. While music was always a part of both of our lives, differences in age when we were adolescents and in subsequent experiences have yielded predictably varied, and often conflicting, tastes in music. Despite these distinctions and the distance between us, what unites us is both a love of music and a love of talking about music.

The Elder

I, the Elder J went left New England to spend several years in New York City pursuing a PhD in a dying field of the Humanities. Now, I teach at a large state university in ‘real’ America. Before all of this, however, I was in crappy alt-rock bands as a rhythm guitarist and sometime lead singer. My love for music goes back to some of my earliest memories—my first babysitter played the banjo and the guitar; our mother plays the piano. My appreciation for music, however, is also informed (often only superficially) by post-modern philosophy and literary theory and by long-term study of the poetry of the Western literary tradition.

In all truth, I was probably most shaped by the music of my youth: the early days of rap on MTV, the alternative rock explosion, and the disintegration of major music outlets with the rise of the internet. (I did not send an email or use an internet browser until I was in college.) Music Likes: Independent rock; early alternative; some folk; some reggae; early hip-hop. Music Dislikes: Popular country; Opera; Death-metal.

The Younger

I’ve listened to and enjoyed music for as long as I can remember. The first cd I ever bought was the Foo Fighter’s self-titled first disc that had the big ray gun on the front and “Big Me” and “I’ll stick around. I bought that album because I had spent the fourth grade stealing my brother’s copies of Nevermind and In Utero and listening to them after he left for high school and before I had to go to school. Something about that last song about the fish having no feelings and shit really touched me as an 11 year old and I wore only flannel shirts until my sweating bothered the other students come spring time. I thought Kurt Cobain was the coolest person to live and remember crying all day when he died. Eventually I had to buy my own copies of all the Nirvana albums and I still have them.

My other earliest musical memory is hearing “Love on the Rocks” by Neil Diamond blasting from my parent’s bedroom in my family’s old lake house while coming back from an early morning swim with my siblings. To this day, I don’t know if my parents were fighting or fucking and truth be told, I don’t want to know either but I have always been a big Neil fan. I spend at least an hour a day reading about music and quite a bit more time listening to or playing music. I picked up the bass when I graduated college last year when and realized I just entered the worst job market in fifty years. I figured I’d use my time wisely which is the same reason my brother and I are starting this blog. I act like I know everything but everyone should know that nobody knows everything and there are few things I love more than a spirited argument with someone who knows more than I do. I like all types of music and will never tell you that you are wrong unless I am absolutely sure you are.