Summertime, Brain Surgery and Mocking Mumford

I was going to write a response to my brother’s summertime post today–I love the way that he combines gratitude for the coming of summer with wistful nostalgia for the summertimes of youth that we can never regain (and that were sweeter than first kisses and first fruits). But, as is our custom now as brothers, I am more over-extended than ever. I have taken an editorial position at an academic journal; we are moving into a new house; oh, I still have two beautiful but insane children.

I used to listen to this album over and over again while mowing the lawn as a sixth grader. Then I would ride my bike around town just in case I might see one of (several girls) I had a crush on. How did I stay so chubby with so much activity?

I wanted to write a short post because I keep thinking about Mumford & Sons. Following my brother, I fear, my appreciation for the band has decreased with each listening of the last album. Yet, I cannot get away from the fact that my 3-year old daughter keeps asking for me to play “I Will Wait”. The song has grown old for me, but she asks for it by name and it breaks my heart to see the bliss in her face when she hears it.

So, I was thinking about Mumford & Sons this morning, then I saw that the bassist needed brain surgery. The evil part of me wanted to make some snide comment about this connected to the band’s music, but I thought the better of it. Life is too short as it is; it would be worse than churlish to delight in someone else’s pain and danger.

But I was also thinking about Mumford & Sons over the weekend after my good friend from college, Another J, let me know about this humorous video mocking the band:

Now, as I actually mentioned on twitter, I felt gratified because this video mentions some of the same themes I mentioned in an earlier post (especially regarding the lack of drummer and the movie O Brother Where Art Thou).  Humor, even though we often take it for granted, can often be so much more insightful and critical than the sharpest critique because it approaches a subject obliquely. This piece is especially good because it also creates a “Mumford Band”.

Now, this might be a little painful or annoying for the band–but one thing is universally true: if people are making fun of you, you’re doing something right.

What do you think, brother?

East Coast vs. West Coast: Hippie-Folk Smackdown

So, recently, I was telling my brother the following anecdote, and it got me thinking about rivalry, throwdowns, and a less tiresome way to talk about new music than to list it and have me give you my thoughts.

A colleague of mine who is from NYC told me that he met a younger professional who insisted that the difference between Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. was that the former (yes, Pac) was real ‘street’ whereas the latter (Biggee) was faking it. This is why, according to this anecdotal fool, that the music of Tupac was so ‘real’ and the music of Christopher Wallace seemed fake.

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Grammys and Grammy Watching

450px-GrammySo, the Grammys are coming up soon and they promise to offer the typical menu of pageantry, performers, promotion and implicit prior authorization of music purchases. (Like that? Cynicism and alliteration at once?)

I mentioned not liking awards shows earlier this week, but I didn’t really state my objections rather clearly. For sake of clarity, then, here are my issues (and, yes, my brother, I am saying ‘issues’ the way our father would).

  1. The Grammys are about making money: The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (which gives out the award) was created by Recording executives. The process of nomination and the doling out of awards is really just one orgy of promotion for the recordings peddled by the sponsoring companies.
  2. The awards in every category are really about selling the most or being the best-known: It is obvious that to win an award, people need to know about you, but it isn’t true that just because something is well-known it is necessarily good or that it is better than something that isn’t as well-known. Further, just because a larger number of people buy something doesn’t mean that it is aesthetically superior. If anything, ‘products’ in wide circulation are often rather non-descript and mediocre.
  3. Awards shows are solipsistic and self-congratulatory parties thrown by rich people for other rich people. I think that says enough.
  4. The Grammys are historically bad at gauging important contributions to music: Pearl Jam won a grammy in 1996 for “Hard Rock Performance”, four years after Jeremy. Grammy voters are older and part of the record industry or institutionalized enough that they are universally conservative. Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991; Nirvana) is often cited as one of the most important albums of the 1990s. The year it was eligible for a Grammy The album of the year was Unforgettable …With Love (Natalie Cole). The Alternative album of the year was Out of Time (R.E.M). The next year? Album of the Year was Eric Clapton’s Unplugged. Alternative Album? Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. (Nine Inch Nails and Red Hot Chili Peppers got some love in the Rock Category but SIR MIX -A-LOT won the best Rap Solo Performance Grammy!).

The Academy authorized THIS? Perhaps I should rethink my criticisms….

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Love and the Lumineers

In the hit single “Hey Ho” from their debut album, the lead singer of the Lumineers declares that he can write a song (“I don’t know where I went wrong / but I can write a song”).  The album that contains this line proves the claim to be both hubris and truth. At least two of the songs are transcendent. Others are less than overwhelming.

After my brother posted his confession that he had endured terrible music all day just for the chance of  hearing “Hey Ho”, I decided that I should take a listen. Now, rather than telling me it was a good song and insisting I might like it (perhaps fearing another Gotye incident), my brother posted an entry about the song and left me to my own devices.

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