Tuesday, May 24, 2005

let's slow things down a bit

Okay, so if you've been hanging around here with any regularity you've probably noticed I've got a bit of a 'problem' with music. A problem like how Barry Bonds loves the cream and the clear. A problem like Chet Baker. A problem like Ron Popille and swimming. I like the stuff. Consequently, I dig about on various music sites and take in as much information as I can about what's new, what's not, and pretty much everything that's good and out there for consumption.

Today I came across this article on Stylus magazine, a magazine that's not as smug and snarky as Pitchfork, but every bit as committed to the new stuff on the indie and weird music scene that's out there. I've only been visiting there every so often for a month or so now, but this story kind of took me off guard. It's basically a 'think piece' on the massive influence and talent of REM, specifically, their wonderful album "Reckoning."

Now, I adore REM. They were probably the first band I stumbled upon and decided I had to have just about everything they'd laid down to CD (yes, my 'problem' doesn't include vinyl, which I think may be a line of sorts). So, yeah, I loved "Reckoning." Listen to it soon if you get a chance, the thing holds up really well for something that was committed to tape in 1985. It doesn't sound like something that paired with a year marked by Miami Vice and Miami Sound Machine. In short, it's great. Now maybe here's what seperates me from the Big Boys on the music doofus scale, but apart from some more analysis as far as how things sound, if I wanted to go that route, that's what you'd expect out of a deconstruction of the album.

Stylus, for better or for worse, goes one step further. There's talk of syncopation. There's talk of sixteenth notes and something called 'I-ii-V' in song structure. Right about there is where I stopped giving a shit.

I love the album, and I'm right there with you, but you've just taken all the blood out of the patient, doctor. I admire the writer's skills for breaking down the chemical elements of what makes "Harborcoat" and "So. Central Rain" great tunes, but all the joy, the visceral pleasure, the gutteral reaction to what makes the songs wonderful are stripped away, leaving only a crude and interesting looking metal frame. It's interesting, but it's also very very cold, and you can hardly see what made the work beautiful. No on diagrams a sentence from Salinger, Bellow or Steven King to find out why it rang so wonderfully, at least no one who I want to talk to. They just enjoy it.

Maybe I'm wrong. I don't have a musical education, a turntable, or a hermetically sealed stash of albums I used to spin at four in the morning on my college radio station. Sometimes I wish I did, I'd be able to jump and play in those lands. But, I'd probably get to go outside a lot less. Okay, I'm kidding there. But let me pledge that you won't hear me stepping up to the chalkboard to showcase my qualifications in that manner. I'll just tell you something's good, why I subjectively think so, and invite debate. If you counter with a discussion of where, say, Bill Berry's high hat falls on the beat and how that makes everything sound that much better, you will be ignored. Oh you will.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

the silver ring thing

Y'ever get the feeling that we as a nation, if not a people, are just getting dumber? Videogames are everywhere, turning us into willing entries into The Matrix, an exciting Grand Theft Auto umbilical keeping our attentions at a little silver box instead of the outside world. Our president is lauded for his 'plainspoken' style and inability to pronounce simple everyday words. Lindsay Lohan will soon be a million-selling artist. The most watched shows on TV concern who will be the pop star/million dollar winner/survivor (although no one, it seems is ever really under the threat of death on the program).

Fear not. Steven Johnson is here to ease your mind, if you happen to be using it at the time. In his book Everything Bad Is Good for You, Johnson posits that videogames make you smarter, forcing you to work out complicated problems, citing the popularity of "Sim City" and how lengthy the story of Grand Theft Auto is when printed out (something like 54,000 words). Television, actually, is smarter, with the Sopranos and Deadwood getting our brains accustomed to deciphering labrynthian plots that would've gotten Hill Street Blues thrown off the air. Great news, huh?

The problem I have with this reasoning is the definition of 'smarter.' Yes, we can follow Sopranos if we so choose, but an awful lot of people would also like to follow shows like "Who Wants to Marry My Dad," an example of television programming that was probably on Nero's to-do list for collesseum entertainment. Yes Sim City's a clever, engrossing game, and GTA takes a lot of cognition to figure out how best to beat up a guy in a danceclub. Is your definition of 'smart' someone who has taken in complicated stimulus? Is the brain best served by sitting on your ass and pushing buttons through virtual scenarios, or walking through a park and sitting down to read something? It could probably go either way.

So, yes, there are five or twelve edifying forms of entertainment still out there, and those who watch them are probably getting their mind expanded nicely. However, if you get worn out from watching all that stuff flashing in front of your eyes there's plenty of stupid shit out there too, and I think it's winning the numbers game. It's like pointing at the hundred or so perfect-score SAT students and ignoring the highest illiteracy rate this nation's ever known. But don't worry, they can decipher 54,000 words worth of Grand Theft Auto's pictures so they're still 'smart' in a manner of speaking, right?

Go back to sleep.