Friday, January 1, 2010

If A Bitter Man Complains On The Internet, Does Anybody Hear It?

Although my own callous and distant demeanor might strongly suggest otherwise at first glance, I really am a fairly optimistic kind of guy. But like all people, I will admit that other people's moods can affect me, for better or for worse. If people are giddy, those good vibes are passed on. That's great. For me, that is one of the great reasons to be alive.

Similarly, if someone is perpetually in a rotten mood, it is contagious as well. I've said before that the whole "looking back on a decade" pieces are silly, but I also wrote at great lengths about why this decade was not an infliction from the bowels of Hell itself. Anyway, I stumbled across a retrospective on the best albums of the Aughts written by someone I used to know. His list was prefaced with an extended ramble about the sad state of the music business compared with the 1990's. There are hyperbolic absolutist (yet incorrect) claims, close-minded (and almost entirely baseless) accusations, and a strong hint of bitterness. It's a bunch of codswallop, but this actually passes as journalism in some circles:

"In the 90s, music was everywhere – bands like Nirvana could still command the monoculture, MTV still played videos, and in that rarest of pop-cultural moments, interesting music was being consistently made at both mainstream and subterranean levels. In general, music still made for water-cooler discussion."

In this writer's version of history, the 1990's were a golden period where MTV never censored videos, didn't bend over and censor Beavis & Butt-Head, either; this was a utopia where everybody lived the grunge lifestyle - even the author, who is only two years my senior - and listened to Nirvana. There was no such thing as drab mainstream music, no Top 40 or AOR playlists that consisted of insufferable muzak, and - AND - everyone talked about music. Everyone. No one ever "just listened to the music," no one ever listened to music as "something to have on."

I love the music he's insisting was all that people listened to in the 1990's, but what he's saying is just not true. Since popular music splintered in the late 1960's and early 1970's, can we even really say there was a mainstream? That's the problem with so many arguments in favor of or against certain bands or even genres. Get a whole bunch of Who fans together in a room and you'll be convinced that they were the most important band of their time, possibly even of any age. And yet there are jazz-rock fans who might thing The Who are irretrievably stupid and try to convince you that The Mahavishnu Orchestra was the only band that mattered.

There's plenty more I could say, but it would get redundant. He even goes so far as to admit he sounds like an old man telling kids to get off his lawn, but that doesn't stop him from hammering the point home that modern music is inauthentic, and that the music he celebrated in the idealized version of his youth is the greatest music that ever existed. It's like someone who acknowledges they're an alcoholic, making no bones about their addiction, and then turns right around and downs a bottle of Jim Beam.

There was an older gentleman - a retired professor - who sat in all semester long in one of my classes on American Popular Song. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of Tin Pan Alley songs and can spot melodies like no one else I've ever met. However, he also doesn't think much of anything that has come out since the mid 1930's. I can assume that this was the music he grew up loving as a kid...does this make his perspective right?

Well, no. But he was able to express his opinions without insulting the very intelligence of those with different sensibilities.

I'll skip ahead to the end:
"Boomer critics like Dave Marsh remain hopelessly out of touch, unwilling to conceive of a post-Springsteen music world, while younger critics tend to dismiss out of hand anything that didn’t spring from the minds of bearded faux-troubadours or scrawny Brooklynites."

It's offensive, but it's also stupid. It can easily be re-worded into...
"Bitter Gen X / Gen Y straddlers like [Writer X] remains hopelessly out of touch, unwilling to conceive of a post-Nirvana music world, dismissing new music as springing from the minds of bearded faux-troubadours or scrawny Brooklynites."

You could read this guy's essay and assume that the decade-long party that was the 1990's came to an abrupt end with some untold catastrophe, resulting in a desolate landscape of artificial music and a massively dumbed-down populace. Don't be discouraged by shit like this. This is nothing more than the writing of a bitter man who has tasted more defeat than victory in what was supposed to be the decade where he took over the world. Most of us learn the realities of life (everything we were told in high school was a lie, college is a great place to learn but hardly a simulacrum of the real world, and nothing - but nothing - is sufficient enough to shake up the world) in college, we process the information, and then we move on.

Unfortunately, some of us clearly haven't.

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Ugh. That is all I have to say. I can't read this guy's stuff it is so long-winded and BORING. And cynical. And hateful.

And honestly, he wasn't that old during the 90's. I feel like if he was born in 1995 he would be saying the same things about music for the early 2000s (that is what I'll be calling the 2000 decade). It's all about nostalgia for him - and a lot of other music critics. Just because it was good to you then doesn't mean it's still good now. Moreover, just because something wasn't good to you then, doesn't mean it's not good to you now.

I'm going a bit off topic here, but when you can't think about other music critics opinions -or other people's opinion's in general - while writing about a certain decade of music just don't write it. No one cares about how you felt during such and such song/album/genre. And if you are going to write about it - be short and don't bash other people's tastes.

Those are my thoughts.