Sunday, October 22, 2006

Never Not Fun



since i've started writing about music as a job, i've been thinking a lot about what that means. i think basically what i mean is that i'm uncomfortable calling myself a critic.

maybe it's the implications of the word or the profession that piss me off. the stereotype of dispassionate engagement that i just can't get with at all. i know that as a writer i can be whatever i want to be but i'm still not comfortable. it's hard for me to reconcile going to a party and dancing to Madonna for three hours or singing Steve Perry alone in front of the mirror or headbanging to Necrophagist in the car or any of that stuff with sitting at a desk and trying to tell someone verbally what something means or how i feel. sometimes i feel like people who know me and know the way i feel about music might not be able to reconcile that with the way i write, which sometimes feels dry to me. maybe it's dry b/c i take the shit so seriously. i don't like to make jokes when i write b/c the music is too important to me. but then maybe i fall into the trap described above and turn into the stereotype.

Steve Perry is emblematic of all this. i was reading some Village Voice article where the author quoted Greil Marcus talking about Perry's voice. here's what he said: "It was the self-evident phoniness in Steve Perry's voice -- the oleaginous self-regard, the gooey smear of words, the horrible enunciation...." blah, blah, blah--it's like way to tee off on an easy target. i'm sorry but it's hard for me to imagine someone who is describing music with such disdain not just doing it because his dog peed on the rug, or because he feels inadequate in some way or whatever. that whole idea of pop music angering people can often be really annoying; like when Mike Patton or someone like that starts going off on Britney Spears in interviews, it just feels so stale and insincere. let me put it this way: i do not believe in Marcus's disdain.

that may sound stupid, but it is my belief that EVERYONE loves Journey. i know this is dumb and deluded. there are probably a lot of people out there who actually mean it when they say that they're the antithesis of all that is artistic and virtuous and good and all that. but try this: next time you're at a party, go over to the iPod and find Journey's greatest hits, which is fairly likely to be on any given iPod, and put on "Don't Stop Believin'." people will probably start cheering and completely freak out and enter a state of bliss. everyone will become friends. it will be easier for you to make out with whomever you've been hitting on. blah blah. it doesn't matter what it is: if it's not Journey, everyone has some pop song that has the aforementioned effect on them.

i guess that for me, pop music of that sort can give me such an emotional high and it annoys me how as a """"""""""""""""critic"""""""""""""" i'm expected to ignore that part of the way that i listen to music.

i have these mixes that i make called the "Never Not Fun" series. basically the idea is that you can put these on in any environment, with any company and they will immediately make everyone happy. the first volume had a lot of Journey and Perry solo, but also "Rock Your Body" by Justin Timberlake, "Africa" by Toto, "To Be with You" by Mr. Big, "Careless Whisper" by Wham etc, etc, etc. basically THE amazing songs that everyone loves. i've brought this on car trips, played it at parties, etc., and people will literally scream and cheer when the next song comes on. people forget that they're allowed to listen to the music that they actually love instead of what they say to other people--or for that matter publish--that they love.

and i'm not talking about some bullshit guilty pleasure thing, where you act like it's all funny that you love Steve Perry songs. here's the thing: music can be completely anti-intellectual. it can hit your heart no matter what it's doing to your brain. and would you really want a Journey song to make you think the way, say, a Steely Dan song would? like that's what bugs me, that i could write an article that would seem very critically proper about why i loved Steely Dan b/c they're cynical, knowing, wise, etc. etc. when you listen to Steely Dan you feel smart. when you listen to Journey, you feel...happy. i'm not dissing Steely Dan; i fucking love them. i just hate how as a professional opinion giver, there is no way to justify loving Journey, how i'm expected to jump on the Greil Marcus bandwagon of eloquently dissing what millions of people find to be exceedingly blissful. there is no way to critically account for the kind of bliss that listening to Steve Perry gives me. what am i supposed to say? "his voice just makes me feel so goddamn good and makes me want to be a lead singer in an arena rock band so i could touch a million people with a song" or blah blah? you can't say that shit. you're obliged to address the lyrics, the outfits, all the things that make it uncool to like stuff like that. it is not a guilty pleasure. it's just pleasure. and it is a shortcoming of most writing about music, including my own very frequently, that you don't get the sense of how much the writer LOVES music.

there is no other reason to write about music if you don't love it. if i have the chance to tell you how much i love a band, i will do that 9.9999 times out of 10 rather than tell you how much i hate one. that may make me a bad critic. but there are too many people that make good music for me to want to use space to do a negative thing very often. i hate the idea that i'm supposed to want to dress shit down just because that's part of the job. maybe saying all this will get me in trouble. who knows. this is just what i'm trying to figure out as i do this work: how to keep that part of me that wants to fucking blast Michael McDonald intact. it's never not going to be there.

at work, in band practices for bands i'm no longer in, in all kinds of situations i've taken tons of shit for being the guy who likes the funny pop music. no, i'm just the guy who likes whatever he likes. if i'm at a party, i want to dance; i'm not going to put on Cheer-Accident. though i may sit at home all day listening to Cheer-Accident alone. is that when i'm a critic? when i'm listening to and contemplating "serious" music? what about when i'm singing "Careless Whisper" at karaoke Thursdays at the Alligator Lounge? i'll bet Greil Marcus never sang karaoke, i bet he never dances.

Steve Perry is my hero. i have spent hours on YouTube looking for clips just to get some idea of how he could possibly be that amazing of a singer. i have listened to "Foolish Heart" 15 times in a row so i could learn all the words and the cadences. i don't know how the way his voice moves me is related to the pleasure i get when i'm listening to, say, Evan Parker. i guess people can just like a lot of things for a lot of different reasons. but i'm pretty sure that neither is lesser. if you haven't heard it, watch the video for Perry's "Strung Out" on YouTube or just find another way to have a fucking good, blissful time today, like eat a burrito or something. don't bother justifying it to yourself or anyone else.

3 comments:

moore said...

hank. lovin this blog and enjoying your views. im not writing full-time at this point, but as a part-time freelancer i also wrestle mightly with the critic tag. i feel if you approach your written work with an appreciation for how much more work typically goes into creating a record than it does to reviewing it, and you evaluate the music on its own terms and avoid reducing it to a list of influences that read like a ploy to bolster your own credibility, you'll be in good shape. at least thats been my approach. its been easier for me to write about music now that im playing in a band again and being active as a musician myself--only because now i feel like i may be dishing out criticism, but i am taking it too. but youre right that its hard to express pure enthusiasm for the music through written work...i always end up self-censoring that impulse out of fear of seeming phony or somehow less credible.

i agree with you on reconciling "never not fun" pop acts with hip critics darlings--but i think it also puts you at a distinct advantage, both as a musician and a professional writer, to have that natural appreciation for both and for all types of music in general. some of the "pop" acts out there may be manufactured, but often they are manufactured by pros who really know how to write a song. as you may recall, the guy who typifies the dillema for me, my Steve Perry, is none other than the most damaged celebrity ever, Michael Jackson. leaving aside the downward spiral, everytime "billie Jean" comes on, which it does at pretty much every party/club envirnment known to man, the energy level inevitably spikes, and not out of irony. its because its a fucking awesome party song--maybe the best dance track of all time. kitch only takes you so far (otherwise we'd hear the Hoffs "looking for freedom" more often). the fact is "billie jean" and the Thriller and Off the Wall albums are both masterpieces for what they are trying to be. MJ has become a travesty, and deservedly so, but that doesnt mean he didnt knock the ball out of the park at his creative peak. whether its cool or not, you need to respect those artists/performers who accomplish exactly what they set out to do, or, better yet, exceed all reasonable expectations. we should all be so lucky.

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