You can almost smell the disappointment

In the back of my mind, I kinda sorta suspected all along that the state of American pop/rock music had sharply plateaued and, dare I say, has even taken a pretty violent tumble in some race to the bottom of awfulness and triteness.  Reading this confirmed my suspicions and made me feel just a little worse about where music is headed.

guitar

I’ll stop here to tell you that I’m a HUGE music fan.  While I don’t play any instruments (piano lessons were a nightmare.   For everyone involved), I love music – all kinds.  70’s punk rock is probably my favorite, but I will listen to Pink Floyd for days on end and I love a good Metallica speed metal ditty, too!  I truly worry about the music my kids will listen to, and I bemoan the fact that many of the artists I like – Pat Benatar, Blondie, Cyndi Lauper – will be long retired by the time they get into going to shows.  I guess the reason I love these musicians so much is because every time I listen to one of their tracks, the music still feels new to me; I discover something in the tune or the lyrics I never picked up on before, and the hook never fails to grab me like it did the first time I heard the song.    When I listen to the radio today I can’t tell the Bieber from the One Direction from that last guy who won American Idol.

Admittedly, bemoaning the state of music today is the very definition of a first world problem, and I don’t even pretend that it stacks up to really serious issues, but I am disappointed in and ashamed of the musical wasteland that lies before us.  That we don’t demand better, that we accept over and over again the same in the hopes that it will eventually sound new to tired, complacent ears means we have surrendered our music will, our cultural will. Then again, maybe the fact that music sales are down so pitifully low is us taking back the industry and dragging it down, well below rock bottom so that the musical beast can slowly slouch toward Bethlehem (or Capitol Records) to be re-born. *

 

*Bet Yeats never saw that comin’!

 

 

 

 

 

The Fall (or why the U.K.’s got it going on when it comes to crime dramas)

I just finished watching season one of The Fall.  Now, I’m not a hanger-on of the Beebs (BBC, not Justin Bieber.  God, definitely not him!) and I don’t watch a lot of British dramas (OK, except for the first two seasons of Downton Abbey and The Young Ones way back in the day).  In fact, I really didn’t like the first episode of The Fall, but I pushed through because I have a lovely and persistent wife who was determined to make it to the end of the season.

I isolated the issue that spawned my initial distaste for the show, and I think it’s the fact that The Fall doesn’t follow ‘the formula’.

U.S. FORMULA:

The Crime + Detective Work = The Criminal

The Brits approach it in a different way – and a way that, having grown up on ‘the formula’ – didn’t immediately resonate with me.

U.K. FORMULA:

The Criminal + The Crime = Detective Work

It’s much more methodical and all about the process.  It’s slow.  There is no Whodunnit.  The focus is all about HOW and WHY he did it and the individuals who are investigating the crime.  It’s a character study that we more commonly associate with a feature film than a serial drama.

The dramatic tension is in the psychology, not the action.  As a result, it would never fly here because we need to be constantly stimulated.  We can’t tolerate the slow build.  We need instant gratification because that’s how the entertainment industry conditions  us.

Once I admitted my programmed ‘need’ for a car chase/explosion/shoot-out and put it aside, I started to really enjoy the series.  Less action?  Yes.  But, oddly, much more to grip on to, much more that stayed with me well after the credits rolled.

Even though the industry claims that they want to attract loyal eyeballs — and they do — I can’t help but feel that we’re being a little short-changed with “flash” vs. substance that they’re using to lure us in…especially once you’ve had a look at the alternatives.

 

 

 

 

Curses! Cursive.

My penmanship is horrific – some Frankenstein-ish hybrid of print and cursive that sometimes I can’t even read.  If my second grade teacher hasn’t already gone to the great faculty room in the sky, that last sentence got her one step closer.  So, when I read this article, I kind of agreed with it. 

Cursive is a nice to know, not a need to know.  It certainly looks beautiful (if you do it well) and, yes, it is a right of passage, but isn’t it also somewhat irrelevant?  I’d much rather teachers focus on teaching students HOW to write — I’m talking the actual mechanics of writing… good grammar, sentence structure and creativity, which is lacking in a frighteningly large number of students, than whether their letters are slanted on the appropriate angle.  In fact, if dropping cursive from school curricula means that art, music and PE could be brought back, I’d be 115% for it. 

It’s not clear to me why we as a culture place so much importance on cursive.  What significance does it have that we must preserve it on a large scale, especially when everything in this country is printed — newspapers, street signs, text messages, this blog.  Even the Chinese and Japanese separate their version of cursive (calligraphy) from the simplified characters that are used in everyday life, and they function just fine, don’t they?

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Pop Culture Play-Doh

Bend it.  Shape it.  Any way you want it.

Popular culture is pliable, colorful and non-toxic, just like Play Doh, and it takes a million and one shapes determined by, what exactly? Imagination and resourcefulness, I guess. Maybe a little bit of democracy, capitalism and modern/industrialized economies, too.

America has a popular culture that is distinctly all its own – cowboys, McDonald’s, rap and hip-hop, blue jeans and Elvis — as does Japan, with its anime, harajuku girls and kawaii.

And, while a study of their pop culture is an endless and fascinating wormhole, I think I’m more intrigued by countries like Afghanistan and Cuba that are now starting to splinter from long-held traditions and customs to create a new path forward.  What do they need to lose or gain to establish a popular culture?  How much of their history, beliefs and behaviors will underpin whatever emerges?  Is popular culture an automatic offshoot of increased democracy and a developed economy? How do popular culture and traditional culture co-exist, if at all, especially in countries where life revolves around religion (Muslim countries)?

Maybe it seems trivial to think about a fluffy topic like popular culture when countries around the world are frying bigger and in many cases more violent geo-political fish, but this will be one of the many things that comprise these nations, their leadership, their citizens and, yes, even global diplomacy in the not-so-distant future.

To echo Friedman, no two countries with a McDonald’s have ever gone to war.

 

 

 

 

 

Placing Blame

It’s been a long time coming, but Apple says the traditional music industry is choking out its last breath, thanks to technology.  Coming up on a decade now, if not more, poor technology has repeatedly had its knuckles slapped for enabling file sharing, music streaming, online radio, and music downloads.  In the process, consumers have veered away from purchasing albums (8-tracks, CDs, tapes…pick your poison) in their entirety to the point that Billboard music charts are crumbling like relationships on The Jerry Springer Show.  Radio is reeling from a similar fate.

But consider that technology may not be the only culprit.  What about the artists themselves?  Hollywood is no longer birthing album-worthy artists.  In terms of quality, I can’t think of anyone on Top 40 radio with an album that I or anyone else over the age of 14 is clamoring to buy. There hasn’t been for a long, long, long (sigh), long time. I already have the music of artists I really like in various formats — from vinyl to digital, so my music purchases have largely plateaued.  Further, the mindset of today’s music universe is focused on singles, not full-length albums.  We could argue round and round about whether this is a cause or an outcome of the now-dismal music industry. The bottom line is that the lack of mainstream quality musicians hasn’t been widely faulted because it’s much easier for Hollywood to blame external factors, like technology, for changing the way we consume music, rather than the dulled cogs of their own machine.

 

 

 

 

Liberating the Self Through Really Tight Spandex

I could probably do an entire blog just on Japanese culture, but this one is curious enough to sustain us for a while.

Zentai.  Or “zenshintaitsu,” which means “full body suit”

I like to imagJAPAN-CULTURE-COSTUME-OFFBEATine how this trend started:  A Spider-man fetish?  Someone with too many bike shorts and technical sport shirts?

Then, I try to think about whether this would fly in the U.S. — faceless people walking around in head-to-toe spandex?   Zentai practitioners say i’ts a way to liberate ones self from others’ judgement.  I’m pretty sure we love our Western judgy-ness, and if people can’t size up your clothes, hair, shoes or handbags, they’ll just take to sizing up your spandex, which defeats the purpose.  I also don’t think ours is a culture that likes to disappear or sublimate.  We’re loud, brash Americans and we like our liberation the same way (see:  1970s Punk).

 

 

 

 

 

This Is An Innovative Blog Post!

You know the story about the boy who cried wolf.  After a while, no one bothers to answer when he calls for help.  The same holds true for companies that keep announcing “the latest innovation in…”

Wikipedia defines innovation as “the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.” 

Keep that in mind when you read this next sentence.

Earlier this week, the fine chef de cuisines at Domino’s Pizza introduced a new innovation (their words, not mine):  Pizza with a breaded chicken crust.

Admittedly, I am a traditionalist when it comes to my love affair with pizza:  good crust, creamy mozzarella, tangy sauce and some pepperoni (great, now I’m hungry!).  Occasionally, I let my rebel flag fly and order a white pizza, but neither I nor anyone I know stated a requirement or was harboring an unarticulated need for pizza with a breaded chicken crust.

That doesn’t stop companies from coming up with these seemingly (and usually ineffective) additions to their products to remind us of what we didn’t have and never really needed.  I think toothbrush manufacturers are the worst offenders.  At their core, toothbrushes are as basic as it gets – a plastic handle and a cluster of bristles – and mostly effective.  Once they added an angled neck, it all went downhill:  that rubbery tip at the end of the handle, thumb grips, indicator bristles, a spinning head.  Next thing you know, they’ll be Bluetooth enabled, but my dentist says I still have tartar.  So, those so-called innovations aren’t really living up to their name.

If they’ve managed to take a simple thing like the toothbrush and innovate it to death, I don’t even want to think about what’s next for my beloved pizza.