One of the great things about growing older is that you realize after surviving several decades of media assault in this country that very little of it matters at all. And by “matters,” I mean has any direct and meaningful effect on your life. Not that I ever thought I’d be quoting the Jefferson Airplane but it really “doesn’t mean shit to a tree.” You live long enough, you’ll see many things come and go, to little, if any, real effect at all and pop culture is a prime example.
All the uproar about Miley Cyrus over the past few months since her end of civilization heralding appearance on the absolutely useless and totally meaningless MTV Music Awards has been particularly entertaining to me. Pop culture has a notoriously short attention span and even shorter memory. The pop tart’s tongue-wagging, crotch foam fingering, twerk-fest was pushing right up against Robin Thicke’s Beetlejuice covered manhood to accomplish one thing – pushing the big media button. Suddenly the MTV Awards & Miley Cyrus were smack in the center of a cultural radar that couldn’t have given a crap about either a few weeks before. I guarantee you that the only people who knew anything about Miley Cyrus – beyond the “oh yeah, that kid’s show chick who’s the Achey Breaky Heart ass-hat’s daughter” – were tween girls and their parents. And boom – instantly the entire world not only knows about her but feels obligated to weigh in, commentate and write open letters upon open letters pontificating on what it all means.
It means nothing.
Let’s see… a brief review of some other decline of western civilization moments that our children will never recover from; Britney Spears and Madonna kissing, Britney Spears appearing in a mini-skirted school girl outfit, Madonna wearing bras without anything over them, Madonna’s book “Sex” in which she appears nude, etc etc…these are the things that caused end of days uproars and apocalypse hailing righteous indignation equal to the Miley Cyrus thing…and these are the very few I can remember off the top of my under-caffeinated brain this morning.
We live in a culture where multi-million – probably billion dollar empires have been launched by “leaked” sex tapes of some young women who’s only talent seems to be for understanding what it takes to become a “celebrity” in these twisted times. You want to get all crazy about the evil influences on young women in our society, have a whack at that group of fame whores and how crazy we’ve become that this is a legitimate career path to celebrity status & untold wealth.
Whatever you think of Miley Cyrus’ music – and I don’t think about it at all – at least she’s got some talent as a performer and even possibly an artist. I doubt the artist thing because if time has shown me anything, she will, like so many of the other “important artists of the moment” before her, fade away without having contributed anything of lasting quality to the art form.
I’ll save the commentary on the “appropriation of black culture” outrage for another blog.
Which brings me to my real point. Pop music…and contemporary “culture” is not made for me. The audience is tween & teenage girls and always has been since the birth of swing and the formula was truly cemented with the launch of Frank Sinatra’s career. Before that time, the most popular singer in the world was Bing Crosby – whose records were made for adults. Swing changed all that and when Sinatra’s managers & PR folks packed the front rows of his early NY appearances with screaming teen girls who they’d paid to do it – the game changed forever. It was the girls who went insane over Elvis and made him the king…watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and tell me who shot them to the “topper-most of the popper-most” as Lennon used to say??
Things got complicated in the 60’s and early 70’s when pop music “grew up” and became something more than entertainment for us. Music became, as literature had been for the previous generation, the main influential cultural voice and gained meaning and weight as an art form. The artists and art spoke for us, defined and declared, in no uncertain terms, our identity. Which has made it very difficult for those of us who grew up in those times to realize music, as we knew it, no longer exists. What we have now, and had for quite some time, is manufactured pop music and competition winning idols being touted as “artists” by an ever-increasingly manipulative marketing machine.
And the little girls love it. But I don’t. And I shouldn’t. It’s not made for me. Doesn’t speak to or for me. Just like rap/hip-hop. I missed it completely. Although my daughter turned me on to Tupac, who I dig immensely and still listen to on occasion but outside of him, Dre, Eminem & Talib Kweli…not interested at all. And I count seeing Kanye’s guest appearance at a Common/Kweli show doing “Gold Digger” just before it dropped one of the finest musical performances I’ve ever seen. What speaks to me in hip-hop is the groove/beats, the rhythmic artistry of the rapping…but the message isn’t for me or about my life.
While I can dig that most of today’s pop music is made for the dance floor – I haven’t stepped foot inside a club in over twenty years. For me, it makes a great housecleaning soundtrack. And I don’t care about the Grammys or the MTV Awards or the false hype or borderline porn imagery. My usual reaction that particular piece of it is, stop the fucking teasing and just do your damn porn video and be done with it.
What I have discovered, is that I don’t really NEED new music. It’s satisfying to discover the occasional new artist or get turned on to something I’ve never heard by a friend. But very little of any of it “sticks.” I listen once or twice, enjoy it and think, that’s nice and rarely listen again. This could be a result of being a musician, that I spent so much time in deep study of music, that my tastes and what I hold as truly great and worth listening to are very specific and, admittedly, narrow. (I’ll get into those artists in a future blog)
But I am completely and totally satisfied with returning time and again to my desert island records and the music that held meaning for me from when I was the target market.
Pop culture no longer has me in its bull’s eye and I couldn’t care less. And if you’re out of your teens, neither should you.
Happy Friday, friends. Put on some Sinatra, have a martini and enjoy being an adult!