Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hard Rock Absurdity

Click, click, click… ahhhhhh….. the Palladia music channel is showing Pink Floyd in concert. Something recent, as they are all old. They're playing "Breath" from Dark Side of the Moon. I really loved that song. But honestly, I loved the version I had on an old, blue Memorex mix-tape in 1982.  There's something about the clickity-clack of the cassette experience that felt more real than the effortless remote-control experience that channel-surfed me to this moment. And sure, cassettes are old and don't sound so good anymore. But they sound a lot better than this shit.

Jazz musicians get cooler with age. Blues musician get cooler with age. Rock musicians do not. They get worse… much worse… all the way bad. Having suckled at the GIANT TEAT of popular fame for so long… having milked it so dry… having toured and toured and packed stadiums and had breakups and outrageous personal histories… and in general having passed through every stage of mega-stardom stupidity… they arrive on the other side culturally exhausted and meaningless.

The flame that burns twice as bright may certainly burn half as long, but in the case of rock stardom, it burns ten times brighter… and the intensity of the burn not only consumes every resource within the artist, but exhausts those resources completely. In the end there is nothing left… only the burnt ash cinders of their Stratocasters. In time there arises undead from that tumultuous grave the endless string of periodic mega-tours… the rock star afterlife. Arrogant, self-aggrandizing vanity projects before a middle aged fan base all too eager to shell out big bucks for tickets.

Such scenes are cultural in this sense… that they actually happen in our world. But they are very middlebrow. They reflect the commodification of the music, and the inability of the viewer to find any thing new in the world, such that they have to reengage the past to stave off boredom in the present. It's a symptom of what the culture lacks, not culture itself. Or, by that logic... it's a culture defined by what isn't there.

Click, click, click… ahhhhh…. there's David Gilmore again… in front of massive outdoor stadium crowd.. singing something-or-other. The stage is completely black, spotlit dramatically from above as he crouches over his guitar like a sorcerer staring into a crystal ball. A full orchestra in the wings lays down lush thematics, as the smoke machine constructs the necessary mythology.  Jesus H Christ!!! If the psychological weight of Dark Side had ANY MEANING AT ALL… it is all lost in this venue. How can you sing "Money" with any integrity to 50,000 fans who paid big bucks to sit in a stadium to hear you sing about the absurdity of money?

Roger Waters should write an album called The Dark Side of the Dark Side of the Moon. But nobody really wants to hear that either. Late career albums describing the down side of fame are an embarrassment… like middle aged men crying on the shoulders of their twenty-one year old girlfriends, while she texts friends behind his back. They should just date someone their own age. And if that's too boring, then maybe they're too boring too. And so all the boring shit in the world gets recycled onto the Palladia channel… Pink Floyd, Bad Company, Queen, and so on. There they stand in pudgy splendor, extending every song to opus lengths worthy of Springsteen at his most boring, as the crowd goes wild upon the inevitable crescendo and thunderous last note.

I think I have more admiration for Blue Oyster Cult playing "Don't Fear the Reaper" before 300 people at Hershey Park, than the Stones doing their 10,000th performance of Jumpin' Jack Flash at the Superbowl. Why don't they just produce a hologram of the Stones playing Satisfaction and play it 24/7 in every town square in America. It could be the new national anthem. And every time you looked at it a sensor would register your eye movement and deduct 99 cents from your EYE-tunes account. Ha ha.

Click click click… ahhhhhh… Oh my god... Palladia is now showing a Rolling Stones video. I watch with the sound off in order to deconstruct the visual logic. In the video, The Stones are playing in some super-cool dive-bar aesthetic, squeezed onto a tiny stage being very Stones-ey. The club patrons are young and beautiful... essentially they are models hired for the video shoot. Their lithe sexual bodies gyrate in languid dance moves. We are to understand that The Stones have seduced them with music and attitude. Such is the power of The Stones to channel the primal desires of every generation.

Mind you... we are not supposed to think the patrons know that these are The Rolling Stones. The Stones are playing it as if they are just some ordinary band on stage... but that they are so inherently cool that even kids FORTY YEARS younger than them ignore the age difference and make a psychic and sexual connection with them. This includes connections with Keith Richards, who hides his craggy face behind sunglasses that have some kind of silver bangle dangling off the side. At one point he smiles devilishly, revealing crooked teeth. Ron Wood winks to a girl, who is transfixed. Of course, Jagger dances directly into the camera, essentially breaking the 4th wall, and letting us know that he knows we're watching. He aggressively engages the video viewer... because Mick cannot be seen without seeing you first.


Every major rock act will (when interviewed) express the desire to get back to their roots and play small clubs…. just like when they started out. But such conceits on materialize as fantasy within music videos. When it comes to reality, they only every play the largest stadiums possible. The bands usually claim it's an unfortunate compromise required to allow all of their fans to see them. But the truth is that within the culture of the music industry, it is a sign of weakness and failure to take a step back from profit maximization.

Top acts become top acts through ambition and business savvy. They do not accept anything less than what they can get. They do not walk away from the big payday in order to pursue a project like playing smaller venues. As required, they will pull the old amps out of storage and call forth their old manager, who awakens from his disco-slumber to begin hard-balling everyone in sight for max money.

When the whole corporate, big money, mass media juggernaut finally rolls into your town and delivers the guitar god onto the smoke filled stadium stage... and as the 100 foot high monitors show images of the performer who is too small to see from 80% of the seats... then nothing is left to complete the absurdity than that the performers will muster all their practiced earnestness to sing socially conscious songs derived from ideologies so far in everyone's past as to be non-existent.

Click click click… ahhhh…. It's the end of the world, as we know it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The invention of philosophy

Philosophy was invented because people disagree with each other. Think about it. If you hold an idea in your mind, that means you believe it to be true. If everyone agrees with you, then you never have a conflict. Imagine then that one day someone disagrees with you. They tell you that you're wrong. It might come as quite a shock. The first time it happens you might try to convince them by arguing the particular facts in question. The second time it happens you might do the same thing. But if people continue to disagree with you, it might occur to you that either you are wrong, or they are wrong, or both of you are wrong. This might lead you to consider how one goes about proving who is right or wrong. This might lead you to consider what truth and falsehood mean. What is truth in general? What is falsehood in general? How does one prove anything to be true or false. And so on.

And thus you are forced by the circumstance of being disagreed with, to search beyond the moment... beyond the particular facts... and to consider the particular more abstractly.