Pop Music It has come to my attention that there have recently been two prominent cover versions of "Satisfaction" (Jagger/Richards) circulating, and I am very pleased. Cat Power and Britney Spears converged in a moment of synergy that announces to the world that the year 2000 is upon us.
This will take a moment's explaining, and will move from the personal to the general, from particule to universe.
I was, essentially, born without television, an admission that currently elicits a similar reaction to "I was born without legs." From one side, expressions of pity; from the other, an indignant screed about how I was granted an opportunity and that to restore legs would be to ruin my culture. In any case, my exposure to tv was this: age 2-5, Sesame Street, one hour per day. Age 5-8, 3-2-1 Contact, one hour per day. Age 8+, one half hour per week of my "favorite show," plus evenings when my parents went out to dinner, when I would gulp in five hours at a sitting and scurry off to my bed, eyes burning with shame and remorse when I heard the key in the front door.
I was not the most popular child in elementary school. My intermittent tv binges were not sufficient to keep me up to speed on the weekly happenings of various shows, and so I was often cast out from pop culture. Plus, I think I somehow let drop that I wasn't allowed to watch tv. Or maybe I was caught reading. Something.
I also wasn't so good with the whole music thing. While my fifth-grade classmates, when they weren't busy smearing the queer, were listening to Z-100 and WPLJ (Power 95, if you need to be reminded), I had just discovered Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and other forms of parent music. This obtuse rejection of the music before me in favor of the obscure (to a 10-year-old) and recondite is a persistent habit I have been dogged with ever since.
I was a made sucker for college radio and all its appurtenances. I became engrossed in every serious indie pretension, in all genres. I had shows in bluegrass and nondanceable electronica, and listened to anything that anyone else did not or would not. Of course, the fact that these tastes were now considered cool, at least in my circles, didn't hurt matters much. I was the guy listening to two sets of headphones simultaneously, with that serious look of consideration while I consumed Indian-influenced beats and alt-country authenticity.
And I still am, to some degree. It's a little harder to take some of this shit seriously when you leave college behind, but I still get the thrill from liking a band you've never heard of. But I, and a lot of people I know, am starting to develop a serious attraction to MTV culture, and specifically shitty pop music. It's a guilty pleasure that definitely includes some leftover grade school scars. Those shitty radio songs are undeniably catchy, and for those of us who have suffered a lifetime training ourselves to dislike them, admitting our fascination with disposable music is strangely liberating. We're sort of out.
It's like the musical equivalent of queer theory (though queer theory is often the musical equivalent of queer theory). In queer theory you have the spectacle of people who were called faggots in high school turning the tables: they'll be doing the wet-towel snapping now, thank you very much. We reformed music snobs are attempting a similar form of co-option. Armed with our Adorno and Benjamin, our sophistication, we worship the bubblegum and the fake, spurning our Will Oldham authenticity for a few moments of ironic pleasure. Or if not spurning, at least letting the Top 40 coexist with the ultra-indie in a valueless pantheon.
Think about it. If you ask any hipster to choose between Britney Spears and Dave Matthews, said hipster will invariably, with smug irony, prefer Britney. Why? Do we really believe that Britney Spears produces better music? And let me state here that I hate Dave Matthews as much as the next guy. But it's not as if the guy can't play guitar or compose a tuneful, mildly complex melody, two things that Britney certainly cannot do. I mean, Dave Matthews is definitely the better musician here. But I'd probably choose Britney too.
Here are two theories. One: After years of having to be real serious about music (this goes for the mainstream, too: remember how seriously you took grunge), we can now be cool even in listening to meaningless pop. No longer do we have to trace roots or be authentic, ambient, original and obscure. Two: Those of us who were serious about music in high school in the early and mid-90s suffered gravely under the tyranny of supposedly talented jam bands. To paraphrase a friend of mine, we have no favorite jam band. Britney Spears is the ultimate antijam band. No noodling from her. No "jazz stylings."
Look, I'm not running out to pick up any sort of MTV-style album anytime soon. I'll probably be sticking with my usual stable of subgenres. But I'll no longer be bald-facedly lying to people and telling them that I know nothing about, and have no interest in, popular culture. Now I've got to get back to the Real World marathon. I have a lot of catching up to do.