Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Today on the bus I started thinking about why I love a lot of the music that I love. In the last year or so, I have had to deal with the idea that most of what I like in music can be considered "pop" for a variety of reasons: it is not experimental, it does not predate 1960, it is played with modern instruments, lots of other people like it and/or have heard of it, and it is "catchy." This is not to say I listen to Top 40 shit. I don't. Just to say that I would not label most of the music I listen to "inaccessible" to the majority of people of my demographic (say ages 16-40, middle class people of "first world" countries).

In light of this, why does most of the music I listen to never make it into the biggest vein of the mainstream (I'll maintain that there are different strata of "mainstream" nowadays)? Could be that I have a fucked up sense of what "accessible" is. Could be that most folks in my demographic are lazy and dumb. Could be something about a finite market calling for a very specific product, or the elitism of the "indie" mentality, or any number of things.

There also might be a fundamental difference in the music.

As a preface, allow me to borrow from another form. The following poem by Lisa Jarnot is one of my favorites, and one that I would readily identify as a "pop poem, if there is such a thing (obviously, I think there is). It's called "On the Sublime."

They loved these things. Giraffe,
they loved giraffe. They loved the
concept of the tapir. They loved
him, wholly unnamed. They
loved competence and they loved
the dark metallic stapler. They
loved to trace the trajectory of the
armadillo. They loved to speak of
plankton. They also loved the fog.

Its sound, pacing, diction, and appearance on the page are all appealing -- accessible, if you will -- but there is such a subtle sense of humor (especially when you consider the title) mixed with a sentimental voice (maybe that is what's funny) that undercuts it, gives it sense, and is something that I don't think the mainstream peeps would latch onto. The absence of this sense probably results in a WTF? This is why I hate poetry! response from many readers.

So now then. I like things that are catchy, but that also trick you into feelings you didn't know you had. Whether that be through syntax or melopeoia or whatever in poetry, or in notes in a song, I like it.

The song that was moving into my ears at the point I started to think about all this was Albert Hammond Jr.'s "101":

This is poppy, right? By why has it taken Clear Channel by storm yet? Why is it only played by locally/independently owned radio stations, for the most part? I don't know. Maybe it's only a matter of time.

But here's what I like about "101": it's a guitar song. I like guitars. Bedhead had four guitarists; Bedhead is probably my favorite band ever. But here's what I like to have from guitars in my music: the sense that the guitarist could do anything he wanted with that guitar, but somehow restrained himself to make these notes in these ways, and that these notes in these ways reflect and manipulate a culture so subtly, and we don't know why. What is it about Hammond's guitar in "101" that makes youth seem so appealing? I don't know.

This is the point in the post that I realize that whatever I wanted to say did not get said in a way that is satisfying -- to me or the reader (probably). Hey, at least I gave you a poem and a song.


Mike H said...

Maybe a band doesn't have to sell alot of records or be on the radio in order to be popular anymore. There are so many other ways access music. Alot of what you were referring to is commonly known as 'indie rock', which by this point in it's existence has inhabited such a reliable niche that it no longer needs to compete with popular music. Look at a band like Animal Collective. I assume they aren't rich but I also assume they don't live in squalor. They make records, tour, they are unoffial sites for their fans. And popular music isn't the same either. American Idol seems much more popular than whoever the topselling artist is. And Kanye and 50 Cent had this big release day showdown supposedly, yet their on the same label. Which makes it looks as though said label is consolidating profits. I don't know, the rules have changed.

Slugbert said...

i think you're right, mike. and that's why i struggled to say anything significant here. i'm not even comfortable saying "indie rock".

all i really wanted to do with this post was say that i like guitar-driven rock, and that i really like it when some quasi-specific things are done with a guitar.

but then i realized that there is so much more to my taste. i'm always trying to make these sweeping generalizations, and they end up sucking hard.