.journal 2001.03.26
The long awaited music rant.

Now listening to: Chemlab, East Side Militia
Now reading: Poppy Z. Brite, Exquisite Corpse
Now playing: Final Fantasy II (Super Nintendo)

So I was stuck watching the Academy Awards last night, because of course I have to tape every Björk appearance on television, and I was suddenly reminded that it was, in fact, the announcement of these very Academy Awards which prompted me to think of enough music-related stuff that I said I had a music rant in me that I wanted to get out here. Since I had nothing better to do, and I started to get a rash from coming in such close contact to popular culture, I figured I'd best open up the Website here and let out some steam.

A lot of my friends and family tell me that I don't get out enough, but quite honestly I know exactly what I'm getting into. You see, back before the miracle that is DirecTV stumbled into my life, I was stuck with cable, and let me tell you, Toledo cable is some of the worst in the country. Limited selection, exorbitant rates, insensical extra charges and some of the worst service you will find. So, of course, it would stand to reason that the owners of said cable system, who also own our shitty local paper, would send their family to the same private school I went to. One of their daughters was a year behind me in school, and it was obvious to tell from the way she treated everyone around her just how much her parents and relatives cared for the rest of us "common people."

So since we had such horrible cable, I was basically left with three channels that I could stomach on a regular basis: E!, Comedy Central and MTV. I only ever really watched E! for Talk Soup, though (back in the show's heyday), and Comedy Central lost my eyeballs forever when they cancelled Mystery Science Theatre 3000. So most of the time, when I didn't have anything else to do, I flipped on MTV and saw what was going on.

Now, I would never dream of saying that MTV was anything other than pure dreck, but at least from 1994 to 1998 it was a higher quality of dreck. The "alternative" craze resulted in generally better music being played, especially at the later hours in which I tended to watch. Granted, Björk, Tori Amos and all my other favourite artists were still getting most of their MTV airplay off of Beavis and Butthead, but as a whole watching MTV wasn't anywhere near as painful as it is today, save of course Daria.

Around the time that this most recent pop music craze hit, though, I finally got DirecTV and all of a sudden I went from about 60 channels to well over 200, and I didn't have a single problem ever finding something to watch that wasn't MTV. So what little exposure I had to popular culture disappeared, and I let the rest of the world discover the sugary-sweetness of all those wretched boy bands. I still remember a decade ago in private school, when New Kids on the Block were all the craze, and how I wanted to curl up in a shell then and wait for some sense of taste to return to the general music scene. Now that I don't have to associate with people my own age, it's real easy for me to stay in that shell.

Just to illustrate to you how far removed I've been recently, one of the things I noticed at my new dentist's office is that he had top 40 radio playing in the background, as opposed to my old dentist who always had some easy listening AM station on. Now, the station wasn't too bad, even going so far as to play Sarah McLachlan's "Adia" (just as I was leaving, natch) at one point. But while I was having my teeth cleaned I heard this one song come on, and while it didn't make me want to puke on my shoes, I think my nose instinctively curled up because I wasn't liking what I was hearing. And I was going, "I haven't heard this before but I don't like it, what ..."

And then before I could complete the thought, the singer answered the question for me when she went, "Oops, I did it again." Yes, I somehow managed to get all the way through to 2001 without once hearing Britney Spears. Now, I realize some of you are going, "Geez, Sean really is out of touch!" But ask yourself this: what would you have given to have been able to avoid Britney Spears for that long? Now maybe you see my point.

Unfortunately, one of the things I was subjugated to last night during the Academy Awards was Britney's wretched Pepsi commercial. Thankfully C. came online during the awards and I was able to chat with her throughout most of the evening, only paying real attention when, of course, Björk came up. And while I knew there was no way she would win for Best Song, at least it was somewhat comforting to have her lose to Dylan. Even if I don't agree with the result, at least she lost to someone whom I have some appreciation for. I also expected her performance to get as chopped to hell as it was.

But hey, why let one of the most gifted musical talents in modern music do her song all the way through when we can let Julia freaking Roberts speak for four minutes to accept an award she didn't deserve? I am sorry, but just because the movie year has been slow does not give everyone carte blanche to turn Julia Roberts into the "it girl" and cause celebre of the year. And I wouldn't have even been so upset over Roberts' victory if they would have at least nominated Björk for Dancer in the Dark - granted, Björk should have won Best Actress, but to not even nominate her was a slap across the face of all that is good about modern cinema.

Even ignoring the fact that this was Björk's first real acting gig (I wouldn't really count The Juniper Tree because of its scope) and more than likely her last, Björk's performance is mesmerizing, drawing out the gut-wrenching qualities of Lars von Trier's script and making the movie so utterly draining and unforgettable. I realize I might not be the most impartial judge of Björk's abilities, but given what widespread praise the movie got from every critic who watched it, I have plenty of other people's judgments to defer to. Especially the Cannes FIlm Festival last year, where the film won the Palm d'Or and Björk won Best Female Performance. (Cannes has always been a great source of high-quality films for me, including my favourite film of all time, Madame Sousatzka.)

But I realize Dancer in the Dark was a foreign film, and foreign films usually have a hard time garnering recognition in the United States unless they have components which appeal to American sensibilities, such as the amazing action sequences in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. So I wasn't expecting the film itself to win Best Picture or for Björk to win Best Actress, but I don't think a nomination would have been too much to ask. Instead, everyone decided to turn Julia Roberts into the Next Big Thing for a good but far from solid performance in the utterly formulatic Erin Brockovich. Oh well.

I realize this is a lot of movie talk for a rant that's supposed to be about music, but the thing is that I've been through this same conflict so often with music that it sickens me to find out that both the movie community and the music community can't be broad-minded enough to give the truly talented people out there the recognition they deserve. Perhaps there is still a bit of an idealistic streak in me to expect things to change, but even recognizing that most people are generally philistines when it comes to true talent in the arts, it still bothers me when injustices like this occur.

I still remember the 1995 Grammy Awards too clearly. In the past year Tori Amos had released Under the Pink and Sarah McLachlan had released Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, two watershed albums of the 1990's with such breadth and depth in each track so as to be unbelievable. Of course, this was pre-Lilith Fair so both albums were shut out of the mainstream categories, but were nominated in the Best Alternative Album category, along with two albums which I was also generally positive about but not so positive that I can recall them right now. I do remember what won: the utterly wretched and toxic Dookie by Green Day. Puke.

Now, I realize some people tend to think that I don't appreciate any kind of "hard" music, but that simply isn't the case. There are plenty of hard music CDs in my collection, and as I've said before I appreciate all forms of music to some extent. As far as punk music goes, I love old Sex Pistols stuff and damn near every song the Ramones ever did. (And, of course, Kukl, the band Björk was in before the Sugarcubes.) But I'm sorry, nobody is producing good punk these days. Going back to an earlier rant of mine, one of the things I really hated about Crazy Taxi for Dreamcast was that the musical selections for the game came from two bands I really can't stand, Bad Religion and the Offspring. I can understand why they were selected for the game given their popularity and the nature of the game lending itself well to punk music, but damn it I was sick and tired of "All I Want" years before I played Crazy Taxi, and honestly right now it's one of the big problems I have with pulling the game out to play it these days.

Getting back to the Grammys, though, even the Awards after the first Lilith Fair, which was the big music story of the past year and resulted in the biggest infusion of quality music into the mainstream since grunge's heyday, I still remember that instead of recognizing all the individual artists, the people who put together the Grammys instead decided to have a Lilith Fair "performance," and made Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin and Paula Cole all reduce their songs to one verse each and sandwiched them next to each other. So even when the cream does rise to the top, it seems that everyone still wants to skim it off so they can pay more attention to the pond scum instead. And that sucks.

And if that's not bad enough, sometimes people have actually gone out of their way to disrespect the true talent in the business. The video for Björk's "It's Oh So Quiet" was directed Spike Jonze, and that year's MTV Video Music Awards came in the middle of the great Spike Jonze craze. And yet somehow, Spike lost Best Director that year, probably simply because he was directing Björk and not the Beastie Boys or another act that the public at large finds more palatable.

Don't get me wrong here, I have nothing against the Beasties -- I've enjoyed almost everything they've done immensely -- but I really hate that everyone else seems to have something against Björk, Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan and everyone else whom I really like. People are just so narrow-minded, and when I hear comments like "Björk's too weird" or "I don't want all those emotions in my music" I just want to lose it, you know? There's a lot of exciting stuff being done out there with music, but yet everyone still goes to be spoonfed by the latest boy band or surgically-enhanced teenage girl or the latest crappy rap/metal hybrid or the latest in a long line of artists in the most pathetically unimaginative span in R&B history. People suck.

And it's exactly that realization that made my mother recently start tuning in to CMT and saying modern country is "the best rock music being produced today." And while I can understand Mom's sentiment somewhat, that's not really true. I realize she probably couldn't stomach some of the hardcore industrial I've been getting into recently (Lords of Acid's Farstucker being the latest addition to my lineup, great album, too bad I have to return my copy later tonight because there's a skip on the first track that my new Skip Doctor can't fix), there's still other stuff out there that is being made that is good, and every once in a while someone manages to come out on top and have commercial success while producing good music.

C. is really hot on Dave Matthews Band, and convinced me to pick up Everyday recently. Dave Matthews Band is one of a long line of artists whose material I've been meaning to pick up, but time and money haven't allowed me to do. I've enjoyed what I've heard from Dave Matthews on radio, and I enjoyed Everyday, although lyrically I didn't find most of the tracks up to what I'd previously heard from Dave Matthews. But I lent my copy to my mother, and she enjoyed it a great deal. I've already turned her on to Björk, Tori, Sarah and all my other favourites as well, and I'm hoping to get her turned on to Radiohead and Beck here soon, maybe even a little Cibo Matto.

But when it comes down to it, people in this country seem to have no taste in the arts, and so Björk, Tori, Sarah and most everyone else whom I really like will languish in relative obscurity around me, while everyone else contents themselves with dreck. Not that I expect the world to share my tastes with me, mind you, but still, it would be nice if more people would at least turn off the crap and just try to listen to some quality music. Instead I'm left trying to answer questions like, "Well, if Björk is so good, why doesn't she sell as many albums as Kid Rock or Limp Bizkit?" That's like saying McDonald's french fries are the epicurean height of potatoes, and it goes without saying that that makes no sense. Then again, given the general sensibilities of people who really like Kid Rock or Limp Bizkit, that doesn't come as much of a surprise.

And since they just released another album, may I once again reiterate my belief that while I generally feel that most drugs should only be legalized, in the case of Aerosmith drug use should be mandatory. Aerosmith put out some real great music there for a while, but they went down the shitter once they sobered up the same way Kiss started sucking once they took the face paint off. For that matter, has anyone else noticed that the worse a Boyz II Men song is, the better it does on the charts?

Okay, I'm just babbling now, but then again this was supposed to be a rant, not a scholarly piece. And I'm sure I'm forgetting some things I wanted to talk about here, but hey, there are always more journal updates for me to get my other thoughts out. But my CD's near the end here and I really have to pee, so I'm gonna wrap this up here and get it posted. I'm sure I'll have plenty more to say about music in the future (after all, it is my lifeblood), so keep coming back here for my thoughts on music and other things. See you all around.

- Sean