The American cynicism awards…

I had an aneurysm about this earlier today on Facebook. And I say this as a huge fan of country music, and even a fan of Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley.

This might be the WORST song of all time. It’s insidious garbage, and everything that’s wrong with “mainstream” country music these days. Lyrics, basically: we love beer, god, trucks, don’t like black people, but will gladly steal their musical forms, all to appeal to some imagined white redneck lowest common denominator “country fan” that the marketing department of the record label came up with. Not to mention that this kind of music leads to some kind of horrible echo chamber wherein it creates actual fans who feel that they subscribe to this idiotic world view. Stop insulting the intelligence of your audience, “mainstream” country music, all the way to the bank. I expected more, from Brad Paisley and Sheryl Crow especially.

This kind of music makes a huge amount of money by asking us to our very worst selves, by asking Americans to be their worst selves. We should expect more from this music, because it can and has always been so much more. This is not an anti-commercialism rant, or a rant about the lack of ‘authenticity’ in “mainstream” country music – Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dolly Parton, the Dixie Chicks, and Dwight Yoakam, all of these people are definitely in it to make money – and yet, they resist the kind of craven cynicism that leads to this kind of garbage:

Boys round here they’re keepin it country/ Ain’t a damn one know how to do the Dougie/ “You don’t know how to do the Dougie?”/ No, not in Kentucky.

So, just to recap – they are referencing a hip-hop song, while disparaging and distancing themselves from it, wanting the hip cachet that comes along with a “rap” while completely removing the taint of blackness. GROSS. I need to take 50 showers. I am BEYOND disappointed in Blake Shelton.


Many fits of rage were had over the reading of these three articles….

First of all, a year ago, this awesome post was written about an NPR music intern at All Songs Considered. Note the word music.

Now, I’m all for discovery. The learning process. Expanding horizons. But friends, this tyranny cannot stand. How is it acceptable that you’re an intern at a music site, and you’ve never heard, for example, Cream’s Disraeli Gears? OK, OK, while I consider that particular album to be Eric Clapton’s only palatable work, not to mention a critical album in a mini-age of rock power trios, let’s try another one. Something a bit more obvious. Say… Beach Boys Pet Sounds. No? Haven’t heard that? How about maybe The Velvet Underground & Nico? Not influential enough? Doesn’t ring a bell?

Here’s one. How about the fuggin Joshua Tree? U2? Know that one? “With or Without You”? “Where the Streets Have No Name”? “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”? 25 million copies sold? No?

Geezer alert on this, but since when is it OK to be seeking a career in music journalism and not have heard this stuff? How did this come about, exactly? Here’s a better question: When did dignity get so scarce that you might be an intern at a music website and actually admit to never having heard this stuff? In the words of Pantera, “Is there no standard anymore?”

Earth, I quit. There is nothing more I can do here.

Now yet another genius 21 year old intern at All Songs Considered wrote this:

I never went through the transition from physical to digital. I’m almost 21, and since I first began to love music I’ve been spoiled by the Internet.

I am an avid music listener, concertgoer, and college radio DJ. My world is music-centric. I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs.

I wish I could say I miss album packaging and liner notes and rue the decline in album sales the digital world has caused. But the truth is, I’ve never supported physical music as a consumer. As monumental a role as musicians and albums have played in my life, I’ve never invested money in them aside from concert tickets and T-shirts.

Luckily, someone wrote a really fucking smart letter about this. Read the whole thing:

On a personal level, I have witnessed the impoverishment of many critically acclaimed but marginally commercial artists. In particular, two dear friends: Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) and Vic Chestnutt. Both of these artists, despite growing global popularity, saw their incomes collapse in the last decade. There is no other explanation except for the fact that “fans” made the unethical choice to take their music without compensating these artists.

Shortly before Christmas 2009, Vic took his life. He was my neighbor, and I was there as they put him in the ambulance. On March 6th, 2010, Mark Linkous shot himself in the heart. Anybody who knew either of these musicians will tell you that the pair suffered from addiction and depression. They will also tell you their situation was worsened by their financial situation. Vic was deeply in debt to hospitals and, at the time, was publicly complaining about losing his home. Mark was living in abject squalor in his remote studio in the Smokey Mountains without adequate access to the mental health care he so desperately needed.

I present these two stories to you not because I’m pointing fingers or want to shame you. I just want to illustrate that “small” personal decisions have very real consequences, particularly when millions of people make the decision not to compensate artists they supposedly “love”. And it is up to us individually to examine the consequences of our actions. It is not up to governments or corporations to make us choose to behave ethically. We have to do that ourselves.

And also this:

What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles to allow the equivalent of looting. Say there is a neighborhood in your local big city. Let’s call it The ‘Net. In this neighborhood there are record stores. Because of some antiquated laws, The ‘Net was never assigned a police force. So in this neighborhood people simply loot all the products from the shelves of the record store. People know it’s wrong, but they do it because they know they will rarely be punished for doing so. What the commercial Free Culture movement (see the “hybrid economy”) is saying is that instead of putting a police force in this neighborhood we should simply change our values and morality to accept this behavior. We should change our morality and ethics to accept looting because it is simply possible to get away with it.  And nothing says freedom like getting away with it, right?

But it’s worse than that. It turns out that Verizon, AT&T, Charter etc etc are charging a toll to get into this neighborhood to get the free stuff. Further, companies like Google are selling maps (search results) that tell you where the stuff is that you want to loot. Companies like Megavideo are charging for a high speed looting service (premium accounts for faster downloads). Google is also selling ads in this neighborhood and sharing the revenue with everyone except the people who make the stuff being looted. Further, in order to loot you need to have a $1,000 dollar laptop, a $500 dollar iPhone or $400 Samsumg tablet. It turns out the supposedly “free” stuff really isn’t free. In fact it’s an expensive way to get “free” music. (Like most claimed “disruptive innovations”it turns out expensive subsidies exist elsewhere.) Companies are actually making money from this looting activity. These companies only make money if you change your principles and morality! And none of that money goes to the artists!

And believe it or not this is where the problem with Spotify starts. The internet is full of stories from artists detailing just how little they receive from Spotify. I shan’t repeat them here. They are epic. Spotify does not exist in a vacuum. The reason they can get away with paying so little to artists is because the alternative is The ‘Net where people have already purchased all the gear they need to loot those songs for free. Now while something likeSpotify may be a solution for how to compensate artists fairly in the future, it is not a fair system now. As long as the consumer makes the unethical choice to support the looters, Spotify will not have to compensate artists fairly. There is simply no market pressure. Yet Spotify’s CEO is the 10th richest man in the UK music industry ahead of all but one artist on his service.

Dear god. Okay, first of all, C and I buy all of our music. We just do. It doesn’t feel right not to. I realize this puts us in a very small minority. I hate, nay DESPISE Apple, as a company, but unfortunately, we buy our music through iTunes. We partly do this because we are both artists who eventually would like to be fairly compensated for our work someday. The person who wrote this letter is also quite right  —

The existential questions that your generation gets to answer are these:

Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself?

Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?

Why do we gladly give our money to some of the largest richest corporations in the world but not the companies and individuals who create and sell music?

This is a bit of hyperbole to emphasize the point. But it’s as if:

Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!

Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians!

I am genuinely stunned by this. Since you appear to love first generation Indie Rock, and as a founding member of a first generation Indie Rock band I am now legally obligated to issue this order: kids, lawn, vacate.

You are doing it wrong.

Okay, I hate internships. I think in the vast majority of cases they should be illegal. Even in the case that these interns are getting college credit and actually learning something from this experience, they should be getting paid. I think this whole thing is such a giant clusterfuck, that intern Emily could easily respond to this letter saying, “maybe if I got paid to do my work, I could actually buy music,” etc., etc. Maybe I am just a crotchety old person, but if these interns are the people seeking a career writing about music, then I worry about the future of  music journalism. But since I worry about the future of everything, all the time, perhaps I should just go back to my coffee.

Currently reading…

High Lonesome: The American Culture of Country Music by Cecelia Tichi, a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. It’s a semi-interesting book, written in the mid 90s. It should be much better.

She makes a few interesting points, though. Like this one:

Having called country music a previously ‘missing’ piece of the American cultural puzzle, however, I must now backtrack a bit and qualify that point. Country music does not simply complete a picture we already have well in mind. In this project, country music does not simply take its place in a familiar pattern of the arts and literature in the United States from colonial time to the present. This is not a bid to say that country music, too, participates in the artistic vigor of this nation, that country music can join the cultural party, so to speak.

Quite the contrary. This book says that country music, examined carefully, enables us to see vital parts of the national identity that otherwise are hidden, obscured, overshadowed, blacked out in painful self-censorship The book works, not toward the music, but from it, taking the music as a guide into what one writer terms, “the hear of the heart of the country.” The discoveries are surprising.