Musical Selfishness

Posted 7/15/2008 by 1 in Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

I recently came across an advertisement for a shoe brand whose counter-intuitive slogan was, "Get them before they become cool." I clicked on the link. It sent me back to my childhood; I begged my moms for this Personal Jukebox (a rudimentary mp3 player) so that I could rip songs off Napster and jam out in style. This was three years before the first iPod.

There are those of us who enjoy being on the cutting-edge of technology, fashion, music, sports, dance, film, art, literature, information, etc. And I am one of those people (as I'm sure are many of my esteemed collegue bloggers and you, the curious reader of ArtStar). How else can we explain (or justify, rather) scouring the Times, TED, music reviews, and other less-than-credible websites on the interweb for the newest and best [insert newest and best thing here]? How else can we relate our collective disappointment/rage when firefox3 wouldn't download on time during its opening a few weeks ago? What about when the sneakers or sunglasses we just bought become the kitchsy rage about your school, neighborhood, school, county, country?

It is this third rhetorical question (and obsession)
upon which I would like to expound and it is one that I'm sure you can emphathize with me.

So it began with the Personal Jukebox. Even though that plastic, shoddy piece of shit was broken within two months, I loved it. It was sweet. Maybe I'm a hopeless romantic when it comes to keeping personal things personal and intimate, but when the iPod craze hit, I felt as though someone stole my neatly packed lunch in second grade, ate it in front of me, and poked me in the face. I felt violated.

It is the reason I refuse to adopt the iPod, Apple, and Steve Jobs as my personal savior. It, like the shoe ad, is mainstream cool. Despite their attempts to tell us otherwise, Apple is up there with Coca-Cola and McDonald's. And, for many, once a precious jewel of ours has hit mainstream, it dies.

I'll give you other examples. In high school, I was (and still am) a huge Saul Williams fan. I thought he was incredibly progressive, absurdly talented, and simply brilliant. Fast-forward to 2008. Nike comes out with a commercial for their new training package, SPARQ, and uses Saul Williams' "List of Demands (Reparations)" as its keynote track. A week later, I hear it at the local college hangout apartment. The brilliance of the song and its message was lost on the group. It was just another song to jump up and down to and to which one would pull out pseudo-training manuevers. I didn't necessarily get angry at them or feel violated this time, but just saddened by the bastardization of Saul Williams. The same thing happened with CSS on the iPod commericials (those fucking iPods again) and then again at the same college apartment hangout. And again when fellow-Pittsburgher Greg Gillis/GirlTalk started hitting the scene, that connection with him and I lost its luster. And again it was played at the hangout.

This is where the article was supposed to end. It was suppose to end on a diatribe about how the mainstream, the commercial, always steals our independent, individual, and personal bands and never shows the least bit of gratitude. Worse, once they are done, they castigate it, relegate it to the trash bin, and move on to the next latest craze.

But I realized all of those feelings are simply selfish. Just because a person who memorizes all the words to every top40 hit on the local radio station suddenly and momentarily loves that artist or band you had been with for years, doesn't mean it's a terrible travesty against everything good, pure, and wholesome in the world. It's not.

This whole process of commercializing art has its pitfalls. But art, in all of its forms, is inherently communal. Sharing your personal gems or your own personal art is an amazing gift. For example, I would never have heard of and fallen in love with Neutral Milk Hotel had a few very talented student-musicians chose to perform a cover of the band only among their circle of friends. Instead they performed in the center of campus. Nor would I have heard of the greatest band of our generation, Radiohead, had it not been for the local radio station incessantly blaring "Creep" over the station back in the day. Now I listen to them almost daily.

The point of it is, stop being selfish. All people can enjoy great music, or art, for a lot of different reasons and personal preferences. Even if the rabble do not appreciate your favorite sunglasses, or band, or art, on a deeper level, that doesn't diminish it. At worst, it means it's catchy and popular, and, at best, it attests to the greatness of the artist and their efforts. So next time that happens, take a breathe, and realize, you can still enjoy the music along with the rest of the rabble.

[Author Note: For the record, I'm still not buying an iPod.]

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