for 14 November 1996. Updated every THURSDAY.

 

 

White Noise

 
Look around you now: Pop
connoisseurship has been wasted on
the way, lingering far too long in
the junkyards of postpunk and the
boneyards of postfunk. Weren't the
lyrics of Rapper's Delight already
entered into Bartlett's? Has any
teenager alive not rehearsed the
notion of "VU" and Neil Young as the
ur-indie rockers? Haven't they all
seen the Cobain autopsy pictures?
 
Clockwork hipsterism is not only the
same old song. It's also exhausting
and expensive, unless you start your
own music zine to get free CDs from
Matador. It's high time to reclaim
that sweetest taboo, middle American
soft rock.
 
Yet, if you ever find yourself
standing in a club behind two
Technics SL-1200 turntables,
nervously assessing the mood of the
crowd, trying to select the next
slab o' wax that will keep the
dancers from drifting off the floor
to the bar... well, you could safely
bet your next 10 paychecks that one
of the following queries would be
shouted over the din as you press a
headphone intently to one ear.
 
"Could you play some JAMES BROWN?"
"Could you play some P-FUNK?" "Could
you play some SLY STONE?" "Could you
play some PRINCE?" "Could you play
that song SEXUAL HEALING?"
 
Odds are that three out of four of
these desperate entreaties would
issue from a young urban
professional wearing Ferragamo pumps
and a hairband.
 
What gives?
 
Against all odds, we've witnessed a
recent push to mine AM radio for
'90s gold, and with a little luck,
pop will never be the same. The
reason is obvious: A dose of solid
songwriting and catchy melody
provides content for the largely
form-driven music of today. The
Fugees' follow-up hit to their
hip-hop retread of "Killing Me
Softly" has nothing on the rest of
the Roberta Flack catalogue.
Courtney Love has never written a
hook that could hold its own against
Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac.
But her angry veneer of lip curls
and guitar licks, like the Fugees'
beats, brings out some of the latent
aggression in an old ballad, and
makes it palatable in an age that
fears sincerity. Even Seal and
George Michael, darlings of the VH-1
set, see fit to cover Hall & Oates
and Patrice "Forget Me Nots" Rushen.
 
 
My DJ partner Loopy Lew, despite his
Mayflower Society eligibility, is
prejudiced in favor of black music.
He has impeccable taste, with a
preference for obscurish R & B. The
Brothers Johnson. The Meters.
Anything by Bill Withers except
"Lean On Me." When he does spin a
Marvin or Sly platter, he'll
sandwich it between two undiscovered
gems to take the Golden Oldie edge
off and make it new again.
 
He knows it's borderline tasteless to
even make the black/white
distinction. Still, it doesn't take
a musicologist to hear the
difference. The Paul McCartneys of
the world clearly love Chuck Berry,
but can't shake their fathers'
inculcations of British music hall
ditties. It took Earth Wind & Fire
to shake Paul's "Got To Get You Into
My Life" free of its Liverpudlian
moorings. If this yen for James
Brown & Co. isn't just squares
exoticizing their own misreading of
"funkiness," then I can't tell you
what.
 
Me, I like white music. Very white
music. Baleful tunes soaked in
bleach overnight, then pressed with
extra starch. Pure, syrupy
sentiment. Tunes to make the
distortion-worshipping hipsters
cringe.
 
 
But not in a winking,
isn't-this-a-hoot sort of way. Not
in the vein of Priscilla, Queen of
the Desert; not Strictly Ballroom; not
To Wong Foo; and not in a Saturday
Night Fever theme restaurant called
Polly Esther's (no relation to the Suck
columnist of the same name), where
predictable era-confused helpings of
Men Without Hats and ABBA are served
along with the BBQ chicken wings and
nachos grande.
 
I surrendered long ago and far away,
before the hardcore likes of the
Replicants covered The Cars' "Just
What I Needed" and McCartney's
"Silly Love Songs," before Amy
Heckerling planted Eric Carmen's
"All By Myself" in Clueless, before
Shonen Knife leached the corniness
out of "On Top of The World" for
that ersatz tribute album If I Were
A Carpenter.
 
The real test will be how low the
samplers and cover artists will go.
Perhaps their internal alarms will
sound when they trip Alan Parsons's
electronic eye in the sky. It's one
thing to conjure up Roberta Flack's
"soul" - which, though soft, was
never really in question, and as one
of the best-selling and
most-recognizable acts in rock
history, Fleetwood Mac is a pretty
safe bet. But for anyone caught
between the moon and New York City,
it's cowardly to admire the
knowingness of Hole's "Gold Dust
Woman" cover without also accepting
the Stevie Nicks video library.
 
 
Early manifestations of Soft Rock
Revivalism - such as Mariah Carey's
devalue-added retread of "I Can't
Live (If Living Is Without You) -
point toward a self-conscious
aesthetic of Cheese, whose pitfalls
include doofy Mr. Roboto kitsch and
Pina Coladic irrigations of
mainstream nostalgia. Even the
posthumous Karen Carpenter album is
being repositioned as her foray into
"edginess."
 
In the best-case scenario, the
hip-hop and rave DJs will lead the
charge. The next few years (thank me
for not writing "the end of the
millennium") will be marked by
underground competition to sample
the whitest, wackest beats and
breaks possible. The underrated Biz
Markie was way ahead of the curve
some years ago when he tried to bite
Gilbert O'Sullivan's classic
self-pitying number, "Alone Again,
Naturally"; Mr. O'Sullivan put the
kibosh on it to protect his, er,
legend.
 
But the times are ever closer on the
heels of the research and
development wings of the
counterculture, and by TYTT (The
Year Two Thousand), the whole cycle
will be played out, G, and we can
return to enjoying our heart-rending
records sans scare quotes.
 
 
Meantime, keep the radio tuned right
down the line to your local Easy
Favorites Station. Note down songs
that pluck at your heartstrings.
Pick up the corresponding singles at
your local dealer of old 45s. Find a
record player, preferably one with a
changer which lets you stack ten for
continuous play. Find 100 ways for
sailing off with Christopher Cross
to a Dream Academy in a northern
town - and give your self-Policemen
the evening off.
 

[Zero Baud Archive]

courtesy of
Ersatz