Well, here I am asking myself if it’s wrong that I still enjoy Morrissey’s newer records. Morrissey once said that being his fan must be very hard, and ever since, he’s thrown down the gauntlet to make it even harder. Why does he keep saying all these nasty racist things? Is it because he’s a racist old white guy? The best I can say for him is that he has the very immature mentality that he should be allowed to say whatever he likes and not expect any pushback, and when he says dumb shit and earns negative pushback, he acts shocked and wounded. More to the point, I would say that he is an elderly man who has calcified, as people tend to do with age, into someone more ignorant, more conservative and more deeply out of touch than his younger self used to be. (Although his younger self was kind of a jerk too.) Can we just accept that most of our icons are scum? Most people are scum when you look at them closely enough, but especially if they’re white guys of a certain age and too much money in their pockets. That’s just demographically factual. Even the so-called good ones. They were all raised to believe that their shitty behavior is somehow ‘charming’ or symptomatic of inner depth or is negated by their talent, or whatever. And then we all collectively threw money at them and hung their picture up in a frame. Every day there’s another breathless news story about some old dude saying or doing or being accused of saying or doing some shitty stupid shit like they don’t understand that the entire culture has changed and people are no longer going to shrug and say “oh, you!” like a put-upon sitcom housewife. And lest you ask, female elder statesmen are in no way exempt from this; Brigitte Bardot, for example, is absolutely abhorrent in her politics, while the likes of Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand have decided that defending Michael Jackson (a man who did sex to little boys, on the scale of shitty things to have done) is the hill their reputations would die on. Does that mean that Morrissey is canceled, as the kids say? Well, no. If every shitty person’s art was canceled, there would be no art left, because we’re all shitty people and we all have done things we’d like to not have dredged up on Twitter. Even Michael Jackson is not canceled.
Gee, I wonder what Passion Pit’s been up to. Does Passion Pit still exist as such? Their most recent record came out in 2017, and I guess that they’ve suffered from having singer Michael Angelakos’s personal life being made into a focus point. (He came out in 2017.) Also, is this particular brand of dreamy electronic pop still au courant? I mean, as far as I’m concerned, electro-dreampop is the genre of the decade and I will never stop loving it. But also it’s 2019 and maybe it’s something else to crest the wave. (Please don’t let it be overly-earnest singer-songwriters with high-pitched voices.) Anyhow, in 2008, when they released their first EP, Passion Pit was ahead of the wave, and that makes them essential listening.
You can make fun of Paul McCartney all you want, but he’s just going to shrug and whistle all the way to the bank. If you had written a tune this catchy you would say “This is it, lads, this is our golden ticket out of obscurity!” And then you would spend the rest of your life trying to leverage your one moment on inspiration into a steady paycheck. But Paul McCartney can just take one of the catchiest tunes ever written by anyone ever and throw it away as a novelty song about stinky feet. Because he can. That is all.
Amanda Palmer named an album Theatre Is Evil, and she’s got a point. She knows, probably better than most, the incredible power of just getting up on a box with your piano or your ukulele or whatever, and speaking your mind. Palmer started her career literally standing on a box, as a street busker, and she’s built her fanbase through the unconventional means of interfacing with fans directly via social media. She’s earned her share of controversy, mainly from critics (and peers) who cannot wrap their heads around how crowdsourcing and direct patronage even works, and insist that those things have got to be in some way wrong because they cannot understand such a novel model of artist/fan relations. The no-middleman business model isn’t for everyone, but it’s worked out pretty dang well for Amanda Fucking Palmer, and besides all that, it’s given her a unique platform for her activism. She has her very own grassroots network of dedicated supporters, people who may have come for the music but who’ve stayed for the political engagement and consciousness raising. Palmer has always been outspoken in her feminism and keenly aware of her power, as an artist, to be heard and the responsibility to share stories and amplify other voices. Right now, in suddenly turbulent times, she’s tapping and amplifying a deeper rage, as the stakes in activism become increasingly life or death. Amanda Palmer is very serious about being the a spokesvoice for women who are livid with rage and fear, and using her network to blur the lines between entertainment and political action. The personal is the political is the entertainment is the culture is the agent of change.
Going back to the summer of 2013, a great year for music. It must’ve been some kind of serendipity, but I discovered a lot of artists in 2013. There were just so many great songs on the radio, the kind that make you say to yourself, “What is this, I want more!” Portugal. The Man was one of those groups, with some amazingly catchy songs like Modern Jesus and Purple Yellow Red and Blue. The album Evil Friends has become a favorite, a definite keeper, one of those records that you remember an entire decade by. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend it.
Lily Allen is almost the same age as me, and her career follows such a perfectly post-millennial trajectory. She was the first and, I think, only, person to parlay MySpace popularity into a major mainstream pop career. She released her first demos online in 2005 and a year later she was a real-life star. Obviously, no one uses MySpace anymore, but social media has become the gateway, unguarded by anyone but trolls, from obscurity to notoriety. Nowadays, it’s a near-instant process and it’s become common to see young stars following a Kurt Cobain-like trajectory from promising to prematurely dead in a matter of months, as opposed the years it formerly took for that kind of drama to play out. Oh, but in the golden mid-2000’s, when Lily Allen had the sweet hit of the year, it was unheard of. Where did this girl come from and how did she do it? There was even a grudging sense that Allen had ‘cheated’ her way to fame, that she wasn’t really a ‘real artist’ because she’d used the internet to grow her fanbase, bypassing the usual years-spent-in-the-trenches process. There was talk about the necessity of paying one’s dues in order to have earned the sweet rewards of stardom. Nowadays, that feels like old people talk. Now one cares how you came up as long as you’re generating content. Lily Allen, for her part, got herself a major label contract as soon as she could, and it was only with that financial backing and PR know-how that she fully cleared the hurdle between internet sensation and entertainment industry professional. And now she’s writing songs about the angst of being a divorced single mother, making me, for one, feel incredibly old. On the other hand, though, it’s a kinda heartwarming to see the former MySpace brat grow into a pro with a long-term career that she’s steered, bumpily enough, through controversy and personal struggles, proving that artistic longevity is possible and sustainable, even for the instant-gratification generation.
I think we can say, with absolutely no hyperbole, that Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit is officially the definitive song of, like, the whole entire 90’s. At least, it was declared as such the minute it was released, in 1991. That may have been jumping the gun a little bit on the part of the music press, but it turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Smells Like Teen Spirit would be the rock anthem of the decade, and Kurt Cobain the voice of his generation. That was a load of hype even the most mentally ironclad person would have a hard time dealing with. Kurt Cobain was not mentally ironclad, unfortunately, and he could not deal. Which, of course, sealed his fate. Because minus the tragedy of all that snuffed-out charisma, Nirvana’s music really wasn’t all that different from the alternative and post-punk music of the 80’s. There’s no particular reason for this song to be anything more than just a really good rock song. Instead, what you’re hearing is a the sound of an entire generation’s first big grown-up rock star crush, followed by their first big grown-up taste of tragedy, loss and human frailty. It’s 90’s kids’ first pop culture trauma.