Just as we’ve established that all songs are about sex, we now see that most songs are about women, some are by women, and a select few are all of the above. Now, we explore those things in more depth. We will confront the dreaded ‘male gaze’ and its female sidekick ‘the muse’, and what we can learn from them both, and, of course, what female artists have to say about it from their side. Who better to kick that thesis off than Marianne Faithfull, who still has the words ‘professional muse’ stamped at the top of her resume decades after she walked out of that job and slammed the door. There is a lot to unpack in Faithfull’s embodiment of the muse, and she unpacked it very well herself. (Hint, read her book.) The short of it is, it’s impossible to be a fully flowered artist when you occupy a pedestal of other people’s making, and in order to become one, you have to kick your youthful, pedestal-occupying self into the dirt, and having destroyed her every vestige, move on with your life. What Faithfull has to offer, in her second life, is real hard-won perspective on a woman’s inner life, a clear view of what scars we carry as we move away from our prime muse years and into our real prime. Love, sex and romance aren’t what songs written by men make them out to be. In fact, they’re often the opposite, and men’s romantic gestures are very often just plain abuse dressed up with flowers. That’s something that has to be learned the hard way, and it makes the allure of pop song romance fade quickly. Romantic pop songs come from a place of unquestioned privilege or from the deeply naive. Torch songs and the blues are where it’s at. That’s what Marianne Faithfull’s torch songs have to teach us; they’re love songs for when we’ve become too grown up to fall for love songs anymore. We know that to be fully creative and self-sustained, we have to reject the romantic fantasies we pursued as girls – the ones that got us walking blindly into growth-stunting, manipulative, abusive situations with men who offered us pop song platitudes – and choose sometimes to be lonely, unsupported and sexually frustrated because it’s still preferable to ending up in a cage gilded with romantic gestures.
Blues. No matter how much or how little the music industry kowtows to its influence, or how much or how little recognition blues musicians get, blues is still at its best when it sounds as if it’s coming from inside of a dingy cavern. It’s music for backyards and kitchens, basement studios, parking lot barbecues, and roadside fruit stands. Because that’s where the music came from. The best blues should sound homemade. If it sounds like someone spent a hundred thousand dollars on bespoke guitar pedals, the soul is gone. R.L. Burnside was one of the last real blues practitioners, and even though at the end of his life he had access to fancy studios, and wasn’t above having fun with remixes, he spent enough years playing in dirt fields and parking lots to still have that seen-the-bottom sound.
There comes a point in every important conversation when you have to stop and ask, “But what does David Bowie have to say about it?” Although David Bowie has contributed more than most others in his field to our evolving ideas about sexuality and gender, he’s not the type to write crude anthems about fucking. I’m guessing that he was probably one of those insufferable intellectual soft bois who gave his one-night-stands a book to take home as a parting gift. Which, as a person who can’t quite separate sex from philosophy, I can relate to. That as it may, there wasn’t very much to find for this particular series of songs. Just a semi-instrumental from the obscure Buddha of Suburbia album. So, when pressed, I suppose that David Bowie just wants you to shut up and dance.
I still haven’t figured out if this song is in reference to the movie of the same name that came out in the same year. That movie was two and a half hours of Brad Pitt looking his most Aryan-ideal-ish against a backdrop of snowy mountaintops, so most likely what David Bowie was thinking of was the book that the movie was based off. Certainly it wasn’t his first time visiting the theme; Bowie’s interest in Tibetan culture and spirituality goes all the way back to some of his earliest songs. Musically this couldn’t be farther away from the days of Silly Boy Blue and Karma Man – this was deep in Bowie’s 90’s industrial phase. But he’s still toying with a lot of the same ideas, mainly the ‘nothing ever goes away’ part.
The world needs more Cibo Matto, but Cibo Matto have given sparingly to the world. They might just be the weirdest and coolest thing to happen in 1999. And 1996 and 2014, which covers each of their three albums. There may not be a huge market for a Japanese girl rapping about Star Wars and food, but it’s a thirsty one. This is exactly the kind of gleeful cross-cultural experimentation that keeps the music world fresh and alive. It may not have been mainstream in its time, but it’s the kind of thing that trickles up from the cool kids to the masses. Today we’ve come to expect everything from all over the world to come together in a celebration of pop culture references; it’s the transcontinental underground aesthetic. There shouldn’t be any lines between J-pop and hip-hop, or anything else. Also, those plastic hair clip thingies need to come back in style.
Shane MacGowan makes being a trainwreck and a sod sound appealing. Not from the looks of him, of course, but musically at least. There’s an insouciance and a shamelessness to it that makes you want to say “to hell with it all” and go drown yourself in a bottle. That kind of shameless joie de vivre in the face of disaster is a quality we associate with the Irish in general, which, as broad cultural stereotypes go, is not too terrible. I can think of other cultures whose stereotypical main characteristic is alcoholism, who aren’t seen as happy and lovable. Of course, there’s not much happy and lovable about a guy like Shane MacGowan either. Drinking until your teeth fall out of your skull isn’t cute, but I suppose that it does lend a certain dance-with-the-devil street cred.
I am in no way nostalgic for the cultural landscape of 1994, but I understand that some of you may be. This should take you there. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that Weezer is one of those groups that never outlived their legacy as a 90’s band. I know they still make records and such, but nobody thinks they’ve been consistently relevant for all these years. Or, I don’t know, maybe the aging hipsters of my childhood still do think that. I mean, I only listen to this band for the hits. I can say, though, that there’s definitely a generational divide between me, who was 11 years old in 1994, and older kids who actually grew up wearing flannel and have serious debates about which album reduntantly titled Weezer is the most important one.