Today’s song is pure atmosphere that gives you nothing to think about. And that’s a good thing. Moby isn’t quite up to Eno levels of ambient mind-cleansing, but he’s damn near close. Creating pop music that gives you nothing to think about in the sense that it soothes the mind and fosters a meditative state, as opposed to giving you nothing in the sense of being stupid…well, that’s actually a pretty tall order and not very many artists fit the bill. And I would like to have my mind soothed sometimes.
It’s hard to believe that in 1972 Cat Stevens’ albums were the kind of bestsellers that nearly everyone went out and bought. I mean, that’s hard to imagine just logistically, because in their day they had to physically walk to the record store, in the snow, and it was uphill both ways. But also, it’s weird to think of a time when it was guileless thoughtfulness and gentle melody that floated people’s boats. Songwriters like Cat Stevens still exist, people who want to write about love and finding meaning in the world. But being thoughtful and spiritual and positive-minded and just nice is not what you’d call the dominant aesthetic. Maybe it’s because our times are more troubled than 1972 was. The early seventies were all peaceful and golden, right? RIGHT??
Marina Diamandis sure knows how to make angst poetic. She’s dramatic in her lyrics, in her vocals, and in her image. She may have pop diva sensibilities, but they’re constantly in a balancing act with her emo side. Because although her music might sound ‘big’ her topics are intimate. She writes a lot about things that are interior in a way that most pop doesn’t usually touch. Lots of songs about insecurity, about not knowing who you are and what you’re doing. That’s an essential part of being young, of course, and dealing with those feelings in a productive way is an essential part of becoming less young. That’s why Marina strikes a chord with the young and the not so much. She’s a figure study in how to be vulnerable and creative about it.
(26 February 1940 – 18 November 2017)
There’s a lot that we’ll never know about Bob Marley, a lot that we’ll never see, simply because he grew up and lived during a time when even the most creative people didn’t see the necessity of documenting themselves for posterity. It’s arguable that the world would be a richer place if Bob Marley had had an Instagram account or some similar outlet of constantly sharing his thoughts with the world; not everyone wants to constantly share their thoughts with the world, and nearly no-one’s thoughts are constantly worth sharing. (Though I imagine that an artist like Marley, who had a strong political message and an ambition to make change in the world, would have done really well as a Twitter activist.) However, it’s hard to argue that the world would, in fact, be at least a tiny bit richer if there were more – and higher quality – footage of Bob Marley and the Wailers in action. Their earliest days as a group were barely documented, and that would be fascinating to see. There must have been so many amazing performances that have been lost to memory, especially the ones that came before the worldwide fame. It’s not entirely a blank – enough shows were filmed for at least one full concert documentary, probably more. It’s enough to get a good idea of what a Bob Marley concert would have been like; it looks like fun, it looks like a powerful show to take in. We’ve just been spoiled by the technological and social advances that now allow artists to have an all-access relationship with their fans. We like all of that unfiltered oversharing. We just want to see our favorite artists doing what they do.
Remember Bianca Jagger’s 1977 birthday party that found her riding into Studio 54 astride a white horse led by naked male dancers? You were there, yes? That was probably the single most iconic moment of the disco era. It was also, of course, the jet-setting celebrity demimonde making a not-subtle in-joke about their own lifestyle. We all know what white horses are a symbol of. These were people for whom cocaine formed the basis of a food pyramid that included not much else. That kind of flagrancy wouldn’t be possible today, because today’s glamorous stars like to pretend that they become svelte through holistic means and not by blood-money amphetamines. (Also, that poor horse!) Cocaine’s good name has been dragged by its trashy cousin crack, the next-generation cool party kids have their own cool party drugs. But the disco mystique of the 70’s lingers, for a variety of complex reasons, as the halcyon ideal of libertine living, and we can’t stop paying tribute to it for its glamour and its hedonism, and from our post-war-on-drugs post-AIDS-epidemic vantage point, its comparative optimism and innocence. Hence, neo-disco musicians like Goldfrapp, whose take may be post-modern but not entirely ironic in its admiration.
Let’s Dance is heavily frontloaded with big hits, but if you listen past the first three songs, shit gets weird in typical David Bowie fashion. Even at his most “commercially buoyant” Bowie can’t make it through a whole album without imagining an industrial wasteland full of fascism and poverty. His sudden transformation into a sleek and commercially viable superstar was in fact a pretty thin disguise. Let’s Dance wasn’t a confirmation of newfound harmlessness; it was more like The Thin White Duke Goes On Holiday. Serious Moonlight era documentaries show a disturbingly blond David Bowie cutting an Englishman-abroad figure in a variety of exotic Asian locales. After being alienated all over Eastern Europe, the Duke becomes more global, vastly richer, and yet still alienated.