Moby really makes the romantic yearnings of an unassuming schmuck sound, well, romantic. In the general scheme of things, as things stand today, mediocre dudes who have the sad feels are out of favor, let’s leave it at that. But Moby is not your average mediocre sad dude. He only looks like one. He has great things inside that eggy bald head of his. Artistic greatness, as we all know it, is taking your own mundane and inherently selfish emotional landscape, and transposing it into something that sparks other people’s souls with recognition. Great art makes you look anew at people you normally dismiss, barely visible people, people you would mock if you noticed them at all. Like that aging hipster with his vegan latte and his limited edition laptop and his beanie – he’s a person too, and he has the same great depths you have. He may even have great sounds and visions inside his head that could touch the world with their beauty and universal truth. All this because art is empathy. Art is awaking others to their own depths of feeling. Art is sharing those depths of feeling. (Art is shorthand for emotional communication for people who suck at talking about their feelings.)
Neil Young is notorious – and admired – for doing just exactly what he wants with little concern for how it may land. He’s done some weird and unviable things on his quest to follow his muse no questions asked. There was the string of contract-breaker experimental records he made in the early 80’s, the feedback-heavy hard rock albums with Crazy Horse, and lately, the increasingly all-consuming paranoid railing about Monsanto and other environmental evils. Let’s just say that he’s taken his fans on a bumpy journey over the years. But it’s jams like this one that keep people climbing on board and coming back again; the fluid, versatile musicianship, the plaintive romanticism, the poetic phrasing, the granola idealism. This music is full of soul, the work of a man who loves what he does and writes about what he loves and what he believes. Neil Young really believes in everything he does, even when other people don’t, and that’s what has kept him popular and beloved all through his creative ups and downs.
Sex with strangers is a taboo, one of the milder ones. It’s a not-uncommon fetish. It’s a profession. For some people, it’s a symptom of the corruption of traditional values; for others, it’s just something you do on spring break. Nearly any way you look at it, there’s the implication that for people who have sex with strangers it’s because they lead lonely and broken lives. They’ve failed, somehow, to know the people they have sex with. That may be nearly true. It’s probably true that most sex workers, for example, didn’t arrive at their position by skipping down a path strewn with daisies. There are the confirmed lonelyhearts of the world, the people who find sustained relationships impossible for whatever reason. Too busy, too ugly, too traumatized or too antisocial, they’ve just given up on partnership and domesticity. There are the fetishists, whose fetish exists outside of how functional or not they might be in other areas of their life, and then there are people who simply get a thrill from the breaking of a mild taboo. Then there are those who think they are being brave new girls, feminist trailblazers lifting the stigma of promiscuity one drunk stranger at a time, carving a new society by their rejection of good girl standards, claiming their place alongside men in the arena of meaningless fucking. Until they realize that their behavior has calcified into fetish, they’re too old to learn relationship skills, all of their peers have disappeared behind their white picket fences, and all they’ve done is repaint the old taboos a different color. They find that they’ve become the nighthawk at the diner.
Bryan Ferry evokes a touch of Old Hollywood with a tribute to the home of William Randolph Hearst. It sounds both sexy and slightly haunted. With the ghosts of movie stars past, of course, and the energy of the god-knows-what that went on at Hearst Castle before it became a museum. Extravagant luxury makes a great cover for filthy proclivities, and lest we forget, that’s been what makes Hollywood what it is since the days when people like William Hearst helped invent the concept of Hollywood. That’s a great fit for Ferry, who took a lot of inspiration from Hollywood sophisticates and their louche ways. In glamour lies danger.
A powerful singer can get a lot of emotional impact just from passionate humming. Moby is not that singer, but he knows where to find them. Finding great samples and bringing in great guests is how he made himself an unlikely household name. His albums are usually filed under uninspiring titles like ‘downtempo’ and ‘chillwave’ and the all-encompassing ‘electronica’. That doesn’t really do justice to the scope of an album like 18. Those 18 songs carry more depth of emotion than most of the earnest balladeers and wanna-be emo kids out there.
One day I’m going to be a sexy older dame, and I only hope to be half as sensual and edgy as dame Marianne Faithfull. There have been many, many songs sung about being old and weary, if anybody can claim to have seen too much, it’s Faithfull. She owns the persona of the rueful old street singer. The other side of that persona is the unrepentant sensualist who savors her experience and can’t wait to live more. Which is incredibly inspiring, for anyone who doesn’t aspire to curl up and die once they’ve passed their golden child years. Life is still full of adventure, even if you’ve outlived your usefulness as an ingenue. There’s the promise of late life romance, free of the shame and stupidity of youth. There’s the satisfaction of wisdom well earned, the pride of self sufficiency, the relief of leaving the young woman’s pedestal behind forever. Once you’ve lived it all and seen it all, the world is your oyster.
“If I like them because they remind me of eating bad bathtub mescaline in the woods and listening to Cure singles, well, that’ll do. You might like them for completely different reasons.” – Scott Seward, The Village Voice
Sounds about right. No, I don’t have that experience and that’s not the reason I like Interpol, but it’s a good point. Is there really anything wrong with liking things because they remind us of other things? That’s a tricky line, because nobody likes things that are derivative. You really have to be as good as your influences to pull off a good homage. Interpol, though, they get those backhanded write-ups a lot, because they’re so masterful at evoking things beyond their own time and place. It’s the sense of menace in their music, their disaffected tone, the cool-guy ennui; those things may remind some people of their own disaffected days, and if, for a certain generation, that always seems to evoke the ghost of Ian Curtis, so be it.