Friday, March 6, 2009

To h-e-double-hockey-sticks in a handbag

Recently, the Guitar Player and I have found ourselves discussing fears of various things disappearing from our culture.  It's strange at my spring-chicken age to already be thinking "kids these days" kinds of thoughts, but at the same time, this whacky world wide web and other technology seems to have accelerated the pace of change.  Since this topic has become a trend (three occurrences = a trend, no?) I thought it perhaps blogworthy.  

1.  Slow dancing

In the last maybe year or so, I've been visited again and again with this image of slow dancing.  The way a song gets stuck in your head or a dream comes back to you in the middle of the day, I think of slow dancing and yearn to do it.  And not in a Dirty Dancing kinda way, but a croony cheek-to-cheek kinda way.  The other day my uncle wrote a Facebook note about the tunes that were popular when he was a teeny bopper, songs by The Crew Cuts, The Diamonds, The Four Lads.  It reminded me of a story about my grandparents slow dancing on Sundays, the details of which I might have invented myself -- I'm forever making up love stories -- so I'll keep them to myself for now.  But anyway, GP posed the question:  Does anyone actually slow dance anymore?  Does the radio play slow dance songs anymore?  I was hard pressed to think of any, which of course makes me want to write one.  I will definitely keep you posted.

2.  Rock stars

GP read some article or other about how superstars are a dying breed in music, which re-ignited a recurring rant of his about how the industry no longer allows for bands to become really big.  Not only is it hard to do with SO many bands, all of which have more access to audiences (thanks MySpace!) and sound-improving technology than ever, but any band who comes along with the ambition to become really huge is automatically treated with skepticism (at best) from critics.  

Personally I have mixed feelings about this whole thing, for two reasons.  One is that I of course love discovering little-known eccentric ANYTHING -- towns, bookstores, fruits, bugs, blogs, and yes, musicians -- because I am eternally delighted by variety.  The other is that for music to become really huge, it has to appeal to a whole lot of people, all of whom of course have widely varying tastes and things they want from a song.  That means that the artist either has to be just exceptionally good across the board, with universal but provocative lyrics and somewhat groundbreaking music (The Beatles, U2, and Radiohead come to mind) or they have to be generic enough that there's little in the music to turn listeners off, in which case they rely a lot more on sex and catchiness (a la Britney Spears -- and the Bass Player says Hinder but since I've never heard of them, I don't think they can be counted a household name).  I would argue that the Britneys still get much more culture-wide attention than the Bonos (maybe just barely in this particular case, since Bono's such an international do-gooder and Oprah hearts him), so hugeness may have nothing to do with quality, in which case I say good riddance.

So if anything concerns me here, it is the decline of quality.  Part of the problem is that the industry is SO saturated with fairly good bands, all of whom have more or less equal access to audiences, it's neither easy nor necessary for a truly superb band to emerge.  Another issue is the fact that technology has made it far less important to be a truly good musician.  In theory it is totally possible to build a fan base without ever having to play live, thanks to the net.  The majority of people, in my estimation, find music online or through friend recommendations or on iTunes or Lala  -- certainly not by checking out local shows.  And recording technology has advanced enough that a mediocre band with enough cash could make a pretty good-sounding record.  

All of that said, I'm not nearly as worried about it as the GP.  The long tail may be where it's at now, but I think people need their rock stars.  There's something in the human psyche that will always seek a god or goddess.  I have to believe that even globalization can't steal our need for ideals.  Obama's a good omen in this respect.  Don't give up hope.
3.  The integrity of the English language

I'm just gonna paste in our IM conversation about this from the other night, which all started with GP mentioning something from his day called a "Webinar," a word that struck me the wrong way at that moment and sent me off on a rant.

Singer: here's the problem.
it's the same problem all around, which is that masses of lazy-minded people all have access to a forum (message boards, blogs, etc. etc.), so new words catch on very quickly, even stupid words created by lazy-minded people, which would otherwise die in their heads or at best, their circle of friends.
   or their company.
just like masses of mediocre musicians have access to an audience.
the result is a decline in quality. of music and of language.
as evidenced in pepsi ads everywhere.
GP: webinar is a stupid word?
Singer: it's not an awesome word.
it's a utilitarian word trying to masquerade as an awesome word.
which annoys me.
that's the business part of it.
GP: why as an awesome word?
Singer: or at least a clever word.
GP: i think it's primarily about brevity.
not cleverness.
so what you're saying is, you're not into the whole brevity thing.
esp. not when there's a beverage involved.
Singer: no that's not at all what i'm saying, duderino.
i mean.
how hard is it to say "web seminar"
it's not.
we're talking about a single syllable saved.
which is why i think it's more about cleverness
GP: how hard is it to say cannot?
will not
Singer: but can't is not being used in the same way
GP: does not
it's being used for brevity.
Singer: plus you say can't, won't, shan't how many times a day?
okay maybe not shan’t, but y’know
of course it's going to get contracted. it happens just by talking fast.
how often do you really need to say web seminar.
GP: they put them on every other week
i bet it's somewhat common in business.
Singer: plus to -not a word is a whole pattern of language
yes. it's common in business.
and that irritates me.
just because it does.
Singer: because business people do not care about words.
and i do.
and if they do care, it's for NEFARIOUS purposes.
like selling stuff.
GP: they're BUSINESS people.
Singer: precisely.
and they're ruining my language.
along with the LAZY-MINDED people.
it's this whole "go go go" crap anyway. brevity…
we don't have TIME to say web seminar.
we have important STUFF to sell.
er, do.
none of that has any business screwing with language. language, which affects our very brain structure.
so there.
it belongs to the downfall of integrity conversation every bit as much as the death of the superstar does. is my point.
corruption of quality.


Joe Grav said...

Yeah, 3 is a trend I think.

I was just recently discussing #2 with someone. Who from this era in rock is really going to be remembered in 30, 40, 50 years? Dave Matthews? The Killers?

Michael Epstein said...

I use "shan't" at least a couple times a month.
It's not businesses that are ruining our language, it's the marketing "geniuses" who think we only speak and think in cutesie, quick terms.

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