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The New England branch of the literary society PEN has announced that it's bestowing its inaugural award for outstanding achievement in song lyrics in February (hat tip: Dave Bry/Maud Newton). Lyrics from all stripes of popular music can, of course, be utterly banal, but they can also employ words in ways that delight and confound, and it's somewhat heartening to see that music, after all these years of being a sort of also-ran in the pantheon of cultural forms that can double as High Art, is getting a little bit of shine for its most outstanding examples. The jury that will select the winner includes such musical luminaries as Bono, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, and Paul Simon, and given that one of those people was responsible for committing the line "I was punching in the numbers at the ATM machine/ I could see in the reflection/ A face staring back at me" to wax, it's not too much of a stretch to assume that suggestions from the peanut gallery are welcome. I asked some SOTC pals to pick their favorite potential contenders for this award; feel free to nominate your own in the comments.
Monday night the Republican Presidential candidate and frequent source/target of Photoshop japery Michele Bachmann appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in an effort to promote both her autobiography and her appearance at last night's Presidential debate. As a rebuke to the Minnesota congresswoman's somewhat slippery relationship with the truth, Fallon's house band the Rootswho aren't always into shying from making a "why is this person even here?" counterpoint with their choice of introductory musicdecided to dust off an old chestnut by the skacore pioneers Fishbone as she walked onstage. "Aight late night walkon song devotees: you love it when we snark: this next one takes the cake," ?uestlove tweeted before the show aired Monday. "ask around cause i aint tweeting title."
Yes, the VH1-clip-showization of music-discussion culture is pretty much a given at this point, thanks to, well, the Internet, and its tendency for shared laughter to hold more ballast than shared enjoyment within. (Shh.) And it follows that calling certain artists "one-hit wonders" is a common way to act as a laugh track for pop music, since it allows people to point and giggle at the parts of their past that they miss, but don't want to admit doing so for whatever reason (sadness/shame at getting older, the deep-seated knowledge that Stock/Aitken/Waterman's best songs are much more pleasurable than 90% of "authentic"/"mature" music). But you'd expect a retailer to at least be a little careful when pigeonholing some of its artists as such if only to wring maximum profit out of their back catalogsand yet iTunes' latest stab at collecting so-called "one-hit wonders" that it's deep-discounted to 69 cents isn't just lazily compiled, it seems to exist on Planet I've Never Been Inside A Rite Aid Playing The Follow-Up Singles To These Admittedly Very Big Songs. Five such examples, below.
A #1 hit, but not a one hit.
"The word 'indie' is meaningless now. It's so over-used that people think it simply means green hair."
The always-quotable Morrissey has some things to say about the current state of pop music in an extended interview with Billboard; he calls Madonna "McDonna" and wishes she'd be more like Edith Piaf, declares that he'll never turn into Michael Bublé (whew), and offers up this musing on the state of the i-word. Of course, the meaning of "indie" in Britain is a bit more modern-rock-skewing than the Our Band Could Be Your Life-derived version of the term employed on this side of the Atlantic, but his point on the meaningless of the term stands. Not that it's going to stop it from being mis/used all over the place, and I think the button-down dudes in brotastic bands like the ones currently populating the upper reaches of "indie" would turn their noses up at the prospect of sporting green locks, but you know, it's always good to think about the words we're using when we're using them!
Today's Times has a piece on a psychologist's theory about song lyrics of the current day being proof that we are all self-obsessed narcissists. The psychologist who came up with the theory, Nathan DeWall, was apparently inspired to embark on this quest by Weezer's "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)," which uses the mournfully humble Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" as its melodic base but spangles the tune with lyrics that are alternately self-aggrandizing and threatening. Despite the idea of someone taking a later-period-Weezer song at lyrical face value being somewhat dubious, and furthermore despite the 360-degree relationship between extreme narcissism and toxic self-loathing that one would think any fan of Rivers Cuomo would be very aware of, DeWall continued on with his digging. He was aided by a team of psychologists and a computer, which is a great idea because a machine will never miss a literary point, right?
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