Monday, February 28, 2005

YOUR LIFE IS A JOKE. LET’S GET IT ON TAPE!

As I take a rare moment to flip through the four channels I get on my television, I come across at least five commercials for new reality dating shows. Is there anything more pathetic than watching somebody try desperately to fall in love? Lack of quality entertainment is why I stopped watching television in the first place (well, that and you know – I lost my remote control.) It’s typical that I can’t get a date, but when other people are having trouble finding love, something has got to be wrong. It seems that everybody has the same problem: they don’t know where to meet good people.

It used to be that a person could go to places like a church to meet a potential mate. But, who the fuck wants to date some crazy religious zealot? I don’t know about you, but I value not having to get up early on Sunday. Another typically safe place to meet a potential lover was the grocery store, but people are too busy stocking up on supplies for the coming apocalypse to notice another attractive person. It also used to be that you could go to a bar to find a lover, but with the advent of date-rape drugs, and the variety and wide availability of venereal diseases floating around these days, not to mention that Michelob Ultra crap, the bar is no longer safe courting grounds.

It’s clear that the American dating system of courtship until marriage is breaking down. This could partially be due to the fact that marriage is becoming an increasingly doomed enterprise. Think about it: how many people under of the age of thirty do you know that are divorced? With all of the marital problems I constantly hear about, it’s a shock that we still celebrate the exchange of vows and console those who are getting a divorce. Logic holds that it should be just the opposite.

In the days of yore (1980s), dating was a private and common practice shared between two potential lovers in the hopes that such an encounter would lead to a fruitful relationship. If successful, the first date was usually followed by a second, then a third and after a long courtship, a celebratory adjoining ceremony in which two symbolically become one (AKA marriage). But dating has evolved into an interactive, televised, post-modern spectator event. A lonely single no longer has to cruise the aisles at a grocery store for prospective dates; he can now pick and choose his lovers on a game show – live! in front of a studio audience. Likewise, the recluse no longer has to cruise the mall for ripe, nubile teenage girls, he can just log onto the internet and discreetly meet tons and tons of teenies who are eager to share their secrets with a complete stranger.

Surely we all know of people who have tried their hand at internet dating. Some may work with a casual internet dater, or have one in their family or household, or even, ahem…be… one. But, is this what it has come to? The answer is yes and I’m saddened by this fact, not because it seems creepy and cold to use a medium of technological interface to try and lure a member of the opposite sex to meet at a safe, neutral location – wait, that does sound kind of creepy – but because the world that we live in now requires you to create a login name to score. Have things really gotten so bad that people can’t relate to each other and proceed accordingly old fashioned way – awkwardly, yet casually approaching someone, striking up a conversation, hoping to god that you haven’t said anything idiotic and if you did, she didn’t catch it, then nervously asking for a phone number and walking away feeling either victorious or stupid for even approaching said person in the first place? I believe that they have not.

However, as hinted at above, I have to admit that I have tried web-dating. Initially, my interest was only superficial due to skepticism because of what I thought was lack of actual potential. Predictably, a few ladies caught my fancy and I sent them a clever and non-threatening note and awaited their eventual rejection. But then something unpredictable happened: an interested party actually responded. Then another girl contacted me of her own accord, without prior provocation. Then another. Eventually I felt as though I actually had to turn chicks away for the first time in my life.

I am happy to report that one of these courtships did come to fruition, and am equally sad to further report that it was only for a short while, as the lady in question soon grew tired of my more realistic non-internet persona. And so, I chalk that endeavor up as yet another failure. But it has become especially hard to deal with now because so many fucking people I know are hooking up over the web. Once again the masses are succeeding where I have failed, miserably. In fact, I think I know more people by association through this dating service than by any other accountable and tangible means of traditional encounter. Of course, very few people do I know as a direct result of my personal experiences with web-dating – only through the experiences of others. There is virtually a “virtual” community emerging, composed entirely of e-daters. And I may very well be at the national apex.

Now, in the spirit of individuality, I have resolved to engage in e-dating no longer. I have challenged myself to think “outside the box” (computer) and assert myself in a face-to-face encounter with a woman of my particular fancy. I always imagine that I will meet my soulmate at the library or the record store and we will immediately hit it off because of our mutual love for some seemingly mundane, but personally indispensable pop-culture phenomenon. Then it occurs to me that this may not happen because I don’t even know where a library is and I usually make a habit of not talking to strangers.

Therein lies the main problem with trying to seek and obtain that one true love: people are scared. I don’t know what it is, man, but I’m scared of meeting people. I do know that once I meet a person and become comfortable, I become extremely likable. But, then kicks in what I call the 90 day guarantee: in 90 days or less I guarantee that I will have repeatedly done/said stupid/unnecessary things and will have chased off my muse due to an unconscious, but nonetheless intentional self-sabotage complex. However, I don’t feel like this neurosis is unique to me. I would be willing to bet that it’s an all too typical phenomenon for people to feel responsible for their own failures in the dating world. But the culprit may be the intense social emphasis that is placed on dating.

There are so many rules to dating: things you should do or say. Should I open the door for her? If she’s old-fashioned she may think it necessary, but if she’s a liberated feminist, she may be offended by the notion that she needs a man to open doors for her, literally or metaphorically. Should I bring up past relationships? They are relevant, in a way. History is important. But am I revealing too much too soon? Am I stuck in the past? What if she only believes in living in the now? Should I let sleeping dogs lie? And what the hell does that proverb even mean – ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’?

It’s no wonder that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a mate. Potential mates are becoming increasingly difficult. The older people get, the more set in their ways they are and the more they know what they want and the more exclusive what they want becomes. It’s stubbornness masquerading as choosiness. If you don’t fit the bill, then you get the boot. Who wants to waste their time waiting to see if something happens? Why bother if there’s no initial spark?

So it occurs to me that maybe I should try to meet my future spouse the way my parents met – in high school. Now, all I have to do is rig up a fake Never Been Kissed-style persona, go back to the eleventh grade and steal some nerdy, but potentially hot sophomore’s heart. Or better still, and even more cutting edge and less pedophiliac, I will bite the bullet and go onto a reality dating show. But alas, I have been in the presence of people several times who were approached by casting agents for these shows, all of whom look at me and say the same thing: “I don’t think you’re quite what we’re looking for – you’re too rugged.” I think to myself, what a typically Hollywood way of politely telling someone that they’re unattractive. I feel ugly, but I at least I’m ugly in a James Dean kind of way.

Reality dating shows are nothing new. The template has been around since Chuck Barris took time off from being a professional assassin to create The Dating Game. Granted, the format has changed: the drama is more real(?), the stakes are higher (??), the players are more attractive and the scenarios are a little bit “less contrived.”

The thing that continually blows my mind about these shows is just how far each contestant is willing to go. It’s clear that the people who appear in these programs are not aware of their own stupidity nor are they at all hesitant because of humility. Of course there’s always some kind of ulterior motive monkey wrench thrown into the scenario. It’s love versus money, or love versus vanity, or money versus vanity.

So if I aim to participate, it seems that all I have to do is become a little bit more charismatic, work out a bunch, attract the attention of a casting director, go onto the show, suffer hours - possibly days - of shameful drama, weather relentless gossip and criticism by fans, friends, foes and family alike, wade my way through attractive, but ultimately shallow and brainless drama queens, pick the one that I dislike the least and convince her to go out with me on a disastrous date at a location to be named later. On second thought that doesn’t seem so easy or even necessary for that matter.

So, I’m back to meeting chicks the old fashioned way: going to bars, getting drunk and clumsily hitting on them, or maybe that’s a little ill advised. Maybe the new technique I employ will be to enact an air of coy indifference. Girls love to ignored, right? Or maybe I will hire a personal matchmaker to find the perfect potential spouse. But, do I have to get married? Can’t I just have sex with the chick first and iron out the details the morning after.

Whatever method a person chooses it’s clear that the science of attraction has consistently proven only one thing: there is no science of attraction.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Star Wars - an enduring work of art and commerce?

All right, so I've been wanting to discuss this for a while: I read an article in Vanity Fair of all places in which George Lucas so presumptuously claims that in the future, people will be discussing the Star Wars films as an important and nuanced work of art containing great depth and worthy of much discussion, not only in terms of how innovative it was for it's time, but also how long it has endured. Lucas is basically claiming that his Star Wars films will inspire more questions than it can possibly answer.

The thing is: I kind of agree with him.

I'm no Star Wars Fanboy. I do like Star Wars, but I've hated the last two (first two?) movies. However, consider this: Star Wars is deeply entrenched in at least five or six major literary and philosophical traditions: it's a Christ parable in the form of a father-son savior dynamic, it heavily references Arthurian legend in it's relationship between characters (Luke as King Arhtur, Obi-Wan as Merlin, Leia as Guinevere and Han Solo as a sort of Sir Lancelot), it contains many elements of Samurai philosophy and aesthetic within the application of the Force and its parallel in Bushido as well as the duel being the preferred battle-style and the appearance of the characters, especially the Jedi (Darth Vaders/stormtrooper's helmet), it borrows from and builds on the tradition of fantasy myth and it also has an underlying political complexity that while, byzantine and overly idiosyncratic, is a relatively accurate portrayal of the way such a power struggle is conducted.

No doubt, references abound in Star Wars. The fantasy and Sci-fi elements are perhaps its most enduring and endearing qualities. Like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars creates it's own language, logic and politics. The creative genius behind such a juggernaut is without a doubt a "Force" to be reckoned with. Even the story itself is kind of complicated. Just try to explain the plot with some brevity to someone who hasn't seen it (finding one of these people can be a task in and of itself) and see if you can clearly and accurately convey it without including much of the details. Hell, I've seen the original round of movies several times each and I'm not sure that I can tell you what they're about. And I know I can't recount the plot of the latest round, partially because I'm not sure if I understand it myself.

In addition, it's widely held that Star Wars was the first of the blockbuster films that so many film critics have widely decried in the last thirty years. George Lucas widely retained the merchandising rights in anticipation of a huge spin-off campaign. This led to a new business model for marketing films and related spin-off products that is still very much in place to this day.

Then there's the many cinematic innovations Lucas and his team developed while creating the films, which has led to an adjunct business for Lucas and an ever-evolving new genre of digital effects films. In a twist of irony, though, the reliance upon digital effects has largely been responsible for the widespread dissatisfaction with the new Star Wars releases and the re-releases of the originals, that is, other than the C-level directing in the case of the new crop.

Perhaps what's most compelling is just how many different ways the Star Wars films can be analyzed critically. In one of my first film classes, a professor argued, much to the dismay of the students, that Star Wars was inherently racist and even borrowed scenes from a classic Nazi propoganda film. Here is a link to another, more politically-oriented analysis that may be just as shocking, as the author argues in favor of the Empire: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/001/248ipzbt.asp

All things considered, George Lucas may be right, the Star Wars vehicle might be pondered for generations to come. Unfortunately it may not be the cinematic power of the films that is remembered, but the many levels on which the foundation was constructed.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The So-Real Life

Let me tell you something about me. I will often go through the effort of stripping my bed, washing and drying my bedsheets, bringing them into my room, setting them on my chair and then sleeping on my bed with just the comforter on it for a week straight. I will pick up the sheets and move them from my chair to my bed when I want to sit in the chair, then move the sheets from my bed back to the chair when I want to sleep.

Why do I do such things? I'm twenty-six years old. I hold down a steady job - a pretty respectable one, too, I think (sometimes). And yet I refuse to act in such a way that is consistent with the kind of person I should be at this age.

I grew up watching television shows like Dream On and Friends and Seinfeld. I thought my heroes in all of these shows were sophisticated, upwardly-mobile, urban-intellectual-types. This is what I so desperately aspired to be as I sat in my rural South Dakota home (or Montana, depending on the time period) and hung on their every word. Now, as I watch these shows today, I realize that I couldn't have been more inaccurate in my summation of these characters. True, the fact that I aspired to be like sitcom characters is worrisome enough, but the fact that I chose to be like whiny, narcissistic, shallow, comically flawed caricatures is downright frightening. The worst part is, I suppose that, to a certain extent, I embody many of the qualities that I would deem comical in those very characters. In a bizarre twist of irony, I have become the characters I wanted to emulate, but only in the worst possible sense. I don't live in a trendy Manhattan loft. I don't have a (very) romantic job. I don't go on countless dates with an endless amount of incredibly attractive women. In fact, I don't really have dates with women at all, attractive or otherwise. Instead, I go through my life allowing quirky little ticks (read: neuroses) dictate how I live and interact with people.

I regularly and willfully engage in self-destructive behavior: drinking. eating horribly unhealthy food, failing to exercise regularly, missing out on social opportunities in favor of staying at home. This is no surprise. But the question at hand is: why? Why do people willfully partipate in behvior that doesn't benefit them and in fact could harm them? I recently read an article in the LA Weekly about a gentleman (yeah, I used the word 'gentleman', so what?) named Jared Diamond who wrote a book called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Malcolm Gladwell also wrote a story about this dude (available at www.gladwell.com) Now, I haven't read this book, but for my purpose the main point is enough to get my own point across. According to what I've read, in the book Diamond submits that societies often participate in self-destructive behavior, which ultimately leads to the downfall of entire civilizations. I believe that one could apply this principal to the lives most of us are leading: we often routinely engage in activities that may eventually be our own undoing.

Many of us try will amend such behavior as we grow older. I mean, is there really any room in this world for a thirty-five year old male with pierced ears, or for a twenty-six year old with his Denver Broncos hat cocked sideways as he sits at his computer in a post-modern moment condemning that very thing?

Now I'm not saying that immaturity is the defining factor in my life. I've done some very adult things as recently as this afternoon. I sat down and figured out (some) of my taxes. And to reward myself, I bought a Tombston(ed)[ [hee hee] pizza and ate the whole damn thing, thereby cancelling out my adult gesture in one fell teenage-esque swoop.

When I catch myself acting in such immature ways, I often quote to myself the now-infamous line Elaine from Seinfeld uttered after she kidnapped her neighbors dog for barking too much: "I'm not an adult, I'm a child." The great thing is, I can say this with just a little bit of my tongue in my cheek, because I regularly pay my own car insurance bill.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Pretty Woman!?

Note: I apologize for how lame the following "essay" is. It's actually pretty entertaining to read because you can tell I had no idea where I was going with it and, frankly, I still don't.

I was hoping to have something positive to explore as I sit here and relay my stream of consciousness to the nether regions of the blogosphere, but I've got too much trouble on my mind - not personal troubles, but worldly troubles. Recently, I've read a couple of stories about the Rwandan genocides and the conflicts between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Then there's the similar situation developing in Sudan. Of course there's the War in Iraq and the developing turmoil in Syria...and Iran...and North Korea. All of these things create a number of mixed feelings, in particular an overriding sense of guilt - guilt about my recent preoccupation with material possessions, guilt about my myopic self-pity in light of the plight of the average citizen of this planet, and guilt because one is duty bound to at least try and improve things in what little time he is given in life.

We are all very fortunate that we are able to discuss such things as happiness, no matter how unattainable it might be. I think for people here in America and in most of the civilized Western world, the idea of 'happiness' is something that comes as an adjunct to having all of our basic needs met, as opposed to the countries where people suffer from political and cultural instability, whose very existence is rooted in the ambiguity of whether or not there is a sense of happiness outside of living a life undisturbed with all basic needs met. I'm really tired, but what I'm trying to get it at here is that Americans tend to look at happiness as something akin to a material possession, like a stereo or a computer. That is to say, if enough of our wants are met, then we certainly won't be lacking in happiness. It is usually a given that our basic needs are met. But our needs, by virtue of living in this country, are completely different than that of most of the rest of the world. Granted, I would never say that happiness is easy to come by for anyone. No, not at all. But it is maybe a little bit more practical for those who require what we consider "God-given rights" such as freedom of thought and action, than we who strive for fleeting achievements and life-status affirmation.

My idea of happiness, I'm sure, doesn't vary much from the average person. But if I am considered an average person, then certainly my requirements for happiness become increasingly more complicated than those who would do with just having their mind, body and soul belong strictly themselves..

What's hilarious about all of this, (aside from nothing, that is) is that the impetus to this, my notion of cultural variables in the search for happiness is the movie 'Pretty Woman.' (Stay with me here now.) I seem to remember a suspicious number of female acquaintances with whom I grew up absolutely adoring this movie. And this is the kind of movie that is tantamount to the point I'm been trying to make regarding desires fulfilled posing as the notion of captured happiness instead of the 'needs-met' paradigm being equated with organic happiness.

For those of you who don't know, the plot of Pretty Woman goes something like this: a lonely playboy tycoon who has everything, save for that elusive holy grail called love, is willing to go out and spend a bunch of money on a hooker, whom he soon falls for. The plot doesn't inspire much admiration for either of the characters as much as it does nausea. Why any young girl would be so enamored with such a morally suspect situation is beyond me. But somehow, through dramatic, real-love-is-undeniable-thirteen-year-old-sensibilities-pandering, the film pulls off some sort of emotional connection. To be honest, I don't know which character is more despicable, the rich playboy or the hooker whom he pays to fall in love with him.

Granted this entire scenario is fictional, contrived solely for the purpose of entertainment, but I think it says a lot about the flawed view that a minor portion of our population sees as admirable. I don't blame anyone. It can't be expected that the movie producers would feel any responsibility for inspiring young people to want to achieve happiness through these sort of means. But something about American society and its profoundly skewed sense of priorities makes Pretty Woman less of a simple "love" story and more of a powerful culturally-ideal example of material happiness. And such a thing may very well be the fundamental difference in how and why people who live in such countries as Rwanda and Iraq may have an entirely different and, consequently, more practical take on what is, and is not happiness than we here between the safe shores of America.

The moral here is: don't write long, confusing, bullshit essays when you're tired - you will paint yourself into a corner and will run out of paint thinner trying to rectify the situation.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Hip-Hoptopia

Another poorly-realized, but noteworthy unseen piece from the archives.


Hip-Hoptopia


During various periods of my life, I have wished and fantasized that certain life-altering events would occur that would forever change my as yet unremarkable existence. Daydreams. When I was a wee lad, it used to be that my ideal fantasies would involve either discovering or being endowed with a large cache of toys and video games. As a teenager, I would fantasize about girls and material possessions like cars and clothes. Then, in college, I sorted out my priorities and started fantasizing about a world in which I was infinitely successful, universally famous and ruthlessly powerful. I would play out these little fantasies in my head and hope against hope that these fantasies would come to pass. Well, I have found a somewhat imaginary amalgamation of all of these fantasies and now aspire to permanently reside in this Utopian Nirvana-Heaven. What is it? Is it a porno? No. Is it Kansas City? No. Is it religion? God, no.

Rap videos.

From now on, when I daydream, I will daydream that I am trapped in a never-ending rap video. Rap videos are places where bad taste, bank repossession and venereal disease do not exist. Clothes come only in two sizes: large and extra large – same with breasts. Currency is distributed indiscriminately and strictly in the sums of 20’s and 100s. Champagne is the life-blood and success is measured not in dollars, but in SUVs.

It used to be that the world depicted in rap video was filled with guns and brutality. One never knew when someone was going to pop a cap. Now, half of the fun is wondering when some chick is going to pop her top. Once upon a time, the depiction of selling crack was usually as a deplorable occupation. But, in the new rap world it’s commonly seen as an honorable way of gaining financial stability. The lifestyles represented in these videos were not ripe with comfort and vanity, but of harsh hyper-reality. Violence reigned supreme. Appallingly, masturbation fodder was virtually nonexistent.

But with the so-called “Bling-Bling –era” masturbation enthusiasts (or masterbateurs) have endless material with which to “work.” Savvy capitalists and clothing companies who deal strictly in primarily colors can rest easy: mass marketing has finally found its way into hip-hop. Harsh cityscapes have given way to golden glitz, suburbia and Chevy Suburbans. Hey, what better place to expound hardcore street poetics than out by the pool, or, ooh, better yet, in the Bahamas? Strippers have also become legitimate company with which to hold court. Rap stars are not really associated with gangs so much anymore as they are with sports franchises, fashion designers and automobile manufacturers.

Back in the day, you would sit down and watch a rap video and be confronted with hundreds of distracting blurs on the clothing of the artists. Instead of listening to the music and enjoying the aesthetics of ghetto America, you would sit there fuming and wondering aloud, “Come on! What’s behind the fucking blurs?! Logos, guns, inappropriate gestures and nipples – that’s what. Sometime in the mid-nineties, though, corporations got wise. Blurs on logos in rap videos slowly gave way to what could be the best form of free advertising ever – simply letting the artist ‘do they thang.’ Rap videos are fast becoming the best commercials no-money can buy.

Nowadays, the minimum criteria a person needs to start a rap career is a nickname stolen directly from a character in a comic book/gangster film, an affiliation with a cheesy, sleazy mob-boss-wannabe record label exec, a guest spot on an equally mediocre peers’ supremely annoying ghetto anthem, about fifty confusing and unrelated aliases and a complete and utter willingness to suckle at the teat of middle America (while vehemently defending any challenge to the street credentials that they have fought so hard to preserve and probably never had in the first place.) The most depressing thing is, as a former avid hip-hop fan, I’ve been waiting for this embarrassing fad to slowly fade out and give way to the hip-hop renaissance that’s been threatening for years. But, why fuck with a winning formula? After all, modern rap is just an updated manifestation of the American dream: to gather endless amounts of meaningless expendable goods by any means necessary, including crime. It fits right in with the American Dream maxim of the fifties: every American kid should have a roof over their head, a dog, and a Lexus with an in-dash Playstation 2. Never mind the shrewd political analyses of groups like The Coup and Public Enemy, the snazzy, jazzy loops of A Tribe Called Quest and The Pharcyde or the hardcore originality of EPMD and BDP. Social awareness essentially died out of mainstream hip-hop in the early 90s.

At this point it would be wise to point out that I am differentiating between rap and hip-hop because there are some very important fundamental differences. If you don’t know, ya betta ask somebody.

Still, many rappers argue that the depiction of crime in music videos is just an accurate portrayal of everyday street life. Some claim they had to turn to crime in order to make ends meet. I’m not buying that bullshit, not across the board at least. Sure, some rappers may have had to turn to crime to make rent or buy diapers, but chances are, those people are either behind bars or dead. The Notorious B.I.G. (I hate typing that name) was and still is, posthumously, widely considered one of the most prolific rappers, ever. Yet, for the most part, he pontificates about acquiring material possessions and inconsequential social status due to such acquisitions. In one of his first singles, “Juicy” Biggie raps about owning a Super-Nintendo and a Sega Genesis - things that he apparently didn’t have growing up; bare necessities. It is widely known, however, that he turned to street crime because he wasn’t satisfied with the presumably adequate lifestyle his mother provided him, nor was he interested in getting a legitimate job. He was simply looking for a fast way to get the latest trends in fashion, entertainment and military weaponry.

Is this the picture we want to be painting for today’s impoverished youth: the importance of staying real? The three R’s have been replaced by “the four M’s”: materialism, misogyny, marketing and multiple convictions. I don’t necessarily blame rap so much as I do certain individuals’ lack of ability to distinguish real from fantasy or smart from ignorant or even empty from fulfilled. The fact that some people consider material wealth not only a God-given inalienable right that they have been so cruelly deprived of, but also as a symbol of unquestionable status worries me.

The notion of materialistic entitlement is only perpetuated by the current trend of fantasy depicted in rap videos. It is this sad state of affairs that often confuses the fan and could potentially lead to a life spent in pursuit of such empty promises. It is up to the fans to take a stand and buck the trend, to bring hip hop back full circle to a socially viable and credible voice to urban youth. Until then, I will continue to dismiss rap as just empty noise.

Bonus:

Track listing from average hip-hop album (2004)

1. Intro
2. Intro outro
3. Anthemic radio-friendly single featuring P. Diddy/Ja Rule
4. Shout out to the ladies featuring up-and-coming R&B singer
5. Patronizing “girl you’re all I need/black women must be respected” song featuring up and coming female R&B singer
6. Nasty, “doin’ it” song featuring R. Kelly
7. Sketch of the ghetto SNL variety
8. Song lamenting how hard it is growing up in the ghetto/overly dramatic song about the pratfalls of the drug game and a tribute to the homies it done took with it (usually serves as a thinly-veiled and presumably unintentional endorsement of selling drugs as a legitimate form of income)
9. Anthemic Shout-out song to the homies featuring the militantly-named splinter group to which the artist claims affiliation
10. Sketch ripping off Pacino film
11. Second radio single infinitely inferior to the first, but somehow more popular and, consequently, more annoying (usually an obligatory Southern-crunk style bling-bling rip-off attempt at introducing the artist into the mainstream)
12. Poorly placed musical interlude/Unnecessary intro reprise
13. Shameless attempt at gaining/re-gaining credibility with a guest appearance by Jay-Z, who undoubtedly is responsible for the bulk of the lyrics
14. Reading of 5 Percent Nation rhetoric by the resident ‘knowledge disciple’ who decries the state of the plight of the urban black male, thereby furthering the conspiratorial paranoia about the plot against the black race and simultaneously alienating the suburban white kids who are the demographic who bought the most albums
15. Bizarre , sometimes intimidating, but usually comical rant-song promising to indiscriminately murder any turncoats/rivals that may be construed as plotting against the artist and the aforementioned clique to which he claims allegiance
16. Ironic peace anthem (considering the previous song) with a positive, if insincere, social message about unity between races
17. Remix of radio-friendly hit featuring a horribly mismatched guest artist
18. Outro intro
19. Outro, in remembrance of the loss of hip hop greats such as Tupac and Biggie and giving a shout-out to whomever random person/cultural phenomenon/material possession the artist deems appropriate
20. Outro outro
21. *Bonus Track
22. *Bonus Track (European - only Version)
23. *Bonus Track (Japanese – only Version)

Music As A Drug

The following is the first in a series of some old bullshit I wrote at one point or another, but had nowhere to display them...until now (dun-dun-dunnnn!)


Music As A Drug

Disclaimer: This column does not seek to condone, promote nor advocate the use of music to enhance the enjoyment of drugs. While music is never necessary for self-medication, it is, at times, complimentary. The reader is implored to use music judiciously and within the realms of the documented and observed laws set forth in your zone, code, county, state, country, continent, planet and universe. The rhetoric contained herein is metaphorical in nature and should not be taken out of context. Please remember not to operate automobiles or heavy machinery while under the influence of music.

It has long been theorized (by me) that music can have as much influence over the mental state or even the soul of a person as any drug - street, pharmaceutical or otherwise. If you really let it, music can take you to another place. From music we can feel the deepest moments of brooding, the most tranquil feelings of harmony, the most assured sense of happiness. For some, music is a way of recreating feelings actually felt while under the influence of a psychoactive substance. Or, some people may listen to music to plunge themselves into a similar kind of music-induced euphoria in lieu of actually ingesting mind-altering drugs. For me, music is a drug.

It’s the never-ending search for the song that keeps music enthusiasts going. You know the song: the one that makes you feel like you’re the king of the magical, mystical mythical world of Zatron and are revered and respected by all of the Zatronites as you zoom through the purple sky in your cloud-mobile. Or maybe, it isn’t just a song, but the perfect melody, or harmony or riff that keeps music enthusiasts interested.

The merits of music are many. People claim that music makes them feel invincible, inspired, transparent, heroic, etc. Some people even claim that music can heal illnesses. Yes, unlikely, but maybe it’s possible. While browsing through a yippie grocery store here in LA, I noticed a flier advertising what is known as ‘sonic therapy.’ The sessions promised to provide cures for countless ailments and bring balance to an otherwise disharmonious state of mind through the aural implementation of single harmonic tones. Initially, I scoffed at the preposterous notion of jingling bells being able to cure leprosy. But upon further contemplation, the notion suddenly appealed to me. Despite my skeptical leanings, I began to imagine the possibility of healing through sounds and music in particular. If the old proverb “laughter is the best medicine” is even remotely true, then surely music can be attributed to mental as well as physical changes in the human consciousness. We are all a result of the psyche that we embody. It occurs to me that there is actually a similar proverb, adjusted here for my purposes: music not only soothes the savage beast but can also enrage the docile lamb.

It was at this moment that I had an epiphany – music actually is a drug. And the healing power, among other things is just as tangible as any affect a drug can have, you just have to be willing to ‘go with it’ as is often uttered in the language of dopespeak.

I briefly took guitar lessons in college, during which my Zen-Buddhist instructor, or sensei, as I liked to call him, put forth the notion that music was simply filling empty space with time (rhythm) via harmonic tones. My guitar sensei’s version of the theory, while oversimplified, stands to reason that music is manipulating time and filling space where nothing previously existed. The syncopated pulse of a drum in conjunction with the fluttering of melodic tones provides an intangible aural environment that appeals to the most basic sense of human awareness, most often the desire to feel good and sometimes even the notion of psychic transcendence.

Nearly everyone who has endeavored to partake in the use of psychoactive substances can confirm that any kind of music can take on certain otherworldly, transcendent, almost religious qualities. It’s difficult to explain to the uninitiated the ethereal feeling you get from a spacey, Pink Floyd epic or the warm comfort found in a pastoral movement by the Poylphonic Spree while on a psilosybin-induced trip.

In fact, the influence of drugs has aided in devising some of the most interesting music ever captured or performed. It is arguable to state that drug use in and of itself is solely responsible for such music, but it is hard to deny the impact. Recently, I have found psychedelic music to be my drug of choice. The conscious addition of eerie, spacey, sounds and dissonance creates a sort of sonic pillow of ecstasy on which I am only too glad to lay my weary head in the hopes that I will be figuratively carted off to other realms of cosmic consciousness.

However, one cannot underemphasize the importance of space and silence in music today. In watching a documentary on Pink Floyd’s most popular and arguably best realized album, Dark Side of the Moon, I discovered that the Floyd wanted to create noticeable space between the notes and in fact, made a conscious attempt at making the themes of the music apparent, thereby creating “soundscapes” as opposed to just songs. To be sure, the album is admittedly incredibly dense with sonic textures – music, reverb-laden sound effects or otherwise – but there is plenty of space for the notes to breathe, so to speak, and resonate within both the sonic space of the song itself and the ear of the listener, which is what makes many of the songs so effective.

Nowadays, one can’t help but feel inundated with the invasive sounds of radio-friendly popular music. There is a certain indescribable sheen to contemporary music that strips it of any of the character that its so-called Indie counterpart can easily achieve. Granted, this glossiness is the result of the art of finding just what is most pleasant to the ear and packaging it in a form that is ready for mass consumption, much like an aspirin. While it’s hard enough to put a finger on just the reason why, the difference between radio-ready music and all other forms is tangible. Some may find this music pleasing, but some may find it intrusive, trite or even boring, which is a testament to the notion that there is no accounting for taste. So much of today’s radio-friendly music feels like an opiate that the masses ingest knowing full well that it will make them feel good, even if they want to feel bad. (It’s okay to feel bad sometimes.) It’s like the age-old fluoride in the water conspiracy: the government keeps the saccharine MOR stuff playing repeatedly for mass consumption on the most expansive, diverse and cost effective medium possible – the radio. In this sense, figurative drugs are literally being beamed through the airwaves and into our homes.

I don’t consider myself a music snob, but sometimes when I hear music on the radio, the bile rises in the back of my throat in protest of the mediocrity and the way that I feel pandered to. The “punk rock” played on the radio doesn’t make me feel any rebellious angst as much as it makes me feel like going to Pacific Sunwear to buy a pair of vomit-splatter-colored board shorts. If my drug of choice is the one that doesn’t make me feel ill, then consider me a non-radio patron.

But I digress, diatribes about the perceived listening tendencies of music fans the world over are endemic to the cause of only the most serious and easily provoked of music snobs. Though every fan seems to think he or she has the best taste in music and certainly I am no exception. However, in light of this ideology, I have come to the very real conclusion that my taste in music may actually and most likely does suck.

If it is true that music inspires in us certain feelings, then can it also be said that music influences our actions as well. Much has been made of lawsuits that accuse popular artists of encouraging their audience to perform various sinister deeds. The notion that Marilyn Manson’s music inspired the Colombine massacre a few years ago immediately springs to mind. Rarely, if ever are songs a call to action, not to mention a call to arms. However, misinterpretation of intention is rampant. Possibly the most notorious example of misappropriations of ideas or imagined post-hypnotic suggestion in music is Charles Manson’s gross misconception that the Beatles self-titled so-called “White Album (particularly the songs “Helter Skelter” and “Revolution No. 9”) was a call to arms for a coming race war. Manson interpreted the Beatles music as a direct linkage to manifest biblical verses coded with subliminal message prompting a call to grotesque action.

The fact that Manson can draw such abstractions from completely unrelated material is shocking, but not altogether surprising. To attempt to divine a reason for people’s interpretation of lyrics within this essay is tangential. However, it should be noted that lyrical rhythms, phrasing and pacing are equally as responsible, if not more so, for the unconscious toe tapping that many of us do from time to time as the simple instrumentation of a particular piece of music. In essence, not only the music itself, but also the way in which it is delivered can invoke an emotional reaction. If it was not so, we would all be content to listen to simple instrumentals.

Science has yet to find a link between the pleasure derived from music and its importance in the grand scheme of human survival. It can be assumed that music is strictly an aesthetic pleasure and has very little to do with the perseverance of the human species and preservation (or debilitation, for that matter) of cognitive and emotional mindsets, but that’s a topic better left for the philosophers to debate. However, music is also a viable and pleasant form of communication that, as has been mentioned before, triggers a variety of emotions, both negative and positive. On a biological level, the simplest species of organisms use musical forms of communication as a means of attracting, warning or greeting other organisms. Birds sing. Whales and dolphins use sonar tones to “speak” with each other. Granted, humans are the only species that uses the means of music as both a communicative and aesthetic emotive modes. The question is whether or not the reactive emotions in humans are biologically or culturally implanted. It is clear that while one arrangement of instrumentation into melody and harmony is pleasing to one ear, the same configuration may not necessarily be pleasing to another. Such is the beauty of music. Such is the beauty of life.

I thought I had something to say...

But I don't. Not tonight at least. Nothing of any consequence any way. Damn, the font on this thing is impossibly small. Let me see if I can make it bigger. Hold on....

All right, so - no - I can't figure out how to adjust the font. I just made the view bigger via the view option on the menu-thingie

I guess one's first instinct here would be toward an explanation of what it is that one is going to be posting. Truth is, I don't know, so I'm not going to discuss it. After all, how can one discuss something one knows little about? Well, we'll find out as I am well known for opening my mouth and yapping about things of which I have very little knowledge.

So, I guess I did kind of decide what this blog will be about - things that I will pontificate about at great length that I likely know little or nothing about. That, and I have some opinions damn it and I want people to be informed of them so they can be duly ignored.

That being said, I will go into why I decided to start blogging. I feel it's my duty as a somewhat informed and (self-proclaimed) nerd-ily hip twenty-something to engage in whatever pop culture phenomenon has grasped that demographic. Friendster, instant messaging, myspace and now this - the blogosphere. What a bizarre phenomenon!

The irony in all of this is that after a brief stint as a contriubutor to a so-called web-zine, my sister suggested to me that I partake in the blog frenzy. I declined as I so snobbily proclaimed that my writing talents could best be served elsewhere. However, my recent fascination with web-opining has intrigued me to the extent that I thought maybe I could have something to offer or least of all a way to entertain myself should I get bored...at home...on a Saturday night...in Los Angeles.

It also occurred to me in the participation of my first-ever message board debate yesterday, that many people (including me) have nothing better to do than sit at home (or at work, but not me - I am diligent in my occupational duties) and document their opinions for all the world to see. Or, at least for all of that person's personal world to see.

Speaking of which, how weird are those message boards anyway? For your edification, the thread I decided to participate in and to which I will refer was in regards to an Op-Ed piece by Ann Coulter regarding Ward Churchill's claims that he is a Native American. The nature of the debate - at least the one in which I participated - was rather interesting. It was an indictment of the Neo-conservatives supposed attacks on the notion of Academic and Intellectual freedom. Coulter had asserted that because Churchill's claims that he is of American Indian descent are inconsistent, then he is somehow intellectually inadequate in his duties as a college professor. I'd like to tell you that the debate continued with each member stating an informed and thought-provoking opinion, but it ended up being a verbal slugfest between people who had a serious interest in the topic and the cyber-bully wanna-be's whom, I imagine, haunt any message board to taunt just about anybody willing enough to be suckered in by such base behavior.

Which brings me to my point: What purpose do these message boards serve, other than to allow for a good old case of virtual finger pointing over who's an asshole and who is not? The tendency towards sophomoric argument at every level of debate in this country right now is deplorable. We've all seen the talking heads having a go at it on the television and it really is starting to get annoying. People are entitled to their opinions, but is it our responsibility to suffer through them, no matter how ignorant or impossibly flawed they are? Yes, I guess it is. It's the nature of free-speech. But in this particlar case you choose your battles wisely.

For my part, though, I was glad I decided to comment on what I thought was a rather unconvincing and unnecessary diatribe on Coulter's part. But, as is to be expected, there were those who would categorically disagree and they certainly didn't hesitate on letting me or my brothers-in-arms know about it.