Processed Cheese

The Current State of Popular Music


In the year, 2020 …
“Ah, notes … I’ve heard about those.”

… And there I would be, watching television, struggling to decipher the words of a ghetto-shtick Rapper – not those found in his muuuu-sic, for those words were all too clear ... Rather, the seemingly mindless gibberish he offered in his televised interview. Reasons for the interview, wholly unknown.

It was here that he often referred to his … “art” – uttering the term several times, in fact. This sporadically supplemented with his … I don’t know – thoughts – preceded with the words, “as an art-ist …” … blah, blah, blah …

Gee … umm .. Jesus … how do I say? ..… I’m sorry, but …

You’re not an artist. You’re an atonal, synthesized piece of artificially colored, studio-processed cheese with a fucking rhyming dictionary. And your product, interestingly enough, comes individually sealed in the very same plastic wrapper. The cheese is just a little less toxic. Perhaps, less spoiled. And no, your words aren’t poetic. They’re pathetic.

There, I said it.

Okay … now before some of you people start with your accusations of racism (even with a flurry of white Rappers), the most profound pity of Rap-Crap – and, to a similar degree, Hip Hop – is in it’s potential to permanently defile the rich heritage of ‘black music’ (as frequently termed), from Joplin to Ellington, Billie Holiday to Miles Davis, Richie Havens to – yes – Stevie Wonder. To Rappers everywhere: If you want to continually soil and further debase your own, personal world – that’s fine. But don’t take down the real artists with you.

Music, for all of the potential complexity and nuance that can be coaxed out of a mere, 12-tone Western scale, has but two requisites: Pitch … and duration. Rap, indeed … does have the ‘duration thing’ down. My congratulations to you. But I’m sorry … you can’t declare the use of ‘pitch’ on the basis of some included drum loop samples found on the Casio keyboard you scooped up at Best Buy. Yes, I know Rap and Hip Hop … songgggs … aren’t produced on some low-end Casio instrument in the ‘Demo Mode’. They merely sound as if they were.

Indeed, Rap and Hip Hop can easily make one long for the most insipid and sugary-sweet, 1980s motion picture soundtrack duets … Okay … Hold it … but no ‘Endless Love’.  Please.  I’d rather shave my pubic hair with a cheese grater. But, in a related aside, I hasten to interject that I am not referring to popular ‘film-songstress’, Jennifer Warnes ... She remains to be one of my favorite contemporary female vocalists. (Jennifer sits at home in Texas – reading this now – thinking, “Whew, thank God. I thought he was coming after me for a second. Glad I escaped his fucking wrath.”)

But I bring up Jennifer Warnes for a reason … A couple of years ago, I secured a digital transcription of her long out-of-print performance from the – yes – motion picture, ‘Norma Rae’. The song that accompanied the title and credits sequence was the magnificent, ‘It Goes Like It Goes’, sounding much like it had been pulled straight from the Randy Newman songbook – it wasn’t … He provided ‘One More Hour’ for Jennifer to sing at the close of Milos Forman’s, ‘Ragtime’ … as a song that would compete for Best Song at the 1981 Oscars against … ‘Endless Love’.    “Jesus”, I thought at the time.  “The End Days are at hand.” … But no, I was wrong. It would, years later, be the Rappers who rode the land as the horsemen of the Apocalypse. And Disco had only been a warning.

But I digress …

Upon loading my new digital, Warnes performance of ‘It Goes Like It Goes’ with childlike anticipation, there it was … That magnificent grand piano and string opening … So haunting, as it spiraled through an almost Stravinsky-like, dissonant succession of notes before it resolved with complete and satisfying consonance. Much like an autumn leaf making an eccentric and swirling descent before touching ground where it then ultimately rests in a state of tranquil repose …
 

Orchestral opening to 'It Goes Like It Goes'

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I can’t even begin to articulate just how brilliant that opening sequence was. If you, yourself, can’t hear it – or feel it – then I have no words to explain it.

A mere 11 second intro, prior to the opening vocal, that was scored to simply ‘set the stage’ for what would further unfold in the Jennifer Warnes performance – and that which, in less than a dozen seconds – would contain more sheer musicality than the entirety of both the Snoop Dogg and Kanye West catalogs … combined.

But as I continued listening to the track, I would be reminded – yet again – of what an incredibly fine singer Warnes was … and remains, to this day. Someone who could not only ‘belt a line’ with undaunted ease, but one who also knew – precisely – when to ‘pull back’, to sound more humble and … ‘breathy, with a wisp’, for want of a better term or description – that which one might interpret as being ever so slightly constrained but, in truth, is completely under her control – just before she opens the pipes to show you what she has within …
 

Sound Clip of Jennifer Warnes Vocal

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Britney Spears:  You have just been trumped.

To Jennifer:   Magnificent.  Every note.

But this is not a discussion about Jennifer Warnes. Rather, I use Jennifer as a singular example – one of many – that demonstrates just how far we’ve fallen since. And, if tragically, how we’ve often grown to accept it, now singing the praises of those who may not entirely warrant it … simply because they’ve produced something that can still be identified as music … at all. As with other arenas, we – as a people – have been systematically, if gradually, dumbed down.

….. I must admit, I do often reflect upon the women of music. Jennifer Warnes. Janis Ian. Judy Collins, among others. And I can’t help but notice that while ‘the boys’ of previous decades seemingly have had, at least, a fighting chance of ‘living on’, the girls – as they became more matured women – were often kicked to the curb by the major label sector of the recording industry. Think about it, people … Who has had the better, continuing coverage – and who … has been summarily dismissed?

Even forgetting those also in attendance as part of a ‘group’ behind a weathered front man, you can probably conjure at least ten fat, droopy-eyed, leather-faced, and brain-dead pop-rock-folk musicians – with a dick – in less than the space of one minute. The very ones you’re listening to on this day. Now consider the babes …

Anyone? Take all the time you need.

The essentially retired Streisand. Perhaps Madonna as a stand-out exception who has spent more time and energy on remaining ‘valid’ and relevant, than on her actual music. Joni Mitchell – at least still, perhaps, recognized – but when was the last time you heard her on the radio? Beyond this, recollections become increasingly more difficult … don’t they?

I mean, hell … I don’t even want ‘her’ on my playlist if she doesn’t have perky tits. This, as we continue to clutch our early Carly Simon album covers … LP size. For as it relates to ‘the skirts’, I don’t just want my music – I want my fucking pornography, too. I can’t merely listen. I need to fantasize, as well. That’s where we are, people. That’s where we’ve been.

And the often rare, but commendable songstresses of this day will, too, be set out to pasture by the recording industry to vie for themselves – while more of their male contemporaries will be offered ‘extended support’ as if they bought it as part of a warranty package.

I know it seems as though I have tangentially gone off on some sort of feminist rant … I understand. But I could not write this piece without making mention of a trend so few have ever even considered. It never even occurred to most. And, as considerations go, it profoundly effects what you listen to – and what you have to search for ... if you bother searching at all.

Interestingly, ‘the girls’ are now often writing and producing better work – more matured, if you prefer – than when they were at the peak of popularity. Many of you will just never know it ... This, as certain anointed ‘elements’ of the ‘Boys Club’ turns out progressively shittier music, by the decade, feeding off of legend.

No, this isn’t Battle of The Sexes … I merely call them as I see them – and hear them.

This said, many of the boys were also left out in the cold, as well, relative to their stature … I think of, say, Art Garfunkel – simply one of the most angelic voices known to pop music, additionally demanding of the highest quality – from material to production. I recall watching an interview with Garfunkel where he stated, flatly, that people were no longer drawn to fine, intelligent melodies (I paraphrase, based on recollection). And this wasn’t said with a tone of sour grapes. Art Garfunkel was correct, with complete objectivity. Save, perhaps … one area …

I don’t recall whether it was my second – or, indeed, third – attendance of ‘Les Miserables’ in London. But during some one of these performances, it struck me … As it related to quality – where art and popular appeal would once again meet – this ... was the ‘New Pop’. I speak not of “Les Mis”, specifically – or in isolation. Rather, I refer to … musical theatre, as a genre (and no, I’m not even gay). It would be where words, again, would be crafted – as a virtual requirement of its form. And melodies remained inventive. For musical theatre had long since become more adventurous and innovative than the ‘Paint Your Wagon’ days.

Yes, I know that – for many – much of Andrew Lloyd Webber is a bit ‘over the top’ whereby Randy Newman effectively relayed that he’d rather poke his eardrums out with an ice pick than to listen to his work. But still, as it relates to ‘craft’, contemporary musical theatre would become, in many ways, the new ‘Lennon-McCartney’. That which was representative of quality work – while still often remaining …yes, ‘hummable’. Accessible. Certainly memorable.

I understand … many can’t possibly regard musical theatre as ‘pop music’. As for me ….. I have to.

Beyond this, while we may have – in more recent times – applauded Coldplay’s, ‘Viva la Vida’ – which was very good in a number of respects, it still wouldn’t be quite as stunning as, say, The Who’s ‘Quadraphenia’ (yes, I can Rock ‘n Roll, as much as anyone), the works of Pink Floyd, or – yes – The Beatles.

With this, aside from musical theatre that, even logistically, just can’t be ‘Song of The Month’, the search … will always be on.

But no, not all of music need be 'art', per se, if I have ushered such impressions. It can also simply be fun ... or merely ... danceable, I suppose. But let it – at all times ... be music
 

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