16 March 2016
Did you see the March 13th, 2016 issue of the New York Times Magazine? It consisted of 25 short pieces about artists and songs, a smattering of which will probably interest you. For example, I enjoyed reading about the session drummer Matt Chamberlain. There’s an essay about Wilco by George Saunders, and another in which Mark Kozelek is described as the Karl Ove Knausgaard of grumpy independent musicians. I made my way through those and a few others, but passed on Justin Bieber or Rihanna, even at the risk of missing something interesting.
[cc_break] What has me flummoxed is the introduction, the thesis of which seems to be: today, a song is “like an op-ed with drums:”
[cc_break]“So these days it’s the song, and the scale of the event surrounding it. One song, one digestible thing, with millions of people standing in a circle around it, pointing and shouting and writing about it, conducting one gigantic online undergraduate seminar about it, metabolizing it on roughly the same level that cable-news debate shows metabolize a political speech.”
[cc_break]I get it in the context of the Internet and especially social media: we’re more likely than ever to hear a new Beyoncé song, and we can easily discuss it with strangers. Not only that, but there’s a good chance the conversation will be politically charged: something in the song will trigger the swarm.
What the author doesn’t do is draw a connection with the late 60s, when Phil Ochs had an album called “All the News that’s Fit to Sing” and the crowd at the Newport Folk Festival went crazy – not in a good way – when Bob Dylan played electric guitar.
Is it possible that nothing has changed? Songs still stir the pot. We still get angry and loud. And, unfortunately, there are obvious parallels in terms of subject matter (Emmett Till, Michael Brown). Or, maybe we’ve come full circle? If the eighties were about fashion – e.g. Flock of Seagulls haircuts and Duran Duran on a yacht – and the 90s were about super-intense naval-gazing, then maybe we’re having another go at social consciousness in the early 21st century.
I personally prefer Bob Dylan to Beyoncé, but beggars can’t be choosers…