Sunday, November 06, 2011

Ten Men Love What I Hate

Marc Hogan:

Critical reception of Coldplay has been thawing a bit, too. (Beloved Swedish pop singer Robyn’s killer cover of “Mylo Xyloto’s” initially panned lead single, “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,” hasn’t hurt much, either.) Just in time, too. “Mylo Xyloto” could easily go down as Coldplay’s best album. It’s definitely where they best balance their obvious desire for artistic respect with their undeniable ability to write songs that throngs of people want to chant along.

...It’s not that Coldplay have given up on competing for artistic cachet. Quite the opposite, given how obsessively Martin focuses in the New York Times piece on what Bruce Springsteen and U2 did at similar points in their careers. They’re just integrating their influences less obtrusively now.


The power of the Doors’ music is that it is so unabashedly arty that it begs to be made fun of, especially by older people or those who went through Doors periods themselves and are now into Steely Dan or Animal Collective or some other less embarrassing musical endeavor.

And why embarrassing? Because the Doors reflect a conflict many of us have with artists we think we have outgrown. For those with a youthful bent, sustained naïveté, or a poetical inclination, the combination of the Doors’ music and Jim Morrison’s lyrics can be transformative.

...While I’m not terribly interested in the interminable debate over whether rock lyrics qualify as “real” poetry, it turns out one can’t avoid it entirely when we speak of Jim Morrison, Gateway Poet, as a serious writer. It is mostly a losing proposition, I know. It is absurd. And yet I’m not willing to completely disregard what the eighth-grade me found so moving.

...Just how seriously Jim Morrison can be taken as a poet depends on whom you ask, but there’s no question that he regarded himself as the real deal. Starting with No One Here Gets Out Alive and each subsequent biography, Morrison is portrayed as carrying Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry books in his pocket or quoting from Nietzsche, all by way of suggesting the singer should be taken seriously as a poet, without many other reasons why.

Music snobbery - or art snobbery in general - is one of those topics, like religion and politics, that it's best to avoid in polite company, because there's just no reasoning with people over their sense of identity. But anyway, it's a shame when popular art forms get caught up in painful self-consciousness and a desire to be taken seriously. The worst thing you can do is let the cool kids know you desperately want to hang out with them; once they know they have that power over you, they'll never let you stop squirming.

Catching up with a friend once, I asked her what she'd been listening to lately. She didn't answer at first, and when I persisted, she named a few bands (while mentioning that one of them had gotten "too commercial", and then asked in a surprisingly defensive tone whether I was disappointed in her for her pedestrian taste. I guess she assumed that because music was such an all-consuming passion for me, I must disdain anyone who didn't match my obsession or, uh, knowledge. Of course, there are plenty of songs and artists I can't stand, but there's always a surreptitious grin in it for me; it's just something fun to joust about. There are plenty of people who probably get something from those artists, and good for them.

I'm actually listening to the new Coldplay right now. I consider myself a fan; their first two albums are particular favorites, and the others all have at least a few good songs on them. Shrug, I dunno -- I don't need them to be anything other than what they are. There are enough serious artists out there that I don't begrudge anyone who just wants to write catchy tunes or those who enjoy them. Cheering someone up with a pretty melody is just as noble an endeavor as shocking the bourgeoisie, I reckon.

Art, for me, is a relationship in flux rather than an essential property of a person or thing. The motivations of the artist, the skill of their craft, and the headspace in which it reaches the listener are all part of its character. Profound thoughts can develop while daydreaming along to ear candy. Pretentious artists can be misled by the puritanical obsession with ascetic standards, the idea that anything enjoyable or easy to understand must be insipid and bad for your character. The most valuable thing about art to me is the way it enables new perspectives, and I've lived long enough to know that those can come from some very unlikely sources.