Friday, July 24, 2009

Holy Smokes!

It's officially been one year since my first post on this little thing. A year! Such a long time! Aside from remarkably brief, this year has been a whole bunch of other things: frustrating as hell, surprising, thrilling, scary, depressing, hopeful, and full of change. Man Descending has seen the rise of Barack Obama to the office of the President of the United States, and in a less encouraging move, the re-election of Mahmoud Amedinedjad to the position of President of Iran. It's seen exciting nights out on the town and quit, contemplative ones at home, moments of spectacular optimism and faith in mankind, and others of anxiety and fear for tomorrow. I started this thing as away of chronicling the bits and pieces of my life in transition, as a way of observing the world around me as I fall unstoppably through and toward it. When I look back on my entries, I think I've done that, and I look forward to doing it for a long time to come. Perhaps the most surprising at all, though, is that others have taken an interest in my little thought experiments and late-night musings. Lord only knows why, but I certainly appreciate every kind comment and every glance at my entries made by anybody who has ever dropped by. I've found some excellent writers and great companions through blogging and have no intention of stopping. Thanks again, and happy birthday to my readers, as well!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I, Radio

Just so you know, I am alive. I have just been stupidly busy since the whole house-hunting business an remain so. However, I have the next couple days off and am looking forward to them immensely. If there's any activity that characterizes my summer thus far, it is the act of driving. I have driven clear across provinces, through cities, there, back, up, down, and basically all over the damn place. Luckily, most of the time, I have what is probably the world's best traveling buddy- a fully charged iPod and a contraption that connects it to my car stereo. Nothing quite beats a perfect summer playlist with the windows down and your foot on the gas knowing that there's something exciting waiting for you at the end of the road. There are days, though, when my iPod decides to take a sleep and run out of juice just as I hit the road. On these days, I resort to radio. Disclaimer: from here on in, the entry will be spectacularly pretentious. Apologies?

I gave up radio about three years ago, about the same time and for the same reason as I more-or-less gave up TV and magazines: I simply cannot tolerate a leisure or relaxation device that revolves around advertising and irritating hosts. Radio, in particular, privately-owned, corporate Top 40 stations were a big part of my swearing off of this form of entertainment, as I felt that, predictably, radio overplayed certain songs, favored one type of music for the sake of advertising dollars, ignored new talent in favor of proven winners, ad nauseam. And, while kind of cliche, I think that those criticisms are, on the whole, fair. Radio three years ago was pretty tough to take at times. It was with great reluctance, then, that I concede defeat to my dead iPod and took on the airwaves once again this summer. To my spectacular disappointment, things seem to have gotten worse. I don't think I can recall a time in my short little life when popular music was so transparently about making money, so blatantly a scam, an exercise in branding, really. An artist, even in the 1990s, where the pop smash ruled the charts, still had some kind of attachment to the song. You could recognize a voice, put a face to the tune, and so on. This is no longer the case. Especially in dance and hip hop music, the obsessive use of the pitch correcting effect a la T-Pain and Lil' Wayne. The voice on the track, when fed through such an obvious and obstructive filter, essentially makes the human contribution useless. Why even bother having someone sing the lines, if the end product is that they sound like a computer? The musician is totally alienated from the song. Any person in the world could be standing behind the mic in the sound booth, putting words to that beat. To say that a song is being performed by Lil Wayne or T-Pain, then, purely becomes an act of brand recognition- capitalizing on the reputation of the logo or name and attaching it to a mechanized product.

This type of music is the audio equivalent of General Motors about 18 months ago- a flood of functionally identical products re-badged over and over again to capitalize on long-standing brand loyalties among different consumer niches. A Chevy becomes a Saturn becomes a Saab becomes a Pontiac becomes a GM, etc. In the same way, the pitch-corrected, relentlessly engineered top 40 song becomes totally divorced from any actual identity or individual stamp of artistry and labelled with some name that some niche will identify with and gravitate toward. In a slightly different, but equally obnoxious marketing strategy, the practice of re-engineering and re-arranging a completed song to sell it to two different markets is now rampant. Take, for example, Taylor Swift. Swift, while in a whole bunch of ways, much more enjoyable than her teen-girl singer compadres (Miley Cyrus, and the rest of that bullshit), still demonstrates the total transparency of branding in the music industry. Her hit song, "Love Story," was initially released to country radio as a country song, yet when it began to chug along in a spectacular fashion, climbing charts left and right, a team of producers took to the original trak in order to try and expand its market. The result was the pop version of the song, with country touches like acoustic guitar and lap steep forgone in favor of non-offensive electric riffs and beats engineered on a touch pad. The song, while maybe not so great to begin with, was nonetheless stripped of its integrity as such. Changing and retooling a song so obviously and openly sends a clear message that music is about ornamentation. The song must be a skeleton from which you can hang shiny trappings and decorations to catch the eye of media-weary consumers. Just like the entry level GM re-badged as an up-market Lincoln, the product remains the same, but is superficially modified to churn out cash. Fortunately, the GM model of commodity production collapsed in on itself when the weight of standardized production and market saturation came sagging down on a corporate infrastructure weakened by recessionary pressures. I hate to be a douche, but I kind of hope the same thing happens to Top 40 radio.

I'm totally aware that these are totally boring and obvious arguments that a million and a half people make every day, but like I said, this year, I've just been so struck by how obvious it all is, how little effort is put into offering choice and difference, and worst of all, how everyone seems kind of okay with it. It's widely known that Britney Spears lip synchs every word of her live show, and yet they sell out in every city. I couldn't for the life of me tell you the difference between 90% of the songs on the radio, and the less said about Lady Gaga, the better. But yet, people just kind of go along with it, and say that they love Lil Wayne, they love Britney Spears, and so on. It's impossible to love either of these people, because they're nothing but labels on a CD case- nothing but means of selling and commodity differentiation in a crowded market. Sometimes, this complicity with branding and retooling of music pushes me to the point of nausea. And I'm not sure what can really be done about it, other than continuing to support more forward-thinking radio stations that seek out new, local talent, encourage artist development, and place as much value on live performance as they do with produced recordings. This is why CBC Radio 3 is the bomb, but is unfortunately still relegated to Internet streaming and satellite receivers. I will finish with a morbid prayer: If the recession claims one victim, make it the pitch adjuster. Please?

Talk soon.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I just read something that made me throw up in my mouth a little. Apparently, Lady Gaga has just become the third musician EVER to have three songs from a debut album reach #1 on the Billboard Top 40 Charts. Apparently, the only other "artists" to ever match this feat are Ace of Base and Avril Lavigne.

Gaga, you are among champions.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"I'm responding to your ad for a rental property..."

I am away right now, blitzing the better part of a province looking for a home to live in in the Fall. It is tiring, stressful, worrisome work, but it must be done. I have things to talk about, but not the wherewithal to do so, at the moment. I have 7 houses to view today.

Also, I bought a new guitar. I giggle every time I play it. It's that good.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day!

For those not in the know, on this day 142 years ago, the nation of Canada was signed into existence, and what a century-and-some it has been since then.

I just spent the day in the mountains with one of my best friends under perfectly sunny skies, listening to a 300-song all-Canadian playlist, sitting on logs by rivers and making music without heed! What a perfect way to celebrate this wonderful nation, all it's people, and all that they stand for. To all Canadian readers- be proud! you are from an incredible place, and have an immense standard of living the envy of much of the globe. Where else can you go from open prairie, to dramatic mountainscape, to lakeside village, to theatrical parade and back again all in one day? I love it here and would never imagine living anywhere else. Happy birthday Canada, and to all its friends, children, and compatriots!