Give the People What They SHOULD Want
hristmas brings its own cultural pressing points. The season of gift-giving and –receiving before us, one that causes all of us a certain amount of anxiety. What in the name of cherubic baby Christ are we supposed to give these people we love and admire or just have to put up with, those who fill our every week and day with the fluff and pulp of real-life in those other forty-eight weeks of the year?
I used to play cultural policeman. It’s a role I’ve played fondly much of my life. Of course, this is most appropriate when it comes to your own family. They are after all a part of you, and you have to make sure they represent you well, right? Dearest younger brother, I am your Virgil. That’s the role nature procured for me. You want the latest record by the Barenaked Ladies? Is that really the best you can do? I think I hear you. I get a sense for what you’re after. But it has nothing to do with what you’re actually listening to. I’ve got something that can beat that. You love cheeky bubble-pop? Oh, you wear your heart on your sleeve. That’s cool, I can understand that but I can’t abide. What you need is the New Pornographers. They’re no good either, but at least they fulfill your needs in a way that can allow me to sleep come New Year’s. I am, after all, the older brother. Listen to me.
Pops, you’ve always been into folk. You love the golden era, all those stick-figured pre-hippies with their protest and dragoned-Peter song. I can’t put my name to your version of protest, even if it’s for you. You have to allow me my say in what you remember; I will tweak your loves and provide you with the proper substitutes. You don’t want Loudon Wainwright or Peter, Paul and Mary. Loudon’s been displaced anyway; he has a son. He too is terrible, but at least he’s here now and making music with Burt Bacharach (you remember him obviously, right?). But, more than young Rufus, you need to hear John Fahey. He can dance with skeletal remains without needing to exhume them. He will let them lie in peace and rot. I think this is something you should hear. You might never play it again, but trust me, this is far more necessary than barbershop folk.
Oh, Mom, put away your Disco Nights 4. There are albums to be had, original recordings. Your reliance on comps is a shame, well, no not generally speaking but certainly in how it relates to ME. I’ve got all the answers: Giorgio Moroder, ABBA’s Arrival, Donna Summer, LaBelle, Sparks, ELO, and if you must, if you absolutely insist on a comprehensive intake, maybe then, and understand this is not the way I’d have it, we can give you the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack. But I don’t want that for the two of us. I think we can do better. How about Donna Summer’s I Remember Yesterday? Yeah, sure, I understand most of it is bollocks and you can’t listen all the way through, but don’t you get it? You have to wait on “I Feel Love.” There’s plenty of filler, and yes, I hear what you’re saying, maybe some repetition here, but it’s a matter of building ‘til the end. This is how the full-length functions, don’t you see? What? Well, erm, sure, you can buy compilations that have “I Feel Love” and “Hot Stuff” and “Love to Love You Baby” on the same record, but Mom, aren’t you listening? That’s not the way you do it. You need these ALBUMS. There’s cohesion here, an artist’s vision, or something. . .
I can’t place the date when my authoritarian edge dulled. I remember the DJ at my wedding rejected most of my play-list because it consisted of obscure Otis Redding, Parliament, and even solo Lou Reed songs. He didn’t reject it exactly; he just didn’t play it. He later told me, when I spit at him how irate I was that he ignored my mix CD, that people want to dance to something they know. Eternal truth. How did I miss it?
Or maybe my former wife cast the final say, though I’m obviously reluctant to give her credit for anything. We had very different tastes, and she used to call me a “Music Nazi.” I didn’t deny it; actually, I reveled in it. Yet at some point, maybe with age or custom or simply fatigue, I gave in. I came to understand that people don’t want you to guide them. They want you to bless them with their own cultivated sense of happiness. They’ve spent time developing the same aural system I’ve developed, sometimes with me in a dark insistent pothole and them with their arms flung to the obvious joys of the top 40. It’s a divided world, and neither side has any interest in looking over the fence. There’s little judgment now, or if not little, less. I just have to wrap them. They’re gifts. So, fuck, I guess you can have that Enya CD for Christmas, Pops. But, please remember, Enya is only aping what artists in the ambient/electronic scene have been doing for thirty-plus years and pillowing it in New-Age billow. Can I put that on the card at least?