Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Via a link from Carl we learn that after David Byrne found out that record-company payola helped make “Burning Down the House” a hit, he got really cynical about his own love of particular popular songs through his life and questioned the validity of his responses; fatally, he transferred that self-contempt: “I began to think a whole lot less of our audience. When people would come up to me and say ‘boy is that a great song, I LOVE that song!’ I would be tempted to tell them, ‘no you don’t, you’ve just been saturated with it and manipulated like the rest of us. You like it because your soul, your likes and dislikes, are up for sale to the highest bidder.’” (Scroll down to the July 30 entry.)

As a teen-ager I had loved the Talking Heads albums. “Speaking in Tongues” came out when I was in college; my enthusiasm waned slightly but I still dug it. “Stop Making Sense” bugged me -- as a title it sounded like Reagan. (You know how Reagan and his sloganistic descendents say, “I’m going to balance the budget by cutting taxes and increasing military spending”? -- Start Making Sense!) And the arty stage & costume stuff of the film (I didn’t see the tour from which the film was made) seemed like warmed-over Laurie Anderson, leftovers that had gotten stale in the fridge. (I had seen Anderson on tour about that time, and she was wonderful.)

And then came “Little Creatures,” and I checked out, but not completely -- I did go to see “Renaissance Man” Byrne’s feature fiction film, “True Stories,” and hated it, feeling it contemptuous toward its audience and its subjects.

Little did I know that Byrne would later publicly corroborate my impression of his feelings for us.

About payola, I have to quote the 2-year-old, who overheard a conversation between his mom and me about some revelation or other of political nefariousness, and went around for weeks quoting my beloved spouse: “Uh-oh, corruption!” I’m lucky, living in a big city college town. I enjoy the payola-fueled Top 40 and the college-rock indie stuff and the jazz shows on 2 other college stations and the non-profit, blessedly unaffiliated classical station and the different varieties of Oldies and the adult-oriented “quality” rock. (Would that be high quality, or low? They don’t specify!) And sometimes the Smooth Jazz and the Country Hit radio too. It’s a shame that busting past the gate-keepers to get on the commercial stations requires extra money-money. I wonder what Top 40 would sound like without it.

It’s hard for me to relate to D. Byrne questioning whether he still liked the songs, or who “he” was that was doing the liking. We’re all little boats buffeted about on the great sea of circumstances; why malign winds would make one question one’s identity more than indifferent or benign winds, I don’t understand. I like classical and jazz and pre-rock pop because my parents do and grandparents did, and I like the Beatles because Jay’s parents do, and the Beach Boys because Jay's older next-door neighbors did, and I like bluegrass because Steve’s parents do, and country and ‘60s pop and punk because John D.’s parents and older brother do, and Jay and Steve and John D were three of my best friends growing up. (All of them really good musicians.) I think about Mozart a certain way because my friend Emily was playing Mozart in high school and talked about the emotional effect of his music. (“Such nervous energy!” she said 25 years ago -- nothing like the serene classical master of the stereotype, and she was right!) I dig funk and hip hop because my younger brother got into them because his friend Brian (who later turned into a weird-ass “husband is the master of the house”-type Christian) and Brian’s older siblings were into them. These are all benign winds, and payola is malign; the point is, we have little control over the winds of our times and places.

A NEW WIND in my life is -- I’m cool! While I was in Canada a couple weeks ago I got an email from a book publicist asking if I would like copies of new books coming out by Chuck Klosterman, because I had written (not all that positively) about his first book, “Fargo Rock City,” on this blog. The books arrived today; I started reading the new edition of the older one at lunch. I googled the name of the company that sent the books -- it’s a “Viral Marketing” company -- “Viral” is the hip (and evocative!) word for “word-of-mouth.” (Yes, as a matter of epidemiological fact, viruses do “communicate” via mouths.) The idea is, I’m alternative, volunteer journalism! And we all know, “alternative” is “cool” -- it’s so cool, it’s “viral”! (Does this company know how many readers Utopian Turtletop has? I love you all dearly and have no complaints; it’s just curious to me, because your aggregation does not a mighty number make.)
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