I recently read an article in Rolling Stone (amazing they’re still in business) about the currently popular group ‘Foster The People’. And the leader, Marc Foster, said something like this:
I don’t want to be one of those one-hit wonders like James Taylor… you know… doing ‘Fire And Rain’ for the next 30 years. I want to do thirty more great songs like [insert number one song title I should know here]
In this Great Age of Narcissism (The Big G), I guess I shouldn’t be, but when I read this, I was quite gobsmacked. I think my amazement and umbrage is because for all the RS pretensions of ‘journalism’, the interviewer just let the guy get away with it; not challenging any of his deep pronouncements. But in the GAN, hyperbole like this goes as unnoticed as smog in the city. You don’t really see it until you get outta town.
I mean, this guy should be so lucky as to have a fraction of the career James Taylor has had. He’s clueless. And the fact that he doesn’t just reject his forebears, but is willfully ignorant of the past is what blew my mind. Every generation rebels, but not being aware? Even the rappers I hold greatly responsible for the GAN, have a healthy respect for their forebears. Even the punks who rejected so many things out of sheer spite were aware. But if you avoid history just because. Pretty soon, as Winston Smith found out, you’re eating something that ‘Looks like meat. Tastes like meat. I bet there isn’t any real meat in it.’
Not A Speck Of Cereal
I blame looping for this meat-like substance. I think it’s been long enough now since sampling began that listeners no longer can appreciate real music because they no longer have first-hand experience with live playing and decent sound quality. It’s been too long. After people started living in cities, they forgot what clean air was really like. Nowadays, most of us don’t know what a decent tomato tastes like because we’ve been eating these red fibrous objects they sell at the Safeway so long. Frank Zappa used that the expression of ‘meat-like substances’ to refer to such artificial concoctions. I think that’s why he was always trying so hard to inject the doo-wop stuff he liked as a kid. It came off as a joke to the audience, but it was a fabulous Woody Allen-style ‘joke that’s not a joke, but it is a joke.’
As part of doing Detroit, I’ve been doing a lot of history. I mean a lot. I’ve learned more in the last 6 months than since college. It’s been insane. I’d gotten out of the habit of reading. (I had to practice reading—you know, sitting still for a couple of hours.)
I pounded my way through Marx, for no other reason than because everyone talks about ‘Marx’ and ‘Freud’ and so on but my guess is without having read even one word first-hand. Then I went through all of de Tocqueville. The trips to America and England and Ireland. And it’s sort of like all these guys from that age—Marx and Freud and so on, in that as much as one may like to mock, there’s this nagging feeling that, down deep, they got a lot more right than wrong.
There’s this theme that keeps coming back to me over and over about that old saw:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Before 09/11 changed everything, supposedly were were at ‘the end of history’. Well, what ended was the history of music. When CDs ended, any pretense of music as a craft that is passed from generation to generation went with it.
The fallacy that Marc Foster will be remembered thirty years from now is not simply because he doesn’t have the talent that James Taylor had/has (not to mention the self-awareness to know his limits and then hone his craft to razor-like sharpness within that range.) The reason he won’t be remembered like James Taylor is that nobody is going to be remembered like James Taylor thirty years from now. Or at least, not for their craft. Some, like Lady Gaga perhaps, will be remembered, but not because their songs were so cool, but rather because of the impression they made on YouTube or Rolling Stone.
In 2040 people will use ‘Lady Gaga’ the way they use ‘Freud’ or ‘Marx’; like factoids (which aren’t ‘little facts’ by the way, but ‘fact-seeming’, ie. not real facts at all. Perhaps a ‘Marc Foster’ will be a reference that any average person will use to get an immediate reaction and everyone will know what they’re trying to say—in the same way that everyone uses ‘Freudian slip’ or ‘Marxist’ to express an idea that audiences understand, but which has almost nothing to do with what Freud or Marx were actually talking about. It’s become a shorthand. We don’t go around correcting people for calling Native Americans ‘Indians’. Columbus fucked up, it became a common expression and now? I wish Queen Victoria had just renamed India something else when she had the chance. It would cut down on the confusion.
Marc Foster may well become the ‘Freudian slip’ of his generation. But any lasting fame he accrues will not come from any song he wrote. The age of being remembered for something of value one actually does over a career is soooooo 1970.