LOL. Sorry. This is clickbait because I don't know nuttin' no more. According to Spotify, here's my top 10 songs of 2018:
10. Mtume - Juicy Fruit
9. Cybotron - Enter
8. Nights (Feel Like Gettin' Down) - Billy Ocean
7. Seeing Out The Angel (Instrumental) - Simple Minds
6. Remind Me - Patrice Rushen
5. Behind The Groove - Teena Marie
4. Overcome - Tricky
3. Memories - Public Image Limited
2. Before The Rain - 2814
1. Relax (New York Mix) - Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Spotify, both creepily and charmingly, sent me an email with a link to a little animated presentation on my listening tastes, which are apparently already 90% more "adventurous" than the average Spotify listener. I have no idea what that means. I wonder what it would take to get to 0% or 100%. I'm not going to find out.
Today on Youtube, I came across the following. It's a compilation video of all of the number one hits of the 1990s. The first two sentences of this paragraph could almost be written by a computer, could be from a spam email. They aren't. I'm rusty.
My head is spinning with all sorts of thoughts on what the Internet has really done, which is accelerate the process by which the illusion that allowed us to imagine a consensual history has been broken.
At minimum, this illusion allows for: history, criticism, journalism, political praxis, cultural activity.
It's not that we haven't all experienced the same things, though, even this is too general, but I say so in contrast to the following: that it is difficult to imagine that the ramifications of whatever approaches a universal event are similar enough to form the basis for a narrative explanation of those events.
It's true, a compilation video of all of the number one hits of the 1990s is a bad metric for understanding the history of anything at all, and yet, really, given my own memories of the period, the first decade of my life that I actively cared about music all the way through, it's really surprising to me how different this particular narrative is compared to the one in my head.
When I began to watch the video, my first thought ran to Nirvana. I could't remember which song of theirs went to number one. Hint: none. As this realization dawned on me, though, somehow, I couldn't let myself be sure of of this fact until the dates passed the one on which Kurt Cobain committed suicide. At that point, and maybe before, recalling my cynicism towards all of the bands that followed in Nirvana's wake, I started to think, well, surely Pearl Jam or the Stone Temple Pilots made it. Didn't they "suck" enough? I thought so! Nope.
The only evidence that grunge/alternative even happened, as far as I can tell: flannel shirts in SWV and TLC videos, Lisa Loeb's glasses, and Hansen's hair. That's it.
Not that r&b or hiphop fares much better, though at least TLC's "Waterfalls" and that one Destiny's Child song feature the skittering percussion that was the hallmark of many superior r&b records of the time. Which brings me to another surprise - no Missy and Timbo. Huh?
(As an aside, though thankfully not as popular a pastime as it was a couple of years ago, why are/were people constantly trying to sell me Beyonce as someone who has been ignored or underrated her whole life due to race and gender? It's been twenty years now, folks. Also see what I said above about the fracturing of consensual history - pre-Internet, most people didn't really give a shit about music, but the media was dominated by people who did. Post-Internet, guess what, most people still don't really give a shit about music. It only feels like Beyonce didn't change the world in the same way the Beatles did because when the Beatles were around, "the world" was more-narrowly-defined. There's some real irony here if you consider the possibility that Beyonce couldn't change "the world" precisely because those who argued, rightfully, that that "the world" had to include more than white men, also argued against, and have mostly delegitimized, the conception of a coherent subject that could be changed.)
Do you want me to conclude with some sort of deeper insight here? Or should I write a screed about individualism and the impossibility of music criticism? Like I said, rusty.
Mariah Carey was actually quite good at the beginning of her career - I knew this before, had forgotten, somehow - though she did devolve rather quickly into Whitney-style inspirational ballads before being "rescued" by a song about the joys of ejaculate. Somebody was talking to me today about the limits of populism and the necessity of a responsible elite. When I think about a song like Mariah Carey's "Hero", both the popularity of the song amongst "the masses" and the machinations of the "elite" that helped make it happen, I start to long for a third option.
...something from George W.S. Trow about adulthood being the management and oversight of the inherent childishness of media-driven consumer culture and the inevitability of some of us staying adolescents. I'm not proud I'm still one, nor do I think pride would be, for me, the byproduct of any of the other aforementioned options...
I think I miss R&B a lot and I do, but, lord, Boyz II Men. I'd like to think that I can be objective and make the claim that their music actually, inherently, sounds like a well-chaperoned middle-school dance without reference to the numerous times I heard their music within that context. I can still see the space between the dancers, enough to store a few letters worth of an encyclopedia.
Celine Dion is mom jeans (two dated references in five words). I still haven't read that book I'm supposed to read about why this may not be the case.
Janet Jackson really could have been so much more, even just with editing. Did nobody realize that her "urban records" were actually bigger hits than her "pop records"? "That's The Way Love Goes" still bangs.
I've never been one to subscribe to the Great Man approach to history, and yet one certainly did leave us recently. Given that his greatest contribution to humanity partially involves Ringo Starr's drum sound on "Tomorrow Never Knows", and not the subjugation of the native population of a tropical island somewhere, I think I can make an exception.
For those who don't know, Geoff Emerick was the engineer responsible for recording most of the greatest work the Beatles ever committed to tape. While I find that I am a lot less obsessive about the Beatles than I used to be, I'm still amazed at the contribution Mr. Emerick made to the art of recording. Off the top of my head: close-miking of drums and amplifiers (a practice now followed in probably 99% of recordings made), new vocal effects, new means of integrating tape loops and reversed sounds into music, use of distortion, use of creative compression. I would go on, but I don't have my copy of his autobiography handy. Suffice it to say, there's more.
It would certainly be exaggeration to give Geoff Emerick sole credit for creating the sound of psychedelic music, but his contribution was outsized, and persisted well beyond the late 1960s. If you can read past his obvious bias towards McCartney at the expense of the other members of the band, the stories that fill his book, Here, There And Everywhere: My Life Recording The Music Of The Beatles, of the creative exploits of the Beatles, and the now-primitive means by which Mr. Emerick helped to realize the sounds the members of the band could sometimes only barely describe, are inspirational and charming.
I doubt he will get quite the remembrance he deserves. Many people live in blissful ignorance of what it takes to turn great songs into great records, and while there are more pressing issues at hand when it comes to the general level of education of the human population (lets all find Syria on a map first and then worry about "automatic double tracking"), if anything makes me feel alienated at times from so many members of my species, it's the lack of curiosity and wonder that so many seem to feel towards the world around them. Thankfully, Mr. Emerick, by all accounts supremely humble, seemed proud of his small but valuable contribution and must have passed confident that he helped bring pleasure to millions, whether they know it or not.
Thinking about this girl again, not even out of love, or desperation, or regret, just new insight gleaned from the same old memories.
Passage from my favorite work of fiction of all time:
That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.
The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carelessness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.
And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.
It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.
How does it fit together? Maybe it doesn't.
I think I, finally, fourteen years later, get it. It's 6:24 in the morning as I write this and I have been trying to sleep for hours. Thankfully, I don't have to work today. Sadly, I'll be wasting a day off recovering from being up this late.
There's something about my childhood, I don't know. I was precocious, but, somehow, it didn't work out. The expectations of others were numerous and vague. Somehow, my intelligence placed upon me some set of responsibilities that were never delineated, that I could never satisfy. Somehow, I was always expected to be something other. I had so much "potential". For what, specifically? If I was as smart as everyone thought, perhaps I would have known to ask that question. The problem I'm describing, though, is the lack of an independent self that could conceive of asking such a question.
I think I wasted a lot of time running towards and away. Always in the context that others had created for me. I never even really bothered to figure out who I was, what I wanted. There was like this thing. That existed outside of myself. That had nothing to do with me. Is there a word for a gift that can never be possessed by the purported recipient?
When I wonder: what connected me with Sarah so deeply (and, surely, more deeply than she ever connected with me)? It wasn't her beauty. She was beautiful (and may be still). But rather, it was her beauty. It had nothing to do with her either. What she looked like, what people perceived of her, the context of what she said, what she did, she could never truly convey herself. Her beauty became a prism, her true self distorted and refracted, clouded, unknowable. "It's such a gamble when you get a face". And she knew it. How could she not? How could I blame her for seemingly sleeping only with men who didn't care about her? How could anyone who wanted her for anything other than her beauty seem honest?
Compliment me on anything but my intelligence back then, and I would't have believed you. I would feel you were trying to manipulate me.
I had to give up my apartment in DC on November 1, 2005. There was the described drunken night at some point later that month, and a phone conversation the next day, me, pacing, smoking cigarette after cigarette, in the backyard of my parent's house. Autumn. The yearning eroticism of a sensual wind, leaves acquiescent.
I wrote that she accused me of only wanting her physically. Maybe now I know what to say. Thirteen years too late. All I wanted was a chance to see the text behind the font, and to share with her the loneliness of the dispossessed.
I don't think anything would be different, nor would I deserve differently, had I said those words. I simply hope she has grown to be a person who could believe them if they were spoken.