the bastard machine’s top 15
some of us feel a little bit older today

stuff i read today

Bad Astronomy:

[I]f people want to believe whatever they want, it’s up to them. We have freedom from and of religion in the United States. But if they want to convince me they’ll have to do a lot more than give me anecdotes or non-scientifically based evidence. And if they want to affect politics and legislation, then they’d better sit down with the Constitution and give it a good read.

Monitor Mix:

Yesterday, I was sitting at an outdoor cafe, eating lunch with friends and listening to songs designed to enhance the experience: Vanessa Carlton, late-period Rod Stewart and Mike + The Mechanics. The restaurant thought it was placating its clientele, appealing to the masses by playing non-music; that is, music for people who would otherwise hate music. It's like this: Something happening in the background is suggestive of sound and implies melody; it could be music, or it could just be a cat wearing a fake mustache talking to a dog. It's hard to tell.

I'm fascinated by music that is designated as background noise. Do artists set out to be the soundtrack to mommy-and-me lunches, facials and waiting-room smudged-with-chocolate magazine perusals?

Comments

Jeff

I'm curious as to what you thought about what Carrie Brownstein wrote.

Steven

I'm goofing around with this idea of posting a daily batch of quoted material without comments, but as you note, there's not much point in having a blog if you don't offer an opinion. I think Carrie's description of "inoffensive" music is accurate, and I think she's right that such music works best when we don't actually want to hear it. When it does its job (i.e. I don't actually hear it), it doesn't bother me a bit ... the second I notice it, I hate it. By definition, it can't be anything I'd like, because then I'd be distracted and it would no longer be inoffensive.

I don't think most artists start out wanting to make music for waiting rooms ... maybe John Tesh. I guess the thing that saddens me the most is when someone's career transitions from being someone who matters to being someone who fits into a waiting-room environment. Yes, I'm talking about you, Rod Stewart, although Rod's voice has never lost its ability to get my attention, so I don't really think he's a waiting room artiste. I'm just carrying a 3+ decade complaint about him throwing away his talent.

As for an example of Carrie putting up instead of shutting up, I point to "Modern Girl," which starts out as if it's going to blend into the background (although Carrie's flat vocals never allow us to ignore her, they're just a bit eccentric, and eccentric never works for the waiting room). Then the distortion, which informs the entire album, imposes itself on the song, and it becomes something much more than inoffensive. It's as if they were making sure you'd never hear "Modern Girl" on an elevator.

Jeff

I like your new concept, but what she wrote really got me thinking so I was genuinely curious about your take. I think her definition is accurate as well, and what she wrote reminded me of a column Greil Marcus wrote years ago where he wrote about being on vacation in Maui, having brunch at the hotel, listening (or not) to the inoffensiveness coming out of the restaurant speakers. And then, out of the blue, "Like A Rolling Stone" came on, and he described what it was like - everyone stopping their conversations, putting down their forks, to listen. Proof positive, he said, that that particular song could never be used as background music.

On the other hand, I wonder what a fan of Vanessa Carlton might write (or think) about Sleater-Kinney. I don't think I know any fans of Vanessa Carlton, but if one was clever I'd like to see what they might do by turning Brownstein's last paragraph on its head.

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