Skynet’s eventual rise to power is a 90% bad thing for humanity. As self-driving cars and pill-dispensing robots render human labor ever more superfluous, the end is nigh!!! Mechanized Sentinels, however, scare me less than the inevitable zombie apocalypse, hence the other 10% (give or take a percentage point or two (not accounting for any standard deviations)).
Stay with me here. Robot overlords will improve American (the USA varietal) society in two, very distinct ways. First, there is no way The Machines are going to war against Neo, Morpheus, and Zion with Donald Fucking Trump at the helm (for what it’s worth, I’d probably vote for a machine over Hillary Clinton too, but that’s an essay for another time). Second, T-1000 and friends would greatly improve upon the music polluting our radio waves, clubs, and the Jersey Shore.
For starters, according to the first law of robotics “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm” and thus Hal would have asphyxiated Adam Levine one decade ago (and Dave Grohl too for that matter) so that humanity could be spared from this garbage or this pile of shit. Full disclosure, I only know of these songs because I Googled “Maroon 5 2016” and“Foo Fighters 2016”, but could have just as easily selected any song by either artist in the past 5 years to articulate my point. Don’t believe me? Scratch your sadistic itch and venture down that rabbit hole if you dare. I warned you.
These songs suck. They’re not interesting. They sound like everything else on the radio. And it makes me sad. To say that “pop music today is formulaic” would be an asinine statement for a number of reasons. Yet, pop music today is entirely formulaic! So much so that the songs spanning across genres of Rock, Hip-Hop, R&B, Country, Alternative, and EDM…essentially sound the same. Science agrees.
A quick aside, there is amazing music being made today (some of it is…gulp…popular). And, we may be in the midst of a golden age of hip-hop following a long lull of craptasticness that was the mid-to-late 2000s (I’m looking at you Ja Rule. Though there are exceptions like this song that will forever kick-ass and innumerable Luda cameos).
Back in my day (yep, get off my goddamn lawn), the Nirvana/Post-Nirvana wave of “alternative” music that flooded radio stations and MTV either rocked or it didn’t. But lord, when it rocked, it really rocked. Sure, I am biased as hell, but…obviously the 90s was a golden age for popular music. Rock, hip-hop, and R&B. And while there is arguably a formula for these tunes too; lyrics, chord structure, and arrangement don’t fit neatly inside any heart-shaped box.
Take a small example (take a tip from me), The Toadies hit Possum Kingdom, a classic one-hit wonder from the the 90s Golden Age (other notable one hit wonders include Space Hog, Supertramp, Harvey Danger, Cracker, and The Refreshments). First and foremost, this song rocks. So much so that my band began covering this song and quickly realized it was more complicated than we initially thought. Time signature changes! Key changes! No auto-tune! Look, it’s no Moonlight Sonata. But it destroys any and everything in the Avett Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Drake, or The Weekend’s catalogue.
A different essay is needed to truly articulate how good and how epic the 90s was for popular music, so let’s get back to the future, shall we? The one in which the machines have not only won, they also pollute our matrix with a higher quality of music. Music with infinitesimally precise time signatures that prove incomprehensible to our feeble human minds. Imagine caches of completely original compositions vetted through an algorithm designed to ensure that the melody, structure, and progressions had never been recorded, let alone conceptualized (too bad Pharrell and Robin Thicke couldn’t use this program retroactively…how dare they rip off Marvelous Marvin). Tunes crafted utilizing modes and tunings undecipherable by African, Caribbean, Western, Eastern, or Middle-Eastern schools of music. Music so advanced that humans won’t even be able to actually hear it! Ok, ok…maybe I’m going a little overboard. But you get the idea.
Even though Hal can sing, this soul-loving, human musician does not endorse a robot overthrow of popular music (even if it meant Yeezus would shut-the-fuck-up for a minute). Music, at it’s core, is so inherently human. It’s how we express and endure love, pain, triumph, heartbreak, death, institutional racism, angst, and revolution. It helps us tell stories. The personal, the ones we share together, the political, and ones that flat-out make us laugh. It’s that annoying and redeeming phenomenon of every song you hear hurting that much more after a breakup. It’s the iconic first notes of a song that burrows into your memory bank. It’s that human element that ensures anyone can play guitar ‘round a campfire, collectively singing songs we all know the words to (or if you’re Israeli, this one. Every fucking Israeli knows this song). It’s the humanity of music that necessitates movie scores forewarning of impending danger ahead. It’s the timeless soundtracks. It’s a song becoming the anthem of The World freakin’ Cup!
Holy gosh geez, do I love music. My first love is the saxophone. No instrument better exemplifies “either you got it, or you don’t”. Those that got it can channel their soul from their hallowed depths and up through their lips to express a boast, snarl, guffaw, and whimper. That’s soul, ladies and gents. I’m not going to link to any Kenny G, and it’s far too cliche to pick on him. He is an exceptional musician. But that shit aint got soul. It’s robot music.
Which leads me to the mea culpa. Any and everybody can play music. Because music is extension and expression of our humanity. There is no such thing as “good” or “bad”. Really (and yes, Jack Johnson’s flip-flop retreads is essentially nails on a chalkboard for me). The most important musical moment in my life happened in New Orleans (I’ll save my thoughts on New Orleans music for a different essay). It wasn’t a magical day dancing with a brass-band.
Nope. It was at my dentist’s office. While reclined in that dental chair. Blinded by that damned overhead light. My dentist, with glove’d hands scraping and poking my opened-wide mouth says, “If you’re not doing anything next Friday night, my dixie band is playing at Bayou Beer Garden”. No pretension. No Ticketmaster. Not Jazzfest. Just a genuine invitation to enjoy music. For the sake of music. For the sake of expression. For the soul. So please…play and listen to music. Love it. Feel it. Pay for it. Support local artists. And may we all Keep Rockin’ in the Free World forevermore.