The saddest misinterpretation in rap is to assume Ol’ Dirty Bastard is regarded, among the honestly knowledgeable, as a gimmick. As the most uncompromising and singular voice in the wildest hip-hop group of all time, the Wu-Tang Clan, his role was nothing short of stellar: the foul, old bluesman slamming against obsolescence and complicity.
And when he died, what did people say?
They labeled him a side-show act, a drunken half-jester with little discernible talent who got lucky. True enough, his self-destruction as an artist and man left little to the imagination and sent most people with any awareness of his personal decline shaking their respective heads in sadness.
But at least he wasn’t rapping with the Pussycat Dolls.
I don’t know why, but impersonal, heartless pap is suddenly flooding our generation at a level not seen since the always-trite Eagles tried to convince our torn ’70s nation to “Take It Easy.”
On the radio, a gaggle of strippers start singing about how freaky they are and begin taunting men for having girlfriends apparently unwilling to regularly bend over in fish-net stockings. That’s all fine and good, but when your musical background is a cameo in “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and your personality rivals the independence of a dehumidifier, you whole-heartedly deserve ridicule. The Pussycats Dolls aren’t artists, they’re a brand name; a marketing device.
And it’s not just the Clear Channel game of radio Monopoly that’s killing off personalities.
Fiona Apple, the same murderously brilliant, uncompromising song-writer with a heart-stopping voice who released an album with a 90-word title in 1999, has her totally finished, mixed and mastered album, Extraordinary Machine, shelved indefinitely by her label, Sony. The label was reportedly worried about “sales.” A fair enough concern, but considering both of her albums managed to reach the upper echelons on both the ever-middle brow Billboard and internet sales charts, Sony ended up looking like the old, gun-shy corporation.
Now, by no means is this an indictment about something as trivial as “major label” vs. “independent” music (because lord knows everyone is sick of the Urban Outfitters/Bloc Party bandwagon at this point). I think Toby Keith, as much as I disagree with his politics and don’t enjoy his music, actually has some goddamned specks of life within him. He’s got way more personality than just another indie-rock fashion dish. What’s so troubling is that our peers, our friends, are digesting whatever is spewed from the mouths of an increasing homogenous radio/chart scene with no regard to humanity.
50 Cent set the world on fire when he was a mix-tape all-star, rapping about himself, his streets and telling stories about a life that most of us will never touch. Now he sells Vitamin Water, lives in a sweet suburb in Connecticut and releases the same song every four months. He forfeited his personality. Oh, and he’s making a video game where you too can shoot people (though the more we learn about his past, the more we realize that 50 probably didn’t shoot anything).
And don’t forget Eminem. Remember when he roasted the fat old men running this nation for their hypocrisy and made disenfranchised, poor white kids feel like they could care about rap as well? Remember when he pretended to hijack congress at an MTV awards show and flipped middle fingers at anyone with a functional retina? Eminem now makes videos with puppets dancing naked and sells a clothing line available at the nearest Hot Topic.
What was once the real voice of the people, country music, now spits out glorified boy bands like Rascal Flatts who, just like Coldplay, another 2 percent milk band, write songs about wafer-thin love and pain so maudlin it’s laughable. They make themselves as inoffensive as possible.
Come to think of it, that might be the real problem. Again, back to Toby Keith. Sure, he probably didn’t sell some records because the liberals and hypocritical college wankers saw him as a W. patsy. And conversely, when Green Day, another bastion of fire and truth, made a career resurrection tearing down those views, they probably didn’t endear themselves to Pat Robertson and the people who think two guys getting married spells the end of civilization.
Everyone here is fucking crazy, that’s the point. The New York Times Op-Ed page has just as many boiler-plate whiners as Fox News Channel. Clearly, as anyone who was just here for “Welcome Week” can attest, the inmates will never stop running the asylum.
So why do we lull ourselves to sleep with pseudo-artists who pull every punch?
Every genre is guilty. We (that is, everyone who buys, makes and listens to music) must be convinced that the middle ground is the only earth worth treading. Iggy Pop cut himself on stage, howled at complacency and generally made life hell for the man. He’s a first ballot hall-of-famer. Johnny Cash ripped the law and raged about the absurd disparity of wealth in the United States He’s in the pantheon of American music.
And what about Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Fiona Apple? How could two such different figures try to burn down the marble house of blind, deaf and dumb creators and consumers (that’s right, consumers, not listeners) of music? They gave a damn, they never caved in and they fought the fight of their lives in their own way. It’s damn near inspirational. When Extraordinary Machine is finally released this fall and O.D.B finally gets the deserved compilation of all his work, I’m putting both on my stereo and devouring every note, every couplet. I know it’s not cool to care about stuff anymore, especially music. “Chill” is the bull shit word that drives us, but why are we turning those who burn the brightest into such pariah?
McGarvey has been listening to “Don’t Cha?” nonstop since it hit VH1. Share your enthusiasm with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.