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March 16, 1995 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-03-16

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6- The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, March 16, 1995

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

I picked the wrong career. Man, I
should have listened to dearol' when he
designated business as the top-notch
job to snatch onto and just feel the
bucks. But in primary, I forked to the
left, studying the great poets (or trying
to study the great poets rather, for as
most of my generation, I was much.
more content to sit in front of the great
pacifier MTV and vegabsorb the pop
poets like David Lee, David Byrne,
Devoletting mysoulsinklow toBarnes
& Barnes anthemic "Fish Heads"). I
could never have a head for numbers,
however, when I instead had a head of
mush and a heart of gush. I mean, you
listen toMr. Roth's version of"Califor-
nia Girls" now (if you can find it on the
by the mighty Van Halen, and no one
ever bothers to criticize 'em anymore
for what they've become: Ed can cut his
hair all he wants, but a change in image
don'tconstituteachangein music. Now
I know some of ya out there are ready to
rip my colleague Brian's throat out for
his recent review of Van Halen's latest,
or rather shred his digits down to the
wrist so he won't ever be able to write
anything until they come up with some
way to hook your IBM up to your brain
synapses, so your computer will inter-
pret your thoughts, although I hear the
CIA is up to some sort of doodad that
will do just that. WATCH OUT. But I
digress, and seeing as how this is still
parenthetical, I'll wrap up: a review of
Van Halen can't be done well anymore,
because a review of the new album will
be the same as the review for their
previous long player and the reviews
will all be the same until we realize
we're looking into a mirror while our
back is turned to a mirror and all we see
is mirror upon mirror upon mirror until
wefeel we'relivingin agiantmirror. At
least Brian's review seemed to dictate
such an existence; yeah, it was funny
and, yep, it didn't really pin down the
music; but in a Van Halen Universe,
you can't pin down the music any better
than you could on their previous album
because the albums since the departure
of Davey Lee are all the same. I was

quite impressed by the emotional out-
pouring on the first post-Roth record;
oh sure, all the songs sounded the same,
but with Eddie Van Halen's guitar mae-
stro magnificence, the next album would
have to be a departure. Nope. Ed dis-
covered that his instrument doesn't have
to sound like aguitar, nay, it didn't have
to sound human if he ran 30 effect
pedals through it, and now what we get
on every Van Halen album is the same
distorto-riffs that ooze along at the same
tepid beat with Sammy's throttling
throatisms that just sort of land in a
lump on your lap. Oh, here's the new
Van Halen in my lap, what should I do
with it? Oh, I guess I'11 just let it sit here
because I don't feel like angering these
Gods of Rock and their supposed tech-
nical prowess, and I'll justleave it alone
because it's here and that's all you need
to know really. And what complaint
can be made against a bad Van Halen
review other than Eddie is such a great
guitarplayer?Really?Then whydoesn't
their music actually move anymore?
Why can't we get up and say "Jesus
Christ! I've never heard such utter bril-
liance in my life before! I'm shakin' all
over because Eddie is such a great gui-
tar player!).
So where was I before the parenthe-
ses? I was going to say something about
Roth's "California Girls" and tie it in to
my whole thematic resolve (and I am
getting there, don't worry!), but, in-
stead, I've provided a new thematic
signpost for myself:Van Halen doesn't
need to be marketed anymore because
1) their music has sounded so much
alike for the last 10 years that everyone
knows what to expect from a new Van
Halen album and because 2) Van Halen
is just there, an ancient rock totem pole
that can just exist because it exists.
Sure, they meant something once; they
actually stirred fervor in a few at some
point, but now they just are, and they
can be presented as is, without any
market tact.The name dictates the mean-
ing. The music is a non-entity and can't
be critiqued.
Van Halen has become more than
the music, and this is the evil of the
business. To make cash, a company
must market the band, and, as in Van
Halen's case, the hoped-upon out-
come is an ultimate unnecessity to
market the band (Pearl Jam is perhaps
the quickest band to ever achieve such
an existence - they don't even need
to put on the sadomasochistic leather

and chains for MTV's whips any-
We do live in a mirror. A market-
ing mirror. A mirror I should have
looked into a little more closely as a
career option, because our entire fu-
tures are going to be one market mir-
ror upon another market mirror until
we're as far away from our true, sad,
passionate, animalistic selves as we
can be. The record companies see
what we like and give us what we
want, until we can't realize that what
we once wanted is no longer what we
wanted. The music is the key, but the
companies aren't there to market the
music, they exist to market the per-
formers and the trends, and perform-
ers and trends should never be more
important than the music (except for
true bizarros like Bowie and Elvis,
and I'm sorry, but Van Halen just
ain't that interesting).
Two direct sources stirred this out-
pouring, and since I feel indebted to pay
credit where credit is due (other than
my Visa which is a bit too particular on
dates and amounts), Alternative Press
and "the four corners of nowhere" de-
serve recognition for their insight. In
that magazine's recent readers' poll,
the editor lauded the readers because
they chose to align themselves with
musicians and not marketing. Wow, I
thoughtmaybe the kids arefinally think-
ing for themselves. Who are the top
performers - the New Bomb Turks?
Elastica? Superchunk? Nope. Though
Elastica eked out a "Brightest Hope for
'95" award (throwin' the baby a bone),
the top three groups were Nine Inch
Nails, Hole and Pavement - three of
the most marketed bands in the last
Pavement, arguably the worst band
since Musical Youth (and I know I'll
anger a few of you with that state-
ment, but really, if you are into music
because it should move you -- to
tears, to passion, to rage, to orgasm -
then Pavement is the worst band. If
you are into music because you like to
sleep or because you like non-mean-
ing, then Pavement is the best band
since Musical Youth), is of course the
least "marketed" of the three. But I
can't escape this sudden feeling that
with all its underground hype, Pave-
ment has the Occult Marketing Inc.
group working its magic. After all,
mass hypnosis is how bands make it
these days.


David Lee Roth: What Van Haten's been missing?

Hole stands the best chance of
becoming the next Van Halen, if not
for their music then for the former
Mr. Love. The group's latest was a
good, strong album, but was it worthy
of such applause? Now I'm not say-
ing that Hole would be playing base-
ment dives if she hadn't married Kurt,
and if he hadn't subsequently put a
load of lead in his head, but I am
saying that the album fared consider-
ably better after Kurt had left this
cruel world. Can you imagine the
record company wiz who first real-
ized how big of amarketing tool Kurt's
death could be?
"Johnson," drooled the coldly me-
chanical mouth, now operating out of
calculating habit rather than pure in-
sight, "tell Courtney to go into 'mourn-
ing' for two months, then install her
into the opening slot for the upcom-
ing Nine Inch Nails tour."
Nine Inch Nails and the big Nail
himself, Trent Reznor, whose name has
now become synonymous with angst,
provided the biggest symbol for
Courtney's angst and despair over the
death of her husband and over the halt
of his own angst and dark humor. The
catch with NIN is that the band, the
man, is self-marketed. They'rejusthop-
ping the trend that's been charted by the
record company's analysts who can
only mathematically plot the emotions
of us all. No passion and no truth. Mr.
Reznor delivers all this angst and self-
torment, but it's all an act, a lie. For
example, in interviews, Reznor is a
relatively jovial person. There's no angst
other than what every other white,

suburban, middle-class kid with no di-
rection feels, and perhaps that's enough
tojustify theexistenceofaTrentReznor,
just another marketing-flooded kid
that's marketed to other similar kids.
But you have to realize that Nine Inch
Nails is going too melodramatically
full-tilt to sustain meaning for any ex-
tended period of time.
Angst, angst, angst. Give the kids
what they want, and soon it will mean
nothing at all. Angst is just another
catchword now for Generation X, and
to everyone including the "generation"
itself, Generation X means nothing but
another target market group. Even the
name denotes the world economy at
work here: Generation X, Brand X,
X+Y=Z. Other generations had signifi-
cant or literary titles (the Silent Genera-
tion, the Beat Generation, Baby
Boomers). We get a letter of the alpha-
bet- and not just any letter, but a letter
that means no, nothing.
"the four corners of nowhere,"
one of the best films I've seen in at
least two years, laid this idea out for
all to see. It :was not only the most
accurate and insightful look at my
generation, but it also was done with
such utter simplicity and tact. All,
save for the publicity posters. Now, I
don't want to scream hypocrisy be-
cause I think the producers were plan-
ning something more wicked, but the
posters featured the seven main char-
acters presented with catch-definitions
like "Born Again Yuppie" and the
baseline phrase "In the never-ending
search for pizza." The film itself is the
complete antithesis of its poster, and

I have to believe (to keep my mind
partially sane) that the producers made
the posters in this specific manner as
an in-joke, an understanding misno-
mer. But this is all still marketing. I
know most of you who went to see
"the four corners of nowhere" did so
because the film was made in Ann
Arbor and you wanted to see your
front porch or your best friend who
was at the Blind Pig when they filmed
the concert scene; but if this film were
ever to be distributed nationally (as it
should), and the posters remained,
how well would it speak of our gen-
eration if masses flocked to the theaters
thanks in large part to the posters?
The independent film was off
when it spoke of our generation as the
first to have no more frontiers to con-
quer. We have our inner selves to
conquer; without, any movements to
lock on to, without any world wars to
fight in, without any wilderness to
settle, we have nothing left to look
into but our own individual minds to
discover what we really want out of
this life. This frontier is perhaps the.
most difficult to pinpoint (is it even.
possible? I hope so), but if we can
manage somehow to conquer our own
identities, without the aid of Nine
Inch Nails' angst, without Van
Halen's unexplained ascension to the
throne of rock and roll, without the
marketing mirror, then we will have
the access to solve every problem that
confronts the world. And I doubt the
marketing gurus will ever discover a
way to reduce our true selves to num-
bers and brackets.

FRIDAY, MARCH 17, 1995
1:30-3:30 P. M.
ROOM 100



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