The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
The ugly truth about my taste in music
aterialism and music don't mix.
Right? Unlike the narrative-
bound mediums of literature,
film and theater, music doesn't have to
tell a story in order to sell. It's not about
tangible things hap-
pening to tangible
people - sure, I often
picture vast "Myst"-
when I listen to
bands like Tortoise. JOSH
And, sure, I'll have an BAYER
imagery cocktail party
in my head whenever I play Pavement (I
triple-dog-dare you to hear "he sold his
swollen daughter in a sauna playing con-
tract bridge" without getting some serious
mind's-eye action going).
But, ultimately, music isn't about things.
It's not about conveying meaning or doling
out a take-home-message. It's not about
political expression (although Zack de la
Rocha would probably shank me for saying
that). It's about riding that immaterial wave
of noise and either feeling it in your gut or
not. And while it's probably true that the
best art - regardless of medium - packs a
punch because it woos you viscerally rather
than intellectually, music is abstract in the
sense that its mission statement is not to
represent the physical world.
Now, this isn't to say that reality-rooted
content is merely chump change in the
spiritual realm of music - listening to
a wordsmith like Conor Oberst without
attending at all to his vivid imagery would
be completely missing the point. But,
when push comes to shove, I'm in it for the
way the aural textures mesh with my ear-
drums, not for the amount of lyrical motifs
an artist can slyly tuck into one record.
Someone could transcribe the entire text,
of "Ulysses" into a 30-minute concept
album - if the singer's voice sucks, I'm not
going to give a shit.
Conversely, if the music is great but the
lyrics aren't stellar, I can usually cope.
This is especially apparent in genres
like shoegaze, where the hazy vocals
melt indecipherably into noise-damaged
soundscapes and become just another
instrument rather than a vessel for social
commentary or poetic value.
Loveless by My Bloody Valentine isn't
a classic because of its literary appeal -
the blissfully tragic atmosphere of a song
like "To Here Knows When" is severely
undercut if you read the lyrics: "Slip your
dress over your head / It's been so long /
Move on top / Because that way you touch
her too." Still, while these lines may sound
like a bad translation of a Korean soap
opera, they don't change the fact that the
song's runny-mascara acoustics make me
want to squirt some.
But this is all basically just preamble for
me to come out of the closet - I am a bad,
bad man. And as much as I preach music's
immateridliiy, I, being a devout American,
,have found ways tolet superficiality taint
my enjoyment of the medium. And no, it's
not because I watch MTV (because I don't).
When I listen to Built to Spill on
record, I am smitten. There's something
about Doug Martsch's blue-eyed, pseudo-
nasal drawl that pushes me dangerously
deep into man-crush territory. Based on
their music's bedroom charm, I'd always
pictured the band members to be a bunch
of flannel-wearing, baby-faced slackers
with ripped jeans and offhand sex appeal
- an attractive byproduct of hip mid-'90s
But when I saw them live, my man-
crush went through the shredder.
Expecting a bunch of pretty-boy softies, I
Trying to separate
sounds from sights.
instead got the cast of '"The Big Lebows-
ki." With their back-from-the-dead facial
hair and schlubby, plumber-esque get-
up, they certainly looked like slackers,
but not the kind I had fantasized about.
In fact, I can confidently say that Built
to Spill is an ugly-looking band. And, as
guilty and shallow as I felt being turned
off by their Larry the Cable Guy blue-col-
lar-ness, I couldn't help the fact that the
band's homely exterior made me go a big
rubbery one. And, while I was admittedly
quite stoned and therefore hyper-prone
to fixating on incredibly minute details,
I must divulge that Martsch's possessed-
by-the-devil facial tics made me severely
uncomfortable. After a while, I fixed my
eyes resolutely on the band's guitars so
that I could get my head out of the gutter
and siiply revel in their jam-band chops
like a normally functioning human being.
This may seem minor, but it wasn't an
isolated event. The second time I saw
Yeasayer live, I was incredibly impressed,
and it took me a second to figure out
why I had been so irritated the first
time. Then I realized that the bassist
had chopped off his obnoxious-looking
braids, and that had probably made all
the difference. And I have trouble turn-
ing a blind eye to the fact that Avey Tare
from Animal Collective looks a little bit
too much like a frat boy to be fronting
such an enigmatic band.
I am not pleased with myself. If any art
form should be freed from the societal
mold of appearance, it's music. Music has
no celebrity-ptar system. It isn't even a
visual medium. So it seems like, theoreti-
cally, it should be exempt from all that
red-carpet bullshit. ButI just can't help
the fact that, if a musician is unpleasant
to look at, I'm going to have an unpleas-
ant time looking at them. Do I feel like an
asshole? Yes. Yes, I do. I just hope someone
else reads this and empathizes with me so
I can stop feeling like such a heathen.
Did you like Bayer's column until you
saw his headshot? To tell him about your
inner conflict, e-mail email@example.com.
Monday, November 23, 2009 - 7A
From Page 5A
sitting in front of a television.
"Chef Academy" is for this per-
son - the sophisticated reality
addict. Bravo does a fine job of
honing in on series that play up
tension and catfights, but here the
network seems to aim for a new
demographic. It's now possible
to see how people improve their
cooking instead of watchingthem
get voted off for a lapse in judg-
ment. While "Chef Academy"
gives young cooks a chance, it
also shows the process of learning
to be a fantastic cook instead of
people proving they're fantastic
"Chef Academy" is an inspir-
ing show that doesn't attempt
to make a chef out of you, but
does its best to bring some
respect back into the kitchen.
It's refreshing to geta glimpse of
the candidates before they make
it onto the show. Either Bravo is
really great at setting the mood
or Chef Novelli actually has a
hand in choosing the right peo-
ple for his academy.
On "Chef Academy," reality
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meets art on a non-competitive
level. With these two arguably
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watch even if all it reaps is a pas-
sionate love-fest in the kitchen.
Wine and burgers for dinner?
Well, it's better than justburgers.
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For Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009 You want long-term results.
(March 21 to April 19) (Oct. 23 to Nov. 21)
This is a great day to make travel plans This is a good day for business and
or plans for further education, training or finances. If shopping. you will want
anything having to do with promoting practical items that will last far into the
your job, your career or your life experi- future. You're also willing to work hard
enrce. Plan ahead! to earn your money today.
TA UR US SAGITTARI US
(April 20 to May 20) (Nov. 22 to Dec. 21)
You cart make great strides if you sit You're in a serious frame of mind
down with others to discuss shared prop- today. Discussions with people who are
erty, insurance matters or inheritances. older or more experienced will benefit
People are in a very practical frame of you. Listen to the advice of others.
ini d. CAPRICORN
GE:MINI (Dec. 22 to Jan. 19)
(May 21 to JLune 20) Research or working on your own will
Partners ard close friends are willing pay off today. You're willing to forgo
to talk about practical, long-term solu- today's pleasures for good results tomor-
tions for issues that you both share. This row.
includes taking care of children. AQUARIUS
CANCER (Jan. 20 to Feb. 18)
(June 21 toJuly 22) Think about your goals and dreams for
Yourtthinking is very careful and exact the future. What do you have to do now,
today. Choose work that requires atten- in very practical terms, in order to see
tion to detail. You have the energy and results a year from now?
perseverance to slog away at routine PISCES
tasks. (Feb. 19 to March 20)
LEO Discussions with authority figures
(July 23 to Aug, 22) bosses, parents, teachers and VIPs -
Artists can make headway in taking will focus on long-range plans for the
care of rUndanre details such as prepara- future. People want to know that they
tion or buying cleaning supplies. This can count on you. And they can!
also is a goodlay to discuss the care and YOU BORN TODAY You're
education of children. extremely energetic and are not afraid of
VIRGO disputes. You stand up for your beliefs!
(Aug. 23to Sept. 22) Furthermore, you're very frank with
Family discussions are practical today. your opinions: You're active, ful-loving
'eople watt to discuss loeg-terrnvseun- arid very posiive. You like to help oth-
rity. Talk to relatives, especially a parent, ers. People count you as a loyal friend.
about home repairs. Recently, you have embarked on a new
LIBRA course. In the year ahead, partnerships
(Sept. 23 to Oct. 22) and close friendships will be important
You're in such a practical frame of to you.
mind today; why not use this energy to Birthdate of: Billy Connelly,
take care of whatever is right in front of actor/comedian; Katherine Heigl,
you? Just roll tip your sleeves and dig in! actress; Colin Hanks, actor.
C. 2009 King Feaures Syndicate, Inc.