Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Now It's Time to Say Good-Bye

This week, Professor Bartlett tackles gender, race, class, and nationality. I think he must have known I promised to lay off him after today so he decided to go out with a bang.

Children, to be honest, I don't really have the energy to bang right on out with him. It's not that I've been beaten down, it's just that I'm booooooooooooooooored. Bored. Predictable stupidity is crushingly boring.

But, we press on, for form's sake.

What would possess him to say that Minnie Driver's album will enjoy a "smashing success" despite being not as interesting as either Norah Jones or Natalie Merchant? I mean, how completely insulting to say that music's mediocrity assures its popularity. It's insulting to the artist ("darling, your crap will be popular regardless, so don't try to stretch or improve yourself at all"), insulting to people who, you know, have ears, and, in its own way, implicitly insulting to female musicians. Just because something's popular doesn't mean it's crap. Actually, I have a feeling Minnie Driver's album will probably be an astounding flop. When's the last time you've heard anyone say anything nice about 30 Odd Foot of Grunts or the Bacon Brothers? Exactly. And as far as contemporary female actress/singers go, though I think Driver's a fine and consistently underrated actress (Cassius, care to get into it all over again about her performance in An Ideal Husband?), she's no Hilary Duff or Lindsey Lohan with the potential for tween crossover appeal, either.

"It will, of course, be tempting to treat [Elliott Smith's From a Basement on the Hill] as an extended suicide note set to song . . . " Of course. (It's that "of course" that rankles.) Because a person's music is always inextricably bound to a person's life. And certainly Smith's music, taken on its own terms, will never be as interesting as what the trainspotters read into it for their own macabre amusement. Get a clue, Tommy. You're not only belittling Smith's legacy as a musician, you're also belittling Smith's legions of fans who are still out of their minds with grief about his passing and are desperate to hear whatever shreds of his genius the man left behind. Though Smith's music always was laced with a keen sense of his own mortality, most folks I know (including, emphatically, myself) will be tempted to treat From a Basement on the Hill as nothing other than the precious gift it assuredly will be.

Though Michaelangelo Matos and Oliver Wang have already, rightly, pointed out that Tommy isn't exactly up to the task of writing intelligently about hip-hop, who would have thought he'd write himself into such weird little corners writing about race as well? His commentary on Nelly's collaboration with Tim McGraw, despite the fact that he calls it "both brilliant and absurd," doesn't quite go, you know, there, but then he really outdoes himself by going out of his way to point out that Bloc Party's and The Dears' lead singers (Kele Okekure and Murray Lightburn respectively) are black. With a hilarious lack of self-awareness, he ponders (re: Lightburn), "Apparently I'm alone in finding this [his skin color] noteworthy, because other than a short profile in the Guardian, I haven't found a single review or feature on the band that mentions Lightburn's surprising ethnicity." Um, yeah, you probably are alone in finding this noteworthy, Tommy (or, at least, you're alone in feeling the need to waste bandwith writing about it rather than just offhandedly observing to a friend, "huh, he's black, that's interesting" and leaving it at that). Most respectable writers got past the "but he sounds white/black" school of music criticism, oh, about five minutes after Elvis took over the world. Get a grip, Tommy. At the risk of being too woo-woo, touchy-feely here, music is colorless. Unless the music very specifically deals with a racial agenda (and even then...), you're not helping our collective appreciation of the songs by pointing out something as insignificant as a musician's color.

"The globalization of hip-hop has become inevitable." Oh, SPARE US, PLEASE, Tommy!! You're hurting me with your ill-informed philosophizing. It's like the out-of-touch uncle at family gatherings flapping his jaw and trying to sound informed about every topic at the dinner table. Which is even more unfortunate since, based on the photo on his blog, I'm assuming Tommy is probably in his mid- to late twenties and, as such, kind of has no excuse for being ill-informed--especially about music, especially considering it's HIS FUCKING JOB to be informed if he's going to be writing about it. His "appreciation" of Senegalese rapper Shiffai is valuable in that it exposed me to a performer I might otherwise have been unaware of, but my God, his White Male New York Ego has positively stained any of his good intentions here.

Truthfully, I'm glad that my anti-Bartlett month is over. I'm tired. I'll still be reading his column from week to week, mostly as a consumer, but never not as a critic.

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