Thoughts, notes, observations on the everyday nonsense of American Pop Culture from one of the most not-hip people on the face of the planet...

Friday, March 19, 2004

Note from the editor

I'll be on a trip for the next week and plan to blog the entire thing on an external site. Updates to come. But dont' forget to check back.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Raise your hand if you remember "alt rock"

If you ever watch television late at night, then you’re probably familiar with the commercials advertising compilation CDs. Ranging from the drivel of Kidz Bop (children resigning sometimes questionable choices of pop songs) to the ever-present 60s Singer/Songwriter collections, there’s something to lure everyone in.

Can find that bad Christian pop hit in stores? They have it at 1-800-GO-JESUS. Or maybe you desperately need to have some record of the top 10 radio hits of this very moment to pass onto future generations? Try the Now! collection…as they have what seems like dozens of CDs come out each year that has, you guessed it, every currently popular pop song.

Now, Generation X must know how their parents feel when they see a nostalgic commercial for 70s rock collections, the scrolling names and videos displaying a small scrap of lost youth. Yes, the latest and greatest as-seen-on-TV CD special is “The Buzz” a.k.a. “The hottest alternative rock collection ever!”

It may as well have been titled: My Teen Years, Vol. 1.

I’m not sure if all of these songs qualify as “alternative” rock…but I do know that by looking at the track listing, it is confirmed that alternative rock is definitely dead. For better or for worse, music like this could only have been produced in the 1990s.

While I have never been sure exactly what constituted “alternative rock” (as rock itself was meant to be alternative), I guess I never realized how much I missed whatever-it-was.

While most remember the introduction of gangsta rap and grunge as 90s milestones, it’s easy to forget that rock and pop at that time was also of its own breed.

In terms of instrumentation, variance of sound and general depth of lyrics, 90s “alt rock” is head and shoulders above both the homogenous bubblegum influx of the new millennium and the 80s europop that came before.

Of course, like all music genres, we didn’t know at the time that it was any different than any other music or that it would ever go away. Luckily, we have this handy-dandy CD to remind us all how good it was.

Yes, it’s hard to put a finger on what makes this music “alt rock”…but whatever it is, it was done right. I mean, look at this track list. These are songs I don’t mind hearing on oldies radio in 20 years.

R.E.M., Sublime, 311, Collective Soul, The Cranberries, Counting Crows, Spin Doctors, Gin Blossoms…these were bands and songs that defined “rock” in the 90s. In addition, the CD has a smattering of pop favorites (Everlast, BNL), big ballads (“The Freshmen”) and deep additions (Mazzy Star, Tracy Bonham) to whet your high school whistle.

And even though their status as “alt rock” is questionable, the 90s pop hits in this collection are a 180 from today’s pop radio. Third Eye Blind, Semisonic, and Eve 6 are the forerunners of today’s pop bands. So what makes the pop of 1994 better than the pop of 2004? Not much, but at least they were borderline original.

Of course, I can’t speak too objectively. As a 90s product myself, I have a soft spot for even the one hit wonders in this collection. I mean, Eagle Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight”? Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy”? Solid gold.

I dare you to try to find a sampling of real “alt rock” today. Or even an “alt rock” station. Would 3 Doors Down or Linkin Park be alt rock? No, they qualify as “pop rock” and “rap rock”. How’s about Blink, Simple Plan or Good Charlotte? Nah, try the “pop punk” section.

Rock has splintered itself so many times over that alt rock has all but disappeared. It must have been a sign in the year 2000, when the immensely popular Cleveland alt rock station 107.9 The End shut down to become…(insert ominous music) a Clear Channel urban rap station. As goes the Cleveland airwaves, so goes the genre. Guitars and drums are out, turntables and bass beats are in.

So goes the world of popular music. Ten years from now, maybe I’ll be reminiscing about how much I miss Avril.

Then again, maybe not.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Stop whining about the Sweep

Yeah, so everyone’s complaining today about how Return of the King swept everything last night. Of course, it didn’t sweep everything (no acting awards), but for some reason, people seem to mind quite a bit.

Were people this unsettled over Titanic and The English Patient doing their sweeps in 1997 and 1998? I doubt it. I think the only reason people didn’t want to see this movie win is because they can’t get over their own stigmas about sci-fi/fantasy films.

For the past three years, moviegoers worldwide have come out in droves to watch the LOTR trilogy. The movies have been heralded by critics and well-received by fans and they even managed to complete the Oscar-worthy task of turning beloved books into good movies. Everyone seemed to be behind LOTR, that is, up until the giant wants to come play with the normal kids at the awards shows.

Even those fans who loved LOTR just couldn’t accept it as an Oscar-wining endeavor. Maybe that’s because fandom didn’t win anyone over in 1977, when Annie Hall beat out sci-fi classic Star Wars for the statuette. Maybe it’s because even the biggest fans expect and Oscar-winner to be a serious drama. Maybe it’s because it was just too damn popular to actually be good.

From a critic’s standpoint, the overall success of the LOTR trilogy in no way affects its artistic accomplishments. These films revolutionized epic filmmaking, whether people accept them as such or not. People praised Mel Gibson for his vision in Braveheart. So, because LOTR is about hobbits and elves as opposed to historical figures, it cannot be considered an epic film?

These three movies made strides that will be unmatched for years to come, not just in terms of CGI effects, but also in how to put together a large-scale and lengthy story into a multi-hour film for a wide audience.

Not to mention that LOTR had odds staked against it from all sides. Tolkien fans initially put the films down for not being 100 percent true to the novels (which, they should know by now, is impossible). The artistic elite slammed it for relying too heavily on special effects. The awards organizations insisted, for some reason, on judging all three films together as opposed to as separate films.

And how unfair is that? Had the Academy waited around for Godfather III to judge Francis Ford Coppola’s epic trilogy….it most likely wouldn’t have won. The third part of the trilogy faltered and, if taken as a body of work, ruined the whole thing. But no, the Academy judged the films separately and the first two won Best Picture. I have no doubt that Peter Jackson’s films could have taken the top nod if they too were judged separately. Of course, they were nominated each year…but as numerous pop culture pundits claimed, the Academy wouldn’t respect these sci-fi outsiders until they ganged together for a big package. And that’s exactly what happened.

So, stop whining about the Big Sweep. These films and this director deserve everything they finally won. It doesn’t really matter if this sweep made the Oscars boring for you, anyway. Believe it or not, the awards shows, in their purest form, are meant only to award excellence, not to whet your appetite for amusement.