Saturday, June 07, 2008

Pop Culture Informs Itself - Ramblings about the interconnectedness of all popular culture in the 21st century

I was listening to a recent NPR podcast of the show "All Songs Considered" with Bob Boilen in which a panel of Generation X and Y-ers talked about how music-and what specific music-defined their respective, and the current, generations (The Sound of a Generation). They ended the show with a song by Okkervil River called "Plus One," which name drops a good number of popular song lyric references. This got me thinking about other similar songs, such as Jimmy Eat World's "A Praise Chorus," and the WFUV's radio show, Mixed Bag, which occasionally themes entire shows after songs that name drop pop culture and otherwise. And to be quite honest, this happens very often. Sometimes it's a stolen riff, a beat, or just straight out referencing your predecessors or contemporaries.

The point I'm trying to get at is that pop culture informs itself. Pop culture is one meta-idea encompassing all music (yes, all music), films, reality TV, comic books, mass market paperbacks, literature, all of it. And none of it would exist without the rest of it. Everything is symbiotic and interwoven. Weezer jabs fun at the youtube "culture" as it were with a music video referencing America's favorite web-video-follies. Pop-writers like Nick Hornby write books such as High Fidelity, which truly only exists because of the music that makes up its heart, which feeds into the film industry, which then makes the music more popular through its soundtrack and so on. Even the TV show "American Idol," which I refuse to watch and abhor for its superficial harvesting of "talent"--that show feeds into this idea too. If little miss pop-star covers a Simon & Garfunkel hit on her segment, maybe downloads and sales will spike a bit that week. The same goes for any artist subjected to a very strong spotlight in an unusual venue. Largehearted Boy, a music blog favorite of mine, has a regular feature entitled Book Notes, in which authors discuss music that was important to them while writing their latest work.

As a musician and also a writer, I find this meta-culture truly intriguing. I suppose it calls the ago old question of "What is Art" into play. Everything is granted an equal playing field when it is in the present moment. Record albums pressed on weighty 180g vinyl are consumed parallel to ringtones bought off of iTunes; books are sold in pulp and digital form. It's hard to exist and thrive in such a multi-faceted arena. There are just so many options that it becomes overwhelming. With the realization of the internet as a truly level playing field for all creative artists, it becomes more a matter of the discretion of the consumer to decide what is quality. I think that this puts us in a very different place than music lovers or bookworms of our parents' generation (spoonfed only by Rolling Stone magazine and the NYT Book Review).

This was just rambling of a bunch of ideas that the "All Songs Considered" show put into my head that I wanted to get down, no matter how many times and ways they've been said before. I recently picked up a retrospective of Lester Bangs' work (who, by the way, I didn't know was a real person until 2 years after seeing Almost Famous for the first time) and felt the need to get some words down. Even music journalism has been brought down to a level playing field, because I can just easily buy a copy of Paste magazine as I can pull up Pitchfork Media in my web browser (or someone could pull up MY blog for that matter). If anyone does happen to read this, chime in and give me some specific talking points. This whole idea of the interconnectedness of pop culture is just too large of an idea to take on at once.

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