Friday, April 28, 2017

Taylor Swift Sleeps In Satan's Pocket (So Satisfy Your Artistic Soul Anyway, OK?)


<When the mimes are heading for the exits, they're trying to tell you something: Taylor Swift ponders her country-pop confections' impacts on a generation...and shudders>

One of the more amusing conspiracy theories making the rounds is the notion that country-pop phenom Taylor Swift is a) a former Satanic cult leader, b) a clone of '90s-era Satanist Zeena LaVey (as in, daughter of the late Anton LaVey, Church of Satan founder), or c) involved in some other unspeakable fashion with "THE PLACE WHERE THE GUY WITH THE HORNS AND THE POINTED STICK CONDUCTS HIS BUSINESS" (to quote Frank Zappa's "warning label" for his 1985 album, Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention).

You know what? I think the theorists are onto something. 

Surely, there's something Satanic about the Orwellian pervasiveness that carpet-bombs Swift's country-pop confections so remorselessly down our throats, everywhere we go. Like so many hyper-commercial phenomenons, she's absurdly overexposed, a situation hardly mitigated by her habit of slapping cease and desist orders on anything that moves or breathes without her approval. And future pop archaeologists will have loads of fun deciphering all those in-joke-laden odes to her exes (that'll require reams of footnotes to enlighten the next generation, if -- and when -- they're due for a reissue.)

But that's not how Discmakers' sees it. From their standpoint, I'm doing it wrong, at least, when it comes to programming my YouTube channel. Instead of posting what excites me on some level, I need to buckle down, and start covering more current artists, like Swift. Charting any other course is simply "flawed and self-indulgent," as Discmakers columnist Johnny Dwinnell suggests:

"You put up videos of your original material, but no one in the marketplace is aware of you, so you get zero views from new possible fans; just views from friends and family.

"You make videos of you covering your favorite obscure songs, but again, the only views you get are from people who already know you because nobody is searching for the original version of the curiosity you decided to cover in the quest to satisfy your artist soul."

"I'm An Artist-Businessman..."

What's the answer? Don't worry, Dr. Dwinnell has the cure: "This is where the cathartic artistic satisfaction comes from, putting your stamp on another artist’s original song. The more distant the original artist’s style is from yours, the more compelling your version can be. Take artistic license and go as crazy as you want to." To be fair, he doesn't suggest focusing on Swiftl full-time, since "every girl and her mother are posting their version of the latest Taylor Swift single."

On its face, such logic is sound enough. Consider how the Clash so indelibly stamped their full throttle punk attack on Junior Marvin's seminal cry of protest, "Police & Thieves." Released in May 1976, the song traveled well beyond its Jamaican origins -- notably, to the Notting HIll Carnival, in London, where it became an anthem for residents who battled a heavy-handed police presence there on August 30, 1976.

Two of the participants, Clash members Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon, decided to record "Police & Thieves." (The experience also reportedly inspired the first major Clash anthem, "White Riot."). The
 main ingredients -- Strummer's passionate vocal performance, Mick Jones's deft arranging, and unrelenting rhythmic attack -- ensured a permanent slot for "Police & Thieves" in the Clash's setlists. To this day, "Police & Theives" ranks among the most successful -- and influential -- cross-genre experiments of all time. (Take the song off the US or UK versions of the band's debut album, The Clash, and see what happens to the running time.)

So, yes, re-interpreting a song you didn't write often ignites greater possibilities. No arguments there. The problem, though, with the constant admonishments and exhortations dished out by Dwinnell, and others like him, is that they're not necessarily offered in that spirit (do these things to burnish your identity a bit more). Really, it's touted in the service of filling shoeboxes with $100 bills, something most music makers never get to experience (unless they fall into the blling-bling-bling hip-hop camp, which is a totally separate discussion). 

"I Can't Even Find Where It Went."
The advice reminds me of a term attributed to Saturday Night Live's creator and producer, Lorne Michaels, who once referred to himself an "artist-businessman." However, as Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad document in their excellent book, Saturday Night (1987), Michaels's business side won out moire often than not. Examples include the second season, when your favorite aliens and mine -- the Coneheads -- blasted off to their home planet of Remulak, apparently for good, only to return for the next season, no worse for wear.

Does that make Lorne Michaels a bad person? No. He's hardly the first creative personality to blink when the wish to take risks (Hey, here's my daring new direction) collides with the desire to keep earning the audience's vote of confidence. There's a reason why Graham Parker once sang: "I have seen the future of rock, and it sucks." But what makes these hyper-career-driven "music-preneur" sites irritating is the broad strokes that they use to paint the big picture. None seem to acknowledge that obscurity is the coin of the realm for genres like metal and punk -- where bands routinely one-up each other by digging up the latest undergorund nugget (like the Northern Irish punk band, At Gunpoint, on whom I stumbled via Dave Fanning's archive site).

This stuff matters. For all the gibing at "satisfying your artistic soul," you don't need to look far for disasters that occurred the minute an artist or band checked integrity at the door. For further reference,read When The Screaming Stopped: The Dark History Of The Bay City Rollers (2016). Then see how much you want to join the dream factory after reading quotes like this one, where the band's lawyer discusses what happened to the Rollers' merchandising money:

"'I can't even find where it went,' he said. 'It certainly didn't go to the band members. I'm not saying the merchandisers didn't pay, everybody paid and it went into the machinery operated by the accountants and professionals. He estimated that including record royalties, publishing incomes, merchandising and touring, the band had during their peak 'probably generated in excess of $1 billion in turnover and at least 25 percent of that was profit."

Locally, I've seen too many performers just going through the motions, slogging through their umpteenth rendition of "In The Midnight Hour" or "Brown-Eyed Girl" without a trace of emotion, feeling, or conviction. I don't care how much they pull in per night, or how much clapping their lead-footed version inspires....against all odds (and common sense). At best, they resemble the walking dead, minus the nifty zombie makeup effects, and painfully aware of it. At worst, they're not aware of what they're doing anymore, because, deep down, they've stopped giving a shit.

Enough of these so-called "artist-businessmen" already! Let us find an ice floe to perch them on, and send it drifting away, where they can't harass the decent folks who want to satisfy their soul (however they define that term artistically). As for me, I'll keep doing what I want, and leave the rest alone. I couldn't play a Taylor Swift song if it hit me on the head. However, if you want my take on that unreleased Clash song, or At Gunpowder -- guess what? You've come to the right place. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Buckle Down
And Learn Those Current Releases) August 30., 1976:
Racial Tensions Run High
As Notting Hill Carnival Ends In Riots:

Discmakers Blog: 
Developing Your YouTube Marketing Strategy:

Police &  Thieves:
Wikipedia Entry:

The Guardian: Junior Murvin Has Died,
But The Story Of Police & Thieves Lives On:

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