Friday, June 25, 2010


This Poptimist column by Tom Ewing is interesting and worth a read. I've never had the specific retail experience he describes—when I worked in a bookstore, it was a massive Barnes & Noble, the biggest one in the state at that time (might still be), and the music was piped-in classical or gentle jazz. I remember a particular classical piece always made me think of Daffy Duck ice-skating, and I would step a little more smoothly through the rows of shelves when it was playing.

I know I've definitely been guilty of the kind of "straw listener" projection Ewing discusses, though. There are certain types of indie rock that always form unpleasant mental images of the type of person who'd listen to it, and I've definitely avoided any kind of serious investigation of jam-band music precisely because I know who makes up its primary audience, having formerly shared an office with Relix magazine.

I listen to a lot of metal, obviously. And this is something that's bothered me about it for quite a while. The majority of metal that strives to be "shocking" does it in such a blinkered, ridiculous way that it frankly annoys me, and makes me feel pandered to as a listener. It's all about pitting oneself against an imaginary square. Sure, someone's grandmother might conceivably be offended if she heard what Cannibal Corpse frontman George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher was growling about, or saw a Marilyn Manson video. But under what circumstances would that ever happen? Cultural atomization is such that most of us never encounter any art we haven't chosen to engage with, unless billboards and advertising count. Sure, the occasional store will have music playing, but unless you're walking around consumed by white-hot hatred for, you're probably gonna be just fine.

So why is it so important that bands express opinions that would only create a negative response in people who will never hear them? It's risk-free. The occasions when it turns out not to be—if a singer shouts something anti-Republican at a concert and portions of the audience boo, for example—are so rare as to be legitimately newsworthy.

Bands should strive to engage their listeners' biases. Instead of mouthing rote anti-Christian clichés, simultaneously pretending that a) some Christian somewhere is gonna hear it and either be shocked or weaned of their faith and b) conceding the terms of the debate by granting religion legitimacy in the first place, death metal bands should take a "won't dignify that with a response" approach and talk about...shit, I don't know, anything. With the vocals the way they are, death metal songs could be about bricklaying. Soccer. Dog training. To paraphrase Steve Albini, lyrics are a necessity, so have some. But stop thinking there's controversy to be mongered. There isn't.

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