Thursday, August 20, 2009

Oh no! U2 neutered rock 'n' roll!

Just finished listening to Mutemath's latest: Armistice. Red-flags, anyone? Is it just me, or should a rock band never be named Mutemath? And Armistice is borderline. It calls to mind some grand, important, serious statement. And rock 'n' roll should never be grand, important, or, above all, serious. Whatever happened to the sweat and the sex in rock? It really hasn't been there since the Rolling Stones. Here's my theory as to how the the lusty house of rock that Chuck Berry built got bulldozed.

The Rolling Stones may be to blame (I'm getting to U2). They were so sexy, so sleazy, and so exciting that I think every rock band wanted to be like them, one way or another. So every band tried to outsex the Stones and what we got in the '70s was one bare-chested band after the next, strutting their hot sweaty stuff, pumping out the jams like musical stallions. And rock became so big, so anthemic and so dripping in machismo that we . . . had had enough of it by the end of the decade. Except for the 80s hair metal bands who kinda kept the machismo thing alive but dropped the sexy. (Unless u think spandex is sexy?)

Enter punk rock. Rock kept its angst but it was stripped of sex: in other words, it was stripped of the blues. And those bad-ass brats were so ugly . . . intentionally. It takes a special breed of groupie to daydream about getting her upper protuberance snagged on some guy's lip ring, and her fingers tangled in his greasy, half-grown out mohawk. Don't matter if he's a rock star: ew. Punk rock is not sexy and that's what one thing, among many things, that made it inconoclastic in its day.

And then there was college rock. I guess that would be rock music for literate, thoughtful people like Michael Stipe. Again, cool and fun and catchy, but not sexy. Not rock 'n' roll. But at least you can hear the punk influence, and at least punk has an edge.

And then U2 and all of U2's alternative offspring (Coldplay) come along. The music is stripped of its thrashing, punk angst. We are left with cavernous spaces, tribal beats, and the wild voice of a native (Bono) belting out the heart-wrenching progressive message of truth, telling the tale the Native Americans never lived to tell. (?) Either that or singing the song of the repentant sinner. (How far away from Mick Jagger can you get?!!) The Edge's minimalistic guitar scintillates with nary a blue note. And everybody hails these guys as the best thing to happen to rock because, well, their music is so "good" and "spiritual" and all that jazz. And it's loud and has a backbeat, so therefore it must be rock, right?

Wrong! You take the blues out of rock and you no longer have rock. You take the sex out of rock and you no longer have rock. You have potentially good music with energy and a back beat, essentially amped-up singer-songwriter fare . . . but not rock.

I bet you can guess which side of the line Mutemath fall on.

After listening to an hour of Mutemath, I recovered by listening to Prince.

Since the beginning of the world and the dawn of time . . .

lol . . . that's how I like to begin my study of any topic. So this study of English literature is going all the way back to 450 AD: the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain.

Before I briefly guide you through 1,000 years of the English language's evolution, let me first say that I am very impressed by The Norton Anthology of English Literature so far. It is among the first and only academic texts I have ever read where the editors are not trying to impress me by confusing me. Thank you!

So, since time immemorial, the Celts lived in Britain. They were conquered by the Romans, who were then conquered by the Anglo-Saxons. Anglo-Saxon is just a hyphenation of Angle and Saxon, those two tribes both hailing from Germany.

The English language as we know it really begins with the Anglo-Saxon invasion. These German speaking tribes furnished us with a stock, German vocabulary. The language of this period is known as Old English. Old English can only be read in translation. Old English is, essentially, German.

In the 11th century, the Normans (people from Normandy, France), invaded and brought the French language with them. And there you have it. English is basically a fusion of German and French. It took some time, however, for the vocabulary and grammar to completely evolve away from Old English into Middle English. Middle English is the language spoken by Chaucer in the 14th century. With a little help, modern English speakers can read Middle English. Again, Middle English is a fusion of German and French.

Fun fact: the Wars of the Roses in the 14th century helped to accelerate the development of Middle English. These wars between the English and French resulted in English patriotism and interest in their own vernacular language and, ostensibly, a dislike for all things French. (Up until the 14th century, French was the language spoken by the educated and upper classes). During the 14th century, Parliament began conducting proceedings in English. Geoffrey Chaucer, a popular and influential poet in his own time, championed English by writing poetry in English instead of French or Latin.

Main points to remember:
Old English (essentially German, from the Anglo-Saxon tribes)
Middle English (post-Norman invasion, German + French, the language of Chaucer)

To be or not to be sexy?

Just had an interesting conversation with my mom. No, not that conversation. We had the kind of conversation you are never too old to have: how should women approach sexuality, how can they get respect from men?

My answer: find the right man.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, I believe there are two types of people in this world: selfish people and unselfish people. Selfish people go through life seeing everything as a transaction and seek to use everything in their environment to their own benefit. In contrast, unselfish people live life with a desire to share, contribute, and connect; unselfish people desire to think and feel at a higher, spiritual (as apposed to materialistic, advantageous) level. So the men out there who objectify women (and the women out there who objectify men) are just selfish people who do not care about love and do not want more than a physical relationship. Give those men a wide berth.

My mom's view of things is more that men are inherently sexual and they need to be trained to not see women as mere pawns in satisfying their sexual needs. Women need to dress modestly so that men do not look at them in the wrong way and get "tempted." T'hey need to not be sexual so that men will respect them for more than their bodies.

While there is some merit to her case, I would say this: if a guy likes women exclusively for that, the hole is in the guy . . . he's just a selfish, shallow person. No amount of foregoing makeup and miniskirts will turn him around. Surrounding him with respectable, intelligent women will not change what he wants out of a relationship. He's just a lemon. And look at the other aspects of his life. Chances are he's greedy in the way he approaches his career and other dealings.

In defense of my mom . . . when women dress or conduct themselves in a "sleazy" way, the chances that they will attract a lemon go way up. Because bad men love sleaze. Also, in the process, they will likely alienate good men who want more from a relationship. That's why makeup and miniskirts should be kept under lock and key around young, teenage girls. Youngsters may not have the wisdom to sort out the apples from the lemons. And young girls may fail to realize that being physically beautiful is only half of the equation . . .

. . . the other half of being drop-dead gorgeous is having wits and a strong personality. No man in my acquaintance worth winning has ever been attracted to an airhead. A vacant expression, irritating giggle, and fawning mannerisms are turnoffs to men . . . except the selfish ones I talked about earlier who love flattery and seek to dominate. Most men want it all ways . . . physical beauty, mental agility, and character. Makes sense, no?

So, the good news is that I do not believe women need to hide their beauty or "reform" men. Sexuality is all about the spirit it's done in. A woman in a tight, low-cut sweater can come off as ditzy or divine depending on how she sports it. Does she have the brains to match her boobs? Does she show off her figure to say "come get me, I'm easy" or to flaunt a beautiful body she is proud of? In other words, is she doing it all to "trap and bait" or to celebrate?

My religious beliefs put me in the "wait until marriage" camp, but I will be the first to say that there are unmarried couples out there who are having better, more meaningful sex than some married couples. Loving at a spiritual level transcends wedding vows and it transcends whether or not the woman flaunts it in her little black dress . . . instead it has everything to do with the people involved and the extent to which they are spiritually capable of loving (the extent of their unselfishness).

As in all things in life, love is the opposite of greed; love is always the solution and greed is always the downfall. If women want good relationships with men and vice versa, they must take care to not match up with greedy people. Attracting unselfish people involves fighting the greed in yourself, and then trusting your gut . . .

Everyman's Library adventure #1

So I printed out my list of the 100 titles I'm determined to get through and dated it. Let's go.

First up is F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise.

I forgot everything I learned in college because . . .

I broke the golden rule which is to condense your knowledge of something into one sentence (maybe two). Here are some examples of me doing that based on stuff I looked at this summer:

Kafka's Metamorphosis = Life is absurd.
Flaubert's A Simple Heart = The world will mercilessly hack down those who do not fight back.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind = Go with the flow: accept (even embrace) the good and the bad about life and who you are.

It is surprisingly difficult to sum things up so briefly. The process of doing it really makes you think through the work of art and, best of all, if the work of art is worth remembering, you generally will be able to remember one sentence about it.

That one sentence answers the question I was discussing before, "Why was this work of art made?"

And then answers to the second question, "How does the artist get their point across," sort of come to you if you can remember the answer to the first.

In college, my professors thought they would sharpen all of us up by stuffing our brains with bucketloads of information. It was so painful regurgitating all of it. It's so much better, when you read/see/hear anything, just to take away from it the one thing that really matters . . . the main idea.