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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Everybody Else's Genius

High on a mountaintop of empty coffee cups and advanced copies of the latest Death Cab release, jaded music critics sit and wait for the next musical act to anoint “Genius of the Moment”. It's usually an "alternative" artist or group who causes such collective drooling that they stay "alternative" for about another 30 seconds. In other words, today’s Dangermouse was yesterday’s Radiohead and the day before that’s Patti Smith.

I’m always suspicious of such fanfare for several reasons. First off, time has proven when everybody loves somebody, I’m naturally put off. After all, the entire world thinks they’re amazing and in general, I just don’t trust what the entire world says. Secondly, by the time any artist has been zeroed in on by critics they usually already have a loyal following so the “critics darling” title always feels a little redundant. Mary J Blige is a good example of this. It took her having a drug problem to make the world stop and realize that she was a true musical icon even though her longtime fans recognized this with records like the brilliant My Life years ago. But my main problem with coronations such as these is ,that more often than not, they are awarded to artists I simply don’t get.

Take Radiohead for example. I think “Creep” is a classic and I was able to sink my teeth into Kid A but beyond that, I’m left feeling “Meh?”. Am I an idiot because I don’t run wild in the streets every time that Thom Yorke and company step into the studio? Maybe and I’m okay with that. In the end, I’d rather be a simpleton than listen to obtuse albums that drip with pretension and consist of little else.
Neil Young is another one who’s appeal utterly escapes me. Everybody from Emmylou Harris to Eddie Vedder and beyond have cited Young as one of the best singer/songwriters in American music so I feel like I should like him. Honestly, I even feel bad that I don’t like him but I just don’t. The weird Muppet-like vocals and dour arrangements are truly off putting to me. As a serious music fan, it troubles me that I’m clearly missing something where Young is concerned but do I feel compelled to dive face first into his entire back catalogue in hopes of enlightenment? No, not so much. While I’m coming out of the musical moron closet here, I might as well go for broke and mention that I also do not understand the never-ending adoration of Pink Floyd, The Who, Green Day, Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, Lucinda Williams or The Velvet Underground. If you’ve gasped and thrown your laptop out of sheer horror at this statement, I apologize. And if said statement renders me a fool who knows nothing about music in your eyes, then so be it.

On the bright side, I don’t really think these artist care if little old me doesn’t get their particular brand of genius. Everybody else already loves them so I’m sure they’ll survive if I don’t purchase their next album. After all, I’m just a guy who thinks Bjork’s Vespertine was a monumental record. And few people care that I believe that Tasty by Kelis is far better than anything that Justin Timberlake or Beyonce has ever produced. Obviously, I have let go of any dreams of being one of the chosen who gets to take their place on Music Snob Mountain. That being said, I'll take the free coffee and CDs if you're handing them out.

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