“Pull the Cup People: Is it ‘Black Dog’ That’s Bothering You?”

I knew it was a bad idea from the start. But it’s a bad idea that’s really a good idea too: like trying to say hi to that 12-year-old kid next door who’s obviously envisioning killing you in a video game and making “Pow” sounds looking at your face.
But I tried to find a music journal I could stand other than my own. And yes I realize I run a slight risk of sounding pompous here.
Rolling Stone and Pitchfork were obviously out of the question, each of those two by this point amounting to corporately-owned cultural dog kennels [1] [2], more or less. And it’s hard to imagine Paste going all pop because historically they’re a magazine that’s decidedly white and folksy. It would be like your overalls-wearing uncle from Idaho trying to use black slang.
Well, their top two selections for best album were probably pretty well conceivable within their traditional cultural parameters — Fiona Apple and the Waxahatchee album. I have to admit, there are parts of that Fiona Apple album that are amazing. She sounds like she’s gotten a lot better at piano, able to reel off these thunderous arpeggios almost like a female Led Zeppelin of that instrument.
She’s also shown basically no signs of maturity, even in her middle age, as the second track “Shameika” is actually a song about her high school career, and what’s more, her own experiences from her high school career and no one else’s. What’s more, the experiences she’s relating aren’t really noteworthy in any way unless for some reason you’re just obsessed with the singer’s personal life and every little trifle anybody would relate to her on what kind of impression she made. She’s like one of those annoying people on Facebook who’s constantly posting results from personality tests she’s taken. Calling her self-absorbed would be like calling Jabba the Hutt an unlikely dinner guest.
I remember track three being pretty tolerable but I must admit I could not get through track four on my second listen (on my first I couldn’t get past track two with its racist, banal and insufferable repetition simply of “Shameika said I had potential”). It’s a song that once again centers on herself and does so in a way that certainly at least wields the potential of becoming culturally stale — it’s just asserting her element of freedom and petulant “spunk” within the discourse of a relationship.
It’s like these divas and critics just think that telling us the same thing over and over is the way to change us. And by “us” I guess I mean anybody who objects to the grotesque favoritism exercised toward women, black people and gays. That is, I don’t think there was a single album by a straight, white male in Paste’s entire top 10. I mean, we’re not THAT bad, are we? 95% of producers out there are probably straight, white males. Sure, there was a time when the culture favored us and when it was easier for us to get a record deal than other demographics. I find, probably, the opposite to be the case now, and frankly in listening to the Waxahatchee album I find the delivery to be pretty torpid and the production and overall m.o. pretty similar to every other album this person has done. I listened to that “Sault” project, which I think was probably Paste’s token of pandering to BLM like some rite of passage, and I couldn’t help but notice that the, um, vocalist, who is just kind of yelling out the words without any sense of musicianship, rhythm or really even any intensity other than that of an uncaged child, keeps repeating every phrase she utters like eight times.
I mean, how many times can you tell me that black people have it hard in this nation? I never said they didn’t. And I’m sorry to sound defensive, antiquated, Naziist or like I haven’t had enough coffee, or whatever the case may be, but I get the troubling sense that today’s notion of “critical acclaim” rests more on politics, “demographics,” even, than artistic quality. There’s an obvious incentive among the second tier of music journals like Paste and Stereogum, along with probably the first tier too, to simply grant premiership to women and racial and cultural minorities. A woman droning on for an entire album about her relationship calamities, which don’t even seem to be BONA FIDE relationship calamities, is given favor over a band of white men writing catchy, concise and well-produced songs buoyed by fleeting, metaphorical lyrics. The paradigm stands in staunch opposition to traditional rules of criticism which would involve keeping the listening experience light and digestible and getting by without personal platitude.
There’s just been this incredible buzzing in the air lately that seems like a battle cry against white men. I mean, when a black person kills another black person, it barely even makes local news. Yet, when a white cop does it, the entire nation goes completely psycho, and people enter this state of bloodlusting mania demanding that he be tried with murder, completely ignoring the fact that he deals with violent criminals every day and for every time he does something wrong there were probably 999 instances of him effectively neutralizing the dangerous criminal. I obviously get that there’s systemic racism in America. Police brutality is not systemic. It involves isolated incidents — not those of the “system.” Actually, the fact that all those Minnesota cops are getting charged with murder should prove instantly that police brutality and systemic injustice have no crossing of paths. If anything, the injustice is against the police officers, who have a lack of immunity to the law that it would be easy to see leading to a shortage of officers in the coming years.
Then, of course, there’s the argument that we don’t NEED police, that their excessive power and brutality is the problem and that nobody is a natural criminal. Well, it’s a nice idea and I do think absolute power corrupts absolutely. But our cops don’t have absolute power — not even close. And every civilization in history has had some sort of policing unit or overarching body of authority, which tells me that we’re not ready for anarchy. Civilization and lawmaking make us better, not worse, than we otherwise would be. Feminist writer Camille Paglia would agree with me on this.
All this, and I’m a white dude lying on his bed typing on his computer right now, I have on a Led Zeppelin t shirt, and I didn’t even “Like” a “Black Dog” post when I came to it earlier on Facebook. I mean, the song is over the top. It makes obvious comments about a woman’s sexuality and you could certainly argue that it objectifies women in this way — intimidates, subjugates, and makes them quantitative and not qualitative, in a sense. Of course, Salt-N-Pepa can write a song about that like “Shoop” and I could really give a rat’s a. But for one thing, I don’t actually believe Salt-N-Pepa when they go on horny rants, and for another, men in a sense should have more of a responsibility for fostering responsible messages in romantic and sexual realms, because we are, quantitatively, the physically superior sex. I’m totally on board with that. And I have a zero-tolerance policy for anyone even pressuring women into sex, let alone condoning rape. And I have a zero-tolerance policy on racism. But I’m not so proud of myself for not being bigoted that I’m willing to just see our culture completely transformed into an inverted prejudice that completely obliterates men’s input in relationship matters, or one that seems to erase any semantic statement that isn’t the political pro-black. I have this one Facebook friend that even complained about the Beatles song “Run for Your Life,” either unaware of the fact that it’s meant as a satire against problematic men or just ignoring the fact as a way of abiding by the recent “Me Too” movement. And if the purpose of “Me Too” was to completely sterilize art and culture to the point where you’re not even allowed to produce a parody of a psychological state that would endanger women then maybe it’s time we rethink what it is we actually need, and want, to accomplish, as a society.


[1] Granted, the Rolling Stone staff is still capable of good writing… I’ve got the Bob Marley collector’s issue sitting on my shelf in my room right now coming highly recommended.


[2] It’s like let’s see: get naked, talk about sex, phrasing unorthodoxies are prohibited, key changes are prohibited, musical skill is prohibited. He, musical APPRECIATION is prohibited.

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