I was born for the Spotify age. There’s no question. Vinyl records are like my caviar — they’re like that twice-a-year lobster/steak dinner downtown. Spotify is like my Burger King.
I listen to a wide array of music, in large quantities, and I also have somewhat of the guilty white liberal in me, in that, when I come across a certain voice or persona and I have trouble connecting deeply with it, I tend to kick myself, to keep trying and trying, against all odds, in a losing effort. This exact thing happened with Motown at one point in my life. In particular, I remember, I was listening to “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin, and I just couldn’t forgive myself for thinking it was tacky and shmaltzy. Since then, as it turns out, I’ve sort of had this revelation on Motown in general that it, by and large, usually encompasses music that’s specifically geared for radio, specifically designed for pop realms, and so, less of a matter of the true vision or disposition of the artist. It’s commensurate of a corporate vision, that is, more so than that of one creative, ingenuously dispatching individual.
And without any question, there are, and always have been, Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes that I really jive with, just as certain Motown songs seem to represent this perfection of pop chord progression and vocal harmonies. “Call Me the Breeze,” probably my favorite Skynyrd rocker, represents an interesting node of this discussion, where pure enjoyment and entertainment are met with certain discernible cultural obstacles. It’s when Ronnie Van Zant sings “I ain’t hidin’ from nobody / Nobody’s hidin’ from me” that my eyes just kind of glaze over and I enter a state of cognitive disonnance. I mean, I have so many people I’m avoiding around town it’s ridiculous, and I just got done waiting for my roommate to fully enter the bathroom before going down and getting my laundry. But, I mean, he’s really hostile. You can like cut the tension around him with a knife. It’s the lay of the land up here.
“Simple Man,” then, materializes as an ever more ardent sign post of the unfortunate malady I’m explicating here — a song of which my left brain, I have to admit, does perceive the merit of originality and solid chord progressions, etc., but at which my right brain hisses at like a mangy cat. I mean, it’s just crawling with these antithetical motifs to my own existence, the bits about being simple, about “Find a woman / And you’ll find love” and that being the whole equation there. I actually was kind of a math whiz when I was little and so voiced the desire to be an accountant, “because they make a lot of money,” a gesture which was met by my family by the utmost ideological compunction and the old cliche that you should do a job based on some revitalizing, sociological connection thereto, or whatever, and not for the base objective of the monetary, if you will. Also, and granted I grew up in the late-’90s, probably the all-time climax of nauseating well-wishing of relationship sematics that dictated that you weren’t supposed to choose a significant other based purely on physical attraction. I mean, I think we can all agree today that any two people who can get together and stand each other, and stand the world, and even kind of make it work, in a taped-up, paper mache sort of way, deserve a standing ovation. The devolution into trap music and the comic world’s tautological hold on cinema hasn’t made anthropological idealists out of too many of us, in other words.
In closing, I’d like to bring up “Sweet Home Alabama,” which holds kind of a comedic, and cinematic (literally), significance within the general discussion I’m profferring here. Now, this is a song, I think, with a lot of intrinsic enjoyability about it, a great, full but still rustic mix of guitar/piano confluence, complete with some spirited background vocals, and, in general, a merger of the elusive elements of comfort and enthusiasm that, let’s face it, are pretty rare to find in most large communities up North. But then, I think that’s part of why I always liked it, in general. There was this exotic aspect to it, in that way. But there’s just so much cultural turbulence you encounter as a Northerner in your endeavors to champion “Sweet Home Alabama,” whether it’s the dudes in 8 Mile making fun of it (the scene of its manifestation was actually a trailer park, in fact), or some cultural blow-hard like my sister convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt of its cultural deleteriousness. You can listen to it on the Forrest Gump soundtrack but then you fall into the same trap of self-association with a slow, simple Southerner. There’s something happening here and what it is ain’t exactly clear, anyway. That much has been affirmed by most of the cultural proprietors of our fine nation.
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