Madonna Banned for Age and What This Means For Culture

Madonna Banned for Age

Although I love some of her early singles, I am not what one would consider a Madonna fan.  However, the above article is something I find troubling.  Apparently the BBC have declined to play her latest single due to that fact that her and her audience are too old. 

First of all this is completely senseless.  When I was thirteen I remember listening to the Doors, a band from my parents generation.  Even now many of my favorite artists are decades older than me.  This wasn’t just true of me, but all my friends.   I remember parties in highschool listening to classic rock and early 80’s post punk, despite the fact that even the early 80’s stuff came out when I was a couple years old.  (I was born in 1978.)

People like what they are exposed to.  If you are a kid and you hear something you like, you are going to listen to it if you have any sense of self.  If you don’t hear it, at any age, you aren’t going to like it.  Plain and simple. 

Age, like sex, race, and sexual orientation,  is just another way to divide people. 

Here is what I find particularly troubling about this:  When it comes to a pop artist, although it is still senseless and wrong, it does not necessarily affect the world in any major way.  However,  there are a lot of older artists that are effective at critiquing society, that speak truth to power.  Jackson Browne, Morrissey, Springsteen, Chuck D, and on and on have been effective chroniclers of what is going on in society.  They are all in their 50’s and 60’s at this point.  It is not hard to see someone in power using age to not play music, something that is not always thought of as political, in order to effectively silence political dissent.   “Oh we are not going to play anything off of Jackson Browne’s Standing in the Breach because we don’t play music by older artists.”  This is when Jackson Browne released one of the most intelligent albums of last year, which was also highly political on certain tracks.  The same goes for the rest of that list. 

Divide and conquer.   This is another fictitious way of dividing people, who may have similar beliefs, interests, and passions, in a way that is currently possible without looking like censorship.  Chuck D is much older than most pop stars, but he is the one bringing the thunder, preaching change, speaking truth to power.  A disenchanted kid, if they were to discover him, might be inclined to listen to him over the other music choices they are currently being presented with.  That isn’t to say that kids aren’t smart enough to find and seek things out on their own, but they have a better chance of finding someone like Chuck D the more exposure he gets.  Age is one of the last ways you can openly discredit someone without looking like a neanderthal.  

Valentine’s Day by Bruce Springsteen

I’m driving a big lazy car rushin’ up the highway in the dark
I got one hand steady on the wheel and one hand’s tremblin’ over my heart
It’s pounding baby like it’s gonna bust right on through
And it ain’t gonna stop till I’m alone again with you

A friend of mine became a father last night
When we spoke in his voice I could hear the light
Of the skies and the rivers the timberwolf in the pines
And that great jukebox out on Route 39
They say he travels fastest who travels alone
But tonight I miss my girl mister tonight I miss my home

Is it the sound of the leaves
Left blown by the wayside
That’s got me out here on this spooky old highway tonight
Is it the cry of the river
With the moonlight shining through
That ain’t what scares me baby
What scares me is loosin’ you

They say if you die in your dreams you really die in your bed
But honey last night I dreamed my eyes rolled straight back in my head
And God’s light came shinin’ on through
I woke up in the darkness scared and breathin’ and born anew
It wasn’t the cold river bottom I felt rushing over me
It wasn’t the bitterness of a dream that didn’t come true
It wasn’t the wind in the grey fields I felt rushing through my arms
No no baby it was you
So hold me close honey say you’re forever mine
And tell me you’ll be my lonely valentine

Valentine’s Day by Bruce Springsteen.  From the album Tunnel of Love.  Tunnel of Love is one of the best albums ever in terms of dealing with adult relationships.

Kirsty MacColl and the Great Breakup Albums

Those of you that have been reading along know that I have been thinking about Dylan and Springsteen lately.  Their albums Blood On the Tracks and Tunnel of Love are two of the great breakup albums.  If I had to put a third album in there, I would pick Kirsty MacColl’s Titanic Days, without any hesitation.  All three of these albums deal with the loss of a relationship in an adult way.  These aren’t records of teenage dreams, but adults coming to grips with emotional loss in a way that entails the complexity of such situations.  No one, including the singers themselves, is getting off the hook.

The above song Soho Square never ceases to hit me in the gut.  It is a sentimental song, and sentimentalism doesn’t always play well in songs.  (Titanic Days is overall not a sentimental record.)  Sentimentalism can often get in the way of honesty.  But I think MacColl gets the poetry right.  She also writes a melody for the ages.

However, it is hard for me not to hear this song and not be reminded that MacColl’s life was cut short, that she never got to live out the old age of her dreams that she sings of in this song.  Rather than being morose, there is something in the nature of the song that makes it happy and sad at the same time.  The buoyant melody and the way that she sings the song with such spark, makes one realize that she was truly alive while she was here, in a way that so many never are.  Every time this song is loud in my car and I hear the string break near the song’s last chorus, my eyes well up with tears.  However, I can never tell if they are tears of sadness or happiness.  A pop song with many layers, a thing of beauty.

Early 90’s Springsteen and the Duality of Human Nature

The cold wet air could best be described as a “shitmist”.  On the way from Oklahoma City to Dallas.   In the back of the van trying to unlock why, even in the midst of his supposed slump, the early 90’s,  Bruce Springsteen was still able to create works that have staying power.  Strip him of his band, bring in a bunch of session players that lack any discernable personality, record things in a way that is somewhat stiff, and there is still something there if you pay attention. 

With every wish there comes a curse

Listen to the song With Every Wish from his Human Touch album.  It has a dark seductive power to it as it examines someone whose dreams fall short.  In fact I think it is because Springsteen never shies away from the hard truths of reality that his songs are more than one dimensional.  

Any life when viewed from the inside, is simply a series of defeats.
     –  George Orwell

In the midst of life we are in death, etc.
     - Morrissey

This is not to say Springsteen’s music lacks hope or love or joy.  In fact his music is often quite life affirming despite how often darkly realistic his lyrics can be.  They often deal with a loss of innocence as someone grows older and comes to terms with the harsh realities of the world.  But even in spite of this, his characters often carry on.  Although there are characters of his that are on the long slide to oblivion, many also often find love or are determined to bear hardship. 

Springsteen is too smart to ignore complexity.  There are no easy fixes.  Love in and of itself will not solve all problems.  Things can be made better, but there is hard work to do if it is to be so.  Dreams can just as easily circle back to haunt you.  He never forgets the passion of the teenager, but he also never ignores the struggle of adulthood.  It is this duality that gives his work power. 

This duality, this complexity in outlook, means that even his lesser albums have moments that are worth recommending.   I think his most misunderstood album, Human Touch,  has many such moments.  Although it does suffer somewhat from the production and choice of musicians, and it is not a front to back masterpiece, there are a lot of songs where the writing is really sharp.  He also writes a lot of great melodies that bring the lyrics to life, whereas the slightly more critically accepted Lucky Town is slightly too sepia-toned for me, despite a couple great songs. 

I think if you are a fan of his, like I am, and you have ignored this period, it is worth revisiting.  There are also some stellar out takes from this period on the Tracks box set, especially Gave it a Name.  It is clear that Springsteen had read Flannery O’Connor by this point, as he adopts some of her haunted Biblical language to deal with these adulthood struggles. 

As one of our country’s greatest artists, Springsteen is often reduced to a caricature, like many larger than life figures.  (He did himself no favors in the propaganda films serving as music videos that accompanied Born in the U.S.A.)  But he has remained someone that constantly searches for meaning in a fallen world, always aware of the light and dark in our national character.  

Stolen Car by Bruce Springsteen

Stolen car- Bruce Springsteen VINYL: http://youtu.be/UnHy_46DfiE

I met a little girl and I settled down
In a little house out on the edge of town
We got married, and swore we’d never part
Then little by little we drifted from each other’s heart
At first I thought it was just restlessness
That would fade as time went by and our love grew deep
In the end it was something more I guess
That tore us apart and made us weep

And I’m driving a stolen car
Down on Eldridge Avenue
Each night I wait to get caught
But I never do

She asked if I remembered the letters I wrote
When our love was young and bold
She said last night she read those letters
And they made her feel one hundred years old

And I’m driving a stolen car
On a pitch black night
And I’m telling myself I’m gonna be alright
But I ride by night and I travel in fear
That in this darkness I will disappear

I have always love the song by Bruce Springsteen.   Springsteen is somehow able to create a short story with a minimum amount of words.  A song of loneliness and desperation from someone on the margins.  I love the way this song and Drive All Night, both on The River’s second record, are used in the movie Cop Land.  Sylvester Stallone,  playing an uncharacteristically heavy and pathetic small town cop named Freddy Heflin in one of his best performances, listens to the songs with the realization that life has fallen far short of his expectations.  

Over at Rolling Stone – Divesting in Big Carbon and Roy Bittan Interview

Read two interesting articles this morning over at Rolling Stone Magazine

Why We Have to Kiss Off Big Carbon

Above  is an article over at Rolling Stone that is about why it makes environmental and economic sense to divest in companies that contributing to climate change.

Here below is an article that is an interview with E Street band keyboardist Roy Bittan.  For all of the years that I have listened to the E Street Band, I don’t think I have read more than thee or four Roy Bittan interviews.  I’ve always loved the way he played piano.  Interview:

Roy Bittan Looks Back On 40 Years in the E Street Band

How Music Intersects With Culture and Politics

I’ve noticed as I’ve done this blog that I get the most hits from the posts I write about music.  (Though not always.)  This might lead you to believe that at some point I am going to get smart and turn this into a music blog.  But I’m not going to.  You see, you don’t get great artists like Chuck D, Bruce Springsteen, or Morrissey, because those artists are unaware of the cultural and political situations that are around them.  In fact those artists are great because they each reinterpret their surroundings through their own unique lens.  You don’t get Fight the Power or World Peace is None of Your Business or The Ghost of Tom Joad if those artists aren’t paying attention to what’s shaking on the hill.  Meanwhile although the best music can always connect on an emotional level even if you aren’t getting everything someone is talking about, you can’t really understand the full impact of a lot of records if you have no clue what is going on in the world.  Music and culture/politics is a two way street.  A lot of the all time great records never get made without those artist being attuned to the times.  As a listener you also get so much more out of records if you understand what is going on around them.

There is a collection of George Orwell essays called All Art is Propaganda.  I want to play with that and twist it and say that all music is political.  Even the banal country song that is just about the singer’s truck, or the mundane rap song that is just talking about what the rapper is drinking or driving, is political.  It’s not revolutionary, but it is political.  It’s basically telling you that everything you are being told on TV is OK.  Don’t think too much.  Buy things and you too can live the dream.

When is a pop song just a pop song?  Never.  Motown produced a lot of great love songs, but that was a black run label that was trying to cross over to white audiences, where a great deal of the money was, during the Civil Rights era.  They were making young white teens daydream about black stars.  They were showing young black kids that they could be successful.  During those times of division they were bringing people together.

Now that being said, you can totally, as a listener, just enjoy something on a purely emotional level.  Some music just has a physicality that you get off on.  I’ve been listening to a lot of TV On the Radio lately.  I know that some of their stuff is political, but I am mostly getting off on the sonic inventiveness of their records.

However, what you get out of something and what it is, is two different things.  If you were reincarnated in another country and didn’t understand English, you might still be completely captivated by just the sound of Chuck D’s voice, but that wouldn’t change what he was saying.  (And just the sound of his voice is like a god damn cannon going off!)

So I’m not saying that you have to look for the political in all music.  It’s fine to love a record because it just lifts your spirits.  There are plenty of records that do that for me and nothing more.  But again, that is different from saying that the culture at large didn’t shape those records.  It is there under the hood if you want to dive in deeper.

So if you are a huge music fan, like I am, and you want to understand why certain records get made, or you want appreciate a lot of records on a different level, then you need to understand what is going on out there.  Meanwhile, if you are a musician and you are creating something, you can’t help but be shaped by the times that you live in, even if it is not explicit in your work.  You can’t separate music, or any art, completely from the world at large.  Even a lot of those gospel or soul records, those that allow you to transcend your earthly problems for a couple of minutes, were often shaped by those who were suffering themselves.  Whatever music you are into, it was definitely not created in a vacuum.