I felt I had a little more to say about last week’s topic, as well as focus more specifically to the idea of individual truth.
Probably one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen is Angela Lindvall. She’s a model for Dior, DKNY, Cloe and a bunch of other high end fashion designers, but her main passion is pretty well the polar opposite; environmentalism. She founded Collage, a hipster-styled environmental education site with organically produced everything. She lives in a tugboat with her husband. She does interviews mostly touting her foundation and not her day job. All this, however, struck me after the reason why I saw her in the first place. This isn’t mean to sound shallow, but the first thing I noticed about her is how truthful her smile looks. I’ve got a picture of her, ripped out of a magazine, standing there in a jean jacket smiling at the camera through her wispy blonde hair. And you know what? That’s really hot.
So often beauty is such a lie. The marketing business alone distorts whatever beauty a model or actress or singer could have that all eventually comes out is plastic, let alone the cosmetic, fashion, and tabloid businesses. That’s why when something comes through that seems so genuine, we all love it. Remember that Norah Jones album from a few years ago? That was one album the public got before the giant machine of advertising took hold, and I can’t think of a single person I don’t know that didn’t really love it. Afterwards, of course, nobody could stand that girl. Her second album, the hype ready-made this time, was loved by much fewer people. Was it her charm and talent that everyone fell in love with the first time around? If it was that easy, that follow-up would have killed. The fact is, it was the truth involved that made it special. We all really believed her and her music. Then the man got in the way and we couldn’t trust her anymore.
And what about the poor Black Eyed Peas? Three years ago you couldn’t find anyone who didn’t love their shtick (unless it was that guy under that rock). Now, the common idea is that they’ve basically become the house band for sesame street-styled hip hop; innocent, for the kids, easy to learn how to count and spell. When “Where is the Love” came out, I believed them when they told us we could change the world and they’d help. At the time, they were an underappreciated rap group just trying to make it through, and when you couple that with a strong message, it’s usually pay dirt. They became the de facto pop band of choice over the winter, and when the new album hit, did we have stronger messages, better songs, more honesty? Not really, and I blame that Ipod ad. Sometimes being in commercials and major label hoops isn’t horrible so long as your music stays strong, but something happened with the Peas. Something turned them into watered down versions of themselves. Something vanilla-cized them to a point where nobody could be offended by the act, and as soon as nobody can be offended, it stops being honest, and because of that it stops being art.
But the thing is, these are my truths. Your truths are different. If you thought Monkey Business was better than The White Album, you’re free to feel that way. Music critics have their own truths. Musicians have their own truths. It’s all very subjective to the point where you can be right when saying that everything is true and nothing is true almost all the time. Nihilistic philosophies are not the point here, however. What I’m saying is that we are charged by what we find to be true in this world, and by that I really mean that we buy the music we feel is telling us in all honesty that they love us and want us to be happy. I’m not saying that Houston has just as many poignant things to say as Bob Dylan. I’m just saying that there’s going to be someone out there who does think along those lines, and that perhaps we should all act like adults and not stone him.
To be, er, honest, I totally envy those people who have an absolute favorite album. You know, that one that does it all. I had this friend back in the town I went to high school with who loves Avril Lavigne to the point where it’s sickening. The reason she loves her so much is because she gets everything she needs from music out of Avril Lavigne. Her well is filled by the faux-punk princess, and no other sounds need apply. When she’s happy, she listens to Sk8ter boi. When she’s sad, she listens to, er, whatever sad song Avril has. When she feels like being a country singer stuck in a corporate world that told her to be more like those boys in Good Charlotte, she sings those songs on the end of the first album. Okay, I’m not sure she ever feels like that. But you know what? I feel like that. I need songs for when I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. I need songs for when I kill an ant by mistake. I need songs for when I eat lunch. I need songs for when I write this column, for when I take a shower, for when I go watch a movie. And I need to be convinced that they really mean it. That’s why no single artist will ever provide me with enough truth for me to stick with them forever. My mind-set demands a soundtrack more diverse than Anton Corbijn’s and Wes Anderson’s combined.
And please, don’t confuse keeping it real with what I’m explaining here. Keeping it real is a cliche used by hip hop artists (and their fans) to represent a half-hearted respect for the ‘streets’ regardless of the artists’ association with any street. I hate to break this to you, but not every young black youth lives in poverty, and not every rapper should be expected to have come from poverty. As well, it really shouldn’t be expected that every hip hop artist has a great car, thirty nameless dancing girls, and a ‘crew’ in which to brag about how he rolls. Keeping it real has been misused by so many people that just about all levity it once held has been squashed by the great giant of consumerism.
Truth, however, will always have weight. It will always be the most important aspect of culture, because it is what ultimately connects everyone. And if you ask me, that is what is absolutely wrong about the mainstream scene, and what is right about the independent scene. I have made absolutely no effort to hear the new Destiny’s Child song, but yet I know I’ve been bombarded with it’s pathetic message of pre-feminist obedience at least a dozen times. I don’t connect with the song because I don’t agree with anything it has to say, and I really don’t think most people would disagree with me (perhaps those girls who really just want to have ‘a man’ might, though). We all have to hear it though—anywhere with overhead speakers, really—because it’s a Destiny’s Child song and Destiny’s Child sells a lot of records. What makes this song totally dishonest is that just about every single Destiny’s Child has put out over the last six years is about how they don’t need men and they can take care of themselves. Suddenly the girls are subservient housewives? Right. I had a conversation with one of the dishwashers where I work the other day about this group, and even though I explained that the message expressed in this song is soundly medieval, all he could garner was “Who cares? She’s hot.” It’s statements like this that allow me to dream of one day making jokes about President Kournikova.
I’m not saying there aren’t bands on the indy scene that don’t bring up the subject of women catering to men, but I can say that it’s much easier to ignore it there. Independent music is still without a consistent media presence. Sure, there’s one hour a week on Much Music dedicated to the entire industry, but other than that, all independent music gets is the internet, where it has to be found with at least a modicum of effort. The Pixies never threw a song in anyone’s face. Neither did DOA, The Posies, Rufus Wainwright, or any other independent artist. Because the labels who contract these artists lack the seemingly unlimited funding the likes of Sony and Universal have, we come to these artists as honestly as they come to us; through the music instead of the machine. When we find a band we love, we know we’ve found them through our own means (or, just as honestly, word of mouth). This gives us the ability to trust the artist without bias or subliminal messaging of any kind (except your hipster friends constantly yapping about how great, say, Bloc Party is.)
The next time you see a music video or hear something on the radio, take a second to see if you find what’s happening to be something honest. You don’t necessarily have to agree with the song or the artist, but see how much truth there appears to be in the song. Do you really believe what he or she is singing? It still won’t tell you what kind of person you are (our preference to what we stick in our ears can only give so much away about our character) but it might give you a second of reflection as to your definition of truth.