Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Whacha Gonna Do Wid All Dat Junk?

Slate's Musicbox had an article on what was referred to as "a song so bad it veers towards evil." Give the writer his props: any article on that subject invites reading.

The song in question, "My Humps" by the Black-Eyed Peas, is a twist on the typical hip-hop view of the roles the different sexes play during courtship. It's not about love and respect, it's about access to those "lovely lady lumps" for "all that cash." Before I go further, let me state that I'm really not a Black-Eyed Peas fan, and I listened to the song initially because I wanted to understand how a man like Howard Dean could choose this band as one of his favorites (I think Howard was a poser who was trying to show how hip he was while hopefully getting some of the black vote).

I must be getting old. One of the elements of pop culture that ties a generation together is its music. By definition, I'm one of the last of the Boomers (people born between 1945 and 1961). I grew up with the music of the late '60s, listening to a lot of R & B and '70s rock and roll. Disco reared its generally-bland head during the mid-'70s and, I am ashamed to say, my senior-year high school yearbook features an abysmal drawing of a tiger (the school mascot) in the classic "Saturday Night Fever" pose. But the late '70s and early '80s had some great music. Punk, metal, alternative... it was all good. When I listen to today's music, I understand my father when he said, "You listen to that crap?"

All of these genres had one thing in common: they treated courtship respectfully. Male performers sang about the worship they had for a special woman; women sang about the positive aspects of men that invited respect. Yeah, there was the occasional "See Ya" song, like Journey's "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" or Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" or Genesis' "There Must Be Some Misunderstanding." I look at these songs as warnings: guys, don't put up with cheating and getting blown off, girls, don't put up with a self-centered guy.

Which leads me to today's pop music and its misogynistic bent. I think much of this comes from black urban subculture, specifically hip-hop and gangsta rap. We don't want to know what love is anymore; we want that ho to call us Big Daddy when she backs that thang up. The hip-hop/rap subculture consciously rejects the social values of the mainstream. Why it does would make a fascinating essay in itself.

One of the recurring themes of Judao-Christian civilization is the union of sex with love in a monogamous heterosexual relationship that is the molecule, so to speak, of human civilization. The ideal is to find one person of the opposite sex that we can bond with for life, and then build a multi-generational family unit based upon that bond. There are a lot of good reasons for this ideal: monogamy builds stable societies without the problems of bastardy or jealousy.

This flies in the face of our genetic programming: men are designed to go forth and multiply. However, casual sexual relationships lead to violence between jealous lovers, unsupported children, and a fragmented society. People are programmed to require trust and security in a relationship in order to be happy. These problems have been with us from the beginning of time, and the ideal of monogamy is the result of millenia of experience.

Back to the song. I have to disagree with the author of the Slate column. I rather liked "My Humps" as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the pathetic state of modern courtship, which evidently consists of winning a woman's affections temporarily by the simple expedient of throwing enough money at her. If you listen to the song, you realize that what the lyrics really say is that both sides play each other for fools. It's also a good dance track, and evidently a lot of people disagree with the column since this is one of the hottest singles on the charts.

You want a bad song? Just turn to any rap station and listen for a few minutes. How about "Shake That Laffy Taffy," a song so totally lacking in lyrical and musical merit that the person responsible for allowing it to be made should be barred from the music industry for life. The only rational explanation for why this song gets any airtime is that payola is alive and well in the music industry. No radio station would pay that song without getting paid big bucks. Hell, we should be getting paid to listen to it, but there isn't enough money in the music industry to make listening to this song bearable. Marvin Gaye would turn over in his grave.

I'll pick on my own generation because the new stuff is too easy. "Rock the Boat" by the Hughes Corporation? Yuck! Or "Afternoon Delight?" Every time I hear "thinkin' of you's working up a appetite" I wince. I want to slap the stupid songwriter who failed grade school grammar. How about "Ride the White Horse" by Laid Back? Or, pretty much the entire Beastie Boys collection, and the entire category of music referred to as 'Butt Rock.'

Whatever happened to great vocalists singing beautiful songs? Or great musicians? Earth, Wind, and Fire? Anita Baker? Jean-Luc Ponty, or Van Morrison, or Pat Methany, or any one of a great number of talented artists? Give me their music any day... and keep your Laffy Taffy.

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