Friday, February 16, 2007

JUNK CULTURE: AMERICAS NERVOUS BREAKDOWN

JUNK CULTURE: AMERICAS NERVOUS BREAKDOWN


I think American Culture may be having a nervous breakdown. Popular Culture is one of our greatest resources and exports, but “junk” culture is clogging the arteries of our lives. I tune in a “respectable” news channel and hear, in order:

*A critical update on who the Father of Anna Nicole might be, along with ongoing coverage of Anna Nicole’s death. Since when does a trashy bimbo with absolutely no talent but DOES have a skill for attracting attention, warrant ANY coverage on a legitimate news channel? I thought we had tabloids for this stuff...and no she's NOT Marilyn Monroe.

Then…

*Ongoing debate about The Dixie Chicks and how “important” they are to the 2008 elections. Huh??? Keep up their rants and it’ll guarantee a Republican President.

Then…

*More about the pre-marital sex the astronaut with the attempted murder rap. If as much attention was paid to the positive efforts of NASA we'd have someone on Mars by now.

Then….

*An update on Brittney’s partying and a possible split with Paris. Important stuff...

This was NOT on an Entertainment” segment. This was masquerading as “news”. This celebrity thing is WAY out of control. It’s “junk culture”. It’s always existed, but never before have there been literally millions of websites, radio, TV and other outlets to spew this shit….and many people actually DO believe what they hear and read. And think it’s important. It MUST be if “News Alive Action Super Update at 10” is doing the lead story. This is very sick. What’s sick is the degree it is making us a Nation of media cretins. I can’t blame consumers... I can’t blame anyone— but its happening and it’s out of control…and it isn’t one of these old guy things wishing we were back in the 60’s….it’s one of those, we Americans better be careful or we’ll choke on our own trash. It CAN happen here.

Celebrity is weird. There are a ton of classy celebs---Paul Newman seems to be one, certainly Oprah, but with media’s open door policy, it’s the low lifes who “work” to get the ink instead of doing their thing and letting the ink happen that blur fame with stupidity. I sort of understand the celebrity thing---While it’s often based on talent. It’s also frequently based on clinically insecure people with a nice face that work “getting noticed” very hard. That’s the problem—you can’t rely on media to figure out who has talent and who is useless beyond the latest crisis. Who will be here In 5 years and who will be a trivia question? In today’s media environment you can succeed by marketing yourself without a specific skill beyond that…but that inevitably fails and adds to our growing pile of eye and ear junk that fills our culture like a long term disease that is a form of self inflicted terrorism.

I first questioned celebrity with Liz Taylor. I know she was big in the 50’s, but when I started becoming aware, she was someone who got divorced every 3 months, was in and out of rehab and seemed to be a mess…but of course she had her own line of perfume. I have nothing but respect for people who market themselves well, but it is scary that these people have so much traction based solely on their self promotion. But---then I wonder if they REALLY do. Paris and Brittney are popular but I have to believe that except for a naïve 9 year old, they are perceived more as a joke than anything to be taken seriously. And I’ve yet to meet ANYone who takes Anna Nicole’s death as anything more than a feather weight soap opera… more junk culture.

Maybe this celebrity stuff is just a mask for the more serious issues facing the planet. A cheesy release from reality I hope so…but I worry about that for as many people that think it’s a joke---there are just as many that take it seriously. Along with poverty and other demons facing our culture, dumbing down might be the most dangerous of them all. To those who think I’m getting too heavy on this and to lighten up—it’s just “entertainment”—I think you are wrong—it’s the symptom of a cultural nervous breakdown. It CAN happen here.

All of this is like a lot of radio stations who are all about their “message” but have NO substance. It’s all the best, the greatest, the most…complete with direct mail with highly unbelievable faces of “pop stars” and “phoners” with Anna Nicole’s Mom. I just hope we at XM can do our part to be an escape from this level of celebrity madness that WILL drive those who become linked to it, down an inevitable path of failure.

…as predicted last year in an earlier blog—Katie Couric is dead last in the Network News ratings. Of course she is. The bozos at CBS News apparently bought into the “celeb doing news” thing—thank God most of America did not. HOW do these people make these decisions? We at XM make some bad decisions sometimes as everyone does, but something THIS obvious? My problem with most celebrity worship is that celebrating these damned souls takes time away from the celebrities with talent that actually contribute something. Junk culture does NOT nourish our future.

One of the reasons Bob Dylan is so successful and so timeless is that he doesn’t buy into this crap. He remains pure and enigmatic. I STRONGLY believe the attraction of Dylan, Ray Charles and Johnny Cash is that they never went celebrity…or if they did it’s because others positioned them that way, not because they thought they needed to shamelessly self promote. You can say that about a lot of recently emerged artists too. I doubt if you’d see Radiohead announcing a clothing line.

Integrity is inevitably the best sales tool…and the ONLY way to last for more than a tabloid minute.

Art Garfunkel did an artist Confidential. I heard word that he was difficult to deal with. He’s kind of a perfectionist as you’d expect but he was great to deal with as was John Sher, Doug Thayler and Bridget Nolan his managers and crew. About an hour before the show, a guy walks into the studio where I’m hanging with Aaron Lee, Steve Kingston, XM engineer Rob Macomber and host George Taylor Morris. In walks this guy with a baseball cap and a ruffled look asking all kind of questions. We thought it was someone from their road crew and we were nice, but only somewhjat focused. We answered his questions. About 30 minutes later, one of his managers comes back with the guy and introduces him as Art Garfunkel. SHIT! I was expecting that frizzy hair and the face on Bookends. He had a hat and looked fine, but that WAS 40 years ago! Almost blew it! Before the show he has all these ideas about singing along with Scarborough Fair and doing a few other fancy production tricks. We were all a bit worried, but our crack team figured a way to make it happen. I was buried in the Police press conference details as that was about to start...unlike FM, we carried the WHOLE thing live! Our guys worked everything out and after a long soundcheck with about 50 reverb changes, the show was on. Art indeed sang along with Scarborough Fair and demonstrated some verses that never made it to record. EXACTLY what we hope an artist will do in this “workshop” environment, and proceeded to ultra intelligently walk through his career and play 5 or six songs including some gems from his new album of standards. His voice remains absolutely as clear and on the notes as it was during his Simon and Garfunkel days. He’s a truly brilliant guy and the ideal victim for an Artist Confidential. He answered all of the Q&A with the charged audience with grace, humor and intellect. You sometimes forget what an artist like this has been through as we relate more to the songs on the radio than the mind and soul of the person. Art has had hits in the Fifties as Tom & Jerry, the 60’s with Simon & Garfunkel, and solo in every onward decade. The dumbed down music business de-emphasizes these guys favoring the quick jolt of this weeks’ celeb. I’ll take a timeless musical intellect any day---and if you REALLY look at the big picture—so do most people. You just don’t hear about it in the press unless they win some goofy award, which of course he has and will.

REO was in for an Artist Confidential. Loads of fun with the guys after the show at dinner. Huge arguments over Chicago trivia as most of them, and I, are from Chicago. Pulling out blackberries to Google who was the newsman on Channel 7 in 1965…to a violent discussion over who had the hit version of little Latin Lupe Lu---Righteous Brothers? Mitch Ryder? Kingsmen? On to singing the “Garfield Goose” theme (you have to be a child of Chicago to know that one). All in all good fun. Great guys who can still sing, play and write. Pal and XM Family member Jon Anderson of Yes has assembled a group of music student to perform Yes classics. That should be interesting as Yes material is extremely challenging to play with strange time sigs, telepathic changes and structures of epic proportions. They were supposed to play in DC but got snowed in, hopefully they’ll be back—Gotta check that out. I have a LOT of Jon Anderson stories. Yes were my heroes early on and over the years we’ve all grown quite close.

Oh—and Bob Ludwig corrected me on my comments about our visit to his studio:

From Bob:

There was one small error in the blog, we have a 1 inch tape machine with two really huge tracks or, for surround sound analog work, we have the 2 inch machine outside my door with 8 large tracks on it.

My excuse: I was too mesmerized with the sound to take accurate notes.

18 Comments:

At 7:02 AM, Anonymous Eric said...

Regarding Chicago Newsmen:
Chicago Newsmen

Maybe who you were thinking of his here!

 
At 11:53 AM, Blogger kenb said...

I have family and friends who completely reject Pop Culture for the exact reasons you list and by golly yer right about the lack of Importance or Relevance these no-talents have to the American experience. How these sad, sad people and trivial situations get “on the air” is a mystery. There must be some kind of Celebrity Machine that generates this drivel.

My friends though are missing a lot of living by rejecting the whole Kit-‘n Caboodle. Tuning out Pop completely is like living in the 20s and rejecting Jazz, being a Parisian in at the turn of the 20th century and snubbing the Impressionists or living in the late 60s and turning down a free ride to Woodstock.

Pop Culture is Important and is a big, big part of what has made and still makes America great. It’s seeped into every nook and cranny of the planet. From Bagdad to Borneo American songs and styles and machines of all sorts are now part of the local scene. We’re the Modern Romans (title of a good song by “The Call,” I think) and we’re Impressing the Modern World with our customs and ways of thinking thanks to purveyors of Culture like Lee Abrams.

After spending two years on the roads of the U.S.A., checking out the old hang outs, icons, back alley dives and great monuments to Pop I became convinced that the real pop icons of our nation are just as important as political leaders, captains of commerce and great writers (some of these, Pop Icons in their own right.)

Go to the Sun Studios in Memphis, stand on the “X” where Elvis stood, visit the Route 66 Café in a little burg in Missouri right on The Mother Road, see the place where B.B. King played for nickels in downtown Indianola, Mississippi, soak up the vibes and think about how much these people and places made the world more-better, more joyful, more prosperous and more Meaningful.

Pop Culture at its best is good and it’s what we are. Let’s hope the trash we see nowadays is not what we are becoming.


kenb

 
At 5:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob Dylan's a legend and an inspiration to so many people. You're right I'm sure because he doesn't just try and ride the celebrity wave.
I'd love him and you to to help a young artist coming through who is writing some fantastic challenging songs about the world now, the young singer songwriter Fran O'Hanlon, just 18 years old from the Newcastel in the North East of England, busking and in Paris while he's working with people with disabilities this year. He is not into self promotion and has no dreams of stardom but wants to get a place at uni to study medicine. He writes and performs some beautiful songs that everyone should get a chance to hear.'Paper Cuttings' is written for a young wife who Fran saw a picture of mourning the loss of her young soldier husband in Irak and spending a last night with him before his burial. For a guy of 18 to show compassion and understanding for thsi pain is just something else.
Hope you get a chance to listen to the songs, they're worth it.
Please let us know what you think.

www.myspace.com/franohanlon

Best wishes

Gerry O'Hanlon

 
At 6:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this was fantastic... a true show of the American culture of what really is important, celebrities!!! who's breaking up with who.. what is really important to americans... the news channels dedicate so much time to such a non story as Anna Nichols' son passing away and now her death.. and likely soon Britney Spears impending overdose death, I suppose they will compare the two of them, or say that Brit is the new casualty of drug abuse ala the sixties drug culture... whatever.. keep up these entries, they are very thought provoking... Steve...

 
At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

L.A,

You were a little early with some Britney comments and blog,

Britney " Sex Pistol " Spears,
For once, I could get on her side,
WHY?
1) partying and whoring around NYC last 3 weeks was bound to happen,
I mean C'MON, she was kept well under control through her teen years etc,
2) She is getting drunk and puking, this tells me SHE does NOT drink etc, otherwise SHE would be able to handle her drinks, ALSO, if she had a Coke Problem, SHE would NOT be getting sick either, fact of matter doing lines makes you immune to alcohol, so, once again, Have to give her a little credit.
3) Shaving her head is another Ex. of, "Shakespeare", I think, washing hands over and over, to remove the Blood or guilt. It has been 30 years, so,
I can go on, But,
MDBP

 
At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If today's reports are true, we'll be getting junk culture channels (Howard Stern, Jamie Foxx, Martha Stewart) up the wazoo by next year. I'm sure negotiations with Britney are under way up in NYC.

If the merger happens, I hope you survive it, Lee -- I'd hate to see Sirius' hits-hits-hits vision of music win out over yours, not to mention having those single-artist payola channels that the competition gets away with (The Who, the Stones, Elvis) come to our radios!

 
At 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree! The only thing that will keep me and my family plan is Lee in charge of music programming without interference from FM killer Mel.

 
At 11:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you'll start another topic about the merger, but I hope XM and Sirius will do some research with customers who own both services to help steer the new company in the future. My family owns both XM and Sirius receivers, and the shortest suggestion I could make would be to PLEASE keep nearly all of the XM music channels. The only time we listen to Sirius if for Howard Stern or football. The music on XM is simply far superior.

I hope that the combination allows you to add back some lost channels like WorldZone and also improve sound quality.

Lee, good luck to you and everyone on the XM music team! It's too bad that XM's terrible marketing group and one catastrophic strategic error (Stern) forced the company with vastly superior music and vastly superior hardware to bite the bullet and accept a merger.

And I'd wager $1000 that the new company will be named Sirius. Their marketing group simply wiped the floor with your group, and Sirius means satellite radio.

Can't wait to listen to Stern on my Inno and throw out my S50, simply the worst piece of electronics I've purchased in 30+ years....

 
At 1:09 PM, Blogger Billy Roberts said...

How interesting that you did a blog entry about people like Britney Spears and other mindless celebrities. With the announcement of the proposed merger between XM and SIRIUS, I'll most likely have more access to these talentless "artists".

I really hope you mention about the merge in your next blog entry. I must say, I am dissapointed that XM agreed to this deal. XM is about radio that is different and unique. The merge will squash all of that, thanks to SIRIUS" Mel Karmazin being in charge. Everybody at XM should hang their heads in shame. You sold out for the mighty dollar.

I really hope the FCC turns down the merger deal. It's a sad day for satellite radio.

 
At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

Lee,

Would love to hear some of those Jon Anderson and Yes stories sometime! He and they are underated giants of modern music!

Thanks Lee,

Mike (Yes fan and XM subscriber)

 
At 8:56 PM, Blogger goorootooyoo said...

The cultural starvation brought on by musical famines such as we have now only serves to build up a hunger for sustenance with substance.

So don't lose faith, Lee.

Musically, today is 1963 all over again. Relax; society can and does self-correct.

Tomorrow, it will be 1964.

 
At 12:53 AM, Anonymous Long-time XM Subscriber said...

I can only echo other folks' sentiments on the XM situation. I sure hope you get to stay in charge of the music. You've done some great things there, and the only thing worse than having just one satellite radio service would be if it had Sirius-style shallow music programming. I'm looking forward to you staying on board, and Eric Logan, too. I sure hope this isn't the beginning of the end.

 
At 1:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee--

Thanks for giving us the gift of XM! I really do hope you continue what you started at XM--and stay on in an influential role with respect to the MUSIC.

The merger will most likely bring about a clash of philosophy, but your vision will win out if you are there to usher it in...

 
At 9:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee - I don't know if you're going to be allowed to comment on the merger. Let me just add my 2cents to the others here. You clearly "get it" when it comes to music programming for true music fans, and I very much hope you continue to bring your approach to the merged entity.

PS - also, another vote for more Jon Anderson and Yes stories!

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger Jason said...

Hey,

If they don't want you to be part of the merged company, or won't give you the freedom to do it your way....

I hope you go into internet radio, work your brilliance, and bury satellite radio.

A lot of us will follow you wherever you go.


It won't be that long until wireless internet will be available everywhere.

If you had an internet music service that people could take along with them (including their cars) you could destroy satellite radio.

My loyalty is with you because of the wonderful thing you have built with XM's music programming. My loyalty isn't with XM and it isn't with satellite radio.

 
At 8:33 PM, Blogger Carmi said...

As long as there are folks in media who care about why this matters, then there's hope for the future.

We can debate the XM-Sirius deal until the cows come home (and lord knows, I've commented enough on this issue this week) but at the end of the day, the media we consume deliver to us precisely what we ask for. If we demand better than Britney whoring herself in a tattoo parlor, then we'll get something better than that.

Entertainment Tonight, that maligned "icon" of celeb-trash culture, is huge because society has made it huge. Stop watching it and Mary Hart goes away.

We should all be so lucky.

Looking forward to hearing and reading more from you.

 
At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need you Lee! Only you can combat the building full of Steve Kingston clones over at Sirius.

 
At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow... the first casualty of the merger.. mr. Abrams blog... and everyone thinks this is a good idea.. GUESS AGAIN... if the merger happens the government will likely have to watch over the new company.. no more XL programming on XM... well no more XM at all who's kidding who... oh well next big thing.. oh wait, the i-pod.. thank you I'll take two...

 

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