The Future of the Left, Pitchfork, and Fair Fights

Well, first there was this, which I found a little disappointing and a lot unsurprising. But then there was this, which is everything Andy Falkous says it is in the pre-script (“lame, self-serving, and immature”) but is also spot-fucking-on and hilarious.

What we’re talking about today, if you have not been able to guess, is the best album of 2012 so far (and probably the whole year): The Plot Against Common Sense, by one of my favorite current bands, Future of the Left. There’s not much for me to say about the album itself; I was predisposed to love it and, true to form, I love it. I love it more every time I hear it. I love it on a level somewhat approaching my affection for London Calling and if you’ve read this blog at all over the last four years, you know I do not make that statement lightly (an odd aside: a classmate of mine at the School of Social Work once opined that it was “boring” to say that London Calling is your favorite album. At the time, I didn’t know what to say to that because London Calling is genuinely my favorite album. I kinda get where he was coming from – there are like five or six records that people always say are their favorite and that can get tedious. But if saying London Calling is my favorite album is boring, I’m boring. I never claimed to be otherwise).

So rather than repeating myself by counting the ways in which I love The Plot Against Common Sense or the Future of the Left in general, I thought I’d spend some time discussing Ian Cohen’s Pitchfork review, which I found kind of fascinating. I wholeheartedly disagree with Cohen about this album (and most albums) but, hard as this is to admit, I can muster a little empathy for the guy. Like Cohen, I vomit my opinion about music onto the internet, which can sometimes provoke a barrage of mean-spirited and often misspelled comments. It’s the price of doing business (a business for which Cohen is paid and I am not, a fact which somewhat mitigates my sympathy for that particular devil) and it’s fine, but it can get a little exhausting because it only rarely happens that several people provide you feedback because they also loved a record that you love. And by “only rarely,” I mean “never.”

But Cohen, apart from misunderstanding the meanings of several Future of the Left songs (point of needless pride: I had thought since first hearing it that “Polymers are Forever” was about oceanic pollution and, according to Mr. Falkous, I was generally correct in thinking so. Yay me), made a couple of statements in his review that I would have found funny if they weren’t so irritating. First, there is the assertion that Andy Falkous is engaging in “unfair fights” against various targets. Setting aside the fact that it is totally fair (and necessary) to take aim at Trustafarians (“Sorry Dad, I Was Late for the Riots”), I’m curious as to why Ian Cohen thinks Falkous should pick fair fights.

There is a brilliant instructor at Portland State University who, leading a workshop on anti-oppressive practice (that’s “AOP” to those of us in the all-powerful social work/industrial complex), pointed out that many young students, when they start to learn about ways to combat oppression and injustice, approach these issues with a hammer when they should be using tweezers. I wrote this down at the time because I recognize my own tendency to use a hammer when I should be more subtle, but I took the note like so: “When doing AOP, don’t use a hammer when you should use tweezers. When writing punk songs, by all means, use the fucking hammer!” Now, I’m not entirely sure Andy Falkous and his bandmates view themselves as a punk band, but it is my humble opinion that they embody that spirit better than pretty much every other band going right now (if you suggest to me, dear readers, that Blink-182 is a punk band, I will find you. And I will hurt you).

The point here is that Andy Falkous has no business picking fair fights, much less a duty. Hell, “Common People” isn’t fair and it was, according to the corporate-slick writers at Pitchfork, the second-best song of the 1990s (they were wrong about that, by the way: “Common People,” for my money, is far and away the best song of the 1990s). And, just like Future of the Left, I don’t want Pulp to be “fair.” I want them to use a hammer while I’m out there doing my job with the fucking tweezers! Jarvis Cocker, dog bless him, is still being wonderfully unfair and if he ever stops, I’ll probably stop listening to him. But it’s not like Future of the Left was all that fair prior to The Plot Against Common Sense. How fair is the suggestion that we “reimagine God as just a mental illness” (“The Hope That House Built,” from Travels with Myself and Another)? How fair is “Fuck the Countryside Alliance” from Curses? If you want “fair” songs, listen to John Mayer or Jack Johnson or any of those other hack white guys who can write you a thousand songs about how everything is going to be all right. But don’t bring your concept of fairness to my Future of the Left albums; I like them just the way they are.

The second thing Cohen did to piss me off was start a sentence with the following assertion: “It’s a shame Falkous is playing to the cheap seats on The Plot Against Common Sense.” Fuck you, Ian! Not everyone gets the VIP access at Coachella, you classist dickhole. Some of us can only afford the cheap seats (and, more often, many of us can’t even afford that so we listen to our favorite records at home or with friends, wondering what it would be like to have the same access to music that so-called indie luminaries like the good folks at Pitchfork enjoy) and your implication that music needs to be dumbed down for our (apparently) limited comprehension is equal parts smug and ignorant.

I read Cohen’s review before I heard The Plot Against Common Sense (there’s that ease-of-access thing again. I couldn’t quite snag an advanced copy from up here in my “cheap seat”) and my first thought was, “I will probably adore this album.” And here I am, adoring it.

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A Sound that Turns the Mountains into Sand

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I did not mince words the last time I reviewed a Screaming Females record and I do not intend to mince them now. First off, Marissa Paternoster is the best guitar player playing guitar right now. Feel free to disagree with me, but do it on your own blog. Here at Bollocks! HQ (which, sadly, has been oft-neglected since I started grad school), we’re building statues of Marissa Paternoster and then using Screaming Females albums to blow them to bits. Because who has room for statues in their office?

But it’s not just Ms. Paternoster who makes the Screaming Females so fucking awesome. Drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist Michael Abbate make up a formidable (and underrated) rhythm section and the cumulative effect of the trio’s playing is, to borrow a phrase from “Doom 84,” “a sound that turns the mountains into sand.” As a band, they keep getting tighter (the intro to “Red Hand” is a sinister blast of dance/funk, like an awesome nightmare version of Franz Ferdinand), which goes a long way toward explaining why I’ve not been able to stop listening to their new album, Ugly, long enough to sit down and write about it.

Ugly was produced by Steve Albini, who shares my disdain of nostalgia (although my favorite quote about nostalgia comes not from Mr. Albini but from Don DeLillo, one of America’s best writers: “Nostalgia is a product of dissatisfaction and rage. It’s a settling of grievances between the present and the past. The more powerful the nostalgia, the closer you come to violence. War is the form nostalgia takes when men are hard-pressed to say something good about their country.” You should read White Noise) and also said one of the funniest things I’ve ever read about Lady Gaga. Not that Steve Albini is going to give a shit what I think about the new Screaming Females record or Steve Albini or nostalgia. It’s part of what I like about the guy.

But you must give some kind of a shit (or at least halfway decent fart? Perhaps a tinker’s damn?) about what I think about the new Screaming Females album or you wouldn’t be reading this. What I think is that Ugly is simultaneously the best Screaming Females album and one that would propel them to wider success if there was any goddamn justice in this world (I won’t say there is no justice because there occasionally is but I’m comfortable saying there’s not nearly enough justice in this country, especially if you’re a person of color).

From opener “It All Means Nothing” to closing ballad “It’s Nice,” the band tears through each song like a lion  tearing the flesh of the slowest wildebeest (I initially didn’t spell that word correctly & had to look it up. You learn something gnu every day) in the herd. Paternoster’s guitar gets a lot of press when people talk about the Screaming Females, but Ugly finds her at her finest vocally too, although not everyone is gonna find her voice as awesome as I do. She can be a little strident, and plenty snarly, but when she is, she reminds me a lot of Kathleen Hanna on “Double Dare Ya” or Poly Styrene on “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” or Andy Falkous on pretty much every Future of the Left album (I am excited as hell about their new album, The Plot Against Common Sense and I want you to be too. So pre-order it here, will ya? *Update: You can listen to the new Future of the Left record here. Believe me when I tell you that it is fucking great). Paternoster also croons a bit on Ugly (especially on “It’s Nice”) and “Leave It All Up to Me” features some fantastic harmonies. The strongest melody is probably on “Crow’s Nest,” which features the most joyfully infectious guitar riff I’ve heard since Built to Spill’s “Conventional Wisdom.”

Lyrically, Ugly gets into some dark territory (the sorta-title-track, “Something Ugly,” has a refrain of, “Put Mama on the phone/ I’m afraid to die alone,” for instance) – there’s torture (“Red Hand” and “Expire”) and loss of faith (Paternoster sings, “All my faith just keeps me ill” on “Tell Me No”),  but there are also some lines, particularly in “It All Means Nothing,” that strike me as addressing Paternoster’s feelings about what our society seems to want from its musical leading ladies. Probably the best line on the album comes within its first chorus: “I’m on a mission to smash the mirror/ get myself off the scale.” I hear in that, whether Paternoster intends it or not, an indictment of the way art is sucked out of music in the process of turning songs into marketable products. And when the song becomes a marketable product, the singer does too – but the options for what kind of products female singers are allowed to be are limited. Read any of the mountains of stories about Kelly Clarkson’s weight if you don’t believe me. Marissa Paternoster does not fit the mold of a woman who will sell a billion albums and wow the red carpet folks at the Grammys and I, for one, could not be happier about it.

But the bottom line here is this: loud rock music is something that is easy to do really badly and so the feat accomplished by the Screaming Females on Ugly (and their other albums) is not to be underestimated. In a time of Nickelbacks and My Chemical Romances, they have made a triumphant-yet-unassuming rock record that runs rings around its better-known competition.

The Worst Songs I Have Ever Heard #12: “Glory of Love”

By the time we’re done here today, you might get the impression that I hate love songs (I don’t; I hate bad songs). After all, it was just last week that I was bagging on the Bryan Adams wedding reception staple, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” and now here I am taking aim at another popular ballad from yesteryear, Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love,” which some of you might know as the theme song from The Karate Kid Part II. “Glory of Love” was a certified hit, spending two weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1986. What can I say? It was a slow decade.

If you’re young and/or blessed enough to be completely oblivious to Peter Cetera, I’ll give you a little background information. As the singer for Chicago (one of the most overrated bands in the history of music), Cetera helped cement the group’s reputation as a “ballad band.” He wrote the schmaltzy (and totally destined for this list) “You’re the Inspiration,” which propelled Chicago’s imaginatively titled 17 to the top of the charts back in Nineteen-Eighty-Who-Gives-A-Fuck.

The 80s was a schmaltzy decade for music, although there was some great music being made then as well – a lot of it by R.E.M.. But there is no doubt in my mind that Peter Cetera was the King of 80s Schmaltz. I have this belief largely because Cetera was too schmaltzy even for my young 80s self, who owned not one but two Richard Marx albums on cassette (his self-titled debut, which featured “Don’t Mean Nothing,” a song so insipid it makes the Eagles seem like the Dead Kennedys; and, of course, Repeat Offender, which featured the smash single “Right Here Waiting,”). I had horrible taste in music when I was younger but even then, I had my limits.

First of all, when Peter Cetera sings, “I am the man who will fight for your honor” in that Muppety high tenor of his, the line carries about the same amount of credibility that George W. Bush did when he said he didn’t hate gay people, he was just for traditional marriage (I guess this week’s not-so-subtle political undertone is, “It’s fucking absurd that gay marriage isn’t legal in all fifty states”). I think even the most gullible woman on earth would have a hard time believing that Peter Cetera was capable of defending her honor against anything more threatening than a fruit fly.

And for that matter, let me ask something of the ladies: have you ever, even once in your adult life, swooned over a dude swearing to “fight for your honor”? What the fuck does that even mean? Cetera seems to be pulling some Don Quixote shit, and he hints at it later in the song when he sings, even more absurdly, “It’s like a knight in shining armor/ from a long time ago.” Ladies, if that’s the kind of verbiage that gets your knees knocking, I’ve written grocery lists that will make you melt.  After making the most oblique reference possible to “a knight in shining armor,” (seriously, he sings “It’s like a knight in shining armor.” But he never tells us what it is. You’re about to say, “Matt, ‘It’ is obviously love.” But that doesn’t make sense in light of the next line. Read on) Cetera then tells the lucky object of his affection, “Just in time, I will save the day/ take you to my castle far away.” So after he’s told this chick, in the second verse, that he could never make it alone, he now pulls the ol’ switcheroo by suggesting the his clearly codependent self is gonna “save the day.” From what? The only thing Peter Cetera could “save” you from is a day free of horrible, saccharine music.

“Glory of Love,” much like “(Everything I Do) I Like the Taste of Poo,” is a stunning example of the worst kind of poorly conceived, sickeningly executed love song. In its attempt to be poetic and passionate, it comes off as being cloying and smarmy, largely because Cetera didn’t put any fucking thought into these lyrics. He presumes, like a lot of dumb guys do, that his lovely lady is dreaming of a hero and he promises, with his impossibly 80s hair and whiny voice, to be that hero. Why? So they can live forever “knowing together/ we did it all for the glory of love.” I know what you’re thinking: “What did they do for the glory of love?” If you listen to the song, they apparently lived forever for the glory of love. That’s it. They just… hung around. Cetera conveniently avoids explaining precisely how this glorifies love, but that’s probably because he was too busy trying to shoehorn that fucking knight in shining armor trope into the song. I’ve got some news for you, Peter Cetera: knights in shining armor are about as romantic as turds in a martini shaker. Armor, for those of you who have never stopped for even a second to think about it, is really fucking heavy. If a dude were riding his mighty steed over to your house in order to sweep you off your feet in his nice, shiny armor, he’d work up such a sweat getting from his house to yours that he’d smell like the asshole of a dead rhinoceros by the time he got there. You’d be far more concerned with the glory of deodorant and breathable fabrics than the glory of love.

Any close examination of this song reveals it to be condescending at best and completely sexist (not to mention brick-stupid) at worst. Why assume women spend their time dreaming of a hero? Most of the heterosexual women I know are dreaming of a dude who will do the fucking dishes once in while, if they bother dreaming about dudes at all. And anyway, telling someone you’ll be what they’ve been dreaming of is dumb on at least two levels: first of all, you’re presuming to know what they’ve been dreaming of and second, what if they’ve been dreaming of Ted Bundy? We all have different heroes, Mr. Cetera. Some people’s heroes were the Ku Klux Klan.

We hardly need to discuss the actual music behind all this lyrical dross, but since our hands are already dirty, let’s pry open that shit sandwich too. The introductory keyboard part is pretty typical of shitty 80s ballads – I’m pretty sure “Schlocky Ballad” was  a factory preset on synthesizers back then. And, just like its retarded younger cousin “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” “Glory of Love” has a completely unnecessary guitar “solo” that makes me feel more than a little embarrassed for the instrument. Overall, the instrumentation is just one more feature of “Glory of Love” that convinces me that if you’re dreaming of a hero like Peter Cetera, you probably have self-esteem issues.

But, like I said before, “Glory of Love” was an unqualified success. This cloying, dumb, lazily written, sexist turd of a song was a smash hit in the 80s and I’ll let you form your own judgments about the kind of decade that would allow such a thing to happen.

Serve the People

Handsome Furs

Sound Kapital

2011 Sub Pop

by Chorpenning

Until very recently, I was in a bit of a rut with my video games. It started with me playing Red Dead Redemption, a game which has garnered much critical ballyhoo and even a little bit of hullabaloo. Well, the truth is it’s an all right game, I suppose. But it chose some inopportune moments to get buggy on me and the end was artificially padded to the point that I almost decided not to finish it (seriously – and there’s a spoiler in here, if you give shit – toward the end of the game, while you’re busy waiting for the sudden and inevitable betrayal to come, you have to shoot some crows to protect your corn. And if you don’t shoot enough of them in a short enough amount of time, you fail the “mission” and have to redo it. This is not some optional side quest, mind you – you have to do it to get to the end of the fucking game!). But I did finish it, I quite enjoyed the actual end of the game, and then thought I’d go for something more lighthearted and fun; so I picked up Dead to Rights: Retribution (I call this time my “dead” phase of video gaming)… and put it down barely an hour in when I realized that it is probably the worst video game I’ve played in the last three years. Poor design, wonky combat, having to walk around the same two or three levels over and over again. It’s a game that tends to show naked contempt for you as a player of video games. Take heart – I got it for free. So but anyway, after Dead to Rights: Retardation, I started to wonder if maybe there was something wrong with me. Like maybe I just suddenly didn’t like video games as much as I used to.

And then I played Gears of War 2. Holy shit. Yes, the plot is brick stupid, but the combat is deliciously visceral, easy to manage, and you get to chainsaw your way out of a giant fucking worm. I don’t think I’m a third of the way through the game and it has already very kindly assured me that yes, goddammit, I loves me some video games. Turns out I only like the good ones. Gears of War 2, whatever else it is, is a helluva lot of fun. And it’s fun almost immediately.

Which brings me to why I’m even talking about video games in a Bollocks! post in the first place: the new Handsome Furs album, Sound Kapital, was the perfect album to come along for me right when I was remembering how much fun video games can be when they’re not made with a seething disdain for the people who play them. Like Gears of War 2, Sound Kapital is immediately entertaining. Unlike my current video game of choice, however, Sound Kapital mixes a heavy dose of substance with its entertainment.

If there’s one theme I’ve found consistently in the two Handsome Furs albums that I own – I also highly recommend 2009’s Face Control – it’s that of people working way harder than Americans (and, presumably, Canadians) have to in order to hear or play music. Face Control was influenced by Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry’s trip around Eastern Europe, learning about underground clubs and radio stations like Serbia’s B92, a radio station that audaciously smuggled the truth out of that country when Slobodan Milošević was busy waging genocide there. Supporting that album apparently led the Handsome Furs to Burma in 2010, where public rock shows are strictly forbidden by the military fucks who run that country.

You can read Alexei Perry’s wildly entertaining version of events here but I’ll just summarize everything this way: last year, the Handsome Furs took one helluva risk to bring music to people who were taking one helluva risk by putting on a show and the best part is that Perry and Boeckner donated their proceeds to help their Burmese opening band (Side Effect, name-checked in the Sound Kapital highlight “Serve the People”) fund the recording of an album. For those of you keeping score at home, this is not only one hundred percent virtuous rock star behavior, it’s fucking awesome human behavior.

An adventure like that would have an impact on anybody, and the influence of the Furs’ visit to Burma (I will not call it fucking Myanmar, that’s what the assholes wanna call it) can be felt all over Sound Kapital. So once more, we have awesome songs about people risking their necks to hear music (the international garage anthem “Cheap Music” and the aforementioned “Serve the People”) and once more, the political themes of the record stem from the personal struggles of the people who inspired the music.

And what awesome, infectious, ragged-ass pop music it is! Where Face Control had a few unnecessary bits, Sound Kapital is fit and trim at nine tracks, at least five of which can be classified as “Fucking Awesome.” In case you’re wondering, the remaining four are still “pretty fucking great,” and are growing on me rapidly. In short, Sound Kapital is quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of 2011. It’s a stunning example of the marriage of style and substance that Talib Kweli was talking about earlier this year.

Part of what I have loved about that last two Handsome Furs records is also what I have loved about Wolf Parade pretty much since “This Heart’s On Fire” and that’s the fact that Dan Boeckner doesn’t seem capable of writing a song that isn’t at least a little bit anthemic. It’s in his fucking blood. When he sings, “Nostalgia never really meant that much to me” on “Memories of the Future,” I feel like I’m hearing a mantra. Of course, this could be due in part to the fact that I’ve recently been bombarded with forwarded emails and Facebook statuses from friends that romanticize the past to an almost willfully ignorant degree (seriously, you know who’s nostalgic for the 50s and 60s? Privileged white men. I’ve never met a black dude who thinks shit was better back in the Eisenhower administration). But the phrase is couched in such hypnotically head-nodding music that the whole package sometimes comes across as a message from the future to stop living in the past (Boeckner even sings, “I have seen the future/ I will never be repatriated” on the appropriately titled “Repatriated”).

I should also point out that it takes a special talent for someone to use synthesizers as much as the Handsome Furs do without pissing me off (Wolf Parade was also capable of this. If Expo 86 was their swan song, it was one helluva way to go out). Synths appear on, I think, every Handsome Furs song and I find myself loving it. I never believed synthesizers were inherently evil, mind you, but I know that they’re very infrequently used for good. Sound Kapital is a case where they’re used for awesome, especially on “Repatriated” and my current favorite track “Bury Me Standing.”

In my post about Face Control, I mentioned that people like the staff of B92 were exactly the sort of people who ought to be celebrated in rock songs. The same is true of bands like Side Effect and all the people who helped the Handsome Furs put on their show in Yangon. That the Furs choose to celebrate people like this in songs that so frequently make my dopamine reward pathway light up like Times Square is a reason to celebrate them as one of the most promising bands working right now.

Ignore It and It Will Go Away. I Hope

You guys:

There’s apparently some new ubiquitous single that just came out by some teen or “tween” pop “singer” (read: facile Auto-Tune user. Or niece/nephew/cousin of facile Auto-Tune user who might also be a major label executive) and it’s selling like crazy on the I-Tunes and half the world hates it but maybe half the world also likes it and if you’re wondering what I’m talking about, I really can’t tell you any more than I already have.

I’m not making up a fictional song here, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s a real song and you might guess what it is by the time you get done reading this post, but please, if you’ve ever had any kind of good feeling for me at all, don’t mention the name of the fucking song or the person who performs it. To anyone. It has like a kajillion (that’s a real number, by the way. It’s pi times the number of stupid things Glenn Beck says in a day) hits on YouTube and even Simon Cowell (did I spell your last name correctly, Simon? I don’t care) says he likes it. You’ve probably heard it; hell, chances are you heard it before I did, you poor bastard.

I listened to it yesterday. And again just a minute ago. Naturally, I loathe it. It manages to embody almost everything I despise about modern music and I would love nothing more than verbally disemboweling it over the next several paragraphs. I have at my disposal an army of words waiting for a simple wave of my hand to indicate that it is time to re-enact General Sherman’s march to the sea with this song in the lead role as the entire state of Georgia.

But I can’t do it.

And not just because I had a minor crisis of faith last week and want to start being nicer to people on Bollocks!. I mean, it’s partly that, sure. But only a small part. I promised you I’d always be honest about music and believe me when I tell you that this song really fucking sucks. Even if it was written by a third grader, which it might have been, it would still be every kind of unimpressive and terrible. I would gladly punch a kitten in the face if –  and only if – it would make this song wink out of existence as suddenly as it came.

But the reason I don’t want to say too much about it – or even mention the song or performer by name – is because I have this theory about Internet sensations. Basically, the internet only amplifies the principle that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Hating this song is as good as loving it for all the attention you’ll steer its way. Our only course of action here is to pretend this song is the Grand Galactic Inquisitor and ignore it (By the way, I usually find pictures/album covers for these posts by the laziest of Google image searches, but I wanted to give some credit to the person who did the picture of the Grand Galactic Inquisitor you see above. Apparently, there’s a website called Deviant Art and one of their users, named elderwyrm – I sense this person has thrown their share of twenty-sided dice – put this up on their page. You can check out elderwyrm’s art here if you want. I just read the profile and confirmed my suspicions of Dungeons & Dragons-level geekery. Not, as Seinfeld might say if he were still alive, that there’s anything wrong with that). That reference probably makes more sense if you watch Venture Brothers. Even if you don’t, you should still probably understand that the best thing we can do to keep this Song Which Shall Not Be Named from getting too big is to just let it drop.

The first time I heard of Justin Bieber (and I’m not saying this song isn’t a Bieber song. I have some theories about that too), it was in the context of his being a YouTube/Internet “sensation.” Plenty of people, children mostly, adored him and tons and tons of people hated him. But things like Justin Bieber and this current Artist Who Shall Not Be Named feed off of your disdain. People like this exist to be made into products and if you keep talking about how shitty the product is, people will still check it out. You may think you’re warning your friends to avoid this fuck-awful song but rest assured, they will have to hear it for themselves. This is why silence is particularly golden in this case. If you’ve heard this atrocity, you’re just gonna have to tamp it down to the dark recesses of your brain and keep it locked up there right next to the memory of the vague, awkward sexual yearning you felt the first time your heard “Blitzkrieg Bop” (we’re still talking about you here, not me. Just so we’re clear). Maybe in about thirty years, you can cough it up in therapy and have a good cry about it. But not one word about it before then.

Those of us on the internet who can be occasionally entertaining when we don’t like something have a special responsibility in this case not to be the least bit funny while excoriating this song. We must go on about our business, act natural, and wait for this whole thing to blow over.

So I will not, under any circumstances, entertain you by telling you exactly how awful this song is. If you’re wondering why I keep saying “this song,” it’s because I have willed myself, since the last time I heard it, to forget literally everything about this song. I am focusing on the part of my brain that knows anything at all about this song and I’m hitting that region of my head with a phone book, in the hopes of at least ending this internet sensation in my own mind if not in the world at large.

It might be tempting to try some kind of “give ’em enough rope” jujitsu on the people who like The Song I’m Trying Desperately to Forget by asking them to tell you precisely why they like it. Maybe their garbled, awkward attempts to justify the song’s existence will lead the world to conclude that it’s really nothing worth acknowledging. You can try that if you want, but don’t do it in front of me. I’m setting my phasers to “ignore” and firing at will.

To My Fellow White People: Please Stop Doing This Shit

Hey, fellow white people. Can I have a word with you?

First of all, I was wondering if you could please tell me what the fuck this is. What are we doing here? It sounds like some white dude pretending he’s funky and fantasizing about an interracial blowjob. Now, I’m not opposed to interracial blowjobs at all, but I want to know why this is a song. I think you’re at least partly to blame, fellow white people. And I’ve come here to ask you to please stop encouraging this shit and, if you make this shit, please stop making it. Now. I know “Hey Soul Sister” won a Grammy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t some kind of high grade cultural toxin.

What am I talking about when I refer to “this shit”? I’m talking about the pseudo-funky white guy shtick that Pat Monahan is doing in that fucking video. I’m talking about the bad frat-rapping of pretty much every Jason Mraz song (yes, except that ubiquitous single of his, but don’t think for a minute that “I’m Yours” is any better) and that Hot Topic reggae shit that 311 is peddling. And don’t even get me started on the goddamn Red Hot Chili Peppers. This shit just has to stop. If you think there’s anything redeeming in “Hump de Bump”, you are almost certainly in the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Here’s the thing: if you’re some nerdy little fuck with an acoustic guitar, your job is to play nerdy little fuck songs on your acoustic guitar and bang teenagers. Nowhere in your job description does it say you can try to pass yourself off as funky by speak-singing really fast. I know that fools a certain percentage of the population, but to a lot of us, it’s just really embarrassing. And I’m not saying this out of some kind of misguided white pride – I don’t have white pride. I don’t have racial pride or national pride at all because you’re born into your race and nation by pure and simple luck, and I have moral qualms about taking pride in shit that happened to me instead of shit that I actually made happen through the sweat of my brow. Is that old-fashioned or new-fangled? Who cares? The point is, what people like Train, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 311, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (among, unfortunately, countless others) do is not simply degrading to white folks – it’s an affront to all human dignity. These people are doing things they clearly cannot and should not do. These things just happen to be things that lots of black people did (and still do) really well.

Let’s be clear here, fellow white people, I’m not suggesting that the aforementioned white entertainers are racist. Chances are, they’re quite the opposite, just like every misguided white college kid (with dreadlocks, naturally) who sits on the steps of his student union plaintively plucking out a Bob Marley tune (usually, laughably, “Redemption Song”) on his acoustic guitar. When Pat Monahan sings, “I’m so gangsta, I’m so thug,” I don’t think he hates black people; I think he’s an idiot. A lot of the white guys (and it’s always guys, isn’t it? Why do white men think they can do whatever they want? Oh yeah, ’cause they have for thousands of years. Assholes) I mentioned above probably think they’re “grooving” or being soulful or funky or whatever, and all they’re really doing is unintentionally watering down something that was frequently more vital, sensual, and sexual before they fucked with it.

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with honoring the music of our strong, black brothers (did I just make an En Vogue reference?) and sisters, but sometimes you can do that better by, say, producing a Mavis Staples album (or buying a Curtis Mayfield one) than by trying to kick phat rhymes over your Dave Matthews guitar riff. The thing is, it takes a certain je ne sais quoi (which is French for, “unprecedented awesomeness”) for white guys to play funk, bust rhymes, or sing the blues. There are white people who can do all of those things. Atmosphere makes awesome hip-hop because Slug can balance the style and substance required to do so. Tom Waits can sing the blues because Tom Waits can literally do anything (I hear a lot of talk about this Chuck Norris guy, but I assure you Tom Waits could kill Chuck Norris with his fucking mind). I’ve not heard a white group that I would call even remotely good at funk or reggae since the Clash and if you try to say, “Matisyahu” after I just said, “the Clash”, there’s probably gonna be some violence.

And I know, fellow white people, I know you’re just dying to point out how popular some of these painfully white motherfuckers are; they’ve won awards, you’re thinking. Sold literally millions of albums. Hell, if you combined them all, they’ve sold billions of albums. How can that possibly be bad? It can be, fellow white people. In fact, it’s worse than you think. I submit to you that the popularity of all this Wonder Bread music reveals a fatal flaw in our cultural psyche because it allows us to ignore where our music came from and, by extension, where we came from. I’d be less incensed (but still incensed) about this stuff if every multi-platinum 311 album caused a spike in sales of Bob Marley and Lee Perry records. What if people heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers and then bought a Funkadelic record and called out the Chili Peppers for the hacks they are? But I’ve seen no evidence of this. What I’ve seen instead is a whitewashing of our diverse musical heritage.

I’m not suggesting we choose the past over the present, but allow me to get a little (more) religious on ya for a second (because music is as valid a spiritual practice as any religion. More so, in the case of Scientology): I believe that all great music carries with it a certain spirit (there’s that je ne sais quoi again) that embodies not just the best of what music can be but also the best of what human beings can be (this is why I attend a yearly party called Rocktoberfest). In the past, this spirit was manifest in the songs of Son House, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, and in the voices of people like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Bob Dylan had that spirit when he (against his will, according to his autobiography) became the voice of his generation. Joe Strummer let that spirit shine right through him for fifty short years and if you listen to the songs he sang and the things he said, you’ll hear stuff that will light you up like a goddamn Christmas tree. See, the reason my fellow white people – and indeed, all people – shouldn’t keep putting up with shit like “Hey, Soul Sister” and “Amber” is because we all know we can do better.

So come on, fellow white people. Let’s knock this shit off. Okay?

The Worst Songs I Have Ever Heard #5: “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”

Where I live (for now), in Van Nuys, California, the dominant grocery chain seems to be Ralphs (without the apostrophe, possibly because the store was created by two guys named Ralph who were dubious about taking ownership of it). Like all grocery stores, Ralphs plays really shitty music. This is mostly because they can’t risk offending people who are busily trying to buy up tons of Diet Coke, Spam, and Budweiser Cheladas (a “Chelada”, if you really want to know, is Budweiser – or Bud Light – with Clamato in it. Clamato is tomato juice with clam in it. Or clam juice. Or something. They make it taste like clams. Some experts think “Chelada” is Spanish for “Ghetto Bloody Mary” but the cunning linguists here at Bollocks! assure me it means “The Great Taste of Vagina in a Can”). So the best song you’re gonna hear at Ralphs is maybe “Long December” by Counting Crows or, if you’re really lucky, R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon.” But every time I’ve gone into my local Ralphs – every single time, for at least the last three years – I have heard Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” And if any song is one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard, it’s this fucking thing.

Holy shit.

Just thinking about this song 1) gets it stuck in my head and 2) makes me want to have an aneurysm. It’s so bad, I’m having a hard time figuring out where to start eviscerating it.

How about some context? In the early part of their career, Aerosmith liked to put their make-up on and fuck a little glam androgyny into Rolling Stones songs and you know, they made some pretty tolerable guitar rock along the way (Toys in the Attic is actually pretty decent). Somewhere in the 1980s, though, they went through the first of many trips through rehab (I think Steven Tyler could be his own season of Celebrity Rehab at this point) and came out on the other side with an album called Permanent Vacation. This album featured some 80s-ish rock songs (like “Rag Doll”) that weren’t nearly as tolerable as the old stuff, but they were still ostensibly rockers. Hidden toward the back of that album is what historians refer to as a “power ballad” called “Angel.” It became a pretty big hit for the band, but no one thought much of it. It was just one power ballad on an album, and almost everyone was doing it in the 80s.

When it came time to follow up Permanent Vacation, though, the band panicked. In need of another power ballad, they rewrote “Angel” and called it “What It Takes.” Bingo! An even bigger, more powerful ballad propelled Pump to even greater heights than its predecessor. But by the time Aerosmith got around to making the next album, they were using the power ballad more than they had previously used cocaine. “Angel/What It Takes” now became three songs: “Cryin,” “Crazy”, and “Amazing,” all of which were basically identical. Turns out you can fool a lot of the people almost all of the time, though; Aerosmith’s power ballad trick worked again and Get a Grip became a smashing success.

And so it went. Somewhere in there, Steven Tyler had a daughter named Liv who started acting. Think of her as like a proto-Megan Fox, but with slightly more acting chops (okay, we’ve all taken craps that were better actors than Megan Fox, but I think you know what I’m getting at here). Anyway, Liv was doing this horrifying Michael Bay shitfest called Armageddon and, always Daddy’s little girl, she knew her pop could use some money to fuel his next big relapse. So she got Aerosmith a gig doing 90% of the Armageddon soundtrack (seriously, like four of their songs appear in the movie. It’s gross) and the band, never one to fix what ain’t broke, decided to record “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, which was written by an evil wizard named Diane Warren (who also wrote “Because You Loved Me” for Celine Fucking Dion and “Un-Break My Heart” for Toni Braxton). If you can believe it, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” actually suffers from not sounding like “What it Takes to Make an Amazing Angel Start Cryin’ Like Crazy.” Anyway, it went on to be nominated for an Academy Award. So if you’re ever wondering what my beef with awards shows is, consider two facts I’ve mentioned this week – Train won a fucking Grammy and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” was nominated for an Oscar.

Like a lot of Michael Bay’s movies, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” is so stuffed with ham-fisted, certifiably fake emotion that you can’t help but wonder if the whole thing is some kind of Andy Kaufman-esque joke. Actually, this is my problem with most power ballads. But also like Michael Bay movies, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” is infuriatingly predictable, trite, and custom-made to pluck the heart strings of the easily manipulated. And speaking of strings, why does every fucking power ballad have to have a goddamn orchestra in it? Since when does slapping some violins and cellos in your song make you sensitive? You want strings in a rock song? Here’s how to do it right. But for asshole rock bands like Aerosmith, strings were just another ingredient in a power ballad, like having a pretty girl in the video (which, in the case of “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, is Steven Tyler’s fucking daughter. What is this man trying to tell us?).

Know what else pisses me off about this song? Around the one minute mark, when Steven Tyler sings “I could stay lost in this moment forever,” he takes a big, audible inhale between “moment” and “forever.” So what you hear is, “I could stay lost in this moment <HUGE FUCKING WHOOSH OF AIR PASSING OVER STEVEN TYLER’S MASSIVE LIPS>………forever.” Honestly, what the fuck is that? How does inhaling into a microphone show anyone that you love them? It’s so meaningless that it actually physically hurts me, but so does the rest of the fucking song.

Aerosmith deserves a lot of disdain for recording this tripe, but Diane Warren ought not to be let off the hook for writing it. First off, Ms. Warren, in any relationship that lasts more than a few months, there are plenty of things you wanna miss – I love my wife more than I love literally everyone and everything else, but I want to miss every dump she takes for the rest of our lives and I’m confident she feels the same way about me. You also wanna miss colds the other person gets because they’ll just give ’em to you, which sucks (I once spent a weekend quarantined on our couch so my wife could miss a nasty bug I’d caught. Not only did she want to miss a thing, she was fucking smart to do it). Also, the song repeats the sentiment that the narrator wants to “stay here in this moment” for all time. Well, asshole, if you stay in one moment forever, guess what you miss? Fucking everything!

Sweet Zombie Jesus, I feel like my eyeballs are gonna burst, so I’ll just wrap this up by pointing out the obvious: “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” is among the stupidest fucking songs ever written and prolonged exposure to it will turn your colon to pure liquid cheese.