Friday, December 28, 2007

The Death of Music, Part 2: Give Me a Hook, Dammit!!!

Everyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of “hooks.” No, I’m not talking about women with hooks for hands, although they’re pretty nifty too. What I’m actually talking about are “hooks” in popular music. That is, short, usually recurring, motifs/riffs/patterns which draw the listener in with “catchiness,” memorability, novelty, and/or simplicity. (I refuse to call songs with a lot of hooks “ear candy,” by the way. It sounds too much like empty calories, and a song doesn’t have to be “empty” just because it has hooks.)

Beneath the hooks, I like there to be hidden layers of depth. Not heavy-handed depth, mind you, but something of substance (musically or lyrically) that brings me back to the song for more than one or two listens. It’s rather easy for a band with a mild degree of competence and craft to front-load their songs with potent hooks, but creating a catchy song that’s rich enough and layered enough to reward hundreds of replays is much harder to do.

I guess you can think of a good song like a good date: The fun and excitement (the hooks) get you interested in the first place, and the substance keeps you coming back for more.

When I write my own songs, I think the same way. After all, who the hell gives a crap what I have to say? Ninety percent of you probably already stopped reading this article when my hook joke in the first paragraph bombed. There’s gotta be something in it for people. People don’t “owe” me their undivided attention. So, I try to include hooks in my songs so they’ll care enough to investigate the “meaning” underneath. That way, everybody wins. I’ve communicated something I care about, and the listener (hopefully) gets their ears AND mind aroused.

As a result of this philosophy, I have very little tolerance for songwriters who don’t bother to try and entice the listener. Or worse, don’t know how to, so they obfuscate matters by throwing in any one or more of the following: unwieldy lyrics, overly slick production, overly stripped-down production, meandering melodies, pointless solos, crazy sound effects, and/or pretentious, “progressive” chords.

I don’t care how “avant-garde” you’re supposed to be. Unless you’re talking about free form jazz, I shouldn’t be listening to a song for 3 minutes and then asking, “Where the hell is this thing GOING?” which unfortunately happens with alarming frequency. The answer to “where it’s going” is simple: It’s going straight into the used-bin at the local pretentious indie record store. You know, the one that told me how great this song and album were two years ago, but strangely can't move any of the 587 used copies they're selling for a buck a pop this week.

A lot of songwriters think their “message” or their “depth” or their “innovation” will carry the day. Look, if your “message” is that powerful on its own, go write a book or something. Otherwise, put a damn hook in the song.

I’m also NOT saying every song has to be 3:20 long, packed with hooks like stuffing in a Christmas turkey, and arranged in a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format. Some of my favorite songs of all time build gradually and reveal their mysteries over an extended period of time. I also demand a good deal of originality in presentation. But Krist, you need to give me something to grab onto, something to pique my interest, SOMETHING that makes me want to keep listening. 8 minutes of some overly-pale “alt rocker” plinking away at random notes on his new Steinway as a metaphor for his ambivalence about a post-modern universe ain’t cutting it anymore. It was nice at one time, but not anymore.

The bottom line is, I don’t want to hear some guy who sounds like he can barely be bothered waking up to sing his own song trotting out whiny, ponderous lyrics about old cars or weather-beaten barns or shadows that stretch like bony fingers or some such horseradish. Wow, man, you're so "real" and "human" and "rootsy" and "daring."

Screw that; just give me a hook, damn it!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Nothing Changes on New Year's Day: Bono Still Sucks

New Year’s Eve is upon us so here are 15 random musings and fun factoids (the curiously strong facts) for you to chew on. Dig in!

1) Do you ever wonder if people like your boss and George Bush make resolutions to be even BIGGER a-wipes in the coming year? History seems to support this theory.

2) It’s often said that on January 1st, one out of every four motorists on the road after midnight is legally drunk. What they never tell you is that the other three are high on crack.

3) I wish I had a time travel machine so I could travel to the year 2111 and see how the hell they make funny glasses out of THOSE numbers.

4) Speaking of the “New Year’s glasses,” wouldn’t it be great to actually get a prescription filled using the “2008” frame? Then you could wear it all year long, just in case anyone you know forgets what year it is. And you could say something witty like, “Why, it’s as plain as the nose on my face!” which I’m sure would leave everyone in stitches each time you uttered it. Not only that, it would come in handy whenever an alien from the future pops in unexpectedly and wants to know what year it is. It would save a lot of chit-chat, ya know?

5) Fun fact: They say the people standing in Times Square actually pee on the street sometimes because they can’t get to a rest room. And if you think that’s scary, it’s even worse on New Year’s Eve!

6) Interesting fact: Musicologists believe that several bars of actual rock and roll music were played on “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” in the years 1987, 1990 AND 1994! (This was, of course, in between performances by Escape Club, Milli Vanilli, and The Gin Blossoms, respectively.)

7) I feel bad for Dick Clark, I really do, but aren’t you glad you don’t have to hear any more stupid broadcasters making tired jokes about how “ageless” he is?

8) On New Year’s Eve, I find it oddly poetic that the world is pitch black outside at the precise moment we raise our glasses and toast the future.

9) Fun fact: Contrary to popular belief, the year 2008 is technically part of the 90’s!

10) Don’t you hate when you invite someone over for New Year’s and the person won’t commit because he/she is clearly holding out for a better offer, but doesn’t want to tell you that? For example, last year I got this one: “Oh, I want to be there, but I have to see how I feel. My treatments tend to take a lot out of me, and sometimes I’m too weak to drive my car.” Hey, if you don’t wanna come to my party, just say so man. Don’t JERK ME AROUND!!!!

11) You ever wonder why they’re called resolutions? It’s because it’s a problem you should have come up with a solution for last year, but you were too lazy or too stupid to do it, so now you have to try again.

12) I still haven’t gotten used to calling this decade the “naught-ies” or the “none-ties.” I don't think I ever will. And the "teens" or "the ten-sies" is gonna be even worse.

13) Fun fact: Auld Lang Syne roughly translates to: “Boy, I hope everyone around me is too drunk to realize how off-key I really am.”

14) Fun fact: There are 278 verses to Auld Lang Syne, but most people only know the first 108. Usually, they’re too drunk to remember singing anything other than the first one. Also, the song is really about the establishment of the first official Satanist Church in 1969.

15) If you wanted to shoot someone, I think New Year’s Eve would be a great time to do it, preferably right around midnight. Most people would think you were probably opening a loud bottle of champagne, or setting off a cherry bomb in your living room to entertain some guests. Plus, if a stranger caught you dragging the body to your car, you could always say, “WOW! My friend SURE overdid it tonight! WOOOO!” and make a drinking motion with your free hand.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Eggnog: Coming to Kick Your %#$@$*

I love eggnog, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I think I'd take big gallon jugs of egg nog and pour it all over my body, if it was socially acceptable and didn't cost so damn much. Strangely, I often find that many people do not share my unrelenting enthusiasm for this tasty, viscous beverage. The f*ckers.

Sometimes, I'll ask people why they don't like egg nog, knowing full well their feeble excuses will most likely be more inadequate than the second single from whatever band NME is hailing as "the new Beatles" this week.

After all, who could not like the nog? Are they just trying to f*ck with me? Is that somebody's idea of a joke? Well, ha-freakin-ha. I wonder what else these sickos think is funny. Maybe kicking homeless kids in the street?

Sometimes a person will actually have the sheer audacity to inform me he/she hasn't even TRIED eggnog; that he/she is turned off because of the belief it has raw eggs in it! This is, in fact, a myth. I try to inform these misguided souls there are NO eggs in most store-bought egg nog; in reality, eggnog is derived from the pureed fallopian tubes of the duck-billed platypus, the only mammal to lay eggs, and hence the snazzy moniker. Oddly enough, this tantalizing tidbit of information doesn't create a lot of converts to the eggnog cause. What the hell is wrong with these people?

Let me relay a little yuletide story to give you a better idea how deep my love for egg nog runs. Many years back, Salma Hayek propositioned me at a Christmas party wearing nothing but elf stockings and a long string of popcorn balls wrapped loosely around her torso. Needless to say, I was quite flattered. However, I politely declined the offer, for I had witnessed the Oscar-nominated beauty refuse a big, brimmin' cup of egg nog (garnished with cinnamon, no less) earlier that very same night. Perhaps "politely" isn't the correct word; I actually tossed a large glass of merlot in her suddenly-astonished face (I wasn't going to waste the egg nog), shook my fist righteously, and proclaimed at the top of my lungs:

"WAIT! WAIT! Come back!!!! I didn't know what I was doing!!! Don't leave!!! I saw Once Upon a Time in Mexico 12 times!!! In the THEATER!!! For the LOVE OF GOD, WAIT!"

Eventually, she did come back and we laughed about the whole thing over a couple of tall, frosty glasses of eggnog. Nothing else happened of course, and a few months later she ended up suing me blind for mental cruelty, but DAMN, that was the best freakin' eggnog I ever had.

After hearing this tale I'm sure you can appreciate my fondness for the magical holiday elixir even more.

And if not, then f*ck you.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

American Idol Lessons, Part 2

As Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis continue to pollute the airwaves with their new CD's this month, I thought we'd take a continuing look at some of the things I've learned from both watching American Idol and frequenting American Idol message boards, two activities I would not recommend to anyone without a strong grip on their own sanity.

Lessons Learned from American Idol, Part 2:

16) After making fun of someone's weight mercilessly, she becomes "our own so-and-so" once she goes on to win a golden globe and an Oscar.

17) Live (the band) was a lot more influential than you thought.

18) What hair products Blake Lewis uses is suitable news fodder for the "serious" news program that follows American Idol in your local market.

19) As long as your private parts are covered, then it's not possible for a pose to be suggestive. (From the American Idol boards)

20) If you just came in second place, it's great manners to tell the winner on national tv, "MAYBE WE'LL COMPETE ON THE CHARTS!" rather than letting the champion have their moment of victory.

21) The TV GUIDE CHANNEL can save you from a life of cooking french fries.

22) The best way to move musical artistry forward is by mimicking the trends and styles of artists who were generally regarded as hacks even 30 years ago.

23) If you glare at the camera like you just lost a member of your platoon in 'Nam, people will think you're "edgy" and "intense" and that you "rock," even if you're singing a song made popular by Celine Dion.

24) Any song recorded after 1991 is "edgy."

25) If you have more than 2 drops of color in your hair that is not a natural hair color, you must be "edgy" and have that "little wild thing going on" as well.

26) It's really, really happening to wear a suit jacket/ t-shirt combo 790 days in a row if you're the host of AI. Score extra points if you wear the t-shirt of a band that wouldn't be caught dead letting their songs appear on AI.

27) It's totally ok to be patronizing to people who just had their dreams crushed, as long as they're clueless and/or unattractive, and you're a happening tv host with gelled hair and a pre-selected wardrobe who acts really "concerned."

28) Rude, pretentious, callous, pompous, insensitive behavior is called “being right” or “telling it like it is” when you’re a British 40-something commenting on music he can't possibly hope to understand.

29) Middle-aged housewives have no lives. Ever. No matter what. (From the AI boards)

30) If you suggest a photo of an Idol may be in questionable taste, and possibly inappropriate for a younger fan base, then you must also be in favor of burning the Constitution.

31) If you sing a standard that has been around for almost 70 years, you are automatically copying off the person who sang it most recently.

32) If you can't come up with anything resembling a good song, throw more and more gospel singers on stage. At least 5,000 or so. Have them sway and move around a lot, and be sure to change keys a couple of times. Add balloons and confetti, then cross your fingers and pray to Clive Davis that no one notices your song blows.

33) Aliens abducted Rod Stewart and Elton John and erased their memories of who they were and what they did before 1975.

34) Since the AI producers hold chart success in such high regard, we can fully expect future contestants to be mentored by the likes of Carl Douglas ("Kung Fu Fighting"), Rick Dees ("Disco Duck"), and the surviving member of Milli Vanilli.

35) Making the disclaimer, "These people know what they're going into" gives you carte blanche to be as morally repugnant toward another human being as you can possibly be.

One month to go!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Starbucks Mints Better Be Made Out of Gold

AKA: What's It All About, Owlzie?

The Nite Owlz All Night Blog Spot has been open about a month now, and a lot of people (read: my mom) keep e-mailing and asking, "What the heck is this place? And when are you going to get your junk out of my basement?" Well, I'd like to take this opportunity not to clear up any confusion about the nature of this blog, nor to make arrangements for removing junk from my mom's house, but rather to whore myself and engage in a little shameless branding, all under the transparent guise of savagely satirizing those very same behaviors in corporate America. Cool how that works, huhn?

With that in mind, I'd like to extend a warm Nite Owlz welcome to everyone out there, and kindly ask you to think of us as your newest, and favorite-ist, coffee house. That is, a place to hang out, sup on some overpriced java, and get a little reading done. Since the internet offers unlimited access from almost anywhere in the world, we're now available in ALMOST as many places as real, free-standing Starbucks stores. So, the next time you're in "town" be sure to come on in and get yourself an inhumanly hot cup of overflowing coffee, even though I actually serve nothing of the kind, and offer no real means of getting any. (This is theater of the mind, folks! Go with it!)

Like all trendy coffeehouses, be sure to plop down in one of our big comfy chairs next to the other "customers," and try to look all bohemian and interested in what you're reading just in case that cute number from up the street comes sauntering in the door. For God's sake, you don't want her/him to think you actually couldn't care less about Nietzsche, and have really been thinking about getting splash-wild with her/him all day??!!! Try to look intellectual for once in your life, will ya??? Have another double-espresso-vanilla-mocha-almond-assante-twist-latte and bury your nose in whatever you're reading. If you have to look, try not to take more than six furtive glances a minute and act like you're contemplating the price of a nutmeg and stinging nettle frappuccino. Pretend you really ARE grooving to the pretentious Elliot-Smith-rip-off mewling in the overhead speakers. You know, the music that's so "indie" it's only playing in 98 percent of the corporate coffee chains throughout the country.

While you're here, be sure to check out our oversized stuffed toy owls and gargantuan "Nite Owlz" coffee mugs (large enough to hold six days' worth of coffee). Then, on your way out, you can purchase some eight dollar breath mints. Sure, you COULD get the same mints for about 50 cents at the corner grocery store. But hey! These are in a snazzy little tin with a Fleur-de-lis pattern, and it sort of looks like an antiquated snuff box from England. After all, everybody knows that anything from England automatically confers "style" and "class" upon the owner, even if he's just a bad-breathed schlub who likes over-priced coffee!

So get with it! Stop standing outside in the cold. Come on in, check out my latest ramblings, leave a comment or two, and while you're at it, try to figure out if that nine dollar cup of coffee is SUPPOSED to taste like the burnt underside of a rusted diesel engine, or if you're just too bourgeois to appreciate true gourmet excellence.

I should point out, however, I don't have internet access here at the Nite Owlz all night blog spot. I did for awhile, but everyone kept logging on and going to some OTHER dude's coffeehouse while sitting in MY coffeehouse! I'm sorry, but I find that a bit disrespectful.

Have fun!

Nite Owl

Monday, December 10, 2007

Phrased Out, Part 3: "Sexy"

AKA: I'm Taking Sexy Back.

This week, in our ongoing series about words that need to be excised from common parlance, we examine the word "sexy." Now, don't go spilling your fat-free mocha-chinos all over your laptops, I'm NOT talking about "sexy" as in the Victoria's Secret ad "What is sexy?" although something tells me that's less of a question than it is a command.

No, what I'm speaking of are the corporate tools and other dunderheads-at-large who insist on using "sexy" to refer to things that are about as far removed from actual sex as a pack of fanboys arguing over the recent decision to change Clea's costume from purple to off-purple in the upcoming big-screen adaptation of "Dr. Strange."

At some point, someone decided that "sexy" could be used metaphorically to describe ANYTHNG viewed as "new, alluring, exciting or scintillating," especially in the realm of business. It doesn't even matter if the subject in question is diametrically opposed to sex, like a picture of Donald Trump doing the frug in a polka-dot speedo. If there is something frighteningly boring, corporate, or unsexy, you can be certain some creatively-bankrupt drone will plaster the label "sexy" on it to in effort to artificially induce excitement.

As a result, the following items (and many more) have become "sexy" under this terrifying new worldview: spread sheets, computer software, casserole dishes, toenail fungus cream, toxic waste dumps, stocks and bonds, bathroom porcelain, Taco Bell coupons, slide projector transparencies, mp3 technology, Kenny G, cheese doodles, office buildings, Hong Kong Phooey toilet brushes (ok, maybe that last one IS a little bit sexy), and just about anything else you can think of. As a result, the word has lost all meaning, vitality and potency. It could probably use a little Viagra itself.*

Like most of the words we examine here, "sexy," as applied to the business-world,was probably pretty clever and novel the first few times it was used in a non-traditional sense. For example, "We are unveiling a sexy new business model this week" probably sounded pretty good the first 9,547,648 times it was said. It also makes sense at a deeper level, if you figure about 98 percent of the time media and big businesses are trying to exploit our baser impulses in a continuing effort to fuel the engine of consumerism.

Consumerism and sex are so deeply intertwined in this country I suppose it was only a matter of time before they were completely fused in everyday language. After all, it's only a hop, skip and a hump from dubbing a sheet of paper in a magazine "sexy" to calling a deep dish pizza or a 4th quarter sales graph the same thing. (By extension, a pie chart, which conceptually combines both pizza AND graphs, is probably about the sexiest damn thing there out there. I often find myself in need a cold shower after reading USA TODAY'S breakdown of where we're buying our odor-eaters this week.)

But I digress. Most of these stooges aren't saying "sexy" because of some deeper symbolic intertwining of sexuality, consumerism and commerce. No, in all likelihood they're merely parroting someone else with more birdseed and brighter plumage who they heard squawking the same empty adjective while hovering around the corporate birdbath. True to their nature, these scavengers couldn't resist the urge to pluck the semi-digested linguistic morsel from the larger bird's mouth and roll it around on their own tongues for awhile. Mind you, half the flavor had already been sucked out, but hey, no one ever accused these birds of having discerning palettes.

The bottom line is this: Despite what you're being told, flow charts aren't sexy. Frozen, imitation bison cutlets aren't sexy. Your local paper's obituary column isn't sexy. Heidi Klum wearing a French maid costume at the breakfast table and arguing with a bikini-clad Jessica Alba over who gets the last of the waffles before settling their differences with a good old-fashioned boysenberry syrup fight isn't sexy. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention on that last one.**

There's nothing wrong with trying to spice up everyday language with words that don't normally apply in a given context. However, when it's done repeatedly and with little thought, words like "sexy" quickly devolve into cliches and meaningless job-speak with little impact on anyone. Let's stop neutering words like "sexy" by using them indiscriminately to prop up our flaccid conversations. I think it's time to leave "sexy" where it belongs, at the NiteOwlz All Night Waffle House.

Oh, and one more thing: I'm glad Justin Timberlake has been single-handedly "bringing sexy back" given the relative dearth of sexually-oriented material in the media. How refreshing!


* I'd also like to stress here that I'm NOT talking about infusing typically non-sexual things WITH sexuality, like painting erotic art on the side of a toaster, or running toaster ads with lingerie models in them. I am specifically objecting to people who think the toaster's extra heat setting qualifies as a "SEXY!" new feature. Well, it's not sexy unless you're intimately involved with your toaster, I suppose. For most of us non-toaster-philes, it's just another setting for us to accidentally burn our toast.

** I am aware that "Heidi/Jessica" is a gender-centric example. If I had tried to make a universal example, or presented an "or" scenario featuring Brad Pitt and Jude Law, I would have seriously diminished the comedic effect of the passage. SO THERE!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Song Commentary: "Imaginary Man" by Ray Davies

AKA: God Save Ray Davies!

Ray Davies of Kinks fame has recorded a new CD called "Working Man's Cafe," which is out now in the UK, but won't be out in the US until February 2008. I've already heard it, and I can tell you it has a lot of stirring tracks. "You're Asking Me," "Working Man's Cafe," "No One Listen," "One More Time," and "Voodoo Walk," are all thoughtful, well-crafted, tuneful numbers with interesting themes and chord progressions.

However, if you are a long-time Ray Davies/Kinks fan, there is at least one track that you absolutely owe it to yourself to listen to. If you're a fan who sat enraptured by songs like "Waterloo Sunset," "Days," "Celluloid Heroes," or just about anything off of Arthur or The Village Green Preservation Society, then I'm telling you that you must listen to the song "Imaginary Man."

This is not because the song necessarily SOUNDS like those tunes. If anything, it sort of sounds like "Still Searching" from 1993 (with a pre-chorus that quotes "This Strange Effect'). No, the reason you need to listen to this song is because of the themes it explores and how damn moving it is, especially if you're a fan of Ray's famous band The Kinks.

Ray, who turned 63 this year, quite craftily jam-packs several of his heavy duty themes all into one song. The song explores, in no particular order:

1) Mortality (his own, and by extension, everyone's)

2) Reality and Existence: What is real, what is unreal

3) Existential longing and regret

4) Memory/Nostalgia/Loss

5) Identity/Self-doubt

6) The meaning of celebrity / relationship between the performer and the audience

So, in about four minutes, Ray covers a lot of ground and pulls no punches. Basically, the song plays (at various points) like a heartfelt letter to the fans, an apology, a rumination on life and a heartbreaking journey through the past.

The thrust of the song (if I have this right) is that Ray is entering his twilight years and is looking back on his life. He's saying it's been great and it's been fun, but at the same time he's saying his life has gone by like a dream, and in a sense feels "unreal" or has an intangible quality to it (hence "imaginary"). He's saying, "What does existence mean? There's nothing to hold onto once the past is gone so in what sense did I exist? What sense, if any, will I continue to exist once I'm gone?"

At the same time he's dissecting his own "unreal" status, he's intersecting this theme with the idea that he has existed, from the fans' perspective, primarily in our heads. He is only "imaginary" to most of us; he only exists in our heads. We may feel like we know/knew him, but in a very real sense, he is/was only a figment in our heads, brought into being by his songs.

Ray then gently tells the listener "I offered my very best to you" and that he took us to all sorts of places in his songs. He sings about walking down to the Preservation Hall and looking for the "old trad band", an allusion to his musical past. He wonders who he is, who he was, what it meant, and where it's all gone. He employs musical phrases (the aforementioned "This Strange Effect") that invoke past glories. Listening to this, it's easy to conjure an image of Ray walking past empty town squares, weather-beaten gazebos, deserted music halls and the now-overgrown "Village Green" he once fought so hard to preserve. This time, however, it's not the Village Green that Ray wants remembered, it's himself. Heady stuff.

The tone of the song is contrite, intimate, reflective. One of the most striking features about it is that Ray is almost speaking directly to the listener/fan, which is quite disarming. Ray employs characters and situations to convey his inner life so effectively it's sometimes easy to forget that he rarely uses overtly direct tactics. Here, it's almost like the defenses and some of the layers have been stripped away, and the effect is twice as powerful since it's so seldom used.

The song is almost like a Ray Davies version of "My Way," if that makes any sense. However, where "My Way" was about a proud man looking back on his life and re-affirming his belief in himself, "Imaginary Man" is a re-affirmation of all the insecurities and doubts that (we assume) have plagued Ray Davies throughout his life.

The song ends with Ray's fragile voice repeating over and over "I'm the imaginary man, I am." His voice strains to hit the high notes like a man railing against his destiny, longing to be remembered, longing to be heard in the void. Which is, when you get right down to it, what we really all want, isn't it?

All this adds up to an extremely touching moment in a career that's been loaded with tons of tender, poignant moments. Hopefully, there will be even more in the future.

Kinks fans: Check this one out.

The songs from "Working Man's Cafe" are available now on iTunes, and the full CD will be out in the US in February, as mentioned earlier.
There are also some clips on Ray's MySpace.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Death of Music, Part One: American Idol

In this series of posts, ("The Death of Music") I will ruminate about music, both at the commercial level and at the meta level, and discuss factors I believe contribute to the death of music, and possibly even reasons why I think music should "die." I'd like to kick off the series with one of my favorite topics (what else?): American Idol.

The Death of Music, Part One: American Idol

Woo-hee! Only a month to go before the public, televised execution of American music resumes on national tv! Yes, that's right, American Idol will be back, and I will once again get my perverse jollies (is there any other kind?) watching American pop culture slide down a slippery slope of genre cannibalization, diminishing returns and safe, amorphous, blobs of balladry. You can confidently let your two-year-old run around the AI original songs for hours without fear he will fall and puncture his tender little noggin on a sharp corner.

As far as the covers, most of the songs that American Idol so gleefully plunders were spawned by genres (rock, disco, new wave) which were the result of a confluence of factors and came into being for very specific reasons at a very specific time in the ongoing narrative that is/was popular music. American Idol strips away any contextual meaning these songs might possess, and does so without a whit of irony, commentary, or artistic innovation. The result is usually either unwitting parody or a pointless pastiche. In other words, AI brings nothing to the table other than some (questionably) pretty voices. AI has an awful lot of singing, but, ironically, not a whole lot to say.

There’s only room for SO MANY pretty voices, and you need something more than vocal chops if you're going to endure and have a long, meaningful career outside of Vegas. You need either (a) some kind of artistic vision, (b) some kind of compelling, innovative style, and/or (c) super-phenomenal songs to sing. So far, there haven’t been many of those attributes coming out of the AI camp, and that is precisely why most of these “idols” won't have music careers that last beyond 5 years or so (unless they shrewdly divert into film, broadway, journalism or fast food).

But the big picture is even bleaker than that. American Idol, by design, is a self-defeating venture, doomed to implode on itself, or just make American music worse and worse. Without artists and pioneers to push music forward, music becomes stagnant, irrelevant, and non-vital. If every artist in the 70’s was exactly like Barry Manilow, where would music be today? Nothing wrong with Barry, but eventually, something (like punk and rap, for example) will always come along and make waves. American Idol, by constantly looking back and distilling musical history down to its blandest, safest elements (without adding anything new to the mix) is a dead-end enterprise.

Sure, they claim they’re being “edgy” from time to time by superficially mimicking (the worst) trends of “only” 10 years ago or so, but if American Idol continues to dominate the music industry and the billboard charts, who will the AI contestants of 2017 mimic? Chris Daughtry? Shudder to think. Chris Daughtry is ALREADY a watered-down amalgam of Fuel, Live, Nickelback and a few other latter day grunge-lite bands. Can you imagine an even MORE watered-down and derivative version of Chris Daughtry? It’s like getting a copy of a copy of a copy.

Without the true artists, you can’t have listenable or remotely amusing imitators. The problem is, American Idol is trying to dominate the landscape and a lot of potentially interesting music is getting short shrift. If AI has its way, the landscape will be littered with metaphorical Barry Manilow’s, and it doesn’t matter if they’re wearing “edgy” clothes or singing country tunes or shaving their head to disguise their Manilow-like status.

Yes, Chris Daughtry is the Barry Manilow of 2007. In a very, very real sense (except I think Barry probably has a little more talent, to be honest). Don't agree? Think about this: The guy won the adult contemporary award at the AMA's this year. That was something we used to give to people like Celine Dion. There's no shame in that, per se, but if this guy becomes the template for music's future, then man oh man is music dying.

On the one hand, that makes me sort of sad.

On the other, it just tickles me pink.