ohoh. Krist Novoselic Praises Trump for “Strong and Direct” Law and Order Speech https://t.co/EBxMDGX3XK
— David Harsanyi (@davidharsanyi) June 2, 2020
I have a brain full of cobwebs. There are countless shards of memory and dust bunnies of irrelevant knowledge hanging around in the corners of my synapses. Sometimes I turn on a light in one of the cerebral hallways and I’m just amazed at what junk I’ve got stored away. Here, for instance, I was instantly reminded of a quotation in passing from Kurt Cobain in an article on Nirvana from the June 1992 issue of RIP magazine, which I still have in a (clean, cobweb-free) banker box along with many others in a closet.
Exciting and fun. Here we are now, entertain us. Ah, if Kurt could only hear his old comrade now, he’d be spinning in his grave trying to get a good angle to blow his head off again.
It was especially difficult for someone moving from Europe to Southern California to conclude that Americans were materially worse off because of capitalism. Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt School had to find a way of showing that the abundance of commodities capitalism produces is in fact bad for the masses—that, although people seem to be materially enriched by capitalism, they are really being spiritually and culturally impoverished. The work of the Frankfurt School came to focus on culture critique, on analyzing the harmful effects of the commercial culture of capitalism, especially insofar as it takes the form of mass culture.
And as we know, “consumerism” is always “the stuff other people buy.” I was listening to Steven Wilson’s music recently, and the didactic tone of his song “Personal Shopper” was obvious even when only halfway paying attention. No doubt, Adorno would be appalled to think that anything as degenerate as a rock song could show traces of his intellectual DNA, but there’s no denying the striking family resemblance in lyrics like these:
Buy online and in the shopping mall
Sell it on then buy it back
Buy the shit you never knew you lacked
Buy the update to compete
Buy the things that make your life complete
Buy the box set and the kind of stuff
You’ve bought before a million times
Buy in green, buy in blue
Buy in patterns ’cause I tell you to
Buy the dream, buy the spin
Feel the bite down of the trap you’re in
Buy the lies that I tell
Lap up everything I’m here to sell
Yes, yes, we’re all shallow, brainwashed sheeple who have been indoctrinated by commercials. Dear God, how trite. I used to make fun of a song like Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” for its surreal incoherence, but I realize now that I actually prefer it when I have no idea what someone is singing about, because more often than not, their earnest, undiluted opinions will only make you lose respect for them. I’d rather hear melodious jabberwocky than socially-conscious preaching. Let’s get back to the good old days when musicians just wanted to sing about their drug-addled visions rather than save our empty souls.
In honor of Peter Steele, who died ten years ago today.
Type O is what you might call a cult favorite, especially among the goth subculture. Outside of their core of diehard fans, people might know them as that band who looked sort of like vampires and sang about Halloween and girls with dyed black hair. That’s only to be expected, since the band took nothing seriously, least of all themselves. Clever irony, acidic sarcasm and relentless self-depreciation filled everything from lyrics to interviews. Casual fans talk about them almost like they were a novelty act, but it has always been my contention that Steele was as much of a musical genius as anyone else you care to name, capable of some breathtaking songwriting.
This song has always been a favorite of mine. (The lyrics are typical Steele, tongue-in-cheek, about being tormented by a succubus.) The severely downtuned guitar chords ringing out over the soaring keyboard/organ starting at 1:40; the lush, mournful vocals in the final minute and a half; it’s all so transcendentally beautiful that I don’t even mind the slow, spoken section about halfway through.
I truly miss this man.
When it comes to hearing music, a network of nerves in the auditory cortex called the corticofugal network helps catalog the different patterns of music. When a specific sound maps onto a pattern, our brain releases a corresponding amount of dopamine, the main chemical source of some of our most intense emotions. This is the essential reason why music triggers such powerful emotional reactions, and why, as an art form, it is so inextricably tied to our emotional responses.
Take the chorus of “Someone Like You” by Adele, a song that has one of the most recognizable chord progressions in popular music: I, V, vi IV. The majority of our brains have memorized this progression and know exactly what to expect when it comes around. When the corticofugal network registers that of “Someone Like You,” our brain releases just the right amount of dopamine. Like a needle tracing the grooves of a record, our brains trace these patterns. The more “records” we own, the more patterns we can recall to send out that perfect dopamine hit.
As with most trendy neuro-journalism, this simply rephrases the description of what it’s like to enjoy music and passes it off as an explanation of why we enjoy music. Saying “I love that song because my brain squirts dopamine when it recognizes that chord progression” does nothing to improve upon “I love that song because I think that chord progression is beautiful.” But anyone can make fun of our age’s facile obsession with neurochemistry. I’m offering to prove it to be shallow. You can hook me up to a tanker truck full of dopamine, and I will still always despise the keyboard intro to the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” no matter how many times you play it. No chemical chicanery can overpower my hatred of that godawful song.