Monthly Archives: December 2011
I’ve developed a theory that explains everything. Here’s the summary: we’ve actually evolved through natural selection to be 99% close-minded mimics, with just enough flexibility of mind to criticize clearly horrible ideas. We’re all just dumb hot chicks, but with ideas (instead of competing, fumbling boys) paraded in front of us, egotistically dismissing those that displease us, and choosing the most socially acceptable.
Evolution and life on this beautiful and hostile planet only started getting interesting about 500 million years ago. I’m talking eyes (electromagnetic radiation detectors), legs (transporters to the eating and humping), brains (chewing gum wads of neurons), and as far as we can tell (and we can tell, unless you choose to ignore literally mountains of evidence) humans only started rubbing their eyes to the morning sun around 200,000 years ago. We were smelly and losing our hair and had enormous ass cheeks to help us walk upright. Our average lifespan was about 25 years.
Humans are unique in that we come up with explanations about our environment and, therefore, change it in our favor. But here’s the rub: in a tribe of 1,000 fighting, struggling, farting humans, only one guy has to invent the hand axe. The other 999 have to be good at one thing: mimicry and social learning. For generations after, the humans that survived honored the past generation, learned the mysteries of the hand axe, and didn’t need to come up with any new ideas (creativity, of course, being a hugely inefficient use of energy).
I submit that we’ve bred ourselves, over the past few thousand years, based on these sickening ideals of conformity.
Creative free thinking – progressive explanation-finding – is not the norm for a society. The free-thinking, science-loving, art-making, debate-prone Greeks are the rare gem in a cultural wasteland of Spartans – honoring the past, scared of progress, strict rule-based education, warring, stupid, boring, etc. The acceleration technology has been pretty slow up until the industrial revolution – natural selection wouldn’t have had to choose for the acclamation of new ideas within an individual’s lifetime. Rather, an individual who can “fit in” would do much, much better. Being outspoken and interesting is dangerous (Archimedes. Galileo. Turing. King. Lennon.) but being accepted by established cultural norms is socially attractive and even considered sexy. We aren’t downright against new ideas, but most of us require an idea to be accepted socially before we bother with it (free thinkers, of course, are often suspicious of mainstream ideas).
My theory would explain the existence of so many things. The socially-driven memes of crappy pop music. Chain restaurants. The reality-skirting old-world mentality of religion. The subdued, unemotional patronizing of reality that is NPR. Why tired old jokes are used in Hollywood films years after they were funny. Why successful advertising employs derivative cliches over anything else. Why online daters who are less passionate about their beliefs are more successful.
The Beatles invent a hand axe, I – V – vii – IV, (see Let It Be) and it becomes almost the only chord progression I hear used in modern hits forty years later. Where the more rare free thinker prefers unique ideas, especially in something like art, most people prefer conformity, proven memes, socially lukewarm bullshit.
Just a little theory. I have to go now. I love you. here’s a song I wrote http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etYd60CoQuM
Last night I was walking on 34th street towards Broadway. It was pretty late, and a restaurant was closing up and, incredibly, blasting Radiohead’s Idioteque into the street.
So many times a day I’m force-fed some techno-pop diva’s vapid hit, or a new dance remix of an Adele song I’ve heard a hundred times (the mere concept of a forced techno beat over her songs absurd), or some tired old 80s hit.
But there it was, Idioteque pumping and reverberating down the street. I could hardly believe it. It was beautiful. For a brief moment, I was living in a world that made sense to me, and it was striking how rarely I hear music that interests me in a public context. I had a glimpse of a universe where people played interesting, sweet music in public places, and I pretended that it was normal. I started singing and bouncing a little in the street – I couldn’t help it. It transformed New York – the dark, pretty chords and ghostly drum machine vibrating off the buildings made the city shine brighter. Thom Yorke’s clever melody and sensitive vocals were the soundtrack to the universe in that moment. It had an obvious effect on everyone around – a random group of people walked by and we smiled at each other. Soon, our little group of strangers (including some Japanese guy on a business trip) were goofily dancing and giggling as we walked. We were outright laughing, immediately friends, with no words spoken.
I often gripe about the state of popular culture (my apologies to all my friends, ever). Sometimes, I doubt my own nerdy ideals. So often I hear “good music is a matter of taste”, “pop music is just fun music”, “simple songs are what people want”. And I agree with those things, but many many people define “fun” and “simple” as “lame” and “commercial”, respectively. But last night I glimpsed evidence in my favor. Radiohead does play simple songs. In fact, they’re outright minimalistic. Harmonically, they’re diatonic and refined. Rhythmically, they’re outright tribal and instinctive. But Radiohead’s songs are clever, and interesting, and sweet. They reflect the mystery and darkness of reality, with a glimmer of hope for optimistic measure. Idioteque’s melody is singable and “catchy” (can we destroy this term?), but it is also unique and meaningful. And people pick up on those things. Stupid people are surprisingly brilliant.
I don’t hate pop music, as many people assume. I just don’t understand why the great stuff isn’t being listened to. Where’s Pedro The Lion’s Second Best or Indian Summer? Where is Rufus Wainwright, Pinback, The Beach Boys? Do people really enjoy Ricky Inglesias over Tom Waits? But how is that even possible? I think it’s only possible in a society that has started to idealize conformity and emotional detachment (yeah, I know that sounds dramatic, but I’m worried I’m right). Not to mention – where’s the jazz? Where’s the classic country, where’s the Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash? If you just want background music that doesn’t require focus and attention, if you want a “vibe”, why not an energetic classical piece by one of the Russian Motherfuckers of the late 19th century? Why can’t the “vibe” be intelligence and brightness? Why some annoying, ethically offensive song about adultery? And seriously, are people still stupid enough to find songs about binge drinking on Fridays empowering or entertaining? Really? Where are these people, and how come I don’t know any?
If I ran the world, here are the “hits” I would force feed the masses today, and I say with 100% confidence, it would make the colors of the world more crisp for 24 hours. http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCA3C036806D6A86E
The new Chris Merritt And The Dirty Girls record is on its way. A huge undertaking it shall be, but we have exciting prospects (more on this soon!) – not to mention it may be one of the coolest piano-rock albums ever made.
It looks like we’ll be doing the first round of foundation tracks (piano, drums and bass) here, Old Soul Studios (artists like Ratatat and The New Pornographers have recorded there). I’m working hard on finishing all the arranging and lyric work.
As this evolves, it seems like it will be very piano-driven. On the last couple records, I’ve been avoiding that straight piano-in-your-face sound for some reason. I think it was a subconscious aversion to all the Ben Folds comparisons. This record will actually be somewhat Ben Folds Five-y, but not more than, say, Radiohead-y, or Queen-y, or Wilco-y. It will be new, powerful, beautiful, weird! I guess more than anything, it will be Chris Merritt, but for the first time, I’ll be making a record with zero compromises!
We’ll be doing a fundraiser campaign to raise money to finish the album. I’ll be using Kickstarter.com and starting it sometime in January or February (I figured I would leave some room for the holidays). I have lots of cool incentives planned, like piano sheet music and a covers album, as well as all kinds of extravagant, ridiculous gifts. Most of this record will be favors-for-favors kind of production…..but I sure would like to have some money to throw around to put some polish on it.
Modern technology allows us to do lots of work ourselves, for free, but not all of it. For example, we still need basic recording gear, like monitors and new audio effects plug-ins. I don’t want to skimp on the strings on this album, as well as horns and all kinds of fun stuff (I have BIG ideas). It would be nice to throw professional musicians actual money for working on the album. We also need to pay for mastering, and some mixing. Not to mention promotion for the album, a music video, things like that. I also have big dreams of releasing the record as an app for iPhone and Android…
As always, I would love to hear your ideas! They give me ideas…..
Weirdness. Nerdiness. Progress.