Wednesday, April 6, 2016

This is Spinal Tap

This is Spinal Tap
from my DVD collection
...Let's face it: a lot of music being heard on the radio waves today does suck, particularly pop music. I know because I was forced to listen to it in work a few weeks ago. My work station is currently the front reception desk until our expanded office space is ready to use (we don't actually have a receptionist, but it was one of the few available places for me.) 

In the front reception area is a speaker. I have no idea who turned it on one afternoon, but all of a sudden it started playing one pop song after another. Since most people work in their own areas and offices I was really the only one that was going to get any benefit from it. "OK," I said to myself. "I can deal with this. I haven't listened to any of those pop stations in an awfully long time. I'll be open minded. Let's see what the young 'uns are digging these days." 

Within an hour I wanted to shove bananas in my ears. After two hours I wanted to scream.
I was leaning towards re-watching This is Spinal Tap for the blog, but reading Pam's latest piece pushed me firmly in that direction. I stopped listening to the radio long ago when I realized that the only thing on it for me was music from my childhood - and before! So I'm in total agreement that modern music played on the radio does absolutely nothing for me outside of the occasional earworm or two that you can't help but like. Pam mentioned "Uptown Funk"; that's a good example. Songs like these I think of as "Aisle 6 songs": you may not hear them in the rest of your daily life, but you do hear them in supermarkets and drugstores and boutiques and other public places when they have the radio on - and that's how you learn about them.

The video embedded in Pam's article expands upon a belief I've seen expressed before, that modern music is soulless and interchangeable by design; that the powers that be in the music industry like it that way, and that most people couldn't care less. I gotta say, this doesn't surprise me at all. It's easy to be lulled by whatever's playing on the radio if all you wanna hear is mindless drivel while you're in front of your computer at work or jogging or cooking or doing any activity that requires minimal brain power, and I can see how people can come to accept music when it's as simple and unobtrusive as a few electronic beats and a milquetoast vocalist.

So it was great to re-watch a movie about a band in which their stupidity is part of the joke... only Spinal Tap doesn't seem quite as stupid anymore, do they? Not in a world with Kanye West and Justin Bieber and the Kardashian sisters (they're not musicians, but then again, neither are Kanye and Bieber). No one can accuse Tap of being soulless, that's for sure - and credit to Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer for being terrific musicians who know how to rock!

In the movie, Tap is portrayed as a band that constantly rides trends, from their roots as a Beatles/Stones knock-off to a peace-and-love psychedelic hippie band to a Zeppelin-esque power rock combo. (One wonders what the grunge and electronic incarnations of Tap would have looked like.) But how do trends in pop music start? The same way they start anywhere else: when an innovator - a Woody Guthrie, a Bob Dylan, a Stevie Wonder - catches lightning in a bottle, makes a mark that lasts, and others try to duplicate that success. I realize musicians like that come once a generation, but if there are any out there today who aspire to such heights, you won't hear them on the radio anymore - and that's a shame. Not that Tap are musical geniuses by any stretch. But that's the point.


  1. I was the secretary/clerk/receptionist of my department and the boss said I could have a radio. I kept it tuned to the local classical music station. A couple of folks who worked in a department where the radio was kept on a pop station (by vote) would come and sit with me on their coffee breaks.

    One day a visitor came up to my desk, looked shocked then horrified and asked "Do they make you listen to that?". Now it was my turn to be shocked and horrified. I didn't know what to say. According to one of my bosses, the look on my face was enough.

    "...Tap" is genius. I am not a rock fan (to which my husband's friends say "ewww"), but it is not inaccessible to someone like me. It speaks to anyone interested in any arts.

  2. Yeah, we used to have a classical musical station here too, but now I think the only place on the radio where you might hear that stuff may be NPR. Which brings up another point: variety in radio stations. We used to have a jazz station; it's gone. We used to have a modern rock station; it's gone. A country station started up only recently. The last country station I remember in NYC was on the AM dial. And we do have at least one Spanish music station. The oldies station has abandoned 60s music almost completely and plays a lot more 80s and even 90s music now, and the easy listening station is much the same. Times have changed.


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