Friday, December 25, 2009

My gift to you

To give you this gift, I subjected my ears to unspeakable horrors, and my Internet connections to the evil connivings of Teh YouTubes, which did everything in its power to stop me. Well, not everything in its power, just disabling embedding on its videos, like fools. But, inspired by the spirit of Jazzbumpa, I persevered, I survived my journey into the depths of the pop culture sewer, found the very soul of the modern Christmas spirit, and I emerged with your pearl of gleaming, shining... Lady Gaga.

I would say "enjoy", but I'm not sure that's possible if you're not in on the joke that is Lady Gaga's "Christmas Tree".

A few years back, a sincere young lady by the name of Stefani Germanotta tried to get signed by a record label. After getting rejected time after time by studio reps who said that yes, she sang pretty but she was, in the end, just another well-padded Italian girl playing the piano and singing pretty, she got frustrated. One day, while playing her piano at a club, she got so frustrated because everybody was talking rather than listening to her music that she stood up and ripped off her clothes and started screaming at the audience. Everybody paid attention. That was the genesis of Lady Gaga: Stefani Germanotta's realization that people didn't want nice meaningful lyrics and a pleasant melody. They wanted sex. They wanted violence. They wanted to dance their booties off. So Ms. Germanotta studied the masters -- David Bowie, Madonna, Queen (from which she got the name "Gaga") -- consulted the appropriate glam pop dance music svengalis, dyed her dark hair to blond, and set out to be the next pop dance queen.

Question is, where does she go from here? Stefani Germanotta proved her point that gleaming, shining well polished shit turds sell. A large portion of her audience is in on the joke, but a joke repeated time after time is no longer a joke. So now what? My guess is that ten years from now, there will be some new joke, and Stefani Germanotta will be back behind her piano in small clubs, hair dark again, once again pounding out pretty songs that nobody listens to inbetween her day job selling cosmetics at a Macy's Store and her evening job as a waitress at a restaurant. That, sadly, is the usual fate of people who take the cynical approach to the music business rather than following their muse where it takes them... usually they end up being eaten alive by a machine that has seem way too many of them over the years to not know how to deal with them, spat out, then some new phenom takes their place a few months later. So it goes.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin


  1. I made it 54 seconds into that gleaming turd encrusted ho ho ho merry where's my fucking earplugs

  2. Oh, and happy holidays to you :)

  3. I spent the day in Toledo, and picked up my brother in law at Detroit Metro Airport on the way home. Just arrived moments ago. It is 10:37 local time.

    I will not subject myself to Lady Gaga tonight, but maybe tomorrow. I dunno. Gotta deliver the bro to his mum. A guy can only stand so much.

    If anyone needs an antidote, here is my Molochmas music blogging.


  4. Cherry cherry boom boom.

    Sorry about the cueing problem, it was supposed to fire off at 7AM, it turned out I accidentally set it up to fire off at 7PM. I fixed it when I filled up with gas around 11AM but that's why you guys didn't get your cherry cherry boom boom Christmas gift on time. Sorry ;).

    - Badtux the Apologetic Penguin
    (yeah right ;).

  5. Once in a while, I'll encounter a young musician with high hopes of making it big in music. And when I say young, I mean young enough to be my son or daughter. Personally, I don't know the first thing about making it big in music -- I made the mistake of abandoning my music years ago, and have spent much of the last two years catching hell trying to get it back. Serves me right, really. One of two bits of advice I have for musicians, or artists of all persuasions for that matter: never, ever, alienate off your muse. You'll regret it, trust me.

    But anyway... invariably, these young aspirant musicians will ask what sort of music they should be making to achieve what they're setting out for. This is something I do know all too well, and it's the second bit of advice I have to offer: your purpose as a musician, if that is what you want to be, is to take the music that's in your head and make it real. That's it. Everything else is moonshine. It's not about the money. It's about feeding the hunger in your spirit.

    And, come to think of it, there's a third bit of advice I can relay: basically, this is a lose-lose situation for you -- the sooner you come to terms with that, the better off you will be. But losing on the side of your spirit is better than losing on the side of your audience. If you're up there on stage feeding the hunger in your spirit, odds are no one in the audience is going to give a damn -- maybe you'll reach two or three people, but that's about it. But if you're giving them what they want to hear, you're starving your spirit -- it doesn't matter how many people love you under those conditions, at the end of the day, it doesn't mean a goddamned thing.

    And to anyone who claims otherwise on that score, I have two words: Lady Gaga. I rest my case.

    Follow your spirit. It's a losing proposition, but so is everything else, so fuck everything else...

  6. I wouldn't say the two are always incompatible. Look at the Bernie Taupin/Elton John collaboration, for example. Some damned good music came out of that despite Elton John's glamming it up and giving the audience some fine performances and Bernie being a pop songwriter in the old audience-pleasing tradition. Elton was stealing from the best -- Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, etc. -- and putting his own twist on it given his own limitations (he's a short chubby nebbish who plays the piano for cryin' out loud!).

    On the other hand, Elton John never had the sheer contempt for his audience that is evident in the ten minutes or so of Lady Gaga that I subjected myself to. He was expanding/extending a tradition, not spitting on it. Elton John liked (likes) creating a spectacle, but to enhance the enjoyment of music he wants to make, not as part of a cynical exercise in achieving fame and fortune.

    So I suppose my answer is, "it depends". One thing is for sure, though: Lady Gaga is no Elton John.

    - Badtux the Music Penguin

  7. Evidently, poor Stef concluded that Madonna made the mistake of being too subtle. If your message to the word is "fuck you" then why settle for less than a 100% effort?!?

    Except for dialing the skank factor up to 11, That Christmas turd was really no worse than about 80% of the rest of pop music.

    So, it was with considerable trepidation that I clicked the Lady Gaga Live NYU 2005 link. OMFG! This girl had it all. Great pipes, decent looks, clever lyrics, a good way with a melody, and she can pound the keys. Only a small data point, but comparing her to Nora Jones was probably a compliment to Nora (who is pleasant, but rather under whelming.) All of which got her what? Nada, it appears.

    So, like Madonna, Dennis Rodman, and so many others, she made a rational choice. Fuck my art and fuck you, audience! You're getting what you want and deserve.

    Yeah, what she's doing is shit. But it really is not remarkably bad shit, as shit goes, and she's successful with it. I'd compare her to the Happy Hooker.

    And she's one of the top three money-makers for Universal - along with our much-beloved Taylor Swift. If she's smart - and I suspect she is - she'll have no financial worries in her old age.

    JzB the "fuck you, world" I'm a new Gaga fan trombonist

  8. Well, all right, certain musicians are able to straddle the two sides and get away with it. Paul Simon comes to mind. Joni Mitchell is another. But it's still a sacrifice, and there's still that question of whether making it is worthwhile, something even the more successful musicians tacitly acknowledge -- Simon & Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound," for example, exposes the whole arrangement.

    To me, it's always been a choice between discerning what people want and discerning what they need. I just don't see much gray area here. I could never give an audience what I thought it wanted, but had I persisted with my music instead of giving up on it, I might have had a shot at giving them what they needed. Lots of people listen to music for the entertainment. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with that. But I tend to entertain myself by going to YouTube and watching clips of comedians doing their routines. With music, I need something that's going to make me feel a little a little closer to complete. That's why I love people like Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake so much. I don't know why it's this way with me when it comes to music and not painting, literature, dancing, or other art forms. But it is...

  9. "dialing the skank factor up to 11"... heh. Yeah. I think you finally "get" Lady Gaga, Jazz. Thing is, I don't think she can build a career on this little act of hers. And BTW, I seriously doubt she's seeing major money -- Universal's accounting department is notorious for finding "expenses" to take out of artists' royalties before the artist sees a penny. There's been artists who've found themselves in the position of *owing* money at the end of the day.

    Jim, Leonard Cohen is quite clear about why he moved into making music rather than publishing poetry -- he saw more money in making music than in writing poems. His early stuff was mostly dealing with love and relationships because he analyzed pop songs that sold and realized that they were most often about love and relationships. Thus "Famous Blue Raincoat", "Bird on a Wire", etc. The fact that Leonard's stuff is pure genius is because Leonard Cohen is a prophet and a genius and can't help it even when he's *deliberately* trying to "sell out", not because of a lack of desire to be bigger than Elvis. He didn't become bigger than Elvis because of his own limitations as a performer, not out of lack of desire. Leonard is a cynical old coot who enjoys shooting down people who paint him as this wise old guru making music for the enjoyment of making music. He went into music to make money, not out of any desire to make music for the joy of making music, and has been quite clear and consistent about that for many decades now. So how that fits into your thoughts... well, I don't know. But it's certainly an interesting data point, eh?

    - Badtux the Music Penguin

  10. If you're right about Cohen, then so much the worse for Cohen. I don't give a rat fuck how much money you make (or don't make) as a musician -- you ain't takin' none of it with you when you die. People don't remember you for how much money you made (or didn't make), they remember you (or don't remember you) for your music.

    That's how the money aspect fits into my thoughts.

  11. Well, I liked Bonny Raitt before she went commercial. Since then - Meh!

    I have no doubt that Universal is simply one more way to transfer wealth from the have-nots to the haves. But they have to pay a stipend along the way. And Steffi is one of their top 3 $ makers. If she gets enough out of it to retire as well off as I have - basically middle middle class - then she'll probably have done better than she would have with any of the other potential opportunities that might present themselves.

    I am in the last generation to live the American dream. None of my kids will be as well off as I am, and I don't have enough to help them very much.

    JzB the we-are-so-fucked trombonist


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