Mothers are Philistines

Back in 2010, I was driving my mother somewhere, and I remember I had Kanye West’s album, My Dark Twisted Fantasy playing, which was hot off the press at that time. My mom is normally pretty open-minded, but at some point through the album she turned to me and said, “What is this crap?”

I was sort of taken aback. At that time, it was my favorite album, one of the best of the year, and to this day, I consider it Kanye’s best album, hands down. There are a lot of things going on with that album. Its technically the most complex he’s produced so far. For Kanye as an artist, everything that had happened to him in the past years, all the lines of symmetry, seemed to have been leading to this album – the pain of fame, a confrontation with his own ego, delusions of grandeur and love both received and given and ultimately what seemed like a constant allusion to the graduation he had been leading up to his entire career. It’s a sad, jagged, megalomaniacal masterpiece. I don’t know, a lot has been written about this album, and I hold my doubts that Kanye will be able to top it. It’s a one-man Abbey Road.

But according to my mother, it was crap. I think she just didn’t understand it.

The music scene can lend itself to a lot of pretention. You think about hipsters and one of their chief stereotypes is an ostentatious and gaudy over-appreciation for music that neither deserves nor possesses the traits lauded to it. It’s like an asshole pontificating about the flavor profiles of a glass of Carlo Rossi. It’s just masturbation. Of course the argument can be made that all art is subjective and any attempt to review it either from a perspective of the soul of the music, or its technique, is pointless, but I would only agree with this when it comes to the highest tiers of any field of art. When it comes to the question of which is the better movie – The Godfather or Shawshank Redemption, well, then the cat’s out of the bag and it’s anyone’s game, but I think we can all agree that either one of those movies is better than the 2012 movie Battleship. In the same way, there might be someone in the world who thought K-Fed was a better rapper than Immortal Technique, but this man would be laughed at, because as a general audience, there’s only so much subjectivity we can tolerate before we have to objectively say, “No, you know what? This is just terrible. You should feel bad for listening to this.”

So why do I bring this up? Well, it goes back to what my mother said about Dark Twisted. Sometimes, when you surround yourself with people who take a ridiculous amount of pleasure in enjoying, discussing and dissecting art from whatever field you’re coming from, you can become myopic in your view. You ever have that friend who puts on a forty-five minute prog-rock song and keeps telling you, “No, just wait for this solo man.” And you just kind of sit there kind of bored, occasionally nodding your head to make him not feel bad about his terrible taste? I don’t think it’s from a lack of trying to appreciate it, it’s not your fault, there are limits, its their fault for not taking a step back and realizing that maybe the things that originally got them into their appreciation for the genre have become sort of mutated. It’s the musical equivalent of not getting out of the house enough. That’s an example of musical myopia, and for a minute I thought that’s what was happening to me. Jesus, that beat in So Appalled really is really kind of repetitive isn’t it. Kanye is rap’s vocal equivalent of Bob Dylan in Runaway. Is that autotune in Lost in the World? My God.

No wait, back up here a minute. This isn’t right at all. This is still a great goddamn album, and you’re not telling me otherwise. Let me explain something here really fast.

Conceptually, The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga and My Dark Twisted Fantasy are the same. The themes are similar; they both celebrate a degeneration into the throes of stardom. Both artists are self-aware, not congratulatory; they both balance bombastic conceit with elegant self-revulsion. So what’s the difference? One is very obviously a pop album and, well, the other requires a little more effort.

My mother likes Lady Gaga, she appreciates her silliness and she even knows a few her songs pretty well. In terms of composition, the two are miles apart, but I’ll leave that to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about in terms of composition to discuss the details of that, if she so chooses (Cough, Tatiana).

I think the difference in the music is simply a larger scope appreciation for the artists as whole people, and for genres and music as whole things. My mother, as well as many people, can’t understand Kanye, much less the Dark Twisted album because she doesn’t know what he’s about, and she hasn’t followed his career for as long his most dedicated fans. It’s the same reason you’ll hear Stronger on the radio, but not Runaway. It’s more challenging, because the album itself challenges listeners to know what the artist is about. Every verse is a wink and a nod, however dark, to exploits of the past. It is a personal challenge to fans, which states the more you put into the art, the more you get out of it. The Fame Monster, which I do actually like, is stand-alone. It’s a one act performance, and while it has more to it than say, anything Katy Perry has come out with, it’s still just fluff. It doesn’t tell a complete story or paint a picture of an artist or illustrate a trend of art. It doesn’t have a beginning, middle or end, it simply lingers there, as what Cormac McCarthy would describe as, “A thing dangling in senseless articulation in a howling void.”

I think that’s what people like my mother wouldn’t understand. Great music is hard to listen to.  It’s great and its exhausting and beautiful, but tiring, because like anything you love, you put so much of yourself into it, you come out not sure if you can take much more. Going back to the comparison of The Godfather, it’s a great movie, but is it easier to watch than say, Super Troopers? If you’re there to appreciate it, its emotionally draining, and you come out of that a better person I think, but fuck if it isn’t easier to get baked and get a few laughs out of Super Troopers.

So in conclusion, I would challenge everyone to try to invest themselves in music that goes beyond easy-listening. If there’s an album out there that’s rated highly among popular critics, try to understand what they’re getting out of it. No one is saying you have to like the music once you get through it, but maybe you’ll find something in it that you did like, or maybe you’ll simply get an appreciation for the taste of a particular critic. Maybe you’ll find something you really love.

What I’m trying to say here is, when your mother thinks Lady Gaga is better than anyone, she does not know best.

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