In February of this year, a more innocent time, I embarked upon a strange project. It began with a request from my daughter to change the channel on the radio on our short drive to school to the syndicated pop station that for the purposes of this post must remain nameless. ( It does, however, rhyme with "More gin, Radio!" But, I digress.) Now normally, we would listen to the alternative music station enjoyed by both my son and I. (Sending them off to school bathed in the soothing waters of the Foo Fighters made the day seem easier to face, somehow, you know?) This morning, however, I decided to give in. We'll just listen to her station instead of ours for a few weeks, I explained to my son as he watched horrified as I cranked the dial towards this new pop music world. Let's just listen to it and try to embrace what the young kids are listening to these days, I said, as we sat back and let the soulful sounds of Kesha rape our aural canal.
Do any of you remember what it felt like back in 2004 as you watched George Bush become president? You don't remember seeing and hearing that freight train coming and feeling like there was nothing you could do about it? Well, let me ask you this: can you recall a pre-Black Eyed Peas world? Because it was a glorious time. It was a time when R and B singers weren't allowed to use Auto-Tune as training wheels (Sure, this robot helps me sing. But someday I'll do it all by myself!) and groups like Train didn't seem like the least likely group to put out a song entitled, "Hey, Soul Sister".
When I was a kid, my sister would order compilation albums from the TV. They had names like Knockout! and HITS! HITS! HITS! and we would sit and listen to these for hours. It was how we were introduced to some of the most crap-tastical music of the day. We would consume the popular songs like a bag of penny candy but if we let the record ride buried on there was usually an artist on there that didn't get conventional radio play. Louden Wainright was on one of ours. Nick Drake on the album of a friend. Who are these weirdos, we would say when our friends were around? Only to find ourselves strangely moved to listen to them again when no one else was around. Ah, the familiar push and pull of commerce and art!
It's important to remember this when it feels as if pop music has hit an all time low. Pop music has always been ridiculous and disposable. That's why it's called pop. Culture Club was pop. Pat Boone? Pop. Flock of Seagulls? Same, same. When was the last time you heard "I Ran" and thought, Wow, this song is a deep, deep well? And yet that album sold millions and millions of copies. Pop fades with time. Art endures. That's why we will still be listening to Arcade Fire 50 years from now long after the name of Train has been cursed for the last time.
Try to remember this the next time you climb into the car with the kids and one of them twists the dial towards the local pop station. Maybe I'll hear a hidden gem. Maybe I'll hear I'll hear a gem. It's what I keep telling myself.