Of Cheetos, Poseurs and Comment Box Vendettas: Man Versus Himself (Part 1)

I am sporting a headache this very moment. My means of alleviation are as follows:

1. Cheetos, Jalapeño – Burns like hell but tastes like heaven. Trust me, this flavor never fails.
2. This entry – To process some things, so to speak.

Notice how the above solutions correspond to two different aspects of my headache: #1 treats the physical and literal while #2 treats the figurative and quasi-philosophical. It’s funny how one can find so much profundity and superficiality crammed in a thread of comments – be it on a YouTube video or whatever article. If you take a step back and take those comments in, your mind connects the dots, drafting a blueprint of how people behave “around” one another with their own opinions, opposing or consonant. I know it’s silly, but my headache partially stems from when people bicker on, pushing forward what they think they know is true. But before I move on to that, I’ll begin with the groundwork. When people label a musician or band as “poseurs,” what exactly is their premise? Do they have any authority to call them that? When people are called “inauthentic,” what exactly is the basis? These are some of the questions that hit me when I see people blabbering online, thinking they know it all. I hate know-it-alls. Anyway, I may well be deluding myself in trying to establish a framework. Fine. It’s been about an hour, yet this half-bag of curls has hardly taken any pain away. But, hey. Call me a loser, call me a dork. I could care less. I am a sucker for Cheeetos and I will keep munching on them, headache or no headache. Anyway, furthering these points would prove to be moot.

Let’s revisit our elementary school reading comprehension; that bit about conflict. It has several levels, and here are three: man versus himself (eg. Kurt Cobain), man versus man (eg. Nirvana fans versus Bieber fans), and man versus society (insert punk ideology here).

Because things have by far gone outside the plan (there hardly was one), I’m dividing this entire thing into two or three parts. Let’s begin with the tricky and elusive concepts for the sake of having a context: What the deal is with artistic integrity/authenticity, the music business, and so on. I’ll move on to the others later.

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How It is and How It Should be:
Man Versus Himself

We are all chameleons in some way. Like the masks our personalities wear from situation to situation, the artist has a multiplicity of selves. Ideally, he is himself when he is alone and free. This happens when nobody’s around to listen or watch – basically when he knows he has no other expectations to fulfill but his own. The core of that self holds everything he believes in as an artist. From what I know, that’s where authenticity is attributed to. Being authentic is basically being true to oneself. The affirmation and appreciation (by other people) of this authenticity makes the artist feel existentially sound. In other words, when people love the artist for who he really is, he feels his actions and life are meaningful.

But this doesn’t happen all the time.

The C-Word

A wise guy once told me that the music business is essentially two things: the music and the business. That’s semantically obvious. But people don’t catch the drift, so let me spell it out for you. The music side is the artistic bit: craft, creativity, expression. The business side is the money bit: marketing, sales, product. Nowadays, if you want even the slimmest chance of making it, you need a good balance of both sides. This is where the C-word comes in: compromise. Compromise is basically derived from the reality that things can’t always be about you or about them. The universe doesn’t always revolve around just the money or (sadly) just the music. Some find the balancing act easy, some don’t. Also, the fine line changes from time to time, so you have to pay attention.

Just like the masks, the artist shape-shifts between selves as the circumstance and landscape change. The music business is the prime example of such circumstances and landscapes. Unavoidably, there’s a tension a among what the artist values, what the world wants from him – and what the devil wants from him. Conversely, when the artist is made to do something that goes against his sense of self – something inauthentic – the experience is hardly fulfilling.

A friendly disclaimer: there are several factors and points that admittedly, I haven’t covered. In no way do I assert that my points of view are the only valid ones. I’m sure there are writers who can express these same ideas much better. One of them is Chuck Klosterman. In The Passion of the Garth segment in his book Eating the Dinosaur, he hits the spot. I quote:

1. Nothing is completely authentic. Even the guys who kill themselves are partially acting.

2. Music that skews inauthentic is almost always more popular in the present tense. Music that skews toward authenticity has more potential to be popular over time, but also has a likelihood of being unheard completely.

3. In general, the best balance seems to come from artists who are (kind of) fake as people, but who make music that’s (mostly) real. This would be people like Bob Dylan. The worst music comes from the opposite situation, such as songs by TV on the Radio that aren’t about wolves. If the singer is fake and the music is fake (Scott Weitland, Madonna, Bing Crosby), everything works out okay.

4. Normal people don’t see any of this as a particularly pressing problem. They do not care. A few critics do, but that’s about it.

5. The most telling moment for any celebrity is when he or she attempts to be inauthentic on purpose, and particularly when that attempt fails.

I believe in his points as well. There is a separation between the music and the person. This happens. Read the book, you’ll learn a lot. I’m not kidding. You will learn a lot.

The Outlier

Coldplay’s 2008 record Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends is by far, the outlier of their works. Its themes are much grander, and the music is more ambitious. Plus their outfits – were they some other band, the look would have been a silly stunt. The entire effort was simply different. But Viva worked and it was what it was: magic.

They worked with sonic pioneer Brian Eno as producer. What piqued my interest was how he integrated a new method of music-making in the band: he ejected front man Chris Martin from the early studio sessions. Eno knew that Buckland, Berryman and Champion – individually and as a trio – had music to bring to the table. With Martin extracted from the creative process, they could delve into their own music freely and thoroughly. Martin would return after some weeks to temper and weave together everyone’s material to fashion the tracks of what would collectively be known as Viva. They’ve employed a similar method for their follow-up, set for release this year. (Just last week, I heard “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” the first single of the follow-up. Based on this, I predict that the next album will be a branch-out from Viva.) This excerpt from Guardian illustrates Coldplay’s balance between music and business in the music business:

Of course, it is only a matter of time before Eno will be forced to re-admit Martin, letting him once again run rampant over the rest of the band’s experimentation. Gone will be the squalls of feedback – replaced with catchy piano lines. Farewell to 15-minute sound collages – swapped for three-minute singles. And goodbye to market failure – Martin’s sure, for all his failings, to turn their recordings into hits.

The Man

History plays a big role in this music biz thing. The music industry we’re familiar with today is very different from how it was decades ago, namely during the 60’s. I like how Frank Zappa had valid opinions about things and how he was articulate and be vocal about them. His thoughts ran from politics, to the unique names of his kids and of course, music. He was the man. Listen and learn:

Let’s give causation a shot. As Zappa detailed, there had been a shift in the paradigm of record executives and A&R men from the 60’s to the years that followed. At the start, who-knowswill-see was the ruling attitude – cause. Therefore, artists didn’t need to be so conscious of whether or not their material would sell – effect. This gave way to the “music of an experimental nature” being recorded during the time. The attitude would eventually morph as the figure hippie found his way into the executive chair, making the big decisions. With that, the paradigm shifted to the hasty that’s-not-what-the-kids-really-want mentality – cause. This would influence artists and musicians to heavily consider what the kids really want in their endeavors, because if otherwise, they’re a flop – effect. What the kids really want is another name for “other people,” whom the artist may perhaps have to switch (proverbial) masks for. Yes, it’s gotten worse over the years. I’ll leave it at that. For now.

Moving On

Come to think of it, the issue of “authenticity” is a monumental hassle. Whoever invented the damn thing, anyway? Does the honesty policy have to cover even music? What is this, Music Morality 101: Keeping Artistic Integrity in the Industry? Obviously not. Klosterman is right: it’s hardly a pressing problem. So what if people call you a poseur? Do their opinions count for anything? at all? Who has the right to tell you who you really are, anyway? Isn’t that up to you? Ultimately, it really goes down to whatever you choose to believe (If you so believe in money, that’s something else). It’s just like love – yes, I am going there. Sure, there are unwritten rules about how boys and girls should act around each other. But they aren’t really rules. They’re just guidelines borne out of social constructs. They believe they’re true after several instances of getting favorable results from following. People make meaning out of things to latch on to them. They order things and think in a certain way because doing those make them feel right. When they do something that goes against whatever meaning they attach to those social constructs, they feel wrong, incomplete, lost, insincere and guilty. It wouldn’t be according to “how things work.” The same goes for artistic authenticity. There are so many sources out there to draw guidelines from, you wouldn’t know where to start. We have history, our peers, those oafs we see getting arrested on showbiz news, Pitchfork, NME – the list goes on. But nobody really makes the rules. The artist makes them for himself. It also depends on the artist how flexible he will be regarding those rules. Honestly, I believe that people who toss around the word “poseur don’t think much, even though they can. It’s a lazy label for what or who they don’t like. This is why such criticism does not deserve any attention.

The dilemma remains. Forget what others think of you is what we’re told, but as much as we try to forget, we keep it in mind. The sheer force from giving a rat’s behind about what they think divides the mind, turns it on itself. It’s paradoxical. It’s fact and it’s fiction – it’s life.

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Part 1 ends here. To prepare yourself for Part 2, I recommend (synonym: require) that you access the links below. Scan through each piece of writing but focus your attention on the comments of people. Indulge:

Mutant Dance Rock delivered by Lip Service

Why the RH Bill is Bad: The Real Truth behind the Supposed Truth about the RH Bill

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