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Tucson Weekly Rock 'N' Roll Criticide

News And Views From The Trenches Of Music Criticism.

By Roni Sarig

JULY 20, 1998:  MY USUAL MODUS operandi as a music writer is to celebrate the foibles and follies of the critical media surrounding music. Communication, however, is at least a two-way street (and more like an open field). So herewith are a couple of items dealing with music that critiques the media:

MOMUS WAGS THE Dog: Besides being a terrific songwriter, Nick Currie is a man of impeccable timing. Not that many have noticed in the U.S., where it's taken his one-man band Momus more than 13 years to develop even the slightest profile. His latest record, though, contains what may have been something of a pop music equivalent to cinema's recent Wag the Dog phenomenon--a piece of art made available at precisely the point where it seems most relevant to current events; and in particular, White House events.

Released in early '98, the album Ping Pong contains--among many truly wonderful and eccentric ditties--a quirky bit of synth-pop called "The Age of Information," which serves as a sharp piece of media critique/satire/forecasting. If Bill Clinton had gotten ahold of it when the record first came out, we might all have been spared those months of accusation, denial, and conjecture following Monica Lewinsky's entrance into public discourse.

In his album notes, Currie introduces the song this way: "I met the writer Douglas Rushkoff at a digital conference in Amsterdam, and he surprised me by saying that his solution to the problem of privacy on the Internet was not encryption but being morally good. Everything that can be known will be known, so you shouldn't do anything you feel bad about others knowing you do. That doesn't mean you should become boringly respectable, though. Maybe the new transparency will mean a new tolerance for the complexities of human behavior. Nixon got impeached when people heard his secret tapes, but the more people learn about Clinton's immorality, the more they seem to like him."

Currie was referring to Clinton's other indiscretions--Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, you name it--since the Prez's alleged fondness for interns had not yet been revealed. But when the shit hit the newsstands in January, sure enough, Bill's numbers hardly flinched. And it seems reasonable to surmise that Clinton's ability to stay popular during scandal says less about our love for him, and at least as much, if not more, about our own sympathies and insecurities at a time when holier-than-thou attitudes will bite you on the ass faster than a new, high-speed modem can download the contents of your hard drive.

Some inspired bits of lyric from the song:

In the age of information the only way to hide facts is with interpretation/There's no way to stop the free exchange of idle speculation/In the days before communication, privacy meant staying at home/Sitting in the dark with curtains shut, unsure whether to answer the phone/But these are different times, now the bottom line is that everyone should prepare to be known/Most of your friends will still like you fine.

DECONSTRUCTING THE ROCK Myth, Digitally: More good news from the front lines of the information society! We used to worry about how legal protections would restrict the free flow of media between producers and consumers in the digital age. It seemed unfair that we could be barraged with popular songs, images, and advertisements, and yet be barred by copyright law from regurgitating that information freely in the form of samples and appropriations. Could it be that something as trite and ridiculous as that old, rock-star myth--the one about rock stars being conscientious, non-greedy, and supportive of other artists--is actually working to diffuse this issue?

Not quite. There's still plenty of money to be made in sample clearances. But in some cases, fear of public perception seems to be motivating sampled artists' decisions to not pursue legal action. A few years back, after U2's record company sued the group Negativland for illegally sampling a U2 record, it caused so much negative publicity for the Irish rockers--who looked like fat-cat megastars out to squash a tiny group of avant-garde sound collagers--the band eventually called off the legal attack dogs. (Last year, Pepsi went easy on Negativland's parody Dispepsi for similar fears of creating mountains out of mole hills.)

Now with the recent "Deconstructing Beck," a collection of illegal samples by corporate subversives Illegal Art (with the help of kindred spirits ®™ark and Negativland), Beck himself has made sure that no record company lawyers will be sullying his indie cred by chasing around conceptual mixmasters on his behalf. While sampling for commercial purposes still requires payment, known culture-jammers like Negativland seem to be developing a sort of immunity from copyright violation. It's creating a double standard for sample clearances that, frankly, we can live with.

ANTICHRIST SUPER-DUDE: For those who wondered whether Marilyn Manson spelled the death of rock music, if not western civilization as a whole, he may have been beat to the punch by a fellow named Jono Manson (no relation). An unfortunate choice of a blurb, found in Paradigm Records' press release for Jono's latest album, isn't likely to endear him to many discerning critics. The document credits someone in High Times as having written, "If it wasn't for Jono Manson, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, and Joan Osbourne, the New York jam-band scene may never have happened."

Now at least we know who to blame.


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