Thursday, August 23, 2012

Consumerism in America

I caught this lecture the other night at the TED x Phoenixville event. Author and social critic James Kunstler goes off on how uninspired architecture and half-assed city and suburban planning have blighted our culture.


Kunstler delivers an impassioned plea here. But he also raises a powerful question about consumerism in America, if only slightly indirectly: Have the words “consumer” and “person” become synonymous in our culture?


When Saturday morning comes and you pour that first cup of coffee and start thinking about “what to do” with your day, are you really wondering “what to buy”? Think beyond just straight-up shopping; consider any activity where spending money is integral (e.g., browsing at Ikea, going to the movies, stopping off at Panera for a bite, etc.). How much of your leisure activity is truly purchase-free? A friend recently half-joked that he probably spends more time shopping in book stores than he does actually reading. But there’s an uncomfortable, expansive truth in that statement.

For many of us, a lot of the time, “doing” and “buying” are one and the same. We exist in a culture where consuming goods is just what we do — an automated behavior that we don’t even question because it comes so naturally. If this is indeed the case, what does it imply about this culture of ours? And, by extension, what does that imply about us as people?

In what do we truly find meaning?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Deep Cuts, Vol. 3

When we comb our memories to recall the great bands of the ‘90s, why don’t the Cranberries (a-hem)...linger?


Their debut album was tremendous. Their second album — which could have been ironically called “Everybody Else Is Doing Grunge, So Why Can’t We?” — was spotty, but had some moments. And then their third album produced a wealth of great tunes, including this one here: an alt ‘60s doo-wop tune with an Irish yodel and an evo twist. Two-and-a-half great albums released during one of the most explosive eras of killer music P.E. (Post-Elvis)? That’s more than Counting Crows can say.

Granted, looking back through the prism of prescribed history, just about everything you need to know about ‘90s music falls into one of four categories: Grunge, Hip-Hop, Alanis Morissette and Radiohead. But there were a handful of artists outside those buckets who mattered. R.E.M. Pavement. Tori Amos. Dave Matthews (I know, I know). Weezer (yeah, yeah). Beck, for Chrissake. PJ Fucking Harvey. And, yes, the Cranberries.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Deep Cuts, Vol. 2

I read somewhere — but I have no idea where, so take it with a grain — that Radiohead was commissioned to write this song for the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack (Leo DiCaprio version). “Exit Music” wound up being so different than anything they’re done before that it shifted the very direction and tone for what would become their next album: the incomparable OK Computer.


Few people think of this song first when they think of Computer — what, with the sonic awesomeness of “Paranoid Android,” “Airbag,” “Let Down,” “Karma Police” and so forth — but the tune is just outstanding. Unassuming at first, the languid progression creeps along with a dark, hypnotic energy, before launching into an explosive the final quarter. (I’ve heard this song approximately 1,237 times, yet the ting-ting of Phil’s ride cymbal, in the seconds before he goes full into it, still sends cold adrenaline down my back.)

But beyond its importance to Computer — arguably one of the greatest albums of all time — this song doubles as an almost ideal theme song for Romeo + Juliet. Shakespeare’s masterpiece, after all, is not a love story; rather, it’s a story of two kids rebelling against their own fast-approaching adulthood. They want no parts of the world their parents represent, and their attraction, and immediate bond, is driven by that shared (unspoken) existential woe. They rather die than become their parents, and they wind up doing just that. “We hope your rules and wisdom choke you” sounds like it coulda come from a modern-day diary of Romeo’s or Juliet’s.

I imagine Billy Shakes would agree.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Deep Cuts, Vol. 1

I’m trying a new thing here. Basically, any time I dust off an old CD and run into a song that kicks ass -- but got lost in history as an unrecognized, un-talked-about “deep cut” -- I’m gonna post it here for fun.

Maybe you’ll find something great you never knew existed. Or maybe you’ll be reminded of something long-gone and have one of those, “Oh, right, I forgot all about that tune -- awesome!” moments. Either way.

As Eddie Murphy’s Buckwheat used to say: “Take a whisten.”