Thursday, December 23, 2004

Watching a repeat of VH1’s trite pop culture retrospective series I Love the 90’s the other night, I witnessed a clip of aging MTV stalwart Kurt Loder belittling the singer Jewel for misusing the word “casualty” in her poetic collection A Night Without Armor. Normally, I would have found the humor in such a sardonic moment; however, it struck me that Kurt’s needling revealed that the standard used by some music aficionados to determine which recording artists get ridiculed for their vapidity is rather arbitrary.

It’s alright to criticize Jewel’s abuse of nouns (though it could be reasonably argued that she was simply exercising poetic license), yet an entire industry of rap artists can bastardize not only nouns but the whole English language, and still be highly regarded as ground-breaking creative icons? Where exactly does the line get drawn between these two scenarios?

Ok, maybe comparing Jewel to a genre of music is a bit of an overreach to illustrate my point. Fair enough. Then let’s compare her to another artist, Alanis Morrisette, the Canadian teenie pop idol turned angry gyno-rocker turned new age hipstress. According to the Rolling Stone set, she represents a profound voice of the post Gen-X populace, and as such she is highly regarded. She must be, because her flagrant mangling of English has gone largely unchallenged by the likes of Kurt Loder and his music snob ilk.

Alanis had a monster hit with Ironic, a catchy little tune with lyrics that belied the premise implied by the song’s title. She sang about a number of ironic situations, none of which are by definition ironic. The only way Ironic could be a song about irony is if Alanis intended to sing about irony using examples of irony which are not actually ironic, thereby rendering the entire song ironic. Do I think Alanis was cognizant of this multi-layered facet of her lyrics? Certainly not. She doesn’t strike me as all that deep. Did she get a pass by the aficionados for this language infraction? Of course.

Maybe I’ve already spent way, way too much time thinking about something so very asinine. What do I care what musicians put into their lyrics? Most of it doesn’t make a lick of sense anyway. Go try to decipher REM’s What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? Or, how about this little snippet from America’s A Horse With No Name:
In the desert you can remember your name
'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain.
Let’s not forget this gem from The Beatles’ Come Together:
He wear no shoeshine he got toe-jam football
He got monkey finger he shoot coca-cola
“…ain’t no one for to give you no pain”? “…he got toe-jam football”? What the hell is that?


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