I watched an excellent mini-documentary on the New York Times website about The Liverbirds. They were essentially the female version of the Beatles: a four-piece group that came up in Liverpool in the 1960s. The documentary featured interviews with the two surviving members of the band.
One of them shared an anecdote that really stuck with me. They were at a club and met the Beatles. John Lennon scoffed and said, “Girls can’t play guitars.”
Obviously this is musical gatekeeping. And it extends beyond the players themselves into the audience. My blog attempts to get to the heart of the music and why we react a certain way to it. So with that in mind, if we go beyond the sexism and flame wars, what is it about the music itself that reads as masculine?
I’ve gone through many musical phases: years of my life where I’ve been singularly obsessed with one artist or artists, a single genre.
In college – specifically sophomore year – that phase was classic rock. Fall semester I was really into The Who. If you asked me how I was feeling, I was often tempted to answer, “a little like a dyin’ clown with a streak of Rin Tin Tin.”
While I am the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest David Bowie fan (I like his music, I’m just not obsessive about it the way I am about other artists), I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge this cultural moment. What follows is a small roundup of links about the man, his music, and his impact. Overall this is just bizarre to me: Bowie always fashioned himself as a transcendent alien, so I never thought of him as someone who would be able to die.
David Bowie Dies at 69; Star Transcended Music, Art, and Fashion
David Bowie’s Fashion Legacy
David Bowie Allowed His Art to Deliver a Final Message
And because this is a female-focused blog, I would also like to include the following link as well. I don’t want to start a firestorm on the internet, but I feel that this aspect of David Bowie’s life is important to point out.
“So that’s what I’m going to try to do: try to get comfortable with the discomfort of the grey area. To understand that a glorious oddball can also be someone protected from consequence by his position in the world. To see genius and abuse not as reflections of monsters or angels, but simply things that people do. Real, complicated, screwed up things and people. To try to understand more about the why of it all, since all of it is part of our common humanity whether we like it or not. To acknowledge that I love and am inspired by so much music this man created, and that I’m going to be as saddened by his loss and transported by his music as I’m furious at what he did. And in that discomfort, working towards a culture where rich, white, extraordinarily talented men don’t get a licence to abuse with impunity.” (sic) (From “David Bowie was wonderful. He was also an abuser. How do we handle that?”)
Today’s post is all about guilty pleasure music – you know, the kind of music you’d never in a million years admit to listening to.
I was inspired by this Dave Grohl quote: “I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.”
Ahem. Epithets aside, he’s onto something.
Today we’re examining the phenomenon of Tame Impala – specifically, their song “The Less I Know The Better.” It’s basically your art student friend’s sound. Spare, electronic beat accompanied by a wavering male voice.
Lyrically, TLIKTB is written from the classic perspective of a man scorned. “Someone said they left together/I ran out the door to get her/She was holding hands with Trevor/Not the greatest feeling ever.” It’s all about college gossip, and trying to get with the girl you like. The whole tone of the song is desperation: “Oh my love, can’t you see yourself by my side/No surprise when you’re on his shoulder like every night.”
That extra “like” in this particular lyric is especially interesting. It emphasizes how much of an exaggerated perspective the narrator has for the whole situation. Yet it also feminizes his tone (like, y’know, like?) and aligns him more closely with the woman he dismisses.
There’s another contrast later in the song. Kevin Parker writes, “So goodbye” as if to cut this woman out of his life. However, almost immediately after this, this woman tells him to “wait 10 years, we’ll be together.” To which he responds, “Better late then never/just don’t make me wait forever.”
The push-pull of their relationship emphasizes its immaturity. He wants her, but when he can’t have her, it’s “so goodbye.” But when she tells him they’ll end up together, he’s all for it.
Who’s really in control here, then? Parker wants to be, by slut-shaming the girl for going out with this “Trevor” guy instead of him. Ultimately, though, the girl of the song is revealed to have power over him: 10 years, for Parker, doesn’t seem that long of a wait.
It seems like this is a recurring theme in indie music: you know, the girl who’s just so skinny and sad and broken that the singer has no choice but to write about it (instead of…helping her?) The Toast wrote about this a few years ago, but seeing as it’s a consistent issue, I felt like writing about it – specifically, as the trope occurs in “A Team” by Ed Sheeran.