Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Music/TV - One Boob, One Band and Maybe I'm Just Paranoid

“Is that supposed to be your poker face, or did someone get run over by a train.” – that’s the opening line of a great song by a great band that I want to tell you about before the Grammy’s makes them famous and ruins it.
But first, I need to say a few words about the Grammys and quite a few more about its network, CBS, because I haven’t heard anyone else say them.
So bear with me:

As a Grammy’s ad, this year’s Super Bowl halftime succeeded beyond CBS’s wildest dreams. They must be starring at their laptops, combing their production notes, asking over and over, like Max Bealistock, Where Did We Go Right?
In one hideous show, CBS managed to pull off one of the most sexually cynical and racially hateful moments in recent broadcast history – and came out of it as the victim AND is going to end up rich for it.
Follow me through it:
CBS, owned by the same company that owns MTV, got two of MTV’s biggest black talents, Nelly and Puff, to do what they do (rap about getting laid, grab their crotch – if you know me, you know I’m a fan) for the Super Bowl halftime. Every 12 year old in Omaha knew what was coming, so I will not entertain suggestions that CBS/NFL officials did not. Still, Nel’ and Diddy would have been enough to set off the 700 Club crowd, which is why they were up there to start with.
But CBS knew they couldn’t send JUST those two up there because any useful outrage they might generate would instantly be negated by a Racism Scare. CBS certainly didn’t want to send its white-suburban Super Bowl audience to bed wondering if its THEIR FAULT they were offended by two black rappers that their 12 year old daughter loves. Easier for Middle America to ignore it all together – and CBS didn’t want their Super Bowl ignored.
Which is why Puff and Nelly were really there just to prime the WhiteFear-pump for MTV’s Justin Timberlake, an even bigger star because he is white but trades on black identity. So when he goes up there and behaves similarly, if tamer, than Nelly and Puff, the Fly-over states can get in a good, healthy huff without feeling like they’re facing any unpleasant gaps in their own sensitivity.
Here’s the thinking CBS was spoon-feeding us: Blacks are blacks, but HE shouldn’t be behaving like that!
You can send most of the Central timezone to work on Monday in a right pissy mood on that vibe, and they’ll talk about it all week – which, to CBS, means they’re talking about CBS.
Am I reading too much in? Seeing conspiracy and racial boogiemen where there was only incompetence? Well, that would be a LOT of incompetence. In fact, it would be the Mt. Everest of incompetence during the most-valuable broadcast of the year – or it could be a thoroughly plotted, detail-oriented plan, ie the kind of plan you’d expect to find at a Super Bowl. Which seems more likely?
Consider: when CBS (and the NFL) hired MTV to put on that show, what did they THINK they were going to get? If I’m wrong, then CBS wrote a giant check to MTV without bothering to listen to a single Nelly song (I LOVE Nelly, but his oervre has laser-like message displine: bitches, cars, cash, repeat)… OR a major American TV network exploited vague racial resentment in its Super Bowl audience to sell beer.
Which seems more likely?
I suppose if the show had only been those 3 – Nelly, Puff and ‘Lake – the evidence would be inconclusive.

And then came Janet. Case closed.

Let’s back up a bit: just two months ago (so soon we forget….), CBS ran a Michael Jackson musical show in primetime in return for him granting 60 Minutes an interview after he was arrested for child molestation. Read that again.
Actually, CBS says it was all a coincidence. Again – which seems more likely?
Still, CBS was due the benefit of doubt on that affair – until his sister, with no discernable current following, showed up on the Super Bowl halftime show with, arguably, America’s top 3 male musical talents. I mean, who said ‘no’ to that venue that they had to turn to Janet? Or was an 80s-era pop star with a known-pedophile brother the first choice?
So let’s connect the dots:
In one halftime, CBS managed to leverage white people’s fear of black music AND the leering specter of the network’s own approved child molester/music talent into one big ball of dripping offensiveness – and got the entire nation talking about it all week.
You gotta hand it to them.
And then came the tit-flash (at least, I think it did – in the actual, undoctored replay, can you see anything? I don’t think I can and I know I didn’t see anything live), and things only got better. Way more talk. Way more outrage. White Guy-Black Girl-Look Out! And an actual investigation by the FCC – the surest ratings booster this side of a suicide.
It’s hard to imagine anything better for CBS.
In fact, the ONLY thing that could be better for CBS would be if they could – and here we’re talking pie in the sky – somehow trot the same cast back out for an encore a week later. I mean, wouldn’t THAT be something, but what are the odds?

Ladies and Gentlemen, this Sunday on CBS… the Grammys.

ANOTHER coincidence goes CBS’s way! Somebody buy them a lottery ticket!
Let’s see… scheduled to perform: Puff, Nelly, Lake and… Janet? She WAS on the list but now there is some DOUBT! Whoo – the suspense is KILLING ME!
So, with the outrage so high and the grammy’s so close, CBS has spent this week trumpeting that it will have a FIVE MINUTE delay (because they were shocked – Shocked!) so everything will be “appropriate” – and among all the people I know in the universe, only my mom would fail to see that what that actually means is, ‘we’ve been planning something REALLY inappropriate, so tune in to see if we catch it.’
No, actually, even Trish would catch on to that.
What she would miss – because she has goodness in her heart and CBS doesn’t – is that what CBS is REALLY saying is: ‘we’ve been planning to let Nelly and Puff and other black people act even MORE black, so tune in to see if we catch them.’
It’s so sickening, I suspect the involvement of Karl Rove, but I’m out of dots to connect.

Phew. I feel better. I’ll leave the entire despicable event behind me by saying this – like Dubya, CBS needs an Exit Strategy. Unlike Dubya, I think they have one:

Ladies and Gentlemen… Fountains of Wayne.

CBS needs a wholesome, feel-good (ie, utterly white) act to seize the Grammy’s by the throat and pull everybody’s collective ass out of the fire. A Bonnie Raitt/Nora Jones-type of night.
It’s going to be Fountains of Wayne. CBS is going to hand them statues until people stop asking about Janet. In one of those quaint hiccups that make the Grammys so adorably vile, they’re up for best ‘new’ artist with their 3rd album (against 50 Cent) and for ‘best song by a duo’(?) for their sort-of-hit “Stacey’s Mom.”
They’re normal, even harmless looking (unlike the moaning freaks in Evanescence), dress responsibly, don’t curse much on their albums (sorry, White Stripes), play their own instruments (‘Lake, Beyonce, etc) and unless CBS wants 50 telling the home audience “there’s no bidness like ‘Ho bidness!” Fountains of Wayne is going to run away with things.
And the really, really sad part is: they totally deserve it.

If you’re cool enough to have found them already or have known about them for years - as I know at least three or four of my friends are – then sorry. But I can’t seem to stop running into people who’ve never heard of them. And CBS is going to put a stop to their anonymity, and, with it, their cool.
So at least let me stick up for them before the bubble bursts.

Fountains of Wayne is probably – no, definetly – the first great pop act of the decade. Of course, who was the last? Sugar Ray? No Doubt? Smashmouth? Beck? I’m not exactly smashing received truths to state that Hip Hop has been the Western Conference to Pop’s East since at LEAST Biggie got shot. If you don’t like hip hop – Eminem, Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, whatever – what have you been listening to for 5 years? Basicly, teen pop, Creed-rock or rap-metal.
But things have been looking up for a year or so. Somewhere between “The ‘The’ Movement” (The Hives, The Strokes, The Vines, The White Stripes, etc), Tenacious D and some new blood in fringe-metal (Disturbed, etc), actual Rock music has rebounded. With Fountains, Pop may be back, too.
Digression: What is “pop” music, exactly? It was pretty obvious in the 80s - Hall and Oates, yes. Quiet Riot, no. Scandal – yip. Springsteen – nope. The Cars (major Fountains influence)? You betcha. Pet Shop Boys – New Wave! Run!
But the last time there was anything resembling decent pop was the mid-90s, before Puff’s “I’ll Be Missing You” launched the revolution. If you got clear of the Pearl Jam and Metalica, you could hear Dave Matthews, the Wallflowers, Hootie and Garbage (and Dishwalla and the Refreshments and countless others who added one song to our brain and fell off the earth – sing with me!: “all I wanna DO is to thank you, even though I don’t know who you are/you let me change lanes while I was driving in my caaarrrr/ whoever you are…”? YEAH!!) Not interesting, or groundbreaking or even memorable, but fun.
But somewhere around the Thong Song, that all changed. “Top 40” suddenly meant ‘edited rap’ or Marilyn Manson or, lately, Linkin Park.
But nothing lasts forever – Britney got married (goodbye, credibility), Jessica married Nick but never heard of Ringo Starr (hello, over-exposure), and even Dr. Dre is talking about getting out (moment of silence…).
Into the void rushes Fountains of Wayne, just in time to stand Aragorn-astride-the-gates-of-Mordor-like against the scurge of John Mayer. Seriously: name a band you’d like to see at a bar right now, besides Tenacious D and Jack Johnson. Cuz if you took your girl to see a John Mayer set, you couldn’t go to the bathroom or he’d slip her a hotel key. Classic poacher. And what’s with all that moaning? Its rock music, for f’s sake. Nobody died. Lighten Up, body-is-a-wonderland-Boy .

So go get Wayne’s ‘Welcome Interstate Managers’, the best pure pop album since Sugar Ray’s ‘14:59 ‘ (you know… “Every Morning” etc). It’s got “Mexican Wine,” the best post-college-funk rock song since Ben Folds Five’s “Army,” which will have you singing about how you got fired by United Airlines for weeks; “Bright Future In Sales” is 3 minutes of clever lyrics and 2-chord jamming; “Hey Julie” is probably the strongest named-for-a-girl song since – bold statement ahead – All-Time champ Barbara Ann.
Even the inevitable ‘serious’ songs don’t drag (except for the dreary She’s Got A Problem - yuck) – Hackensack is fun and No Better Place is a great lyrics exhibition (it always comes back to lyrics with these bands, huh?), opening with the “poker face/run over by a train” line.

But of course the crowning effort is “Stacy’s Mom,” which is just a terrific, addictive, fun tune even if, musically, it’s very close to a direct lift of the Cars’ Just What I Needed. Or anything Rick Springfield ever put out – seriously, there are some VERY shallow echoes of Jesse’s Girl there.
And have you seen the video? The song is about Stacy’s hot mom – and I was originally told that Christy Brinkley was in the title role, which would have been one of the all-time great cameos – right there with Chuck Yeagar as the barfly in the Right Stuff. But its not her. It’s Racheal Hunter, who is an actual mom and runs about mid-30s and looks 23 and could out-Hot a solid 80-percent of Playboy’s offerings of the last 10 years.
There’s NOTHING weak about Rachael Hunter. She’s almost too hot for the song. But she used to bang Rod Stewart, which kinda ruins it.
And in the end, she’s not Christy Brinkley – and when you’re expecting Christy Brinkley, is there even such a thing as a substitute?



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