Marketing Misery

Rand Carlson

A 4-foot-by-6-foot Jolly Roger flaps from a post in my front yard. Gives the dirt plot a bit of shade while providing respite from so much Red, White and Blue. Yet, predictably, not everyone appreciates my goofy little symbol of free speech. The hostility in the air is thick and the neighbors most likely would rather see me dead. They call me names, too. Things like commie faggot, Afghan refugee, white nigger. . . . Just the most abominable and ignorant stuff you could ever imagine.

Land of the free, indeed.

What's obvious and without argument is that all political crimes are justified in the eyes of the perpetrators, who will always regard them as some sort of payback. After years of nuclear haughtiness, fervent fueling of the Cold War and calm bombing of innocent civilians, we Americans are still shocked that people in other countries view conflicts through the dim-eyed looking glass of victimhood and revenge just like we do.

I don't hate America. Not even close. I love her dearly, in fact. I have loads of empathy for the families of those slaughtered by terrorists, just as I have loads of empathy for the innocent Afghans murdered as we speak. I'm just not down with so much Red, White and Blue. This mad flag-waving strikes me as a media-generated frenzy of ignorant self-righteousness born of fear and anger.

Having said that, and in light of the World Trade Center attacks, we now find the slime of sentiment drooling upon us from all over. Particularly by narcissistic pop stars revolving in an arena where nothing is ever above marketing strategizing, even misery and death.

Never trust a pop star who suddenly develops a social conscience. In times of strife, and without missing the proverbial beat, some soon-to-be film/music-biz has-been will inevitably beam himself down through the media and appear before us, ready for sainthood.

And the suck-up contingents that've jumped the strife train over the years are as wide as they are varied. Who could forget Lionel Richie leading the "We Are the World" charge? Diana Ross pawning herself off as Ma Teresa in same? The cockeyed, one-two punch of The Hooters (with a debut album to promote) sharing the bill with the spiraling REO Speedwagon at Live Aid? The Grateful Dead pimping out their chickenshit Altamont experience in the song "New Speedway Boogie." Even more bewildering was seeing Dustin Hoffman's lipless prune-face mouthing lyrics on a recent televised tribute to John Lennon.

Enter Limp Bizkit's greed-driven megalomaniac front man Fred Durst, or, as I now refer to him, Saint Durst. After the WTC horror show, Saint Durst has proven that he's the world's most gifted self-promoter. With ubiquitous long face and puppy-dog eyes, and in a tone of maudlin devastation, he's been, since September 11, attempting to impress upon us just how messed up he is over everything that's happened. He's been reaching out to dry our tears. He's a changed man.

Gee, he's not sensing that the statute of limitations for chubby white guys using rap and angst as shtick to sell records is nearly up, is he?

Saint Durst is a dude who has been reminding us with regularity that in the service industry known as the music biz, lack of talent doesn't disqualify you from becoming a rock 'n' roll star. He's a PR flack with a microphone. A guy with no sense of boundary or common decency. He'll stop at nothing for the chance to flap his cholesterol jowls on national TV. One recent interview saw him begging us Americans to Give Peace a Chance, to join together, to live in harmony. That we all must come together because life is "so precious."

We can all put our hands over our hearts as Saint Durst cloaks himself in Old Glory and mimes television reporter jingoism. From a guy who made a career of encouraging kids to fight and bust stuff -- a guy who incited the riot at Woodstock that saw numerous women raped -- this stuff just whiffs of fish.

"If everyone doesn't come to their senses and realize we've got to let all that go, then they're blind," Saint Durst told MTV a few weeks back. What's funny is this is the only time I've heard Saint Durst string words together that weren't something like fuck, bitch and dick. "They're as blind as the people who are killing us. I've had my problems with whoever I've had them with, and whoever had their problem with me or Limp Bizkit. [But] I'm a human being, and I'm prepared to step up to that. All of my differences are gone now. I care about you being alive, and I want you to care about me being alive . . . Right now, it's f---ing unbelievable. It makes me want to cry. . . .  

"All the people you love, all your friends, anybody around you, they're gone," he continued. "That is devastating to me. It's just too much. I'm overwhelmed. . . . I haven't thought so much about it until right now, and I wouldn't normally be the person to be telling you this, but I am this person right now. It's very important that you listen to me and you become at peace with yourself and with everyone in this world. Because I love being alive, and I hope you do, too. We can make a difference."

Nothing is more obscene than witnessing a pop star mine the misery of others as a launch pad for personal exposure. I don't buy this crap, not when it's burped from the lips of Saint Durst, and neither should you.

The all-star video redo of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On," conceived by Bono (who else?) and Jermaine Dupri, shows an eerie narcissism among its participants, particularly Saint Durst. Originally intended to debut on AIDS Day to benefit the AIDS relief effort, the proceeds from the single are now split between the United Way's September 11 fund and AIDS relief organizations. The video, a pastiche of performances in the recording studio, shows Saint Durst in a moment of glorious self-love. He's seen rocking to his own whiney hip-hop bastardization of the song while listening back in the control room. It's as if He's there and He's all that matters. There is no sense of generosity of spirit, no sense of selfless love for the hurting. No sense of anything that he's been spouting in the press. What's more, you sense the same narcissism in the other participants. At one point, a member of Destiny's Child is seen looking at herself longingly in a studio window reflection as the song pumps through the studio speakers.

Overall it is a hideous display of selfishness; a marketing scheme to further careers based on the death of mothers, fathers, lovers, husbands and children. In the video, only Bono -- who can be a downright vainglorious mook in times like these -- shows any sign of dignity. One grainy shot catches on his face the look of vague disgust. Perhaps it's all the appalling we're-doing-something-really-really-important-here posturing?

Durst's efforts reveal a man who so desperately wants to become a member of the pop-star elite. To hobnob with Bono, trawl for booty at the Playboy mansion, have dinner with the prez. Christ, he's directed a few crap rock videos and he thinks he's Oliver Stone.

Hey, Saint Durst: Why not clam up and do something that could really count? Something fat-hearted and respectful, like unloading some of your bank accounts in an anonymous manner to help those in need. But anonymity doesn't move any Limp product, now does it?

Obligatory reviews:

The Cranberries
Wake up and Smell the Coffee (MCA)

Thirteen songs that flirt with themes of death, lost love, and the value of gaining an eye for beauty. In the hands of a capable pop band, ideas like those could be seeds for greatness. Wake Up and Smell the Coffee is like any other Cranberries record and is distinguished by milky folk-pop hooks, overtly precious singing on the part of Dolores O'Riordan Burton, and sleepy songs. Your mom might dig this.

Human League
Secrets (Ark 21)

Jesus, it's a spanking new 1981 reference point, all shallow, shifty and silly. Blah. Picture Dare with drum loops and seven instrumentals. The voices of Philip Oakley, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Cathrell haven't aged a day and neither have their silly rhyme schemes. Synthpop redux. Secrets is cold, icy, angular and unfun, just like it was two decades ago.

And in a recent photo, the trio can be seen wearing the same pointy edged get-ups! Yikes! Secrets, however, does see a timely release date; it hits the bins the day before Halloween. . . .

The Strokes
Is This It (RCA)

I hate the fact that the singer's pop is John Casablancas and the word is it was pop's money that indirectly got them a record deal and into the pages of Rolling Stone before they even played their fifth gig. I hate the fact that they all have had privileged upbringings. I hate that I saw their Roman Coppola-directed video on MTV during prime time last night and it's purposely shot to look "grainy" and "amateur." I hate that everyone, I mean everyone, says they are the saviors, the Great White Hope of rock 'n' roll. I hate that their record is No. 2 on the British pop charts. I hate that in Britain they are royalty. I hate the fact that people are suggesting "The Strokes" is American for rock 'n' roll.  

I hate the fact that they're really just average. I hate average. The Strokes are average, yes, but come armed with a heavy sense of musical irony. So much so that people compare them to smart groundbreakers like Television and Blondie and Lou Reed and Wire. But nowhere on this record is there a song nearly as good as "Glory," or "Union City Blue," or "Vicious," or "Outdoor Miner." Hey kids, history doesn't start now.

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