I was at Target this morning, before everyone else was out of bed, staring at the tabloids. I saw an US Weekly devoted to Katy Perry. Really? I understand that I am in the minority but she annoys me. Additionally, I know she is good-girl-just-above-the-legal-age-reformed-Christian- sex- on-a-stick for many guys out there but I just want to shake my finger and say – Katy, you are so much smarter than this!
So confused by an entire publication devoted to this short term pop princess, I asked the young lady who was at the register if she liked Katy Perry. Here is where I admit that I stereotyped her. She was an African-American woman, 20 years old, with a nose ring. Although I asked her a question, I was certain I knew her answer already but I was wrong.
No, I don’t like Katy Perry but, come on, Lady Gaga is worse. Isn’t she played out already? She’s a sham. I grew up listening to my mother’s music. Fleetwood Mac. Journey. These are artists. People who had something to say about how they felt and people who cared about their music. Look at what has happened to Beyonce. The same music over and over again. Beautiful voice. No soul.
It’s true, I found my musical soul mate at Target. I was shocked.
My conversation with her brought to mind the concept of the rise and fall of decadence. Think Jazz age to Great Depression. French Baroque to French Revolution. David Bowie to the Ramones. Depeche Mode to Nirvana. Lady Gaga to ?
I think it is safe to say that a person or culture’s to desire for decadence arises from a need to leave poverty and oppression behind. Or, fancy language aside, it arises from our natural desire to relax, eat yummy food, and have a good time ! No one can live in a state of decadence for very long, however, because all that fun makes us lazy and bored. It inhibits us from making sound decisions in tough situations. Why not have another glass of champagne and we can think about that tomorrow.
I think that the decay of decadence is demonstrated so clearly in Sofia Copolla’s Marie Antoinette (no groans from my friends in Miami who went to see this with me and swore they would never let me choose another movie again). Everything about the movie is lush and over the top and yet vapid. I mean, what could be better than lounging about in your knickers, eating pastries, taking a nap, with a big feather in your perfectly coiffed hair but did it make anyone really happy and was it sustainable? I think in this case we can say, resoundingly, No.
Marie Antoinette understood this. After being “installed” at Versailles for 15 years, she had a “village” built on the grounds behind the Petit Trianon (her own abode) where she could live like ordinary French people, or at least visit ordinary French people without leaving the royal grounds. MA experienced the fall of decadence in her own world – bored by excessive beauty, champagne, and adoration – she needed something more. Reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau at this time, MA tried to re-create his idea that man can only be truly happy if he reverted back to his life in the state of nature, a far cry from life at Versailles. And so though MA was ridiculed for creating this pretend village, she had a clearer understanding of what was to come than the rest of the aristocracy, her husband especially. She intuitively understood that the champagne was about to stop flowing. (GAD and I had quite a memorable trip to Versailles in 2007, and so here are a few pics of MA’s hamlet.)
So what does this have to do with anything?
As my conversation in Target this morning reminded me, music is oftentimes the best indicator of a culture because it is the thermometer of the majority. Although there is always diversity in musical tastes, isn’t it interesting that we are seeing the peak of Lady Gaga, the veritable MA of the 21st century, while the interest in singer/songwriters and other minimal indie bands are becoming more and more mainstream? And yes, let’s not forget that this is happening as our economy continues to slump along, the unemployment rate steadies at disheartening high percentages, and people are increasingly dissatisfied by employers who take advantage of tight market conditions.
This is way things work. Over and over and over again. I should not be so surprised that I encountered someone so young, someone who has grown up on Britney, Justin, 50 Cent, and Shakira be a little over it. Can you blame her? She didn’t have Tori Amos, Eddie Veder, Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan to funnel her teen angst into. When the rest of us were tired of being so damned serious, we were ready for a little – could we please just dance now ? Maybe it’s her time to remind us that the party has been over for awhile, it’s time to go home and get back to business.
Although I spurned the Fall 2011 tartan trend in my last post because of it’s obvious grunge inspiration, I do not spurn a return to real rock and roll, lyrics with meaning (perhaps political meaning?), and fashion that resemble clothes that a fan could actually imitate and wear in public. I could really use a new album that sings to my soul because my neighbors are going to scream if they have to listen to Carole King’s Tapestry on level 10 anymore this summer. However, I am not comfortable leaving my Justin Timberlake behind, either.
And so just as folks enjoyed the optimism of Duke Ellington during WWII to take their minds off of separated lovers, lost friends, and rationed milk, I will listen to LG and covet her clothes that I can’t afford when I know that I should be grateful for what I have, understanding that “to everything there is a season” and that the rise and fall of decadence might indicate the waxing and waning of fancy shoes, but need not indicate the value of my experience or my happiness.
To honor the inspiration of my post today, here is Stevie Nick’s “After the Glitter Fades” where she tells us that “even though the living is sometimes laced with lies, it’s alright, the feeling remains even after the glitter fades.” And, in, in turn, I am including Carole King “The Earth Moves” in honor of my mom who taught me about music and Tori Amos “Pretty Good Year” in honor of my best friend who survived through puberty with me.