Some Call it Progress
In addition to my role as an elected official, I'm also involved in Frederick's business community as the general manager of a large, indoor sports and recreation facility.
In that capacity, I deal with everything from lost children to players upset with a referee's call. The problems are very different from those faced by a state delegate, but very important to the players, coaches, and spectators who visit the facility.
One of our more popular programs is the weekly Open Skate Session, when the facility functions just like an old-fashioned roller rink, complete with music. Bruises are strictly optional - and at the skaters discretion.
The music that accompanies the skaters as they swirl, spin, and zip around the rink is what prompts my writing. We play music through a sound system, with sufficient volume to be heard over the din of skaters.
Today's discerning skater wants to hear "popular" music, at least as defined by the skaters. Finding and playing music that consumers enjoy is no simple search.
We are forced to buy our music from Wal-Mart, primarily because the big box retailer only sells music with edited lyrical content. See, it isn't as easy as it used to be.
You can't just walk into a record store and pick up the latest edition of today's Top 40 popular music. The skaters seem to prefer rap and hip-hop, and the limited vocabulary of these urban musical (?) stylists forces the buyer to find retailers sensitive to what young ears hear.
I'm studiously trying to avoid sounding grandfatherly. I like lots of different music, including some rap. What I don't like to hear is filth flowing from the speakers in a torrent of misogyny and violence.
Jay Z, Ludicris, 50 Cent, Snoop Dog, Eminem, Ja Rule, and Exzibit all test the bounds of propriety by using the same street language to express themselves on disc that they did on the stoop. Fun to watch the spell check program choke on their names!
These artists come from colorful backgrounds and humble beginnings. Some of them were members of violent drug gangs, and their raps view the world through the cynical and hopeless filters that grew as they did. Others just adapted the tools of interpersonal communication from the street to the recording studio.
I understand that kids, especially those who grow up in relative affluence and privilege, yearn for things they don't understand. I also get the phenomenon that young people buy records that their parents can't stand. Seems to me my folks weren't too thrilled when Led Zeppelin's first record came roaring through my turntable in the early seventies.
That said, I can't help but think that the marketing geniuses behind these artists fail to actively market products that can be played in mixed company and for large gatherings.
The edited CD's that Wal-Mart sells just overdub the offending vocal. Instead of a seamless recording, what you get is a broken-up string of disjointed words. Unfortunately, the language isn't so badly broken that you can't figure out what goes into the blank spot.
Even if you didn't know, the kids who listen know exactly what goes into the blank. At the skating events, they frequently fill in the blank, sometimes as a chant. Sort of defeats the whole purpose of the edited CD, huh?
Call me old fashioned, but I long for a time when we celebrated talented lyricists for writing songs that cut to the heart of a problem without offending, embarrassing, or alienating.
I find the argument that these artists must use the words they used growing up to express their frustration and cynicism falls very short. Jay Z is forced to use the "F" word to explore the plight of a young man growing up in public housing, but Stevie Wonder did it better (without expletives) in "Living For the City" in a record from the 1970's.
The Spinners, O Jays, and Isaac Hayes all told compelling stories of life in the ghetto and inner cities without resorting to base and demeaning descriptions of women, relationships, and interpersonal conflict.
I listened to a modern music critic explain that today's musical talent expresses themselves using the tools they have grown up with. He stated that we need to provide them with an outlet for their expression, that our society has always struggled with creating opportunities for artistic expression, especially from minority artists.
Frankly, I think that argument is b#$*&%t! All I want to do is to buy a g*&^%%#$d CD, without a lot of s&^t substituted for lyrics. Is it too f*&%^(#g much to ask that we have music that can be played in mixed company, that can be enjoyed by young and old ears alike?
While the type of expression shown above might be therapeutic, all it accomplishes is to demonstrate a pathetic lack of education and expression. The argument that suggests that we need to be sympathetic to writers who know of no other way to express themselves is weak, and lacks credibility.
If this trend reflects progress - as some argue - give me artistic regression. I'll gladly revert to older, better, and more compelling storytellers.