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What Would Erik Satie Do? 

Coping with Linkin Park, gas prices and American Idol in a world where only Muddy Bears make sense

Wednesday, May 30 2007
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(Photo by James Minchin

I’m no Linkin Park fan. To me, they represent the aesthetic nadir of modern rock — all that shouting and rapping and whining, all so anally polished and digitally enhanced.

Still, I would like to thank Linkin Park for bitching about the price of gasoline, and this dreadful war. (See “Hands Held High,” off their new album, Minutes to Midnight, which is selling so well it may keep the record industry alive for another three and a half minutes.) The price of gas is one thing Linkin Park and I can agree upon. (Oof. Agreeing with Linkin Park on anything — that’s got to be some sign of the Apocalypse, right?)

Anyway, my feeling is that if a rock band is going to be all dopey and shouty and KROQ-y, then they may as well stand for something politically. Make themselves useful. It’s good to think the biggest-selling rock album in quite a while has a couple tunes that are at least vaguely anti-Bush.

Apparently, George W. Bush is the other thing Linkin Park and I can agree upon. Who knew that such scary times could also be so unifying?

But really, I can’t think of a more appropriate anthem for this moment in American history than Nirvana’s “Rape Me.” I just heard on the news that the price of gasoline is higher than it’s ever been in history, even if you adjust for inflation — it’s higher than it ever was during any gas “crisis” in the ’70s or ’80s. (Rape me, my friend!) Not coincidentally, last year Exxon Mobil reported the largest profit any American company has ever made — ever, in the history of companies. $39.5 billion. (Rape me, again!) That reminds me of a joke I once heard. You may have heard it too. It’s the one they told us a couple years ago about how gas prices were so high because of the hurricanes. That was a good one. That was almost as good as “the end of major military operations in Iraq” in 2003. (Hate me. Do it again and again.)

I often wonder how it is that we all accept paying nearly four dollars for a gallon of gas — when we know those companies are ripping us off, ruining the environment and controlling our foreign policy. (Or, as Linkin you-know-what put it, “When you can’t put gas in your tank/These fuckers are laughing their way to the bank.”) What will the tipping point be for consumer revolt? Five dollars? Six? At what point do violated consumers say to corporations, “Your right to make a profit ends where my butt begins”?

And isn’t it time for someone besides Richard Cheese (the ironical lounge guy) to cover “Rape Me”? Or, dare I ask, to write a new sing-along radio anthem to stylishly capture this dark moment? Is that really so much to ask?


This week, I am slightly depressed about pop culture — what with the canceling of Gilmore Girls (for more on that, go here), the lameness of Spider-Man 3, shlumpy music everywhere. (One of my better pop-cultural discoveries of late is a new type of Gummi Bear called Muddy Bears. They’re covered with chocolate, and they’re outstanding.) Keith Richards has been good for a laugh or two, God bless him. And yeah, Meat Loaf singing “Bat Out of Hell” on Dancing With the Stars was, clearly, an inspired moment. But Keef, Meat Loaf and the Muddy Bears can only do so much, people. We’ve got to step it up a notch.

Speaking of such things: I gotta say, American Idol kind of sucked this year. And I say that as a real fan of the show. I watched it faithfully this season, don’t get me wrong, but felt none of that old thrill — that feeling I used to get knowing I was watching great television. I was as bored with it this year as the judges seemed to be (Simon especially).

At first I thought it was amusing how the judges praised the beat-boxing, Cure-singing Blake for being “contemporary” — when he was clearly as retro-1980s as a kid can get. Then I realized, that’s what it means to be contemporary nowadays. You’ve got to be ’80s to be “hip.”

But the main problem for me this year was not the show itself — I thoroughly enjoyed the guest spots by Lulu, Peter Noone, J. Lo and Gwen Stefani. (Barry Gibb was deeply unsettling — especially the whistling dentures and slobbering over Jordin Sparks.) The trouble was all the music coming out by previous contestants. Fantasia had a couple okay tunes on her last album, but overall the albums piling up from American Idol people are proving to be consistently disposable, and usually crappy. Even the singles are lame. It never fails to amaze me how the handlers for these albums manage to screw them up.

It seems that only Kelly Clarkson — who’s done more than anyone to distance herself from Idol — knows how to pick a decent pop song. Come to think of it, the magnificent Jennifer Hudson has also distanced herself from Idol. (Note: I do hope to catch Fantasia in The Color Purple on Broadway. She just got a rave in The New York Times. That’s my girl!)

So far, though, most Idol contestants have proved to be interesting only while they are on the show, and cease to be compelling or useful afterward. And the more times this pattern repeats itself, the more jaded I begin to feel about the show. (Sorta like what happened at the end of the Pussycat Dolls contest, when the winner joined the group onstage to perform “Dontcha.” We’d spent all this time getting to know this young woman, a teen mom — only to watch her be swallowed up and assimilated into the Pussycat Dolls borg in a heartbeat. Suddenly, I felt I’d wasted quite a bit of time.)

What appealed to me about Idol for so long was the idea that it could democratize the star-making process — that the people could choose better pop stars than the record companies. But what good is a democratically chosen pop star if he or she can’t write (or buy) a decent song? And what’s the point of watching this contest if it only leads, inevitably, to lame music that does nothing for the culture?

Is it that hard to find a good song?



Maybe so. All I want to listen to right now is Erik Satie, a French classical dude who lived from 1866 to 1925. I crave it physically, like some obscure but essential trace mineral. It’s pretty much the main thing standing between me and an ulcer.

But I am no classical-music connoisseur. I appreciate Erik Satie as pop, period. And I’m hardly the first person to dig Satie that way. Artists from Blood Sweat & Tears to the Cure to Janet Jackson have used and/or abused Trois Gymnopédies toward their own ends.

But for me, there’s nothing like the thing itself. Erik Satie’s music makes time slow down, and makes me stop worrying — in an instant. It’s also sort of like a kinetic history lesson: You hear a quality recording of Erik Satie (I like the pianist Anne Queffelec), and you are instantly fed volumes of aural information about a time that slipped through our fingers, perhaps not so long ago. A time of urban bustle, to be sure, but also pastoralism. I’m not aware of any music that embodies the sense of both the city and the country at once quite so elegantly. This is music of change, of moving into the future, but also of nostalgia for some rarefied past.

And I don’t really know who Anne Queffelec is, or how well regarded she is. All I know is that when I hear her version of Erik Satie, it’s different from any other version, and it feels just right. No other music can do what it does to me — with the possible exception of the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You.”



Here’s a hypothetical for ya: Think of the most sacred song you know — the music that makes you feel some sense of the divine, whether it’s Coltrane or Meat Loaf. Now imagine what you would do if you were offered a lot of money to talk on TV about that music — say, in an ad for a luxury car.

That’s exactly what Diana Krall and her husband, Elvis Costello, did. They both used the music most important to them to sell Lexuses (Lexi?). In these ads, they are each sitting alone inside a Lexus, rhapsodizing about how a certain piece of music affects them. (Krall talks about Oscar Peterson; Costello about Beethoven.) They never say the brand name Lexus. It’s very sneaky. We’re not wholly clear whether these are ads for a car, a sound system, or a piece of music.

I keep trying to understand the thought process at play here. It would seem these two said to themselves, This music is so sacred to me, I’m going to use it to sell luxury cars.

Way to be rad, guys. The weird thing is, I have had dubious vibes about both of these people for a while. At least now I have a really good excuse.

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Reach the writer at ksullivan@laweekly.com

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