By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
? POP MUSIC AS FOOD; FOOD AS PORN: To prove my devotion to you, the hungry pop fan, I went ahead and test-drove the new Elvis-based Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (“The King Size”!). It’s a huge Reese’s cup containing an improbable layer of banana-flavored rhinestone-studded white polyester sugar butter cream cellulite.
At first, it sounded gross — and a bit crass, even for the Elvis merchandising empire. I mean, we all know Elvis ate a lot of freaky junk food, much to his eventual discomfort. But should we really be celebrating that? He also ate a lot of pills; that doesn’t mean a line of Elvis-brand pharmaceuticals is a great concept. Or maybe that’s exactly what it means.
In any case, after tasting the damn thing, and finding it to be scarily, poetically satisfying, I have fallen under its creamy-dreamy man-booby hypnotic spell. I’m now prepared to argue, if necessary, that the Elvis Big Cup is a fully loaded, entirely appropriate salute to the fat buttery crass weirdness of Elvis himself. I have a “gut” feeling he would approve. It’s definitely the kind of food item the Nutrition Action newsletter would define as “Food Porn.”
? “THE LOUDNESS WAR” AT HOME: I have a really old stereo with a tube receiver and wooden speakers. I got it at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store downtown. The radio dial glows green, and has an old “KMET 94.7” sticker on it, placed squarely over the spot at 96.9 FM. (Apparently, whoever owned it back in the day was a true KMET fan, and way too high to worry about details.)
Overall, my stereo is awesome. The only trouble with this stereo is that new CDs don’t sound very good on it. Give me an old vinyl album and we’re golden — or even an older CD. But new CDs present an odd sense of aural frustration. I play a new CD, and though I can hear the music, I can’t hear it. I can’t get really close to it. I can’t quite get inside it. It doesn’t jump out from the speakers to shake my hand. It sits back in the corner smoking like a loner.
Inevitably, I turn up the volume, and then feel suddenly assaulted. In order to hear the music properly, I have to crank it so loudly my dog gets sad.
I’d always assumed this was a sign of age — my stereo’s and my ears’ — after years of musical abuse. But turns out, it’s more likely a result of the “loudness war” waged by record labels over the past 20 years or so. Basically, records have gotten louder and louder — precipitously so after the dawn of CDs — with the idea that this would provide the listener with greater rock satisfaction. It’s precisely what Spinal Tap foretold in its “This one goes to 11!” scene. Rather than relying on dynamic contrasts between quiet and loud parts — and allowing the listener to control the volume knob — recording engineers have been pumping up the total volume of music. The cost of that admittedly impressive volume is detail, intimacy and nuance. And it presents a confounding paradox to ears such as mine: I am overwhelmed by sound, yet I can’t really hear much of it.
The strange converse to this problem is that older recordings sound much quieter when you buy them on iTunes, assumably because iTunes is geared toward music that has already been super overly compressed and loud-ified. (I ain’t hatin’ on compression per se. I love me some compression. But, like banana cream butter, it’s got to be strategically employed.)
Another odd effect is that this highly overly compressed music doesn’t sound like real music, if you will. It doesn’t sound like anything that was actually played in a studio in the real world. And while that may seem cool in theory, the reality is that in practice — as an industry standard of practice — it sucks a bit. Who would want to live in a world where all the music sounded fake?
? CASE IN POINT: AVRIL. Not only does Avril Lavigne’s music sound like it’s not real music, it may be fraudulent in more legally actionable ways. I mean, you can’t really sue someone for making non-music; there is no law against Sound Masquerading as Song — just as there is no law against lip-synching, auto-tuning or any number of techniques for making fake music.
There is, however, a law against plagiarism, as Lavigne learned a few days ago. It seems her hit single “Girlfriend” — which I had somehow managed to avoid since its release last spring — rips off a song I like very much: “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” an obscure 1979 power-pop gem by a group called the Rubinoos.
Despite the title, and the band name, the Rubinoos’ song is entirely different from that other (magical) “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” — it’s more Bay City Rollers than Ramones. Mostly, it’s adorably romantic. I challenge you to dislike this song. I pity you if you dislike this li’l song.