Over the past ten years I slowly moved from a state of optimism to pessimism to skepticism to cynicism, and now finally general misanthropy as I came to the sad but inescapable realization that people, for the most part, suck. We treat differences of opinion like we were engaging in a war with enemies, and meanwhile treat wars like video games. We make fun of those who are intellectual, and then praise those who are trained to be hired thugs and killers. We openly recede to the lowest common denominator, and live in a world of excuses and hypocrisies where one is seemly allowed to be the exception to rules they judge others by. We bitch about things not being good, and then bitch when things get better that they’re not getting better quickly enough, and then refuse to make any further sacrifices than the minimum required, even if it would expedite things getting better.
To use some personal examples, I have tried during my years writing and talking about music to interject a sense of morality into the proceedings. To posit that the concept of “art for art’s sake” is often an excuse made up by people who either don’t know what they’re doing or too selfish or unwilling to put either their mouth or money where their results are. I’ve made “controversial” statements that our heroes can and must be held up to criticism, that perhaps art (and the quality of it) is affected by the quality of the individual, and that it is not a sin to speak of this possibility or to hold others accountable for what ridiculous or criminal shit takes place in their lives. This is not a left/right thing. Not a liberal/conservative thing. This is, I believe, a rational and fair way to deal with both art and artist. Or, screw that–this is a rational and fair way to deal with anyone. You shouldn’t be able to get away with the disgusting stuff you say and do just because of the money you make, the uniform you wear, or the number of Twitter followers you have. You shouldn’t be able to hide behind the First Amendment of the Constitution as an excuse for your actions, especially when you have no idea what the wording of the First Amendment is or what it actually means. And, most importantly, there should be something along the lines of an objective standard of behavior to which we hold people.
And yet the response that I hear, both on the television and along other lines of communication, is to point fingers at other people; to shirk responsibility; to talk past the issue rather than take at least a second to try and see that not everything is black or white and that not everyone’s motivation is wrong if you don’t fall at the exact same point on the philosophical spectrum. If you don’t agree with what someone says, or if (god forbid) someone exposes a flaw in your logic or even opinions, they are an asshole or a “hater”. Even in responses to my own posts, I’ve been called a “hack journalist” (though I’m not a journalist), someone who is likely a “failed musician” who just wants to tear down those more successful than him (again, swing and a miss), and “near libelous” in my writing because I dared to ask questions that showed flaws in someone’s hero. The only thing I think this proves is that a lot of people are really good at self-satisfyingly projecting themselves into their conclusions, and some of them need to be gifted with a good legal dictionary.
At this point, some of you might be ready to head down to the comments and write similar things to what I’ve just said others have already written. Perhaps to call me a thin skinned whiner, or worse. To those of you, I think at this point the best response is a most simple one…..
Welcome to Fuck You Friday, my newest and most personal series. Each Friday (or hell, let’s be honest, whatever Friday I can work myself up to it) I’m going to give you a giant middle finger of music. Songs that expose the base and rank nature of the human species. I think no one’s better to kick this off than Randy Newman, perhaps the most sardonic, sarcastic, and honest songwriter when it comes to exposing the most retched aspects of the human condition, sometimes (as in the case of this week’s song) while bathing his lyrics in some of the most beautiful melodies you might hear. The final track on Newman’s underrated 1988 album Land of Dreams, “I Want You to Hurt Like I Do” takes the phrase “misery loves company” and stretches it to its logical, and devastating conclusions. Lulling the listener into a sense of security by using Pachelbel’s Canon as a musical base, Newman slaps you across the face fifteen seconds in with the opening stanza:
I ran out on my children / And I ran out on my wife
Gonna run out on you too babe / I’ve done it all my life
While most of the family cries when they find out they’re going to be abandoned, Newman’s (or rather, the narrator’s) son just hangs his head, wanting to know why this is happening. Newman puts his arm around the boy’s shoulder as a choir appears in the arrangement, and he proceeds to sing to his boy, over and over “I just want you to hurt like I do”, ending it with the tag “Honest I do, honest I do, honest I do”–an intentional crib from Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”. The effect of this–the tune, the arrangement, the lyrics, the use of phrasing from a Sam Cooke song about devotion to illustrate the narrator’s desire to create connections via making others suffer–is almost jaw dropping. In fact, when the song was relatively new and Newman performed it live, audience members unfamiliar with it often laughed at the first stanza–especially as Newman often set the song up as his response to “We Are the World”, and that only the most “sincere” celebrities would be allowed to sing on the all-star recording that would never be–but by the end of the first chorus, with the repetition of the title line and the Cooke tag, there was no more laughing, and everyone in the audience would remain silent through the rest of the song.
The second and final verse goes even further into darkness by moving away from the personal to the universal. Perhaps intentionally imagining himself in the role of MLK, the narrator sings “If I had one wish; one dream I knew would come true / I’d want to speak to all the people of the world“. He then proceeds to “get up there on that platform” and to tell people that though it’s a “rough world” where “things don’t…go as planned”….
There’s one thing, one thing we all all have in common.
Something everyone can understand.
All over the world, sing along….
He goes back to the chorus, performing it the same way as before, ending with the Cooke allusion, and then the tune takes one final run through the Pachelbel-styled opening music line. Then–done. End of song and album. The listener is left to chew on what just happened in silence, without a final uplifting song that so many albums throw on as an ending number so the listener doesn’t have to be left on a down note–doesn’t have do be bothered, or concerned, or think about what kind of dark truth there might be in the lyrics. Newman doesn’t give a shit, though. He knows how the human psyche works. He perhaps put it best when he finally won an Oscar in 2002 after fifteen previous nominations and no wins (a record), including being passed over most egregiously for his memorable score to The Natural (Maurice Jarre’s generally-boring A Passage to India score won instead) and for the heartbreaking song “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story 2 (The winner? Phil Collins’ excremental “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Tarzan.). Perhaps knowing that the Academy had a history of finally rewarding veteran multi-nominees for lesser works (think Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, or Al Pacino just to name three), when Randy Newman won on his sixteenth try for the insignificant Monsters Inc. song “If I Didn’t Have You”, Newman began his speech (after receiving a self-congratulatory standing ovation from the audience) by stating “I don’t want your pity”.
The audience laughed. Newman was joking….possibly.
Randy Newman – I Want You to Hurt Like I Do (Click on title to open link in Grooveshark)