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An Open Letter to Pharrell

Mr. Williams,

Through none of my own doing, I have been repeatedly exposed to your recent single.

When I say repeatedly, I mean excessively. In an office environment where many people are listening to variety radio, your song “Happy” is played at least once an hour. And, just when I thought I could escape the madness, I hear your song on television or on any number of overhead speakers in stores or someone who still enjoys this tune will reference it or even sing a bar or two. It is becoming difficult for me to not blindly claw at my eardrums at the sound of your voice.

Let me be clear, Mr. Williams, that I have no problem with you or your musical prowess. I enjoyed your earlier work with The Neptunes and N.E.R.D., I loved your recent collaboration with Daft Punk, and I have defended your rampant abuse of the Arby’s logo by saying that you are one of the greatest producers of our generation and you can wear whatever ridiculous headgear you like.

Your song, however, is slowly pushing me to the brink.

I understand your motives. Every artist wants to write that one song that’s catchy and will hang around forever. The generic feel to your song, being about nothing in particular but the emotion of happiness, guarantees that it will be played at any number of events requiring a DJ for quite a long time. You have written your version of “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang, thus guaranteeing royalties for as long as you continue to draw breath and even afterwards for whoever you leave behind. The song itself is a catchy juggernaut which will likely never go away and will make an appearance on the playlist of every fifth-tier DJ who will ever spin a wedding, bar mitzvah, or birthday party. My kudos to you on a job well done in this regard.

My problem with your song (aside from the repetitive nature of its playing making me want to carve the eardrums from my head with a rusty switchblade) lies within the lyrics. I hope you’ll hear me out and understand very clearly why I make the following statement:

I will not “clap along” with you.

The qualifications given in the chorus of the song do not fit me and, indeed, should not fit any human being of nominal intelligence. This is ok, however, as your target audience is likely not anywhere near what would be considered sentient let alone intelligent. Again, no problem with your marketing to these people. They are gullible and will make you a Maersk Freighter’s worth of money. This was a smart move on your part. I will, however, go on to explain exactly why myself and no one else who is capable of reading this should “clap along” by analyzing the four tenets delivered in the refrain of “Happy” itself.

1. “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof”

This statement is nebulous. Are you suggesting that we clap along if we feel like being within a room without a roof or are you suggesting that there are some of us out there who have the feeling that they themselves are a room without a roof?

If it is the former, I don’t believe there should truly be a room without a roof. Any room without a roof, to me, is technically outside. In this instance, clapping would be dependent on the weather. If it’s raining or snowing or cold, I certainly don’t “feel like a room without a roof”. I very much feel like a room with a roof would be the safer play for everyone involved. So, I suppose, weather permitting, I could potentially clap along, however I won’t.
If it is the latter of my previous statements, wherein a person could themselves feel as if they are a room without a roof, then that would suggest that they have some sort of dissociative personality disorder in which one of their additional personalities identifies as a structure. Based on the absurdity of this, it seems that your target demographic for clapping is quite small as this is a very nuanced portion of an uncommon condition. Also, while asking psychologically disturbed people to clap along to your pop song is kind of a nice thing to do, you shouldn’t patronize them.
Either way, I will not be clapping.

2. “Clap along if you feel that happiness is the truth”

Well, we’re jumping right into the difficult philosophical portion of this, aren’t we?
Personally, I cannot say that happiness is the truth. Maybe it’s just the part of me that is the old French guy in the back of the café smoking cigarettes and bitching about how he could have had it all but, if my time on this planet has taught me anything, it is that happiness certainly is not the truth; at least not all of the time and certainly not for all people.
You may get a few people who will clap along blindly based on this statement because they want to believe happiness is the truth. It is likely that in the moment they hear your song (unless it’s during the drudgery of the work day) that happiness is the truth to them in that very moment. In fact, I am inclined to believe that if the people listening to your song took a moment to think about this, they would not clap at all. The ones which do based on this criteria are likely pretending.
With all of the pain and suffering in this world, misery seems more to be the truth. Yeah, it’s a very emo thing to say, but when you take a moment to look around, not many people should be clapping.
Again, I continue to remain clap-less.

3. “Clap along if you know what happiness is to you”

An even deeper philosophical quandary than the previous statement which begs the question: can one ever truly know the meaning of happiness?
Sure, things make me happy – the warmth and comfort of my friends and family, a good slice of pizza, beating a video game, completing any number of tasks, hockey, etc. – but are these things truly what happiness is to me? Can I ever know what happiness truly is, in the metaphysical sense? There’s no real way to qualify it.
Without some serious searching for whatever transcendental truth lies somewhere out there, I cannot ever truly know the meaning of happiness, either in general or what it is to me specifically. This one requires much more thought and I don’t appreciate being put on the spot to clap based on truths which I have not yet fully realized. In fact, calling me out on this one is just plain embarrassing if I wind up in a room full of people who are clapping based on this criteria because I will feel like the only lazy jerk present who hasn’t yet had whatever life-affirming journey one must take to be qualified to clap here.
On this third note, my hands still remain motionless.

4. “Clap along if you feel that’s what you want to do”

At last, the listener is given some free will, apart from the great questions of life and potential psychological problems which plague the first three qualifiers. At least, that’s what we are left to conclude.
By the time we get to this statement, it is likely that people who fit the qualifications of the first three statements or those who already chose to clap based pre-emptively on this statement, will be clapping. At that point, if I begin to clap, is it truly of my own free will or am I just bending to the peer pressure of all those around me who are already clapping? Do I want to be part of the crowd simply because I don’t want to be singled out? To clap or not to clap? This statement is a clever escape clause which, in all likelihood, will result in the majority of the people clapping.
Some may be exercising free will here based on the catchy nature of the song. They may be clapping because the rhythm makes them feel like that’s what they want to do, and that’s their right. It’s not in my particular interest to clap to the beat like so many other mindless drones but the pressure would be on if I were amidst a crowd of clappers and may, indeed, bow to the hoi polloi of the situation. As a contrarian by nature, I would have to restrain myself no matter how left out of the shared experience I might feel.
So, finally, I will not offer one solitary clap to your great machine of pop music.

In the past, Mr. Williams, it has been suggested to me by other musicians that I complete certain tasks under certain qualifiers. I don’t believe I have once fit the bill of any of them.

One Mr. Z suggested that if I was feeling like a pimp that I should go on brush my shoulders off. I have done no such thing per his instruction, as I have never felt like a pimp, but I have indeed brushed my shoulders off from time to time though this is mostly due to my ownership of two cats and the consistency of their dirt being on my shoulders. If someone does feel this way, they are welcome to use it as a better excuse to brush their shoulders off, including the ladies because, as Mr. Z suggests, ladies is pimps, too.

One Mr. Smalls suggested that I throw my hands in the a-ya though I have not because I do not consider myself, as the song suggests, a true playa. For the record, however, I would not be adverse to someone calling me Big Poppa, even though it might be mildly offensive as I am slightly obese and working to lose weight.

As I have not taken suggestions from hip-hop in the past, I hope that you will understand my refrain from clapping. I have too much going on in my life at the moment to really delve into whether I should clap along or not and I mean no offense. Philosophically and psychologically, I can assume that I would not meet any of the qualifications you list which results in my withdrawal from the situation entirely. I hope you can understand and I hope this doesn’t present an issue to any potential working relationship we may have in the future.

Congratulations on your ability to use music to print money.

Sincerely,

Bidula

—end transmission—

Rolling Stone and the Decade’s Last Straw

I have always taken issue with Rolling Stone. All puns aside.
Until this past issue, I was willing to put aside the pretension to get to the meat-and-potatoes articles inside. For the most part, they still have some half-decent reporting on current events as well as good interviews with some harder to reach people (most recently, Lemmy, which was a great read). The political end comes off as liberal extremist drivel most times and, though I tend to keep a bit left of center, they’re just a bit too much for my taste.

This past issue concerning their decade lists, however, was it for me. I am officially done with Rolling Stone after this. I’m finally up and calling shenanigans on this rag, even though many I’ve spoken to wrote the magazine off a long time ago. This was the last in an ever growing mountain of straws. Their Decade Issue has finally made them look like complete and total sellouts.

The first thing that tipped me off to the utter bullshit of the issue was their decade in review. Specifically the 2008 section which utterly SLAMMED Guns and Roses’ (read: Axl and Roses’) long-awaited Chinese Democracy. Not that I disagree with their assessment in this article, but if you’re going to make a decision, RS, stand by it. When the album first dropped, you gave it 4 (count ’em, 4) stars out of 5. You ranked it #12 in the 50 best albums of 2008. And, when it comes to comparing it to the rest of the decade, you give it an article called “Chinese Democra…zzz” and go on to say:
Congratulations, Axl! You just released an album you’ve been working on for Miley Cirus’ entire life! And it doesn’t have a single song as good as “Party in the USA”!
If that ain’t a slam, I don’t know what is. Here’s a fun note to the amateurs writing this shite: consistency is a part of professionalism. You can’t tell me that, after how you lauded this thing at the end of 2008, just ONE freaking year ago, that your opinion had changed from light to dark in the span of clicking a light switch. Sickening.

I continue pressing my way through and find that their top artists of the decade read like a scene from High Fidelity.
Bruce Springsteen, U2, Radiohead, Beyonce, Kanye, Jack White, Arcade Fire… wait, what? Arcade Fire?!? Something new slipped into a list of old safe ones. Veeeeery pussy.
Seriously, though, Arcade Fire? Standing next to the Boss and Bono? Please. Not that I’m a huge Springsteen or U2 fan, but I acknowledge openly that they are incredibly influential, especially within the ought-decade. Same goes for Kanye, Beyonce, Jack, and Radiohead. Tons of music between all of them, lots of platinum, lots of staying power (obviously). But, saying that some second-tier act “demonstrate(s) that Indie Rock can swell to U2-and-Springsteen like proportions” is fucking preposterous. Once again, a failure in my opinion. Sure, the band might be good, but to elevate them to some sort of Legend-status? Sorry, can’t dig it. You’ll probably be slamming them in two months, too, RS, don’t deny it.

And, while I’m all for Indie artists getting props, the lists of 50 Best Albums and 50 Best Songs of the Decade both seemed to showcase the ultra-pretension of the Rolling Stone staff.
Sure, they present you with a list of people they polled at the end. A who’s-who of the music industry from deities like Kirk Hammet, Lenny Kravitz, and AdRock on down to Kurt Loder, Lil’ Wayne, and Nick Jonas. Of course, the majority of the lesser-known names are subheaded with “Editor, Rolling Stone” or “Journalist, Rolling Stone”, telling me that this jury was fairly hung and that many of these opinions were probably agreed upon in a staff meeting and that they just sent out the poll to these people to make it look fair.
According to the album list, in ten years, four Nine Inch Nails releases failed to blow anyone’s mind. The only worthwhile album from System of a Down was Toxicity (at an embarrassing #44) out of four total albums before their indefinite hiatus. The Gorillaz two awesome records, especially the 2001 self-titled first opus, were denied a taste of glory. These were only a few of the crimes, in my opinion, perpetrated on this list.
It wasn’t just the omissions from the list, it was the inclusions as well. Reading these lists will make you shout “Where’s this? They put THAT there instead of THIS? Come on…”
Check the issue out. DO NOT look online. They’ve made the lists online a top 100, more than likely due to the disappointment expressed by readers like myself due to the sheer lack of intelligence behind their decisions. There had to be too many neglected songs and albums for anyone’s taste. Sure, everyone’s got their own feelings about what music blew their mind in this decade and I’m just one of them, but Rolling Stone has long been a trusted source for music reviews. Not that I trust them, or that anyone with half a brain trusts them anymore, but based on these lists, we can clearly see that RS’s “favorites” got props to drive up album sales from the mindless masses. Guaranteed Radiohead’s entire decade catalogue (of which Kid A was “voted” the #1 album) experienced a big spike. A friend even went so far as to say “Maybe I have to give that album another spin…”. I wanted to slap him and say, “No, you don’t! If you didn’t rate it number one, it’s not number one! Their opinion means SHIT, you understand? SHIT!” But, I’m a more passionate person about things like this.

Their list of Top 10 Movies of the Decade was sterile and safe, going with Oscar winners or Oscar nominees the whole way. Boring. Garbage. Tell us what was really good, not what the Academy thought was good. What the Academy thinks isn’t always right. Too many snooze-fest suck movies have been nominated for Oscars this decade. Not that it was on their top-ten, but Million Dollar Baby. I rest my case.

Lists face criticism. Any time anyone posts a ranking, it’s an opinion. I faced much criticism for my omission of Halo (as well as a few others) from my Top 10 Video Games of the Decade, especially when posted to one of my old writing haunts pop-damage.com. I expect Rolling Stone figured on some outrage when they posted this tripe.

I will say that this is probably the last issue of Rolling Stone I’ll read. I was keeping this one on the back-burner for a week or two just because I wanted to be incensed enough to write it. I’ve read through the issue many times just to get myself angry.
Adios, Rolling Stone. It’s been a long time coming. When the free shit I was signed up for at Best Buy expires, you are no longer welcome in my house. I cast you out. I wouldn’t disgrace my asshole by using you for toilet paper. That, and glossy pages really don’t work too well for wiping.
You have become The Man. And, by my very nature, I must damn you. Damn The Man.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—