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Greetings and salutations and welcome to season 2 episode 13 of the Pop Culture Academy where we do all things pop culture with just a bit of an academic slant. I'm your host, MK Adkins, and you may have noticed that we didn't have a show up this past Tuesday. To be honest, we're still playing with the format of the show a bit. It's only the second season and for awhile there it seemed like maybe two shows a week would be a good idea. And so the last month or two we've been playing with that. I think, honestly, that it's time to go back down to just one show a week, at least for now. And that will be, as it always has been, every Friday. That just gives us more time to work out the kinks of the show. To really think about the topics and get things ready in the way that we want to.
But what has been going on this week since last we spoke: first big question - you know, I've got a show planned soon on children's television, a subject I've written about before. What is going on with kids tv right now though? I know I'm no spring chicken. Look, I've got a 23 year old daughter. I also have a 3 year old daughter. And I know I talk about this with other subjects, I say this all the time, but do you remember when there were just like a couple of kids shows? You know, like it was Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street and Electric Company and that was it. Right? Most of them were on PBS. And then maybe you got a little bit - Nickelodeon kind of got into the game in the early 80s. Fraggle Rock on HBO, right? But it just seems like there's a ridiculous number of kids shows out now. I mean, we don't let our daughter go wild with screen time at all, though, I mean, of course I work in popular culture so she's got to get a little of the good stuff. But really, no child, even if you let her loose to watch anything that she wanted, no child could ever possibly keep up. And there are things that I just don't know whether they qualify as a show. There's a lot of YouTube influence and there's a lot of shows that, you know, YouTube isn't quite the same as a television show. I don't know. Not that there's anything wrong with YouTube but, I mean, so she loves this guy called Blippi. Maybe you've heard of this guy called Blippi. And my wife doesn't allow me to say bad things about Blippi in front of my daughter but, you know, so I can see the appeal, maybe if you're 2. But he's just basically going around to indoor amusement parks and taking us through the ball pit. What is it exactly we're supposed to be getting from that? Nevermind whether it's educational or not. What even is it? And this thing called Tom's Car Wash which has no redeeming values. It is what it says it is. It's a car wash. You watch a car go in. This is a cartoon of course; animated car. It might actually be interesting if we were watching a real car every time. It's animated. You watch this car come in and Tom describes it as it comes in, "it's dirty from whatever" and they clean it. And essentially they clean it - maybe they add some wax and that's the excitement of the episode. Oh we're going to wax this car. But they simply wash the car, they dry the car off, that's it. That's the whole show.
All right, so this week also the 35th anniversary of Live Aid. Such an amazing event. Amazing musically. So many incredible moments. I mean, U2 made themselves into super stars. There would be no U2 today were it not for Live Aid. They just made it happen through a force of will, somehow or other. The whole Queen set, you know, the last hurrah but maybe the greatest concert moment ever; this kind of magical comeback. But I think it's a significant turning point in several ways. It's an event that will never be equaled but it did this really strange thing. And you know, last week we were talking about new wave music and new wave was so much about image. I mean there were certain artists who were investigating that idea of image. But there were a lot of other artists who were just whole-heartedly buying into the notion of image. Pure image. No substance. We're just going to be "pretty". MTV and all of that. And you've got the precursor to Live Aid which is "We Are The World". Terrible song, by the way. Just has not aged well. Believe me, I loved that song in 1985 but has not aged well at all. Go back and listen to it if you don't believe me. And all these people show up to record this song to stop world hunger. You know, we're concerned about poverty. We're concerned about people starving to death in Africa and they show up in the most outlandish costumes. And, I know, I think it happened after the Grammy's and they were all dressed up but, Cyndi Lauper's hair and Michael Jackson. And I loved that image moment, just the whole 80s new wave thing. I love it. But it certainly made for an interesting contrast, the irony if you will, of all of these celebrities and stars. And that kind of continues through the rest of the decade after the 80s. Early in the 80s it's all about hedonism and celebration and that's all there is to it. And somewhere in the mid-80s somebody said, "whoa, we gotta care about people." And that was fine except the same people who were doing this sort of hedonistic thing are now suddenly doing the caring, compassionate, worried about drug addicts, worried about the planet, worried about starving kids in Africa kind of thing. And it was a very odd contrast. It's no wonder that grunge came along in the early 90s and tried to sort of sweep all of that away. Because it had gotten to be - it just didn't make good sense. But, all right, so enough of Live Aid. I'm a gen-xer and so that moment is so defining for me.
This week I wanted to talk about what might be, what might be actually a series of episodes on the issue of authorship. And that's not probably the most exciting way to put it. We're going to talk about authorship. Uh, but, I mean the real question is who's really making pop culture art? Is there such a thing as an author anymore? And of course by author, I don't mean the writer like as in literature, you know, your high school english class - the author. I mean the creator, the artist. Is there an artist who makes the works that we listen to and that we watch? And on one level you can say sure. All right, so, yeah, of course. There's an author. There's Stephen King, right? He's an author. There's Cormac McCarthy or Colson Whitehead. Can we do the same thing with other kinds of art though? Like, who's the author of Game of Thrones? And don't say George R. R. Martin. I mean, come on. I mean, only loosely. Yes, maybe he's the source of Game of Thrones but long ago that show went well beyond him. You know, who even is the star? Can we say there's a star of that show? No. It's an ensemble show. There are several stars. Now, I mean of course let's be honest, Peter Dinklage is the star. They could have killed off anyone they wanted over the course of that series but when Dinklage was gone I was always going to be out. I can't speak for everybody but for me, Peter Dinklage was that show. But, Peter Dinklage isn't the author of that show. There isn't an author of that show. There is nobody who's in control of that show as an "author". And so I thought as a starting point - what's the one pop culture genre where we still do kind of maintain that fantasy of an author? Or, do we? Do we believe that about art at all? Of any kind anymore? And maybe we don't. But I think one of the last places where we don't want to give up the idea of the single author, it's this romantic idea, is with the musical artists. The solo individual who produces the song. We still hang onto that idea. There's some kind of - that's the author. That's the artist. But when was the last time that was really true? Buddy Holly? When was the last time someone walked into a studio and just sat down at a piano or sat down with a guitar and sang through a song and they taped it and that was it. Put it on a record. That was it. Like, Buddy Holly? Johnny Cash? Early work? Willie Nelson, I think is really really authentic and I think he could genuinely do that and there's a strain of that in all of his records that like you could strip away everything else and it still could just be him and a microphone and a guitar. But even his albums aren't just him. The truth is, every album is produced.
So my wife trends a bit younger than I do when it comes to music. We were in the car the other day and we're listening to her music because, you know, we established a long time ago - if you're newlyweds or if you're in a relationship, it's early in the relationship, you should know this now. If you're in the persons car, you have to listen to their music. They get to pick. That's just - you know, it doesn't matter if you have the better taste. It doesn't matter if you know more about music. If you're in their car, you have to listen to their music. And so, I was thinking about it the other day as we were listening to some of her music and I probably shouldn't have said this out loud but music is so much - music is production these days. It isn't just that you don't have to play an instrument, that's been true for awhile. There don't even have to be actual instruments. The whole thing, that whole song could just be one long computer-generated loop with singing over it. There's nothing, we talk about postmodernism, there's nothing real. In a lot of songs, it seems like there's nothing real left there anymore. Now, that sounds cranky, doesn't it? Like old-man-Adkins and so let me back up a second because there was a time in my early 20s when I was that sort of douchey, cranky guy. Not old cranky guy. I was in my 20s. But, you know, I was constantly demanding that my music be authentic and god help the people that I dated at the time. I wasn't having any of those boy bands, any of those over-produced, over-processed computer generated whatever. You gotta write your own songs, you gotta play your own instruments, blah, blah, blah. And, I don't know, maybe the punks are who gave us that originally because they came along. There is something a little sad about the fact that you can't ever actually sound like anything you hear coming out of your speakers. Think about your favorite contemporary song. Could you actually recreate the sound that you hear in that song? And that's a little depressing. It was depressing for the punks. It was depressing for the Sex Pistols. It was Depressing for Johnny Rotten. I mean, I'm a decent singer. I'm a musician. And if you sit down and try to emulate something that's out right now it would just sound disgusting. Right? Try to play it on a piano. Tinkle out a few notes on the piano. It would sound horrible. And that was the whole punk thing, really. Who in the world, I mean it was 40 years ago, but who in the world can play like Jimmy Page is what they said. Real people can't play "Stairway to Heaven". So, let's make music that actual people can actually play. That people can actually sing. And that's what Rock and Roll is supposed to be, the music of the people. But really, and I think this is one reason why this subject matters, you get into the whole issue of what art is supposed to be anyway. What is talent? What is musical ability? If you make something that sounds beautiful or if you make a song that makes me want to dance, what do I care how you did it? Really? What do I care if you learn how to play the drums when you were a kid and you spent hours and hours practicing, like you're Neil Peart. Or, I don't know - my wife is a photographer. She has a masters in photography from SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) and that's pretty serious credentials. Does it matter that camera technology is so good now that anyone can take a good photo? Because, I mean, it's the same basic analogy really. The technology of music is what changed and it changed so much that anyone now can make something that sounds amazing, even if they are just working in their basement with a few hundred dollars worth of equipment. And so maybe this desire, maybe this criticism, this punk criticism that some of us have been carrying around - maybe it's because we feel a little cheated. I had to take years of lessons to be a musician. I spent hours at it and you're just typing keys on a computer. But then maybe typing keys on a computer is the skill. Maybe it's more about the ear that you have for music. Maybe it's like, you know, think of it this way. Why would we still want our doctors to be using 19th century technology to diagnose us if they can be using 21st century technology. And if you've got tools that will make something sound amazing, even if it doesn't take the same kind of hard work that it used to, why wouldn't we want you to use it? Why wouldn't we want you to use that technology to make something that sounds amazing?
I was watching a Classic Albums episode on Axs. I talk about Axs all the time, I should get them to do commercials on this show. Classic Albums episode on Duran Duran's album Rio. And Roger Taylor, the drummer, was talking about laying down the drum tracks for that album and how you couldn't just create a loop in one go and be done with it the way that you can now. In those days, you had to drum it out for the full 6, 7 minutes and if you screwed up you had to start over and do the whole thing over again. There's something heroic in that. But is music meant to be a test of endurance? Is that the point? I don't know. But anyway, even on that album, even if we talk about Rio, we've got five incredibly gifted musicians. I mean really they are pretty boys and MTV, you know, girls fell in love with them and they came across as vapid and as though they knew nothing about anything except being pretty. But they really were gifted musicians, all five of them. And each one of them brought something special to their instruments that when combined made a sound that changed things in my opinion. But that sound is so produced. That album isn't anything if the sound hasn't been deeply, deeply engineered. The guitars sound like synthesizers. And so even if we're talking about, you know, 1982-1983, and we're talking about Duran Duran and I'm telling you how Roger Taylor's complaining about the fact that he had to play the whole song, 7 minute drum bit in one take. It sounds heroic that he had to do that. But really, you know, their album was just as produced sounding as any other album and there are whole bands, particularly back in the 80s, like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, whole bands that didn't really exist other than in a producer's head. I mean, Holly Johnson, singer for Frankie Goes to Hollywood is just a singer. They could have replaced him - I mean every bit of the sound of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and if you don't know Frankie Goes to Hollywood that's uh, "Relax", right? Every bit of that was laid down by Trevor Horn who incidentally, was the driving force behind The Buggles, who did "Video Killed the Radio Star". And Horn also sometime member of the band, Yes. He was the producer. He put that thing together. There would be no "Relax" if it weren't for Trevor Horn and in some ways he was the author of that song. And even a band as authentic as, let's take a band like U2, what would the Joshua Tree album be without Brian Eno as producer? What would The Talking Heads have been without Brian Eno? Eno was a huge influence on David Bowie for that matter. Bowie might come as close as you get to a real musical author, musical artist. Someone who really controlled his product in every way. I don't know who else would really qualify if we were sort of having that debate, who else could do that. Bowie. Maybe Lou Reed and certainly, certainly Prince was another sort of amazing person who could have done it all and who probably did do all of it. The production, all the instruments, the singing, the whole concept, the writing. But there are very few of those and fewer and fewer of those people left. So then, how do you decide if it's not a single person, if it can't be - it really can't be. Not if we're going to produce albums with the kind of effects and sounds that we're producing now. You can't have an author, you can't have a single artist. It has to be the combination of multiple talents. So, who do you put it on? Whose song do you say that this is?
Is it still popular to "go solo"? Remember that whole thing...I've had enough of this band, I'm going solo! Sting and Peter Cetera and Belinda Carlisle, you know. Peter Gabriel and on and on. And do we think that the band like The Police was really just Sting? He goes out solo, the suggestion is "I was this band". And I think even Stewart Copeland does admit that Sting was something special, musically. But without Copeland, without Andy Summers, you know, that's just not really a going proposition. The Police are not really a thing. But do we give it to Sting? Do we say this is Sting's band? Sting authored this? Or who do we give it to? Do we give it to the front man which in that case would be Sting? How many bands did this happen to? How many bands got so associated with the lead singer that people thought of the lead singer and the artist, as the author if you will. If you go look at a band like Rush, people don't realize Geddy Lee's out there singing and people associate him as the author. Neil Peart wrote a massive amount of their music.
I saw another recent interview with Mick Fleetwood and he talked about how he'd never written any of the music for Fleetwood Mac. And I don't know if that's strictly true. I mean, the drums are crucial and if you're the drummer and laying down the drum tracks I think you can claim to be the writer. But he wasn't the Stevie Nicks. He wasn't the Lindsey Buckingham. He wasn't the Christine McVie. Those were the people who were writing the songs, the authors of the songs. But someone said to him, you know, Mick - Fleetwood Mac is your song. That band, that thing, that's your song. And is that what we do with it?
Do we call the author the writer? That's the way we always used to do. We have this association of the song writer and the author, the artist, is the writer. John Legend put out an album last month and to his credit he's a writer on every track. But he's not the only writer on any of them. And really, again, if you're talking about a produced album these days with the kinds of sounds that they're putting out, I don't see how anyone, really, could claim to be the sole writer of a song. Even if you wrote the melody and the words, there is so much more going into the sound of that song.
Maybe my favorite story is one of Alan Parsons. This is a guy who doesn't get noticed much, especially these days. I think he did have an album come out in the last year or so. I think maybe a lot of his old famous friends played on it. I'd have to go back and look but, you know, Alan Parsons Project did "Eye in the Sky", among other tunes back in the 70s and 80s. And they used to be kind of a nerd badge of honor for some music fans. The whole Edgar Allen Poe Raven album. Certain kinds of music fans, like me perhaps, loved that album. Alan Parsons began as an assistant engineer at Abbey Road Studios on the Beatles' last couple of albums. Let It Be.
Then suddenly he's the engineer on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. And if you don't understand why it would be important to be the engineer on Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon -hey had to take it off the charts. They had to literally just remove it from the charts because it never left the top 100 for years and years - for, you know, decades it was still there. One of the reasons it was there, I mean we could talk a long time about how good that album is. But one reason it was there is because every time a new kind of sound system was created, like when we moved from albums to tapes and then we moved from tapes to cds, every time we got a new format people rushed out to buy Dark Side of the Moon because that was the album you wanted to play on your system first. Because the sound, the sound was sonically so good that nothing else would do to sort of test out your equipment for the first time. And Alan Parsons was the engineer, the sound engineer on that album. Now, does that make Alan Parsons the author of that album or the author of anything by Pink Floyd? No. But that's sort of the point, right, is that even as far back as we go in music really there is no such thing as a single author. It's a very powerful fantasy and I want to get into this in another episode, we're kind of running short of time now but there is this powerful fantasy particularly when we talk about music, of the artist who pours his or her soul out onto the record and it's their song, right? It's their song. I just don't know that that's true and I don't know when the last time it was true.
So then how, I mean I guess the final question here - we'll get into this again but the final question here for this episode - what then, you know who is Carole King? Who is Taylor Swift? Who is Paul Simon? Who is Paul McCartney? Who are these people? If they're not the authors - I mean obviously they must be important. Where do we fit them into things? How do we describe that?
All right, so that's enough for this episode. Thank you so much for listening. If you like what you hear, please, please let us know. Follow us on Twitter. Follow us on FaceBook. Please, tell your friends about us and come back next Friday for an all new episode. I'll see you then.
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