DiFranco, Johnson, DMB Reconsidered

A personal blip:

There are plenty of reasons to despise or resent or revere these acts, but I’d like to think on the gtr playing loosely associated with this market (‘genre’ isn’t the right word for such a grouping).

I think what bums me the most is the sort of loose-wristy, white-funk, jazz-chord acoustic strumming that each of these acts gets into. Do you know what I mean? I dig Richie Havens, Joni Mitchell and BJ, all of whom do the wrist strum…so I think my problem has something to do with the marriage of said style with all diminished chords. This is weirder still, as I love dissonance as one element among others within the song form…

I suppose an example’s in order. At the Fall of Fall 3 I played with a really talented woman – she kinda clawpicked, come to think of it – who obviously had more musicality in her elbow than i have in my whole ethos, but… maybe the sorts of vocals that often appear in this milieu also have something to do with it. The triumvirate mentioned all do this precious, talk-sing-y thing, spilled out in a diction that telegraphs their rhyme schemes, thus undermining their ‘writing.’ There’s a weird emotionalism (not emotionality) that obtains, too.

Anyway, I’d say that this tendency is full-bore hegemonic amongst the U of O’s strumming-on-the-quad crowd. I want somebody to explain the appeal to me. I mean, Ani at least mobilizes some activism/angst on her behalf… the other dudes, however, seem to be totally content with malapropistic (sic) tales of leisure and sentimentlism. That makes sense, as their demographic is a leisurely one…but this brings me back to the jazz chords and effed up syncopation. It is from whence? Does it connote funky or soulful for this crowd?

Seriously, I’ll take Toby Keith or the Counting Crows any damn day over this stuff. But that don’t mean I don’t wanna know how/why it works, or more importantly, what it means to the people for whom it’s meaningful.

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4 Responses to “DiFranco, Johnson, DMB Reconsidered”

  1. Wil-bro Says:

    I think you’re answering your own question when you point to the word, leisure. The demographic your speaking of is composed of the contemporary, Americanized, frat-boyed-out French (don’t tell ’em I said they were “French,” though, that’d justify an ass-beating…) “men of leisure” of the late 18th and on into (and mostly throughout) the 19th centuries. I suppose this development is part of the modern condition – we never had men of leisure before then, but there was an explosion of them during this time, particularly in Paris, that figures such as Baudelaire were so fond of critiquing. There were two variations: the dandy and the flaneur. Dandyism was originally a British invention, but came across the Channel to France. The dandy is typically one who is most concerned, above all, with fashion and appearance whereas the flaneur is more of a state of being, in my estimation of the distinction between the two. Both of these archetypes never really disappeared, as the rise of the bourgeoisie substantiated their coming into being and that trajectory hasn’t really come to a halt yet. So, it’s my opinion that the American DMB fan is simply an American “mutt,” or perhaps even better-put, a “confusion” of dandy and flaneur. What with the well-coiffed “faux hawk” or that haircut that makes you look like a wet duck, or the ubiquitous “Game” hat, usually emblazoned with the name for a Southern – generally South Eastern Conference – football team, amongst other things…We knew dozens of people that fit this mold in Sewanee. The educated Southern “man of leisure” who, because of daddy’s money and plenty of spare time, doesn’t have to worry much about doing anything post-college, and makes the “college years” a large portion (in terms of sheer time) of his/her life, living (and somehow curiously being able to maintain) a similar lifestyle beyond the University. Seriously, how many people do you know that have made a life out of going to DMB or Widespread or whatever-you-have shows? Julie and Mason call this lot “show kids.” They find a certain comfort there, amongst people just like them, as reality isn’t a comfortable place for the contemporary cocktail of flaneur-mixed-with-dandy. What does it mean to people who find it meaningful? It evokes the same thing you’ve pointed out, an ethos of beingness – these dudes are trying to put on the costume of being “fun loving nice guys with a sense of taste” – unfortunately, taste is built with exposure and the only exposure they’ve gotten is that of people that are, in effect, psychological twins to themselves.

  2. Minxo Says:

    Elvira’s gonna tear the shit out of this one when she gets here.

  3. wobs Says:

    God, I hate DMB.

  4. Elivira Says:

    Hmm, I don’t know about tearin’ nothin’ outta nothin’.
    I will, however, say that I loved Ani DiFranco from my mid-teens through a bit of college. Her appeal is, I think, largely for that age group and comes from her earlier work during which she was that age herself. She put out her first album in 1990 at age 18 on her own label. I would listen to about the fist decade of her music. I have no use or taste for the later work and don’t actually own any of her CDs at this point. It was more weight I shed in Ireland. The appeal of her music? I haven’t thought too much about the “loose-wristy… strumming,” but I’m not sure that’s an accurate description. She did or maybe does actually wear press on nails secured with electrical tape to play the guitar. What you suggest might connote funky or soulful might be the worst of her work. I prefer the earliest tunes. At about age 17-19, this was really something I could relate to- especially growing up in a small Alabama town where my Granny might say, “We all know she’s a little different, but this is not California!” I liked her sound, her lyrics, and her image. I haven’t met too many guys who like her, and many seem to feel quite antipathetic towards her. I find this a bit tiresome, especially when she is compared to other lame and distant acts. Or she might be dismissed as chic rock. What the hell does that mean? I don’t mind if someone doesn’t like a certain music, but why make it the object of such disdain? There’s plenty of “girl music” that I don’t like, but I would not throw Ani DiFranco into that category. If you want to read more, look at her Wikipedia page. Note: “On July 21, 2006, Ani received the ‘Woman of Courage Award’ at the National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference.”
    I can’t speak for the other acts, although I did like Dave Matthews in ninth grade.
    Following Will’s comment, I have also related to the life of the “show kid,” but I don’t think I ever truly was one. I certainly never looked for comfort amongst people “just like” myself. Rather, I welcomed the feeling that it wasn’t so important how I was. Again, coming from middle Alabama, this was a much better place to be. It’s also rather hard to speculate on what another’s exposure might have been and a bit bold to assume it’s “that of people that are, in effect, psychological twins to themselves.” Hmmm. I’d like to cut people some slack.
    What else do we like and why? Some of my faves… the color green, chocolate, coffee, and wool. Just seem to suit me.


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