by Seth Graves
I’ve always figured being a superhero is a pretty shitty job. Yeah, you’ve got supernatural powers that allow you to keep mere mortals safe from the evils of the world, but one’s nobleness would no doubt be undermined if he or she invoiced every damsel rescued from distress, right? I’ve never actually read a comic book, so maybe someone can tell me if there are any that can confirm whether or not the pay is shit. Case in point: super villains. Besides taking over the world for some reason, the primary motivation for most super villains is gettin’ rich while our fabled heroes struggle to stop them solely out of an obligation to their moral sensibilities.
Back to Batman. He’s the exception here. Bruce Wayne was born rich and had a bone to pick since he was a kid, when The Joker or Plant Girl or someone killed his parents. He has no supernatural prowess, but rather an arsenal of the most dangerous toys money can buy and the funds to bankroll the intense training only a ninja fantasy camp in the Himalayas can offer. When he’s not fighting crime, he’s probably playing golf with the Green Hornet at the Gotham City Country Club while Superman works a day job and flies to the North Pole to squat in an ice cave.
Even if you disagree (meaning your opinion is indeed wrong), you probably STILL want to know why you’ve read this far and I haven’t seen a single word that relates to music. This is still a music blog, right?
Well, let’s start with the obvious. Like superheroes, musicians are gifted and usually, probably, theoretically and traditionally broke. They are simultaneously mocked, pitied and revered as they struggle to pay their dues without paying any rent, and when they hit the “big time,” we’ll all get a little kick out of reading about how they lived on corn dogs for a year before they were stocking their limo with Cristal.
But that’s not always the case. There are plenty of Bruce Waynes in rock 'n' roll. These are kids who were delivered onto silver platters right there in the hospital and never once had to quit a job to go on tour. Am I the only one who sometimes feels a little judgmental toward these-trust fund rockers? Am I the lone, classist exception who grew up a poor kid in Alabama and never got any good gifts from the Angel Tree? I agree that good music is good music and that that can come from anyone regardless of their age, race, creed or bank account balance — but how do I explain this uncontrollable bias toward the upper crust of rock 'n' rollers?
It goes without saying that rock 'n' roll is the incest child of (amongst other closely related parents) the blues — a genre created by and for the poorest and hardest working folks in America. The status quo I’m referencing was no doubt solidified by legends like Jagger, Richards, Lennon, McCartney, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, who all grew up in working-class families playing working-class music and got richer than God in the process. The Ramones owe the bulk of their appeal to their humble beginnings in Queens. Then again, Joe Strummer grew up in boarding schools and attended a fancy art college before penning working-class anthems like “Career Opportunities.”
Albert Hammond was named after his immensely successful and arguably more talented father. Julian Casablancas is the heir to the Max Factor agency in NYC. The two met as wee lads in a Swiss boarding school called Hogwart’s. This alone would be enough for me to dismiss them entirely if The Strokes weren’t so fucking good. Vampire Weekend, on the other hand, are a quartet of privileged, ivy league grads whose watered-down take on “world music” couldn’t sound more flavorless to me. I don’t hate them because they’ve had it easy, I hate them because their music sucks — then again, what’s worse than a bunch of rich kids with a shitty band?
My arguments stalls here because I think the mass populous of Top 40 fans are too busy worshiping fame and wealth to care when and how it got there. Pop sensations like Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey and Miley Cyrus all had trains running through their living rooms like that kid on Silver Spoons, but that rarely seems to have any backlash. Inconsequently, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake all came from middle-class families. I probably spent more time researching which pop stars had poor parents than anything else in this piece.
Obviously, money can’t buy talent or success, otherwise Trace Cyrus’ Ashland High wouldn’t be so laughably heinous. Cyrus’ latest offering segues into what is probably the strongest link in my weak-ass argument: the rap game. I’m not sure one is even allowed to release a hip-hop record without growing up in a single-parent home and slinging rocks throughout your teens — and if you didn’t, you can’t expect anyone to take you seriously when you’re trying to rhyme “Lacoste” with “lacross.” The rap game was founded pretty much entirely by formerly broke ballers rubbing their new-found riches in society’s face — regardless as to whether that bling is real or rented.
The exception is middle- to upper-class spawn like Kreayshawn, Asher Roth, Princess Superstar, Dirt Nasty and the like whose backgrounds mirror those of their demographic. Suburban kids have always loved the shit out of NWA and Wu-Tang, but the irony was never lost on them. They were the first to turn on Vanilla Ice when his street-tough bio turned fishy, teaching the whitest rappers you know a valuable lesson in the process: Keep it real. Even if “real” means selling your ADHD meds at school to subsidize your allowance.
Just as music is a means of escape, it’s also a second-hand means of expression, and so we also need to relate to it and shit. Western society on the whole is a hell of a lot more receptive to messages delivered by persons who look the most like us. “Street cred” is an end-user phenomenon. Musicians wouldn’t need it if their respective demographics didn’t want it. Meaning: I’m obviously not the only class-biased music fan out there.
Can the heir to a Fortune 500 company properly assess the human condition in terms to which I can relate without clinking his silver spoon against the microphone? Can a kid from Brentwood tell me anything about the harsh realities of life on the streets? Could the daughter of an upper-Manhattan investment broker wail on the woes of the human experience as well as a coal miner’s? Does it matter if the glittery, sexy pop song concerning the universally relatable topic of love was sung by someone who got rich before or after you heard it on the radio? Is rock 'n' roll, country, Americana, or hip-hop more credible when delivered in its “traditional” fashion by those with lower- to middle-class origins? And finally, is Batman a privileged poseur or is his gift (or very expensively acquired skill) for beating the ass of evil making this entire argument moot?