Written in December of 2009.
I used to listen to NPR on the radio in my car a lot. NPR has this presence to it, regardless of the program or who was speaking at the time, you knew for sure it is an NPR station. Some real honesty in its delivery, completely unlike the 24-hours news stations–who are better described by other H-words. Hysteria. Hegemony. Halliburton. There isn’t any frightening language, terror alerts, not a lot of breaking news. But kind of, easy going, skipping-along-the-pond news. Some peace to it all, even when NPR is reporting on the 30,000 troop surge in Afghanistan. Important enough that you listen to it, but not insecure enough to scream at you if you aren’t. You still get the sense the world is going to end, but it isn’t because Bill O’Reilly is showing you that human beings have lost all sense of politeness and tact.
I feel really sophisticated listening to NPR. Really European, or at least Mediterranean, or definitely Alexandrian–the same way I feel when I read Harper’s on a Maryland beach, as the New York Times collects sand next to me. Classically pompous, perfectly self-important. Certainly aristocratic, but aware of it. A white collar union man. A 24-year-old with silver hair. A brown man in the ivory tower. A contradiction. An irony. Windows rolled down, loud muffler in the VW hatchback, and “All Things Considered” blaring out of the windows riding down Kensington Avenue. Now the windows don’t work on that car, and they broke after the CD player did.
Which is why, in the first place, I entered the NPR world. Because I was forced out of the world of burned independent rock CDs when the device that played them in my car ceased doing so. I’m not a big fan of replacing things, so instead, I opt for minor lifestyle changes. Consider NPR phase one of what happened after the CD player broke in my car. Before that, I really followed independent rock closely in order to be down with the hippest music. Pitchfork was bookmarked on my Safari browser, flowing in my RSS reader, and there I was, totally down. And did so with a sort of silent heir of superiority. Of course I had heard the new Wavvves record. That was on last month’s Best New Music. You kidding me?
The verbosity and prose, never mind the irrelevance and pretentiousness of that particular website, was delightful. I liked it because it echoed my own rhetorical arrogance. I liked it because the invented self-importance of Pitchfork justified my own invented self-importance. If we’re all lying to ourselves about how influential and amazing we are, we might as well read music blogs that are written without apology in the same spirit. And how else would I hear about Seattle’s latest electropop sensation made up of prodigy six-year-olds? Or better yet, how else would I notice a bunch of white people overcompensating for their privilege by faking an appreciation for hip hop music.
I’m not even White, and consider this phase two of what occurred after that CD player broke.
And so, there it happened, Lil Wayne and Thom Yorke, with something in common. Pitchfork. And Kanye West got more hip, and acceptable to listen to. It wasn’t O.K. to bump along to Hova, it was required. Of course you can justify Eminem’s homophobia. And now we’re all smoking dubs and copping cornas with skinny jeans on. The hipsters invade the ghetto and steal its music. And all of a sudden, it’s not just Kanye West in his iPod, it’s Power 99 in his car. And there you go, from 90.9 to 98.9. One turn of a knob and we go from social democratic radio listening to dropping it like it’s hot.
And Gucci Mane becomes a household name, “Why would you want to break up?”
And Drake is like an uncle, “Last name, ‘Ever,’ first name, ‘Greatest.'”
And Jamie Foxx and T-Pain are blaming it on the a-a-a-a-alcohol.
And all-of-a-sudden this Phillies fan is declaring that he can trip referees in “NEW YORK! Concrete jungle…” indeed.
And Luda is wondering how low you can go.
And Nicki Minaj is mumbling about asbestos and getting crazy.
And Trey Songz makes you want to pop champagne and… go to the doctor?
And Birdman makes you think the world is not going to end. Deficit, unemployment rate, recession. “We’ve got money to blow.”
And you get sucked into a world where every track on the radio buzzes around your head and you have no idea what sophistication is. NPR, ShmenPR. And it’s all good, we’re saying “aah… We’ve got that dough.” And finally the bass and auto-tune is killing you and you flip back to public radio, still humming Keri Hilson, even as that delightful song corrodes your heart and your soul and all-of-a-sudden that familiar beat of NPR is on again and you realize that… Scott Brown is elected and health care is going no where? Don’t tell me the Democrats just blew the special election because their CD player broke? There’s a secret war in Pakistan? What happened to the President? Spending freeze?
And you realize how loud that wonderful monotone is. And you lower your head. You continue listening to that peaceful radio station, disappointed at the spinelessness of the D that’s on your voter registration. Windows roll up. Muffler gets quieter. Dreams of metal teeth and dreads dissipate, you’ll never be Lil Wayne. And you’re in the middle of a Philadelphia winter, hopeful for the midterm elections, and all you want is sand in between the Harper’s Index and the cool beach breeze, and the contradiction of it all.