A few weeks ago I was driving home and listening to the low end of the dial on my car radio. My car is kind of a piece and the radio dial can't be read so I can't rightly tell you what station I was listening to when Sherman "Blues" Johnson & His Clouds of Joy came across the airwaves. The tune was Hot Fish and for its time and place the song couldn't have been more perfect for an evening drive home at the end of a long day with the windows down and the city lights blinking an optimistic yellow through my windshield. It felt great, I felt good. I know that the music selection amplified these feelings and I've been thinking about it ever since.
Sherman "Blues" Johnson & His Clouds of Joy was a Sun Records project in the mid 1950's and their sound was a combination of the then new school R&B with old school blues traditions of song structure and vocal shouting interjections. But here's the thing that really caught my attention. This music functioned then in the same way today's top 40 pop/club/radio does in the fact that it is music created without the burden of meaning anything too heavy. It exists just to make the listener groove and have a good time – and what's wrong with that right? The difference however is that in today's non-consequential music we listen with our eyes instead of our ears. The quality and musicianship of our Pop music does not ever stand on its own today as it had to in the 1950s. Today, Pop music is always accompanied by the culture around the music – what the artist looks like, is dressed like, who they are seen with and where, or some other kitsch.
Kitsch is defined as art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way. But here's the thing, we as a music loving culture who listen solely with our eyes have lost the perspective to notice the difference between Music and kitsch music. If you're reading this blog you are probably not part of the culture that has its musical icons picked out by Simon Cowell, but this is what kitsch music is and it is what has come to dominate our generation and our culture right now. We are so mired in kitsch that by and large we no longer recognize it as kitsch.
Not every painting needs to be the Mona Lisa and not every piece of music needs to be Beethoven's 9th Symphony – nor should it be! There are different rooms at museums for a reason. But my point is that while Sherman "Blues" Johnson and His Clouds of Joy has largely been forgotten by time, Lady Gaga is influencing the masses and in a sense giving a music education lesson to this generation that is strictly founded on shock value and almost no musical integrity. Milan Kundera defined kitsch as the inability to admit that shit exists and on todays radio we are by and large too blind to hear that shit exists.