‘Music Is Now Like A Scented Candle’ | A Response To Jarvis Cocker
I think Jarvis Cocker is absolutely cracking.
He is perhaps the finest, wittiest specimen of a human being this planet has to offer. However. The guardian published this article on Sunday and my head has been reeling ever since.
“Music’s changed in that way. People still listen to it, but it’s not as central, it’s more like a scented candle. It sets the mood. Also, because people like to multitask, in a way if you’ve got a bit of music on in the background and the lyrical content is making you want to listen to it, then that would probably put you off the texting you wanted to do. I think people like things that just make that right kind of noise, but leave your brain free to do something else.”
I think Jarvis is partly having a laugh in that bit but i’ll have a go anyway.
We live in an age where “all the historic limitations that defined the dynamics of the record business no longer exist,” (Sean Parker). This age began after Pulp hit their peak and things are bound to have changed since then, but do we really have no connection with music anymore?
The record store and the mystery of the punk
As we’re constantly reminded, there was a time when you’d visit the record store, peruse for hours, meet your future bassist amid a cloud of ‘good’ weed and swap heavyweights for spare cash – music was the bastion of youth culture. You could sit in an empty room, dole papers in pocket, crying to “How Soon Is now,” in a haze of ….love…(fucking depressing melancholy)…sorry what? Lost you there. Now music occupies this interesting mid-ground, it certainly still holds onto youth culture in massive ways but the internet dispels the myth of the youthful punk, within a couple of clicks we can find mum and dad, their personal twitter account and what they really think of their history teacher.
Music is tied in with a whole bunch of other stuff now; record stores are those musty smelling places, Pitchfork is that place where never can predict what decimal point that album will get and Hype Machine is where you can download music for free – ahem, ‘discover’. We have an infinitely large number of grass-roots businesses online filming sessions and gigs in strange places, it’s all a bit fragmented and exciting. There’s loads of stuff. There are small enterprises starting now that will become the filters and display and celebrate music in innovate ways in the future. It’s all good having access to infinite songs on Spotify, but we still need knowledgeable folks to tell us what to listen to.
We have split off into a group who still gulp on mainstream radio and buy singles on CD (what’s that?) and a silent group who haunt blogs, and who are so current it makes me sick (in a jealous way).
Music is everywhere
The need to soundtrack our lives is as strong as it has ever been – we can’t help it. Journalists have been hungry for a soundtrack to the Arab Spring, to the riots in London, to Occupy Wall street but they were looking for a guy with squiggly hair harnessing a guitar and a harmonica. Music is a wriggling beast now, it can blow up in a buzz or it can lie anonymously on YouTube gathering zero plays from your mum. It’s no wonder music doesn’t seem so central a force. It leaks into every crevice of our lives – from the Spotify playlist in the public toilet to the YouTube playlist in the cafe. All this however does not change the relationship we have with the music of the artists we genuinely love.
There is less cohesion in the world of popular music today – being in the top 10 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the most popular music of the week (try the Hypem popular chart). Pitchfork can rabble just as much fury over a big-hitter that captures a different group of listeners. Are singles and downloads then, really an accurate measure of consumption when we are faced with such a large population of listeners streaming music on services such as Spotify and YouTube? Nope.
The way music affects us
Some music speaks to us and some doesn’t. Things are never as they once were and they are almost always changing. The music industry – the one the artists of yore were involved in and were always dissatisfied with, the one that made them stars – has changed. There is no way music can be central like it was. The digital music revolution from the late 90s onwards changed the way music is distributed and consumed but it did not change how music affects us.
Music’s effect on us can’t be measured with the charts; it can only be measured in our reaction to it, the comfort it brings us and the hysteria it may inspire in us. That is all.
Jarvis is an intelligent enough guy to know that there is plenty of decent music out there, we’re just consuming it far differently than we were even a decade ago. He’s not Mr. Grumps just yet.