Saturday, July 07, 2012

Click, Click, Boom

I realize that I have already wrote one blog post this summer inspired by music played at a high school sporting event.  But with (now) two young children, I don't get out much, anymore.  So, I'll have to take inspiration where I find it.

I've always been interested in the canon of music played at high school sports events.  Since the birth of rock and roll, there has been a notion that youth culture is the most relevant culture.  I'd argue that in our retro-obsessed archival age this is not the case anymore, but in a weird way, because we are obsessed with the way things used to be, we still pretend that high schoolers have the best taste in music.  I'd guess that youth have some input into athletic event playlists, but that the codified and commodified songs that are played are mostly radio influenced.  And contemporary radio is algorithm-based.  What gets played is the music calculated to most reliably deliver listeners.  This means that formulaic songs that don't offend are dominant.  Most people who listen to music on the radio don't really care about music.  To them, it is background noise that allows (an ever so-slight) diversion from their prescribed daily tasks.  What they are most looking for from a song is a slight push.  The American workday (or schoolday) requires intermittent caffeination, and music is a type of "energy hit."  This explains why the biggest rock bands today (Nickelback, Creed circa 2003) are masters of the riff heavy but also highly structured (and ultimately vacuous) three minute and fifty second song.

I thought of all this at a high school baseball game last week when I heard the 2001 Saliva song "Click Click Boom."  I was awfully surprised to hear it, but I shouldn't have been.  In the early 2000s I was still listening to FM radio when I was in my car.  The ipod hadn't been invented, CDs cost money and didn't give much variety, and XM satellite radio was still a few years away.  I had about eight FM stations on preset, and in a 20 minute car ride I was almost guaranteed to sample all of them.  "Click Click Boom" was inoffensive enough for me to not turn it off when it came on, but I would have been surprised to learn that it was still receiving airplay six months later, much less take it's place next to a Tom Petty song while 16-year-olds practice fielding grounders more than a decade on.

But the song is the very definition of formulaic.  Lyrically, it's a self-referential narrative about self-actualization through individuality and intestinal fortitude expressed in terms of self-affirmation.  The formulaic video in four minutes shows a protagonist moving from alienation and isolation to social ascendancy.  Most importantly, heavy riffs are balanced with momentary pauses and and breakdowns leading to clearly articulated lyrics, with the chorus accentuating a rhythm as if it were a melody.  Also, the band is named for a body fluid that manages to convey edginess without really being too offensive.  Take all this into consideration, and it's a wonder the song is not played at every sporting event.

But  while this song will always be welcome on various playlists seemingly in perpetuity, no one will ever get a "Click Click Boom" tattoo, in the same way that despite the millions of bottles of Five-Hour Energy being consumed, nobody has a "Five Hour Energy" tattoo (I did check Google Images in both cases just to be sure).

To be sure, it is definitely still possible to find music that doesn't conform to formulaic patterns.  It's just that high schools aren't where you can to go to hear it.


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