Monday, January 29, 2007

So I don't want to be the guy who shows up late and complains about everything. I don't want to be the Andy Rooney of the collaborative blog world. But once again, gentlemen, we need to define our terms. What is a mash-up? Is it the forced combination of two once-independent works or concepts, a union that is aware of the cultural resonances of both preexisting pieces as well as the intrinsic qualities they possessed on the day they were finished? That's what I'm thinking. I'm going to go with that.

So was the peanut butter and banana sandwich a mashup in its early days? I think we don't think about food as a medium as much as we should, because you can't bittorrent ceviche or eat the exact same chicken pot pie that someone 2,000 miles a way does. But that's a shame. Instead we turn to celebrity chefs. It's weird how many people like Alton Brown without ever eating his food or even cooking according to his instructions. Image, I guess.

Anyway. I have a sincere and enduring bias towards comedy over drama, or more accurately, the humorous over the serious. So I don't like the musical pastiches; they kind of bum me out. In the case of Wonderwall/B of Broken D's, the songs have the same chord progression, largely because Billie Joe Armstrong ripped off Noel Gallagher, a giant of modern songwriting. In the case of the Verve/Jay-Z mash, the blending is facilitated by the fact that Jay-Z's rapping is unmelodic. That's not an insult, it's just that rapping doesn't commit to a key signature the same way a Gregorian chant does. Because of this, you can throw rap over a lot of different chords and melodies, so long as the beats are somewhat agreeable. This makes the mashup versatile but also cheapens it a bit, I think.

It's weird that "Bitter Sweet Symphony" is the subject of a mashup. Steve Craddock, singer of the Verve and writer of that song, didn't receive a dime for his labors. This wwas because the strings hook is a sample of a 1965 Rolling Stones song. Craddock thought he had worked out the legal details in getting permission The courts thought he used too much of the song, and so he didn't get any money. So I guess he'd be OK with his song being used in a mash-up, but maybe a little bitter and greedy, too.

The first music I ever listened to was Weird Al Yankovic, and my priorities haven't changed. I get a large charge out of comic mashups. But I think that less is more in this medium. The comic premise of a mashup is not very deep. "What if you crossed Ally McBeal and McDonald's?" That's better explored in an image or poster than a video that gets more torturous with every minute. This is something we run into a lot at the humor magazine. When the premise of your piece is a pun on names (we ran "Traitor Joe's" this fall for example), writing the body of the piece is like the home run trot. I guess it's fun for you, but is it really necessary?

3 comments:

Chadé said...

Not to be a ninny, but Richard Ashcroft is/was the lead singer for the Verve and the author of Bittersweet Symphony.

Lauren said...

It is true that I love Alton Brown even though I have never eaten his food or attempted to cook something I saw on Good Eats.

I guess I just love the way he mashes up science and cuisine! All with the nested duffel bags to represent rice husks, and the multitasking tools. Fun facts before every commercial break!

Allan Vol Phillips said...

You're right about Richard Ashcroft. Where the hell did I get Steve Craddock?