Phonies

Have you ever encountered a band you just don’t like? For reasons that you yourself are unclear about, you just don’t like them. It may be their music, it may be their person; whatever it is about the band just puts you off. Isn’t it amazing how the feelings that make you absolutely love one band make you detest another? This is the tale of two such bands. I’ll start, as one should, with the band that inspires smiles: LMFAO.

You read that right: LMFAO. Who are they? Two dudes, one is the uncle of the other. Both are descended from the line of Motown Records founder Barry Gordy. I first heard the “band” on a mix created by Fatboy Slim. Mr. Slim featured a snippet of their song “I’m In Miami Bitch” at the start of one of his always incredible free mixes available on his website (www.fatboyslim.net plug plug). The song and group didn’t make its way into my brain like some songs on those mixes but it did stick with my a bit. Now when I first was told about the group it was right before a road race in Ann Arbor. My best friend’s wife asked me if I had heard of LMFAO and their song “Party Rock Anthem.” She described the video as a wacky, fun, 80s-style party. The adjectives were intriguing but I didn’t check into the song for another few weeks. Finding things like this are what YouTube was invented for and that is the place I first totally fell for the song. Truth be told, digging the hell out of the song really threw some egg on my face. Driving home from my birthday dinner with my wife (a beautiful drive down the Old Mission Peninsula during the magic hour with a beer in my system) I began making fun of the song playing on the car radio. Which song? That’s right. “Party Rock Anthem.” OK, crow eaten, I just watched and rewatched the video. The conceit in the video is just off the charts. And it is absolutely hilarious. As I fell for the song and sought it out on iTunes I discovered the Miami song connection. This made me like the act all the more. (Sidebar: The greatest iTunes discovery is the SIXTY SEVEN dollar roving party version of the clean version of the same song, 67 different towns are available with city-specific shout outs. I could not bring myself to download “I’m In Grand Rapids Trick.”)

While I find the song catchy, the video knocked it out into the ionosphere, what with the elaborate lead-up to the point when that fellow trying to escape is absorbed by the party rock zombies. (I cannot believe I just wrote that sentence). The looks on the Gordys’ faces make the video. It is ridiculous and hilarious. I will also admit that the video’s copious use of the Melbourne Shuffle endeared me as anything Australian in essence is highly rated in my book. I watched their other videos and never have I felt a new band was such a brand right out of the box. The logo, the continuity of the videos, the repertory players utilized in the videos, all these pieces create a wacky world that the band occupies. Now all these things would be worthless if the music was true Shaggs-level shit, but it isn’t (I think). The cheesy, high-pitched electro noises and grooves in the songs are catchy and fun and just bore their way right into your subconscious.

After watching the video for “Party Rock” a million times I recently heard a new single from the album, “Sexy and I Know It.” Hilarious is one way to describe the clip; the other is to point out that the clip offers most flagrant banana hammock flaunting since Hammer’s 1994 epic “Pumps and a Bump.” In this follow-up you see the brand in action, the company players popping up as they have in other videos. The band’s stature has grown, and there are celebrities in the video: Ron Jeremy, Wilmer Valderama, and MMA gargantuan Alastair Overeem! The lyrics are hilarious if you can focus on them. The imagery is ridiculous and the video ends with a shake off on a bar. The last bits of the video have more cock than the “Little Jerry” episode of Seinfeld but is done in a way that just make you laugh rather than cringe. The video is also set on and around a beach, and there is a heart of sunniness in the music that makes me think not only of being young (which is strange since the afro-ed Gordy is only a year or two younger than me) but also of California, of sun, surf and warm weather. The music’s energy is lively and the sense of fun you hear in the lyrics in contagious.

One fine afternoon I flipped on MTVU and found an image of what I believe to be an Aboriginal man singing and playing music. An Aboriginal band, actually. LOVED the image. Then I sussed out that the band of white men on scooters was probably the band, not these Australian fellas. I was disappointed but found the song catchy, albeit a tad bit less. The sound of the music was good though, and I enjoyed the little hints in the mix: chorus vocals that sound churchy, a bouzouki(?), a banjo, horns. I looked them up, found out the name of the band. And then I started to read a bit about the band. The more I read, the more I found out, the less I liked them.

What did I uncover? What tilted my impression? Was it that this Mumford guy looks like the English playwright Patrick Marber? No, that is actually the one thing that I like about the band (and that’s just cos I like Patrick Marber and his contributions to Steve Coogan’s universe). Was it the breathless accolades after the band played at the Grammys? For a time I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I didn’t like about the band, but something about them felt inauthentic. That one song was catchy enough but something about this group felt off. Phony even. And while I do not remember why I didn’t like them I do remember reading something in Rolling Stone about the band that really cemented my dislike. Their circumstances. The lead singer, the Marber-alike, is the child of influential religious folk; his parents are leaders of the evangelical Vineyard Church in the UK. And not only that, but he is a lad of privilege. Mumford met one of his band mates at King’s College, a school associated with the famous Eton Group of Schools in the UK. The band mate Mumford met at King’s College is the child of a rich Englishman. Rich to the tune of 250 million pounds. Let’s do the math. . . 250 times the current exchange rate (1 GBP=1.53USD) and that is 382 million dollars. The men, this band, are the children of wealth and privilege. These kids are the people written about in the song “Common People,” they are the wealthy, they are the lucky, they are the golden children who never worried about meals, lodging, or the like. Granted, this is a generalization, but one that is a giant millstone for me. Or, to cater to the literary nature by which the band communicates (the leader of the band blogs about BOOKS on their website), their albatross. Perhaps not in the true sense of the Coleridge interpretation but something close. Something about being born to extreme wealth and then finding fame makes me believe that there is something inauthentic about the experiences the band creates.

Now wait a second. Let’s go back to LMFAO. They are the child and grandchild of Berry Gordy. Berry Gordy is worth, according to Forbes in 2009, about 325 million dollars. Why aren’t I holding the “band” to the same derision as Mumford & Sons? Why am I not bothered by the video of Redfoo on Mad Money with Jim Cramer talking about his investment portfolio? (The video is incredible, actually, watching the character come and go while hearing an interesting intelligence behind it — however listen to him talk about Apple stock. $13K in shares? Then buying $32K worth, which is now worth $160K?)

Is it the geography? What differentiates the wealth of the children of bankers vs. the children of Motown? What separates opulence from opulence? I know nothing of the background of LMFAO other than their parentage. But I have been able to find out about Mumford & Sons and their backgrounds. What differentiates these two? Is it abandoned in the music of one vs. the other? It feels like with LMFAO that you know they come from wealth, it informs who they are but doesn’t feel flaunted. You learn they are of Berry Gordy, you know his accomplishments, and it makes sense then that his relatives are in the music business.

With Mumford & Sons you don’t know where they are from, but when you do the nature of the British class system starts creeping in. And all their intelligence and worth feels like it comes from a system that is created to form a certain advantage. I am not sure if it is the Eton stigma; when I first heard Vampire Weekend one of the first things I remember is being glad I’d heard their music before having seen the band or read their bio. I bristled at Vampire Weekend’s self-described “upper west side Soweto” sound and their connections to Columbia University, but the music was so fantastic these issues felt like quibbles. Not so with Mumford & Sons. Vampire Weekend, the band, makes me want to send my children to Columbia University in NYC to soak up the city, the sounds, and the culture as they enter adulthood. In America I feel like Ivy League schools are the choices you wanted to attend, the intelligence you wanted to obtain, all the while realizing that in spite of legacy recruits you could imagine yourself or (more importantly) your children attending one of these highly prestigious schools. The English system of higher education seems the opposite. When I think of Oxford or other schools I think of the class system that still exists, where if you go to Eton you are set for life. It feels like getting your child into such British schools would be an uphill struggle that would make Sisyphus weep. And if you are a member of the lower classes your only chance for wealth and fame comes from being either a musician or a page three girl. It seems greedy that a band with such extravagance behind their lives should achieve success in the field of the arts. I can’t shake it. I can’t shake the feeling that when it comes to comparing two bands composed of wealthy kids that the American band seems more likable not only for the style of their music but the attitude they project. You will find no book reports on the LMFAO website.

This is not to say that they are idiots, watch again the clip of Redfoo talking about stocks. But I find LMFAO somehow more honest and authentic than the band comprised of four chaps playing instruments and playing songs fitting more easily into the normal continuum of contemporary music. I’m not sure if this attitude is one that I have grown into or one that has never felt as obvious as it does now. Two bands with nothing in common, more differences than similarities, with two totally different opinions within my head. Maybe it is my age, but my head tells me always go for the hedonistic option. Better to have fun than think too much. Watch the videos, laugh and giggle and think about what makes music so much fun. Is it contemplative, heartfelt lyrics? Or is it something that makes you want to laugh and dance?

Mike Vincent is a teacher, dreamer, grouch, and runner. He lives in northern Michigan and his favorite Beatle is George Harrison.

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Comments
One Response to “Phonies”
  1. Dr. Jones says:

    If you want a band staffed by Aborigines, check out Yothu Yindi. They had a minor hit in the states (“Treaty”) back in like 1992.

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