Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Making Cyber-Connections, All Summer Long

Writing-wise, I've had a strange and enlightening month, one that culminated in a free CD. And to think I owe it all to Kid Rock.

Let's back up a little, shall we?...

A few weeks ago now, I had a piece in the Hartford Courant about Kid Rock and his song "All Summer Long," which is a "mash-up" of two other songs, Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama." In the article, I basically made the case that the song offends me because it rewards unoriginal thought.

Now, I don't have any problems with Kid Rock. (No one would ever accuse me of being a huge fan or anything, but I like two of his song, "Picture" and "Lonely Road of Faith," quite a bit.) Nor do I have any problems with sampling in general, as long as the new artist does something different with the borrowed material. I just don't see anything "different" about "All Summer Long."

The article ran on July 9th, in the Commentary section of the Courant; it also ran on the Courant's website, which allows readers to post comments about the articles. As it turns out, my simple Kid Rock piece ended up getting a whopping 54 comments.

Now, to be fair, that total is sort of misleading; three of those comments were made by my friend Mac, who posted several goofy comments under different pseudonyms; and a few people posted more than once-- e.g. "Southern Rock Girl," who posted nine times. Still, the degree of fuss conjured up by the article surprised me.

And these posts came from people from all over-- not just from Connecticut, not just from New England, but from Illinois, Canada, Georgia, Arizona, even Germany. How this piece ever came across their radar, I'll never know.

(Bizarre aside: I also found a link to the piece on al.com, the site for "Everything Alabama." Again, how did they even find it?)

And what did they all have to say about the piece? Well, the comments could be divided up into several categories:

Folks Who Are With Me. For example, Paul from Dover, NH said, "Very well said Mark. I knew this "song" made me angry and I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but you summed it up perfectly." Or Old Skool from Phoenix, who said, "All Summer Long is nothing more than Kid Rock singing over a Karoke-like mix of Zevon and Skynyrd. Oh, wait...he changed the lyrics. Big deal. What's next? A guitar player who rises to fame playing Guitar Hero? There's nothing original here. It's Karoke. It's the musical equivalent of paint-by-numbers."

Folks Who Are Against Kid Rock. These are people who didn't exactly agree with me; they just hate Kid Rock. Example: Jeff H from Haddam, CT, who proclaimed"Kid rock suks, and this song is a perfect example of how bad this no talent a$$ clown suks."

Folks Who Love Kid Rock. These people love anything Kid Rock does-- if he recorded an album of him hocking loogies, they'd buy it-- so naturally, they had to dis me.

Folks Who Think It's Just a Fun Song. I don't necessarily disagree with these people-- for example, the ubiquitous Southern Rock Girl, who professed, "I love the song it's all around fun as it's supposed to be so rock on kid rock." Thing is, I never said it wasn't a "fun" song; I just said it wasn't original. Why can't a song can be both?

Folks Who Say I Should Lighten Up. These are a more intense than the "It's Just a Fun Song" posters; these are the readers who think I'm way too full of myself. For example, texasgirl from Voss, Texas suggests, "maybe you should turn off the radio and try to attend some teacher's conference on being a more positive teacher. Or better yet, try to enjoy summer a little and catch one of his concerts."

Folks Who Have Branded Me an Elitist. This is where it started getting personal, because these posters basically called me a rotten teacher. For example, the poster from Maynard, MA who called himself "Not a pompous snob" (hmmmm... wonder what he's suggesting by that name?) posted three times, each one more full of rancor than the last.

"It's unfortunate that such elitist, empty folk are teaching our youth," he said in his first post. In another posting, he described my writing style as "dripping with arrogance and disdain for another's point of view." And in another, he seemed to be giving me advice: "Please, for your own happiness, crack open a beer, kick back, put the headphones on, and crank up the song once more. And, try to relax. Let the music take you away and stop being so full of yourself." (Somehow, he resisted signing off, "Love, Not a Pompous Snob.")

Folks Who Sort of Forgot About Me and Starting Responding to Each Other. After a while, some posters started responding to another, calling each other names instead of calling me names. That's always fun to watch.

I'd like to bring it back to the "Folks Who Branded Me an Elitist"-- specifically, the "Not a pompous snob" guy. In fact, I'm going to quote a larger section of one of his postings, from Wednesday, July 16th:

"I looked up some of your articles and your theme seems to be the same
throughout your writing; you sound like an angry, unfulfilled writer who is
upset that you haven't achieved the level of wide market success you feel
entitled to, and you're frustrated that so many people who are obviously less
intelligent than you are finding monetary success. Unfortunately, one senses
anger throughout your writing, such as in your essay on how superior you are in
intelligence to the moronic students you teach who simply parrot back what
they've heard of Robert Frost's classic poem "The Road Not Taken." Perhaps it is
you who is simply parroting the comments that the elitists, whom you surround
yourself with, mutter, and giggle at how you all know better."

I'll take the last part first, the part about my fellow elitist co-workers, which seemed particularly and unnecessarily nasty. I think if you walked into my workroom, you wouldn't find one single "elitist" among us. If anything, my co-workers don't give themselves enough credit for all their hard work.

(Is it just me, or do you think this guy has a beef against English teachers? In an earlier post, he said he "despised" his high school English teachers, for their tendency to "examine and re-examine books to death, often missing the fact that reading a book can be a simple act of enjoyment." I mean, talk about unresolved conflict... *sheeeesh*...)

As for me coming off "frustrated" and "angry" and "entitled" and "superior"... well, all I can say is, I don't think I'm like that, and I think anyone who knows me will tell you I'm not like that. And I'm sure my students will especially say I'm not like that. I always try to champion my students' comments; that's one of my trademarks. And to suggest otherwise, without ever seeing me "in action," seems unfair.

I guess "Not a pompous snob" is entitled to his opinion, of course... but deciding that my distaste for Kid Rock's "All Summer Long" means I'm an elitist and dismissive of my students' insights seems like an awful big leap.

But here's the real remarkable thing: all these people not only took the time to read the Kid Rock piece, but they took the time to respond in writing as well. And some responded multiple times. Heck, "Not a pompous snob" didn't just trash this one piece: he researched other pieces I wrote and then trashed them as well!

If you think about it, that's pretty amazing. Really, does it matter if they're cheering you, or they're booing you, as long as they're doing something? Even if the readers disagree, even if they call me names, at least I provoked a response. (Granted, maybe too much of a response in the case of "Not a pompous snob," who kinda hurt my feelings... but hey, I'll survive.)

Probably the best response to the piece arrived last week. I was popping into my school, and I saw that someone I didn't know had mailed me a package. As I opened the envelope, I found a CD, for a band called The New Intertia, along with some fliers and a letter, which read, "Thank you for your letter about Kid Rock. I hope you like my band better. I promise, for good or ill, we are original."

How cool!

So, what did I learn from all this, as the month comes to a close? Probably a lot, but I'll settle on four truisms:
  • The written word is powerful and has far reaching effects.
  • The written word backed by the Internet is even more powerful and far-reaching.
  • Self-promotion is essential to art. (The New Inertia guy was trying to promote his work, the same way I'm trying to promote my work on this blog. That's why I'm giving The New Interia a plug. Check them out: they have a cool, late-80s-"Cure"-thing going on.)
  • Finally... don't mess with Kid Rock fans. They fight back.


Anonymous said...

Hi, just checked out your blog. Very cool, def get your article responses. Same thing happened here. Most of the time they're more entertaining than anything else!


jenz said...

So... I don't feel like reading all 59 posts. Just wondering if anyone pointed out that Steve Miller's "Take the Money and Run" is also in there?? According to the Kid himself, the song actually came about when he realized that the three songs actually have basically the same musical structure and he wondered if he could combine the three into something new. He pulled one over on you, so maybe he's more creative than you think?

jenz said...

Argh... 54 posts. And I used actually twice in the same sentence. C-