"He fills his head with culture, he gives himself an ulcer." - Gang of Four, "At Home He's a Tourist."

...and it's precisely this home-tourism that I'll be sharing with you in fragments, bits, and pieces here on trappings. It could be an indirect route to some scintillating personal confessions 'n musings, too, so always, always stay tuned, kids!

My breathless, pressured addiction to pop culture old and new (and it's a lineage that goes all the way back to so-called "high culture," so the distinction itself becomes problematic, as we know) of all stripes has become its own subject of fascination for me. When I ask myself- as I more and more often do- why I continue to read so many magazines, follow so many threads of television and web hype for this band or that movie, when more often than not the items on offer seem cynical, useless and boring- my answer is: Beginning when I was a wee tyke and continuing to this very day, nothing has ever moved me like a particularly exquisite melody, or the prose feast of an insightful short story or novel, or the visual and aural enticements of a particularly acute sequence in a film, often not even (and I'm a little tenative about admitting this) real-life events. Frequently, in fact, I've used culture as an escape hatch, an attempt to elevate myself above the mundane, meaningless problems that plague me and every other average working person. It doesn't work, not literally, but the projection that pop induces can, dangerously and exhilaratingly, feel better, more "real," than reality itself. A moment of life/experience captured, a powerfully concentrated injection of personality into the pop bloodstream, has an immediate, rich quality that comes to feel diluted in day to day life, if it's there at all.

Pop is eventful, cataclysmic. A Joy Division song about ennui cannot fully be appreciated by someone who is genuinely in the throes of ennui; the concentration of feeling is too engaging. Pop can make anything it sets it sights on- no matter how painfully "dark" or grotesquely saccharine- worthwhile by the particulars of presentation and style; pop is made or broken by nuance and specifics.

And this brings me to the ambivalent part: To what degree do I detract from my "real" life by getting so wrapped up in the gratifying hyperreality of pop culture? The answers are contradictory. Pop can feel, depending on mood, context, and other variable qualities of any given pop experience, like: My search for universal truth, an efficient way of pushing my own buttons, a way to get outside of myself, a way to onanistically concentrate my attention on my own feelings and attitudes, a group activity, or a passive-aggressively asocial one. Are my senses wasted on reality because only pop can really reward the investment of my time, energy, and concentration, or has pop poisoned my senses to the extent that they can no longer experience real life as anything but fodder for representation?

Pop is a galvanizing force; each new cultural product has an occult quality, creating a public context rife with signification. Pop is, whether I resist or accept the notion, a way of identifying myself and others, constantly refining my life experience, ideals, and perspective. Pop is sociological currency; as the floodgates open, anyone can be as rich or poor as they want to. The tools of pop savvy are woefully undervalued and underutilized, but they're very egalitarian; in the postmodern Information Age, they're there for anyone who wants them.

My more eager interest in what is called the indie or alternative side of things has, at times, gotten me called a snob or an elitist. I submit that I'm drawn to what's most pleasurable for me, just like any other consumer of pop culture, but in an attempt to be more active, to truly seek the most pop gratification I can find, I've usually found a much more intense concentration of pop pleasure a couple of steps away from the calcified mainstream. There's often a repression, a desire not to offend, an aversion to risk, a sycophancy towards the audience, a greedy desire for an infinite amount of attention and fan-love on the part of the Michael Jackson and Celine Dions of the world, that dilutes their work into something very general, very tame, and of no particular interest other than a sort of massive-scale, bandwagon-hopping peer pressure. The pop I favor rewards attention, is too rich to be anonymous (pop is personality, style, point of view); it isn't intended as background, but as something to be experienced, appreciated, taken personally. All cultural representation does encourage a certain passivity in the viewer/reader/listener, but it needn't transform us into somnambulists. Predigested, rote pop exists on every level of the hierarchy- there is no end of awful indie music/film, for instance, and there's always that surprise chart showing or box-office smash comprised of something worthwhile- but there is very generally something monolithic and predetermined about the top 40 that doesn't even try to fulfill- isn't even aware of- the potential of pop, what it can do.

In other words (and I really did intend to keep this part short so I can get into the fun stuff), my musings will encompass whatever debris the pop winds blow my way and how I interrelate with it.

And so, on to the fun stuff.

First item: Today's release of the much-anticipated Yeah Yeah Yeahs album, Fever to Tell. I'm listening to it right this very minute. I like it, but it's not the great leap forward I thought it would be. Despite being engineered by the famous slicker-upper Alan Moulder, the songs don't sound that much more polished than the songs on their 2001 EP or their 2002 "Machine" single, both of which I liked and, as it turns out, may have been exactly the right YYY dosages. The album's standout track so far is "Maps," which indulges a pop instinct they'd be well-advised to further explore. They do this sort of Sonic Youth thing where they play up the tension between their sometimes really unfettered catchiness and excruciating-noise interludes. Sonic Youth has a higher quality and quantity of tricks, though; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' best one is fast 'n furious propulsion, and the way they meter it out and temper it with interruptions and digressions starts to feel stingy over a whole album. When they slow things down or meander, they get lost and stuck. The album opener, "Rich" has a great concept- the sexual implications of money and power- that they just manage not to sell short with repetitiveness. The single, "Date with the Night," is also possessed of a cool swagger. The album has coolness to burn, but not enough focus.

I love the band's image- fresh, fucked-up, flippant. Singer Karen O. (a fantastic pop name if ever there was one), with her elaborately constructed, photogenic anti-style, reminds me of early Madonna or Siouxsie Sioux. As soon as their music catches up with that skill for image, they'll have found their source of staying power. For now, they're an intriguing, fun diversion. They may be lumped in with The Strokes and The White Stripes because, whatever their differences, those groups all have a stylized image and a very garage sound and aesthetic, but YYY have yet to come up with anything so fully realized as either of those bands have done. They have more interesting goals, but they haven't reached them. Yet.

You can't find anything by YYY on the new Apple music download shop, which I checked out for the first time today, but despite the scant selection, it's worth a look-see. If you're loathe to buy a whole album by the B-52's, Donna Summer, or U2, as I am, it'll come as a relief that you can get just the one song you like for whatever reason at only .99 a pop without any further obligation, and it can all be done legally in the comfort, privacy, and safety of your own home, away from the judgmental eyes of fellow customers and record store clerks. The selection stinks, but they do have a bounty of exactly the kind of throwaway stuff you'll be willing to spend your pocket change on as an afterthought. I hit the site today and made off with some embarrassing treasures that I'll just leave you to guess at...

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