Daring to be stupid

Phil Ford

Item 1: Scott Spiegelberg’s daughter wrote an awesome Halloween story.

Item 2: Scraps is right: Weird Al’s parody of Devo, “Dare to be Stupid,” bears the bell away.

I love this because it not only makes fun of Devo (see here and here and here for points of comparison), it’s also a great song that scratches the exact same itch that Devo does. It’s the best Devo song that Devo never wrote. Maybe musical parodies are doing their job when they remind you of what you love about some kind of music.

I loved — LOVED — Devo when I was a teenager. If you had told me at age 15 that it would some day be my pleasure to write about Devo for an audience of . . . well, however many read this blog post, I’d have wet the ill-fitting brown corduroy pants my Mom bought from By-Way. Sometimes it’s worth taking a moment to realize what blogging allows you to do . . . and how incredible it would have seemed not so long ago.

Which brings me to Item 3: Alex Ross’s New Yorker article on how classical music is doing really well in the internet age, and how blogging in particular has profited classical music in surprising ways:

Classical-music culture on the Internet is expanding at a sometimes
alarming pace. When I started my blog, I had links to seven or eight
like-minded sites. Now I find myself part of a jabbering community of several hundred blogs, operated by critics, composers, conductors, pianists, double-bassists, oboists (I count five), artistic administrators, and noted mezzo-sopranos (Joyce DiDonato writes under the moniker Yankee Diva). After a first night at the Met, opera bloggers chime in with opinions
both expert and eccentric, recalling the days when critics from a dozen
dailies, whether Communist or Republican or Greek, lined up to extoll
Caruso. Beyond the blogs are the Internet radio stations; streaming
broadcasts from opera houses, orchestras, new-music ensembles;
and Web sites of individual artists. There is a new awareness of what
is happening musically in every part of the world. A listener in Tucson
or Tokyo can virtually attend opening night at the Bayreuth Festival and listen the following day to a première by a young British composer at the BBC Proms.

OK, I’m not mad that he didn’t  mention academic music bloggers, just a little . . . disappointed. Hurt. But that’s OK, Alex! You just go ahead and have fun with your cool friends. We’ll just stay here and blog in the cold and the dark.

This is a great article, and it needed to be written. A lot of people in the music world (especially the academic music world) don’t really understand what blogging is and fear it. (“Incivility blah blah blah superficiality blah  blah blah blah self-indulgence blah blah porno blah.” That’s pretty much the argument.) I’m going to be covering some of the same ground in my upcoming AMS talk on the subject, and will use the opportunity to MENTION ALEX ROSS A BUNCH OF TIMES. Because I’m big like that.

People Listen To It and Dial M got a nice shout-out at Freaky Trigger, a heavyweight UK pop music blog. Tom wrote that we’re “Representative of blogging music academics – I’m not always especially
interested in what they’re talking about (music-wise) but there’s an
enthusiasm in this microsphere which reminds me of days long gone by.” We’re the Ramones of the music blogosphere! Daring to be stupid pays off in more than one way.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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6 Responses to Daring to be stupid

  1. Mark says:

    I dare to be stupid, in the hope that I may come across as smart. You never know, you know?
    I liked yesterday’s characterization of Weird Al. I’ve always loved the first 25 seconds of his songs … then I get bored … but you’re right, the pop music scene without Weird Al would be a bit poorer.
    I’ll enjoy rubbing cyber-elbows with you music academics while the fun last. I’m an academic (alas) but not in music. But obsessed as I am with music, Dial M is a logical place to hang out. Gabba gabba hey.

  2. scott pgwp says:

    one of my favorite weird al songs, nostalgically speaking. It’s probably been 20 years since I last heard it, dancing around my friend’s bedroom singing along. We started our own band back then, though we were I think 9 or 10 years old and couldn’t play instruments. We had a knack for parody, though. We were called the Melted Microwaves. Our biggest hits were “we are the worms” and my personal favorite “let’s go half the way”–which was especially wonderful in hindsight because at the time we didn’t know what “let’s go all the way” meant; we thought it had to do with working or doing chores.
    also, too young at the time to even realize dare to be stupid was making devo references.

  3. ADA says:

    I’ll come out as a Weird Al fan (Phil already knows this, since I think I e-mailed him a while back a YouTube link for one of the recent Weird Al hits, White and Nerdy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xEzGIuY7kw… I’d say it’s my personal favorite these days)
    I find his parodies are actually often quite sophisticated (whether they’re based on specific songs or, like Phil says, “the best song group X never wrote) — not to say that some of his material doesn’t appeal to the sophomoric (double negative enough for you?), but I think that — as with the Simpsons — there are layers of subtlety that actually make his songs still intriguing the fifth, tenth, fiftieth time…
    Or maybe it’s just me, too white ‘n nerdy. At any rate, kudos to Phil for giving props to Alex Ross; I agree that his overview is really intriguing, and I’ll be curious to see what Phil does with it in Quebec City. See you there, compadre!
    Andrew

  4. Kip W says:

    Reportedly, members of Devo told Al that now they had to hate him, because he wrote a song they should have written, and did it so well. It was i-ron-y!
    It seems my favorite Al tunes are not specific parodies — “Christmas at Ground Zero” is the other biggie for me. He said somewhere it was the only song he wrote in anger (this was way back before September 2001, during Reagan’s reign).
    Al has done other wonderful things. Seeing him do “Dare to be Stupid” live (on VH-1), I was impressed how damn tight a performer he is. He also used to hijack MTV for an hour each year and show videos they should have been showing. I saw Devo’s “RU Experienced?” (I almost said first saw, but I first saw it at a convention) and Wax’s “Bridge to Your Heart” and other terrific videos, thanks to “AlTV” Both of these were on YouTube last time I checked. Let’s see.

    (Devo’s best ever — the 60s encapsulated, and the first use of morphing I saw in a video)

    (Wax — a swell tune, and the video changes animation styles every few seconds. Exhilarating.)

    (Christmas at Ground Zero — “Well, the big day is just a few hours away now, and I’m sure you’re all looking forward to it just as much as we are.”)
    Al’s short-lived Saturday morning TV show had its points too, particularly Al as kid-show host Fred Huggins, who used to sing songs like “Water is wet” while the puppets — voiced by Stan and Donovan Freberg — expressed their disgust at having to associate with him.

    (show clips — includes Fred Huggins)

  5. Jason Heath says:

    Great Weird Al video! He was just here in the Chicago area playing a live concert–the place was completely packed.

  6. Hannah says:

    I’ve seen Weird Al twice live and he gives a GREAT concert performance. I’d go again in a heartbeat.
    For more funny music, check out the Arrogant Worms (http://www.arrogant-worms.com/). These clever Canadians have done some brilliant genre parodies (rather than more direct parodies like Al) and are pretty much downright silly. It’s well worth catching them live. Here’s a link to a few video samples…my favorite of the three is Celine Dion.
    http://www.livetourartists.com/roster/arrogant_worms/video.htm

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