The Smirk

Lana Del Rey b & w loungerSo I put on some music the other day when we had another couple, friends of ours, over. It happened to be “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey — I’ve really been into her sound lately, I think she’s got something unique and interesting to say, and that’s why I chose it. My wife asked what it was, because she knows I’m a muso & I secretly (not so secretly) want to talk about it, and I answered, “Lana Del Rey.” I saw a smirk pass across my friend’s face. He managed to suppress it pretty quickly, but it was still there and I saw it. I thought, “Screw you, buddy.” [More or less…] The conversation moved on, but if it hadn’t & I could have spoken freely, here’s what I would have said:

  1. I like what I like, OK? I ascribe wholeheartedly to Louis Armstrong’s dictum that “there are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music.” It doesn’t matter if it’s pop, jazz, big band, metal, reggae, indie twee, or Gregorian chant, if I think it’s good, I’m down, I’m into it. Life’s too short to live by other people’s opinions of what’s “cool” or what you “should” listen to. Forget that. Go find the things that trip your trigger, that make you want to create.
  2. Have you ever listened to Lana Del Rey? Do you actually know what her music says and sounds like, or do you get your information second or third hand from the Internets? Again — are you letting other people tell you what is cool, and what to like or not to like? If you’ve listened to her and you think she’s a poof, then fine. But if you haven’t listened…what room do you have to smirk?
  3. Who says that pop music can’t say something insightful, acerbic, accurate, or profound? Who says it all has to be stupid teeny-bopper music — and even if it is, can’t it still hide some critique or commentary on our society? Lana Del Rey’s got a lot going on, if you listen to her lyrical viewpoint and watch her videos. She throws darts at the inflated corpse that feminism has become, and it drives people crazy. This is a big, big part of why she’s so attacked and vilified. She harks back to a time when people could actually speak freely and act freely, because they were under societal constraints (paradoxically enough), yet people’s ways of life were not so dislocated from human nature. Nowadays, we’ve been taught that everything we feel or want to do is bad, and the opposite is good. We have it drummed into our heads not to pay attention to what we see or think is true, and instead to hold only certain corporately approved opinions and worldviews. I, for one, think that’s crap. I think a lot of young people, especially, who don’t have a lot of life experience to show them what’s wrong with the world, but they look around and they go, “There has to be something else other than this. This is the best you have to offer me? I want something else. I need to go find what it is.” Lana Del Rey, and other dissenters and originals along with her, offer a plethora of different paths, or at least give young people a starting point.
  4. Besides, Lana Del Rey is just awesome at what she does. Ignore the flaming and the media hate, and observe the woman and listen to the music. Is she the dumbest person you’ve ever seen, or one of the smartest? Is she being gauche or poetic, dead dumb or dead-on? It’s yours to decide, but she gives you enough to work with that you keep guessing. You can never fully make up your mind, because you’re not sure how much of it is a put-on, a pose, and how much is real. Besides, when did authenticity become such a gold standard for pop stars anyway? Everyone is acting like she’s a fraud because she uses a different name than she was born with and she happens to have a wealthy father. Does no one remember any of the scads of artists and performers from music history who have used different names? David Bowie, anyone? Madonna? Even Joe Strummer was a diplomat’s son named John Graham Mellor, for crying out sakes. People need to lay off Del Rey and let her do her thing — which she will anyway, and her fans will continue to eat it up.
  5. “Video Games” is a haunting, trenchant commentary on the way we live now. It’s a dead-eyed (in several senses…) broadside that sneaks in through the back door of the bar, draping itself over the pool table and hogging the spotlight from the hanging fixture. When she gets to the verse about being drunk and in his arms, we’re already nodding along and smiling, because we’ve felt that before. Her voice, so grave and somber, flits and bats drunkenly, like a moth in a mason jar, at notions of what she wants, what happiness is. She’s not sure herself, but at least she feels something, in contrast to all those of her generation strung out on Adderall and endless meds for depression, anxiety, and everything else. She senses that feeling means she’s heading in the right direction. It rings true for a whole lot of people who are young, or who can remember being young and feeling that way (not just girls, by the way — her lyrics, delivery, and production all manage to lift Del Rey out of the banal and arc her toward the universal, like a bottle rocket across the sky.) If the song, and Del Rey’s music in general, doesn’t express the current politically dictated orthodoxy, then maybe it’s the propaganda that’s out of touch with reality, not the other way around. We do young people a grave disservice when we furiously lecture them, keep them away from things we fear are bad for them but actually might be fine, and try to clip their wings. When they get the chance they fly faster and harder than we can anticipate, and not always in the best directions. Disillusionment with propaganda means that much good can get flushed away, along with truths that  might be useful or even necessary — and the young rarely take the time to delve through their elders’ wisdom and seek for what is best, plus critical thinking isn’t always there yet. Let the kids hear what makes sense. Give guidance, but don’t oppress. It’s a balancing act, but very needed.

So yeah, that’s what I would have said to him (well, maybe 1 and 2 for sure, and maybe 3 if the conversation was patient and unfolded enough to allow for it) — but, since you smirked, you’re never going to find that out, are you? Good luck with that smirk, because it will continue to narrow your worldview and impoverish your life in ways you can’t anticipate, for years to come. Cheers!