Shadow Days by John Mayer (2.9) and Every Single Night by Fiona Apple (8.3). I feel like these two should be together, and I’m going to tell you why. They are WD’s contemporaries. Americas favorite sexually frustrated poopy pantsed douche bag, John Clayton Mayer born October 16, 1977. Potent and whimsical, Fiona Apple McAfee Maggart born September 13, 1977. (N.B. WD was born 7/10/78) They are the male and female standard bearers (albeit for different reasons) of the late-stage Gen-x (and I swear I’m working on a better name for this) singer-songwriter master class. They both released new albums this year, Mayer’s frumpy shit show, Born and Raised, and Apple’s mesmerizing and awkward, The Idler Wheel….. I haven’t bought either one of them. I’ve pulled a few tracks from Apple’s. I’ve only subjected myself to Youtube snippets of Mayer’s (including the one above). But I decided to review them/critique their creators together.
First Mayer: Having been pretty hard on him in a brief burst of caustic humor during WD’s two email recipient infancy, I had decided I’d go easy on John Mayer this time around. Yes, Born and Raised (like most everything else he’s ever done) is shit, but he’d hurdled through much ridiculousness in the two years since he made idiotic comments hopping to be controversial about about the “Joshua Tree of Vaginas” and his sexual appetites regarding black women and ended up sounding like a fucking moron (N.B. and as someone who’s been prone to lax decision making re: what not to say, I sympathized). Then sweet and overrated Taylor Swift (N.B. almost 12 years younger than him) bwoke his wittle heart and wrote a poopoo song about him. As such, I thought I’d at least not mention him, because I was neither going to buy, nor listen to his new album and I’d say I almost felt sorry for him as I always considered the idea of John Mayer not a bad one, just seriously flawed in its execution.
Then I read his latest Rolling Stone interview, after he’d spent some time in Montana to get away and make a “fresh start” (sighs). A few of the choicest nuggets:
On Taylor Swift: “I will say as a songwriter that I think it’s kind of cheap songwriting.” (says the lyrical genius behind: “damn baby / you frustrate me / I know you’re mine, all mine, all mine / but you look so good it hurts sometimes”)
“I think about Kanye a lot. He cried, I cried. We don’t keep up much, but I feel a kinship with anybody who came up in the early 2000s. Like, maybe Norah Jones is Bonnie Raitt, and I’m Neil Young….” (Neil Young? Really?)
“I would love to be Jack White – or maybe I want the people who like Jack White to like me.” (You better stick to thinking you’re Neil Young)
“This was a big moment for me. I was sitting at a restaurant, and they were playing either John Mayer Pandora or Coldplay Pandora. And my song would come on and I’d go “that’s a really beautiful song.”” (Thank you, John. “Coldplay Pandora” may be the single greatest two-word discriptor for shit music I’ve ever heard.)
“I think what it comes down to is that I’d stopped appreciating the rarified air that I take up as an artist who means a lot to people.”
Rarified, indeed, you horse’s ass. His album debuted at no. 1, so we’ll be treated to gems like the above for years to come. What frustrates me about him, like all LSGX (not bad) singer-songwriters is that he can only write songs about himself (more on this below) but, he’s surprisingly deft at making you think he’s good at it. And if he used just a bit of his talent at making you think he’s deep and brilliant and tortured at actually writing deep and brilliant songs, he might not be so detestable. But, alas. We get shit like Shadow Days.
Second: Apple: There is a decent chance the name Fiona Apple puts you in the sexy/disturbing video for Criminal she made around the she/we were graduating high school. It still does me too. And if you had MTV, you move on to her drunken rambling acceptance speech at the VMAs, then you might end with her follow-up album with the 90-word sonnet as a title. Then you’re out, because Apple pretty much was too. While potentially equally as popular, as Mr. Poopy-pants above, Apple skipped the Jessica Simpson/Jennifer Aniston/Swift circuit, and kinda faded away. But she’s a superior musician, and frankly, an uber talented freak, for which certain songs she’s released put the entire career of John Mayer to shame.
But she is……difficult. If you give one album a title over ten words, you’re pretentious. If you do it again (which she’s done with the full title of The Idler Wheel…), you’re simply weird, but that good weird, that places you somewhere between Wayne Coyne and M.I.A. where you just exist and make music because that’s the talent you have and what comes out of you is not completely voluntary. I don’t dig her music that much. I respect it more than anything. It is some exposed ass shit, sometimes painful to hear. (N.B. I took a poetry class in undergrad. One day our straightened up hippie/constantly sweating prof played a recording of the poet, Sylvia Plath (infamous for committing suicide by sticking her head in an oven), reciting her poem “Daddy.” It was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever heard. Every time I hear Apple, it makes me think of it.) The three songs I’ve pulled off of The Idler Wheel (The WD, Werewolf, and Anything We Want) are complicated and sometimes fantastic inlets into her psyche, and musically sublime.
And that’s what singer-songwriters (as our generation has conceived them) do. They give you conduits to their soul. The entire reason someone identifies themselves as a “singer-songwriter” these days is to have a platform from which to read pages out of their (actual or contrived) diaries. Our singer-songwriters don’t sing about how the times are changing, the plight of the working man, Kent State, or even simply “what’s going on.” No, our singer-songwriters are above all concerned about themselves (and this is a generational thing). Self-perception flows through the musical conduits of the really talented ones freely, almost too freely, like Apple. The others’ “skills” as conduits are so eroded by their desire to be a “singer songwiter” that you get Mayer-level buffoonery masquerading a serious singer-songwriting “depth.”
I’m at least comforted by the fact that ultimately they can’t fake it and that failure comes through in the music. But I’m also concerned that not being able to fake it means that when you really pull it off, you sound like a “de-friend” on Facebook away from sticking your head in a oven. Surely there’s middle ground (maybe the Millenials have figured it out, and maybe it’s Taylor Swift).
So that’s why from a generational standpoint Mayer and Apple are linked in my mind. They typify two defining characteristics of our generation’s artists (and maybe of us). First, our need to expose the inner working of our minds, consciousness, souls (N.B. babbling music preferences), And second, our ability to come across as douchebags while doing it.