Friday, April 24, 2015

FICTION: Wishy-washy Flim-flam: an Excerpt from the Hitherto Unpublished Manuscript "Beef"

Once upon a time, apparently, songs hadn’t been about specific products or companies at all, but about wishy-washy flim-flam like love or loss or hope or metaphysics.  Instead of singing about a particular construction company, they’d sing about imaginary watchtowers; instead of crafting a piece promoting the benefits of using a specific insurance firm, they’d write a song about made-up riders on a made-up storm.  And, even when songs had been about actual tangible products, like drugs or blue suede shoes, they’d been about generic drugs or blue suede shoes, and had failed to mention which specific brands of drugs or blue suede shoes they’d been actually referring to.  It was like the past had been some fuzzy cloud of inter-bleeding greys and browns, out of focus and impossible to really discern.  If the present was like a display window of precisely-labelled and correctly-categorised leisuregoods, the past had been like the same display window after a tornado.  Things had been thrown together as the musicians had seen fit, without any specific sponsorship, and no particular direction.
Even ancient classics like the Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint it Black With Dulux’, or John Lennon’s ‘Imagine (the Comfort of Sorbent Toilet Tissue)’, had originally been product-free, instead being about insubstantial abstracts like bad moods and hazy utopian daydreamings (respectively).  Back in the day, popular musicians, despite being immensely respected at the time, had churned out nothing but self-important odes to nothing-much-at-all, and billions and billions of dollars had been wasted on selling the public nothing but existential ramblings, personal points of view, and lists of things that rhymed. 
All said, it’s amazing that anyone had listened to music at all.
Indeed, so pervasive had this vague attitude of artistic incoherence been, that when the first corporate-rock pioneers had begun creating their product-specific pop music in the early 2000s, they’d been derided and belittled (according to reliable history sites).  Like Galileo being imprisoned for declaring the world was not the centre of the universe, these forward-thinking artists had put up with personal insults, vile slander, and (unlike Galileo) the accusation that they’d “sold out” (which, given that their music had been created in a self-declared culture of free-market capitalism, had been akin to accusing a politician of running for office). 
But, much like the popularity of vatmeat over corpses, slowly corporate-rock had spread.  Music publishers, desperately looking for some way to recoup the losses they’d suffered under the digital file-sharing revolution, had been first to jump on board: with business sponsorship, suddenly they’d found themselves raking it in.  Music fans had loved it; now, not only could they sing along with their favourite tunes, but they could actually hold their subject matter in their hands.  Abstract notions and pretty verses had finally turned into solid, tangible products and services.  Instead of just having posters of their idols and wishing they could somehow connect, fans could really drink the actual soft-drink, really wear the actual pants, really wash with the actual moisturising and defoliating emollient and humectant cream with enzymes. 
Finally, instead of just buying into the message, the public could buy what the message was about.  And they loved it.
Musicians too began to universally realise that while there was no career in writing about wishy-washy flim-flam, there was always money to be made in advertising.  As eyes and ears had begun to open across the world, musicians had finally understood that they had been selfish and childish, trying to just push their own idiosyncratic barrows, when there were larger (and more socially-shared) barrows that needed pushing up the cultural hill.  Musicians no longer merely had to rely on selling their little songs, but had themselves a whole line of merchandise already there for the selling.  And collectively they’d understood that it hadn’t meant compromising their unique artistic visions, either; rather, it had made their visions more concrete, more accessible to their fans.  One could still sing about dreams, or love, or existentialist despair, but one could drive the message home, make it really connect to their audience, if one made it dreams about wearing a specific perfume, the love of the refreshing taste of a specific cola, or the existentialist despair of missing out on these crazy crazy bargains.
It had not taken long, relatively speaking, for the entire music world to have shifted from an irrelevant and meaningless charade of silly selfish shadow-puppets selling themselves, to a creatively-robust economically-essential driving cultural force.  There were still, of course, the normal dichotomies of art: mainstream musicians and alternative ones; high-brow musicians and low-brow ones; musicians who displayed creative genius and those who churned out dross.  But the entire game had shifted.  Soon enough, if you were a musician but didn’t have a product to write about, you weren’t really a musician, any more than a stamp-collector without stamps is actually a philatelist. 
Finally, the music business had realised what it really had been all along – business, set to music.
Having grown up several generations after the music industry had awakened to its untapped economic potential, Gene had never known a world where songs had been unconnected to real, solid, proper product.  And, as most of her friends had been fellow musicians, Gene had seen many products used for creative inspiration.  One of her friends made extreme noise-music about a chain of body-piercing / tattooing / body pigmentation studios.  One friend made dark droney power-ambient soundscapes for a depressive boutique clothing franchise.  Another created high-energy distorted 8-bit slam-rave to advertise emo power-tools.  One made glam-pop rapcore for a range of bathroom cleaning products.  One crafted blackened folk-surf for a jelly-repellent wetsuit company. 
But in her estimation, these were all light-weight products, with limited creative value.  After all, one emo power-tool was pretty much the same as any other; the world didn’t care which one you used, really.  There was nothing important to say about piercings or wetsuits.  But vatmeat!  That was something she could really get her teeth into (so to speak).  That was something that had revolutionary appeal – something that had literally changed the world for the better.  Sure, situational cellular growth technologies had been pretty much ubiquitous, and, competition-wise, the Beef Corporation had been at the top of the pile.  But that hadn’t meant that there wasn’t untapped awesomeness yet to come.  Gene knew, deep inside, that she was finally on the right path.  Her music, her voice, her song-writing skills, coupled with Royston’s PR know-how, and his company’s unparalleled expertise in the field – what could possibly go wrong?
As she’d left the MegaConvenience Friends Plus, lighter in hand, Gene couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear, humming a little tune.  A tune that would, one day, turn into her biggest hit single, and reach the ears of millions.

(Of course, she hadn’t known that at the time.  But even if she had’ve, her smile couldn’t have been wider.)