05 October 2007

Apples and Toasters

Recently, a coworker and I got into a debate about, of all things: Rush versus Justin Timberlake. Yes, you read that right. It might seem like an apples-to-toasters comparison. However, people generally have strong love or hate feelings towards either of them. Both are generally considered by their fans to be exceptional entertainers. I would even go so far as to say that each of them may be disliked equally by many people, albeit for different reasons.

I have seen many people make judgments about a thing on the basis of how they feel about the people they know with strong feelings about the thing. So, to address the Rush vs. JT debate, we could consider comparing the fans (or how people feel about the fans) of each. Rush fans generally possess jobs in the engineering or tech sectors, and are (in)famous for their poor social skills and superiority complexes. As for JT fans, I would venture to guess many of them possess two x-chromosomes, will soon be receiving—or have just received—their first driving permits, and probably will live their entire lives without ever hearing (or hearing of) Tom Waits, The Allman Brothers Band, or Derek and the Dominoes. What do the two have in common? In general, neither stereotypical fan is going to be someone fun to sit next to on a plane (IMO).

Aside: I am a Rush fan (duh) that (hopefully) doesn't fall into the geeky-know-all category (though I have my moments).

So, who would win a performance duel between the two? Can such a thing even be judged fairly? Rush has oodles of (consecutive) gold and platinum albums—way more than JT. But that could simply be the result of Rush having formed in the early 1970s; JT was born the very month the world was introduced to "Tom Sawyer," "Limelight," and "YYZ." And it's generally difficult to compare "intelligent" rock music with catchy pop-dance tunes. Can Yes be compared to Rick Astley? Can Dream Theater be compared to Kylie Minogue?

Can JT play the synthesizer with his feet?

Can Geddy Lee do a standing back flip? (Keep in mind he's 54.)

Can JT keep an audience enthralled with a 5+ minute drum solo?

Can Neil Peart write song lyrics that include repetitive use of the words (?) "unh" and "baby" and "yeah"?

I think it's completely possible we are dealing with an unanswerable question. While the two certainly (and suprisingly) share some common traits, "Who is better, Rush or Justin Timberlake?" could be roughly equivalent to asking, "Who would win a water polo match between the 1927 New York Yankees and the 1992 U.S. men's national basketball team?"


Blogger Bill said...

interesting premise!

As a fan of Rush, the Allman Brothers, Dream Theater, Genesis, King Crimson, Robert Fripp, Adrien Belew, Yes, almost anything Clapton has ever done (some of which was unabashed pop), and a lot of other "artsy" bands I have a difficult time with corporate pop music, and I'd say there is no contest here!

I think there is something to be said for music that requires the listener to expend some energy, maybe even (heaven forbid) participate.

Which is not to suggest that there is no such thing as good pop music. Think XTC or the Finn brothers various bands. Good pop music is not easy to create, but it can be thrilling to listen to.

And I wouldn't rule out dance music as a genre either!! The nearly infinite variety of funk provides a wide range of listening experiences. And let's be honest, how many musicians do you know that don't at least secretly wish they could funk with the best of them?

This leads me to the conclusion that yours is not an example of apples and toasters, but rather an example of educated listeners vs pre-educated fans that have been largely controlled by the marketing machine. And that's not a fair comparison.

I suppose this does make me sound like a bit of a geek/know-it-all and maybe even a snob. So be it!

01 November, 2007 13:15  

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