Yecch! 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Award to the Wise

How rich is the event that can illustrate absolutely any point of view one chooses to take! I allude not to the ubiquitous and always relevant O.J. Simpson trial—surely every columnist’s dream—but rather to the Country Music Association Awards Show of last Wednesday. Now was a pageant that fairly screamed for interpretation.

the three-hour special say about the present state of country music? And what did it foretell of country’s near future? Certainly, there are clues aplenty to gnaw on: We might begin with Shania Twain’s lap-surfing. As far as we can deduce, Twain, who is Canadian, is making it her life’s work to eradicate forever the phrase “frozen North.” Ever since her first music video in 1993, the singer has demonstrated not only that she has a good voice but opulent housing for it as well.

In case you missed this particular moment in cultural history, Twain opened the CMA show by sashaying down the aisle toward the stage, singing “Any Man of Mine” and pausing en route to plop down seductively on the lucky laps of Travis Tritt, Marty Stuart and John Michael Montgomery. (If there were others similarly graced, I missed them while mopping my brow.) Clearly, this display of raw carnality shows that country music is veering from its characteristic simplicity, modesty and innocence.

Or does it? How, then, to explain the triumph of Alison Krauss? No one in the front ranks of country music today is more traditional in sound and subject than she. And the only thing flashy about her stage presence is her eyes. Still Krauss won every trophy she was up for, in spite of the fact that she records for a comparatively small label. Are her acoustic-based victories signs that country music is taking a turn toward bluegrass or returning to the “new traditionalism” of the late ’80s? Probably not—although Patty Loveless, who won the album of the year award, and Vince Gill, who again won the male vocalist prize, also have solid bluegrass voices. There’s still too little evidence to announce a trend in this direction.

The show yielded two truly magnificent performances: John Berry’s “If I Had Any Pride Left at All” and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Where Time Stands Still.” These were neither in the glitzy nor the traditional veins, but both managed to fit nicely under the country tent. If there is a more commanding vocalist in country music than Berry—when he has the right material—we have yet to hear from him. Accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar and wailing in a high, clear tenor, Berry was emotional agony personified. Then there was Carpenter’s wholly different approach. Backed by a piano and guitar, she tendered a dreamy, wistful, introspective reading of one of her own great compositions, a song so melodic and stately, so quietly dramatic and timeless in its details that Johnny Mercer or Cole Porter might have written it. What do these examples portend for country? A move toward R&B or pop? Well, yes and no. The music is still in its assimilative phase and finds a place for a variety of influences.

The awards show was more than usually hospitable toward women singers and songwriters. Women won half of the awards and accounted for about half of the performances. But if feminist politics were involved at all, they were more evident in the statistics than in the musical themes and speeches.

Gospel music émigré Russ Taff may or may not get his records played on country radio, but we’ll always remember and cherish the double-edged “tribute” he sang in announcing the CMA’s top “broadcast personalities.” “I am here to suck up to you,” he crooned, his irony perfectly masqueraded as candor. At the end of his lyrical plea, he resorted to every country boy’s trump card—begging the broadcasters to play his songs “for Mama and me.” The deejays beamed.

Overall, the show was an unqualified triumph and a model of good pacing. Gill was the perfect host, just as he was last year: handsome, stylish, good-humored and wholly at ease with himself and the proceedings. There was lots of music and plenty of variety, and the show’s producer saw to it that acceptance speeches were mercifully short.

If one thing was missing, it was the presence of a superstar, one who stood head-and-shoulders above his or her fellow performers and created a rush of excitement with each appearance. We haven’t had this since Garth Brooks was in his ascendance. Without question, Gill, Krauss, Carpenter, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Travis Tritt, Brooks & Dunn and the others are all grandly talented and still have much to say to us through their art, but it would have been nice to feel the earth move again.

The Country Music Association Awards Show did demonstrate one point few of us would argue about. And that is that the country music community has finally reached the point where it can enjoy these bouts of self-adulation instead of using them to seek approval from a largely indifferent world, as it has in the past. Watching the show, you got the impression that the performers were having a good time and not terribly worried about whether they were being good ambassadors for the format. Of course, they w

You’ve probably read about “Yahoo” in this column before. Besides being the best subject index of places to visit on the Internet, it’s also the Netscape Corporation’s pet project. (They’re the people who make the most popular Web browser in the world.) Yahoo is a high-visibility site that attracts millions of people every week—and with that level of interest, there are bound to be a few imitators. And so, Yahoo has unintentionally given birth to a son—or, to put it more precisely, an illegitimate step-cousin—in the form of a server called “Yecch!”

Yecch is precisely what Yahoo tries to avoid: the essence of Internet stupidity. Collected, for your perusal, are links to sites that would not, could not and should not be included in Yahoo. Where Yahoo separates subjects into cogent areas of discussion, Yecch merely provides an index of what it believes are the real areas.

Take, for instance, a section called “Huh?,” which is dedicated to the art of the rant. Contained within, one will find the most mind-boggling examples of opinion and editorial ever unleashed upon mankind. It is an area devoted to “streams of consciousness, tsunamis of philosophy and pointless diatribes.” And believe me, it does the job well.

Consider an entry called “Josh Powers in All His Glory,” located at http://www.cs.oberlin.edu/students/jpowers/ — “Do not be frightened. I may be insane, but I’m not going to hurt you...at least not permanently. Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Is it all in vain?’ For will you ever know what it means to be...Gagaliciousness?”

Will you ever know what it means to be utterly silly, Josh?

Other sections of Yecch—“What were they drinking?” and “You’ll poke your eye out” in particular—poke fun at different areas of Internet life, such as the odd tendency for people to reveal information about which no one should care. To wit, a pearl of wisdom from “Clear Plastic Clothing” at http://clearplastic.com/ — “This experiment in Internet marketing started when a lot of folks (both on the ’Net and on the street) asked me about the clear plastic raincoat that I have worn on some really rainy days here in Seattle.”

What follows is a step-by-step guide—with pictures—to fashioning a plastic raincoat out of trash bags and Velcro. No kidding. Only in Seattle would Hefty bags make a fashion smash, I suppose.

“We’re hoping in some small way, we can bring a little joy to some crazed maniacal hacker out there in webdom,” says Yecch’s documentation. “But we want Yecch to be more than that. We believe, by shining a light on the foibles and follies of really bad Web sites, Yecch will be an annoyance and a nuisance to all of our Web Family in the process.... Why, you might ask? Dunno.”

Yecch shows a brilliant initiative, and it can be quite amusing at times, although it is bare at the moment. It plans to feature one truly awful Internet site per day, though, so soon there will be silliness to spare. You can visit Yecch by directing your browser to: http://www.smartlink.net/~yeeeoww/yecch/yecchhome.html

’Net Bytes

♦ Netscape’s long-awaited “Netscape Gold” was released Saturday to throngs of people, who accessed a bank of eight computers set up to answer requests for the free Web-browsing software. The load on the machines was often so high it took people nearly three hours to connect one time.

Netscape Gold, otherwise known as Netscape 2.0, has several new features that are supposed to widen the gap between it and three other competing browsers. However, this is a so-called beta release, which means that some of these features will be either missing or full of bugs. A quick test of the new version reveals a lack of support for something called “Java,” which will allow live-action video to play directly over the ’Net.

I also found the interface to Usenet newsgroups and e-mail (another new feature) sadly lacking. The workings of the newsgroup section are particularly clumsy.

Still, if you want to check out the new Netscape before it’s finished, head to http://www.mcom.com/.

♦ The Nashville Scene’s online site continues to grow beyond our wildest dreams. This week we are proud to announce we’ve been selected as the “Dynamite Site of the Nite” as well as the “Link of the Week” by various Internet guides.

If you haven’t visited us yet, try turning to http://www.nashscene.com/.

Joel Moses can be reached at joel@moses.com.

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