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Freaky Friday: “Teenage Riot”

Posted by purplemary54 on August 16, 2013

Back in 1964, Marshall McLuhan stated that “the medium is the message,” a phrase that has been both overused and misunderstood.  He said it about television, but the concept can be applied to almost anything.  What he meant is that social change is reflected not so much in the content of the medium, but in how the medium changes how we interact with the world.  Television isn’t important so much for what it disperses information, but for how it disperses information, and for the way it influences values and behaviors as a result.

I’m getting a little abstract here, but I think this theory applies just as easily to music, especially the way in the late 1970s when Punk shook up the musical landscape so thoroughly.  Punk had a very DIY mentality to it: If you could pick up a guitar, then you could be in a band.  They refused to rely on the record companies or radio, often eschewing mainstream success for artistic integrity and the independent community that flourished around the Punk scene.  (It wasn’t hard for Punk musicians to do; record companies had no idea what to do with Punk, and chaos reigned when they tried, as in the example of the Sex Pistols.)

After Punk pretty much fizzled out, the next wave of DIY-style bands came around.  Sonic Youth was always one of the best.  Now I’ve just recently become familiar with Sonic Youth (thanks in part to Mr. BFF, who made me a lovely compilation CD to get me acquainted with their music).  But I can understand their appeal.  For them, the medium is pretty much anything that makes the right kind of sound.  They definitely live up to their name by creating a landscape of guitars and words and whatever else tickles their fancy, and conveying a desperate sense of isolation and alienation.

This song takes me back to my own teenage years, and all the emotional angst that went with that time.  It’s a perfect marriage of medium and message.  The music contains echoes of every 80s band I ever heard, but never settles in any one place.  The poetic opening and the  closing descent into fuzz and feedback bookend the swirling emotions–the sadness, the loneliness, the anger–perfectly.

Sonic Youth has become a medium in and of themselves.  Their influence can be felt in just about any indie alternative band–and not a few mainstream acts.  That’s the real interesting thing about music.  Unlike movies or television, where everything feels derivative and photocopied, music morphs and twists and regenerates with every new generation of listeners.  Not the Top Forty; that’s pretty much still the same crap they were playing fifty years ago, but with better technology.  But the outsiders, the independents, the misfits–that’s where music will always be evolving and changing.

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