Recently I came across one of the most ridiculous pieces of unintentional art that I've ever seen. I call it "unintentional" because it's not meant to be art. What it is is a memorandum distributed by Clear Channel to it's radio stations shortly after 9/11. The document was a list of songs that were determined to be "lyrically questionable."
Now, really, I don't get my mind blown much these days. I work in the arts. I see a lot of shit, good and bad, and, well, I just don't get surprised by much. But when I stumbled upon this, I have to admit that I was slack jawed with disbelief. It took me a while to digest that this this was for real.
It is that reality that makes it art for me. Unintentional though it may be, this list is a wild, if not at times, miraculously stupid ride into the realm of conceptual art. The thing makes me laugh. Like, I'll be siting on the train and something from the list will pop into my head and I'll just start laughing. I mean, this thing is some mind-bendingly ridiculous stuff. I mean, like, unfathomable, except for the fact that there it is.
From the wikipedia page where I found it: "The list contains 166 songs, including "all songs" by Rage Against the Machine and songs recorded by multiple artists (for example Knockin' on Heaven's Door by Bob Dylan and the same song by Guns N' Roses). In some cases, only certain versions of songs were included on the list—for example, the cover of Smooth Criminal by Alien Ant Farm is on the list despite the fact that the original version, sung by Michael Jackson, is not, while J. Frank Wilson's version of Last Kiss is included but Pearl Jam's cover is not."
Oh-ho my god. Seriously. Seriously. Can you imagine being at the table where these songs were discussed. Oh man I wish I could have a video of the idiots that sat around trying to figure out what constituted "lyrically questionable." And while there's definitely a tone difference between the Alien Ant Farm version and the original, have you heard Pearl Jam's cover? It's pretty faithful. So why would the Wilson version be inappropriate, but not Vedder's?
And clearly there's an unimaginable amount of songs that could be added to this list, but it seems the jokers at Clear Channel were clearly aiming at "popular" (or whatever their concept of popular is) songs rather than all songs that could be deemed questionable. Like, they only banned one Dylan song. Have these guys heard Dylan? Tom Waits, Woody Guthrie and Billie Bragg aren't even on this list but Skeeter Davis is? Really? And they suggest not playing Travelin Band by Creedence, but Bad Moon Rising is ok? You'd seriously rather hear Fogerty sing "I hear the voice of rage and ruin" but you want to avoid him singing "Seven thirty seven comin out of the sky"? What's the difference. Of course there is a staggering major difference in the fact that Travelin Band is about a freaking band that travels from place to place by plane and Bad Moon talks about the end of the freaking world. But Bad Moon is alright indeed.
Speaking of which, why wasn't Bad Moon banned during Katrina for it's "I hear hurricanes ablowing / I know the end is coming soon / I fear rivers over flowing" section? Should we not have been listening to Scorpions Rock You Like a Hurricane? Stormy Weather by the Pixies? (Which btw, is a song that I actually like to put on when a good old midwestern thunderstorm is about to clap.)
The mix of vapidity and irony is fairly staggering and every time I take a look at the list it makes me laugh. There's something new for me every time. Of course, Michael Moore did actually use What a Wonderful World in his doc Fahrenheit 9/11 over the video of the planes crashing. And yes, it is a little sick. But that's the point. And who the hell is Clear Channel to tell us what is questionable in the first place. (Not like this is the first or last thing that Clear Channel will do wrong. Practically everything they do is wrong.) I was likely walking around depressed out of my mind listening to Elliot Smith the whole time right after 9/11.
I could literally write a criticism of every single song on this list and either argue how incredibly dumb it is to call it "questionable" (which was essentially Clear Channel acting as America's Sensitivity Censor,) or argue that of course no one would freaking play it anyway. And if they did, someone would yell "too soon!" and Gilbert Gottfried would swoop down and do so some damage control with some good old American blue comedy, Aristocrats-style.
Also in is-this-really-for-real news, Kerri recently showed me this video for the Art Institute from the 80's. It's one of those so-bad-it's-good things. Check it out for a giggle.