Beyond Irony or Rickrolling in A Pink Unicorn T-shirt

Beyond Irony or Rickrolling in A Pink Unicorn T-shirt
Tony Ballz

A man must possess standards. I never had a big brother growing up, but my buddies and I knew older guys in school that were concerned enough with our upbringing to pass along whatever nuggets of knowledge they could. To these men I am ever grateful. Without their help, I never would have known truths like this one: every day, Kenny Loggins wakes up, hops out of bed, sits down in his kitchen, and eats a big fat hairy gorilla weiner for breakfast. EVERY day. Where else is information like this supposed to come from? It might have taken me YEARS to figure that out on my own and I shudder to think what my record collection would look like today.

A quick study of irony and beyond-irony:

Your average drug addict spends all his money on dope, so when he needs new clothes, he grabs whatever is in the free box at the mission. This results in unshaven, sallow-eyed, smelly, scabby, creepy young men junkie-slouching around the Pacific Northwest in pink unicorn t-shirts. College kids see them and go, “Hey, look at that guy. Is he in a band? Wow, that shirt SUCKS! Wonder if they sell those at the mall?” And soon enough, they do.

This leads to legions of wannabe hipsters and amateur dickwads buying, in the words of Patton Oswalt, the douchiest t-shirts they can find, as if to say, “This shirt is lame, but I KNOW it’s lame. I’m being ironic, so my coolness obviously overrides the pure shittiness of what I’m wearing.”

For years, that is where it ended. Around 2007 or so, we hit the next stage: the hipsters and dickwads hand their smarmy t-shirts down to younger siblings who are too stupid to understand irony. They put the shirts on without being aware of how much they sucked in the first place, which was why they were in the free box at the mission.

“Hey, that’s a sweet pink unicorn shirt.”

“Thanks. My big bro gave it to me.”

“Lucky. Do they sell those at the mall?”

You can trace a similar path with those wolves-howling-at-the-moon shirts and the movie Napoleon Dynamite.

The internal filter that once allowed us to determine good art from bad has nearly eroded. Everything entertains us, no matter how idiotic. The phrase “Oh my God, this is stupid. Turn it off” has left our vocabulary. People just don’t have any idea what sucks anymore. Maybe nothing sucks to them, maybe they’re willing to give everyone and everything the benefit of the doubt. How frightening.

I have seen grown men defend the music of Phil Collins, Justin Timberlake, even George Michael. I suppose they’re afraid of saying, “Yeah, Phil Collins sucks!” only to be told, “No, Phil Collins is cool now. We all decided.”

Or they don’t want to be the unhip guy going, “Ugh, what’s THIS crap?” and be told, “That’s Nick Drake, you asshole! He’s a genius, we all decided!”

The phenomenon of Rickrolling was funny at first, seeing as how “Never Gonna Give You Up” was the epitome of 1980s emasculated synthesized shit-pop. It became less humorous when the trend resulted in a large boost in sales of Rick Astley’s CDs, followed by the dreaded comeback tour.

Let us reexamine this:

Rickrolling began when someone somewhere realized that “Never Gonna Give You Up” was one of the schlockiest, most vomitous and spineless pieces of pop dreck ever to disgrace the top 40, and that interrupting people’s web surfing with a video clip of Mr. Astley at his most effeminate and eunuch-like was somehow highly amusing. And it was.

Then, people who were too young to remember the agony of when the song was in heavy rotation (and too stupid to understand irony) said, “Hey, that’s a snappy little tune!” and went out and bought Rick Astley’s Greatest Hits. They currently drive around your neighborhood cranking Rick’s big ones dead unironically. And now “Never Gonna Give You Up” is stuck in my head. God damn it.

We have a friendly neighborhood pirate radio station to which I contribute much time and music. I was idly cruising through our iTunes library recently when I came across “Girl, You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli. The whole LP. I immediately knew who had stuck it in there and asked him upon our next meeting what his motives could possibly be. He smiled weakly.

“C’mon, dude … you know, Milli Vanilli. It’s funny.”

Yes, the entire album. Hilarious.

I once had a lady friend who was the type of person who should never be allowed near a jukebox with money. We were shooting pool one time and she returned from her sojurn with a big smile on her face as her first selection played: “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I looked at her inquisitively.

“C’mon dude … you know, Free Bird. It’s funny.”

Yes, eight minutes long as well. A real gutbuster.

Her next song was “Three Little Pigs” by Green Jello. Ever heard a drunk person tell a really long joke badly that you already know the punchline to?

A few years ago, there was a TV commercial where the scenario was: square dad tries to teach hipster son about “real” rock & roll. The kid is rolling his eyes while dad is rocking out to “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” I immediately sprang to my feet and began yelling at the set:

“Good God, man! In the name of all that is holy, just what do you think you are doing? That’s a CHILD with a developing brain, he’s VERY impressionable! Listen buddy, if you have an ounce of love for your offspring, if you wish to impart any fatherly knowledge that will affect his life positively, for Pete’s sake TEACH HIM THAT PAT BENATAR SUCKS! AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE! What happens when that kid hears the Velvet Underground for the first time? Huh? Did you even THINK about that? He’s not going to be able to PROCESS it! He won’t have any frame of reference because YOU taught him that “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Don’t Stop Believing” are what rock and roll sounds like! I know parenting is hard but JESUS, man! Steer that boy in the right direction, the future of our species depends on it!”

Those of you who already know what Yacht Rock is, bear with the next few paragraphs:

For the uninitiated, Yacht Rock is an internet comedy show consisting of a dozen 5-10 minute episodes, all of which are posted on YouTube. It’s basically an irony-soaked parody of those VH-1 Behind The Music strokefests, set in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the golden age of smooth music: Loggins And Messina, Christopher Cross, Michael McDonald-era Doobies, Steely Dan, The Eagles, Toto, Fleetwood Mac … Yacht Rock. Punk and all underground culture were basically invented as a reaction to this era.

Yacht Rock’s dialogue is cheesy, the acting is bad, and each episode looks like it was shot with a handheld video camera and edited on a computer during the hour allotted at the library. It shouldn’t work at all but the show is pretty goddamned hysterical, near genius. Steve Perry from Journey appears out of the sky like a superhero; Nate Dogg runs over Michael McDonald while Warren G is making banana bread; one guy in Steely Dan has to translate what the other guy is saying; Hall and Oates fight Loggins and McDonald in a karate/songwriting battle that ends in horrible tragedy involving a harpoon…you get the idea.

The actors involved (as well as host Steve Huey, one of the geeks-in-residence at allmusic.com) are around my age, old enough to remember when the radio was filled with this lame plop. Their love/hate for the music shines through. They take obvious joy in portraying these rich white “rock” stars of this wretched period as complete jerkoffs and buffoons. Except for Steely Dan, they were OK. But Christopher Cross … wow, what a dick. Fuck that guy.

A fellow music head turned me on to Yacht Rock a few years ago, knowing it would be right up my alley. All the episodes were on heavy rotation at my place that summer. My roommate and his crew were nearly ten years behind me, too young to remember the music, but they dug the show anyway.

One day I came home from work and headed in back to the opium den. Everyone was sitting around grooving on “What a Fool Believes” by the Doobie Brothers. These were folks whose regular musical tastes ran the gamut from White Zombie to Korn and everything in between. I gaped at them in disbelief.

“Are you kidding me? Turn that shit off! What are you thinking?”

“C’mon dude…you know, Yacht Rock. It’s funny.”

Back to school, kids.

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