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The Death of The Album

Circa 2014, rock band Muse declared the album dead. One of music’s most lasting legacies since the emergence of recorded music, the longest format, with its relative simplicity, the band claimed, in the face of the digitalisation and ubiquity of music on the internet, had perished. 

They weren’t entirely wrong. A statistical study published on the website Statistica recorded the annual music album sales from the year 2007 to 2017 (with ‘album’ including “CD, CS, LP and digital albums”). Most years, total album sales fell lower than their preceding years. Between the years 2016 – 2017, album sales dropped by 9.4 million units from 205.5 million albums being sold in 2016 to 169.1 million in 2017. In fact, only in the year 2011 did album sales see a marginal bump up from its predecessor (from 326.2 million to 331 million, a rise of only 1.5%). Overall album sales had fallen from just above 500 million units in 2007, to under 200 million in 2017. With streaming today giving many people the choice between paying $20 for 12 tracks or $10 a month for access to a seemingly infinite music database, the shift is hardly shocking. 

In today’s age of digital music, where the number of streams and views on a song online is bigger news than an album’s garnering platinum success, the standalone single has emerged as the most popular format. It’s almost logical: give a time-pressed world a short three-minute catchy song with a video that looks good on YouTube (but perhaps not in your mother’s hands) and sticks in their head, and the world will reciprocate with its attention. It’s as simple a thing as giving people what they need. The radio will take care of the rest. 

Will it run for forty minutes?
Credits: thrillist.com

In today’s age, people want variety, entertainment and familiarity rolled into one, and they want it quick. 
The fifty-minute Length Play can hardly keep up with anything less than a traffic jam. The concentration asked of most experimental records won’t keep your eye on the road during your morning jog. And it’s no fun trying to keep up with something completely unfamiliar in rhyme or rhythm in the shower or on the dance floor. This is where the album, with its structure, discipline, and some may say, conformity, loses out in 2018. It’s also where your curated Spotify playlist wins. 

Listening to the modern chart radio reveals a few patterns.
 Either in the contents of the lyrics, vocal and tonic technique, baselines or drum machine patterns; something seems homogenous. Something sounds familiarly like the last fifty songs you’ve heard. Something in the song knows what makes your foot tap from past trials and is here to serenade you again. 
Out-of-breath crooners are back in fashion. Trance baselines have been in for a few years and stubbornly refuse to leave the charts alone. Acid bass drops get you moving. Minimalistic drum taps interfere the least with your dance floor groove. (As a disclaimer, this is all terminology coming from a rock music listener who’s spent way too many holiday car trips with the Tops 40’s radio.)
There’s always a story, either vocal or instrumental, that you’ve heard before  and it becomes easier to fill in the rest. 
But there’s always something almost obligatorily new: a synth melody in a new key, a different chord progression (Hmm, perhaps playing ‘A#-D#’ this time instead of playing ‘D-A’ will sound extremely novel), a new instrument thrown into the mix; something to make a case for your argument in favour of variety. 

What this sums up, to me, is a tired, wary society. We like our variety, in fact we’re wired for it, but only in micro dosages. We cling to familiarity and will take our blankets and pillow along with it. This is a generation that has seen more than its fair share  of experimentation and variety in life and wants no more hard surprises. Yes, you can dye the cat purple for all I care, maybe the colour will even look good on her. Just don’t let me know that I can’t afford my rent this month. Don’t tell me my student debt has doubled and that I’ll probably never be able to retire. Keep the papers away. Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t mess with my music. 

Pop music—historically short for popular music—is in this sense still quite a good reflection of society and its current mental state.
 Most of today’s adults the teens and preteens of the mid-00’s, a generation that grew up under the dominant reign of Disney Channel. This decade’s rise in (or perhaps, resurgence of) Disney artists in the popular music charts could well mean a generation of now-grown kids holding onto the last of their childhoods—a time when things seemed simpler, or were at least taken care of, and there seemed a lot more to look forward to in the future than they grew up to realise—through their childhood stars. 

So are we holding on to something that’s over and smearing its remains onto our music– a large aspect of our cultural lives and legacy? Does the ‘death’ of the longest format of music represent a breaking down of barriers, the handing of the reigns to the listener to modify their listening experience to their own comfort, the result of our collective wishes as a generation to find familiarity; or is it the death of music as we once knew it?

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Loosest Stuff I Could Piece Together: Anyone Can Write Deep Poetry Series

Come on over and write yourself the next chart-buster. Anyone can do it, no lie!

First up, welcome to the Anyone Can Write Deep Poetry series. 

Have you spent all day and all night, listening to Pink Floyd, obscure French music and frantically pulling up your old English notes from school searching for all the phrases and idioms that may have passed you by in twelve years of worthless education, and sit there scratching your head wondering where deep, meaningful poetry comes from?

Are you walking around town in low-waisted, ripped jeans with shades and a bedhead with a purpose, looking around for someone to pass you a few tabs of acid to unlock the sheer poetic creativity that sleeps passively in your soul?

Are you following all the latest yoga fads and rewatching every John Lennon interview in existence to find the meaning of life and finally turn it into that soulfully-worded song you know you should have written by now? (Come on, you’ve been searching for a year already!)

Well, fear not, for I have ended your woes!
Here is a step by step guide to getting in the frame of mind most fertile for sprouting pearls people will quote for years, read and reread to really grasp the inner meaning of, that people will cry upon deciphering. 

Basically, I’m gonna turn you into Radiohead. 

So let’s begin. Echoes 2.0 ain’t gonna write itself. 

What time is it? 
Did you just get back from work? Are you tired of the structured life, does the hypocrisy of society frustrate you?
Yeah well, you’ve already tried writing about it. 
And yelling, “down, down, down with the governmeeent!” clearly hasn’t helped your SoundCloud grow. 

Try the indirect approach. Orwell neatly shrunk society into a farm. Look at how many musicians quote his books. You want that, don’t you? 
What can you come up with?

Ditch the obvious! The LSD ain’t gonna help your head if it isn’t thinking!

Here’s a start: you think people shy away from self-contentment, don’t you?
Let’s find you something a level beyond “We’re all sad fucks.” 

What’s the least obvious thing that could represent fulfilment?

Yes, now you’re using your 3 AM brain, good work!
Cream cheese.

Why not? 

Satisfaction is cream cheese. You know it’s what Jagger wanted. But none of you can get it, you sad fucks, you’re afraid of getting it! 

What would shake up society more anything else?
That’s right, someone getting it! And not just getting it, but enjoying it!

Attaboy, my Dylan! You’ve got yourself a full verse already! Should’ve come to me last year, don’t you think?

So here’s your first verse. 

Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

What’s more torturous than just getting, and enjoying good cream cheese?
Getting it again! And again! And again! You rebellious soul, what will you do to the planet!?

You loop it. You say the same thing, again, and again, and again. You drive your bloody point home. You’ve got some fucking cream cheese out there. And you’re gonna eat it, period. 

What a symbolic middle finger in the face of the establishment. 

Yeah, how’s your acid working out for you?

Freedom can be trippy. Make sure your listeners—and the damned Establishment—know it! 
Put the trip and the trap into your music: echoes, delays, fades, until you’re so high on your own freedom that no one can hear you anymore. 

You’re a quick learner.
 Let’s put that onto your draft now. 


Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

Yeah, cream cheese tastes good!
Is real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone!

CREAM CHEESE IS GOOD, YEAH?
Good food, yeah?
See me put it in my mouth
And watch it be all gone!

YEAH CREEM CHEEZE IYYY OOODD
EEEZZZZOOOODDD FOOOODDD
PUUUIIINN MAAA MAAAAAUUTHH
TILL ITS ALL GOONNEEE

Now, you and your group break away: there’s strength in numbers! Free your mate, and free your girlfriend, free your neighbour’s dog! Give ‘em some cream cheese. 

(song continued)

And my mate likes good cheese
My girl says it’s good food
We put it in the dog’s mouth
Until my neighbour’s gone

How’s that for emancipation of the people, sir? Could the establishment have an answer to that? Now all you need is to seal this with a kiss. 

I rise up, raid the pantry!
We rise up, raid the factory!
Wake up, eat up, 
Wake up
Wake up!

Who’d have expected that? You’ve got the critics in tears, reviewers raving; you’ve put together something nonsensical enough for the radio, deep enough for the underground, heady enough to score you that dream collaboration with Post Malone, you star!

Take a look at your final product and be proud. 

Cream cheese is good
Real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone

Yeah, cream cheese tastes good!
Is real good food
I put it in my mouth
Until it’s all gone!

CREAM CHEESE IS GOOD, YEAH?
Good food, yeah?
See me put it in my mouth
And watch it be all gone!

YEAH CREEM CHEEZE IYYY OOODD
EEEZZZZOOOODDD FOOOODDD
PUUUIIINN MAAA MAAAAAUUTHH
TILL ITS ALL GOONNEEE

And my mate likes good cheese!
My girl says it’s good food
We put it in the dog’s mouth
Until my neighbour’s gone

I rise up, raid the pantry!
We rise up, raid the factory!
Wake up, eat up, 
Wake up
Wake up!

Now, about the music, jeez, aren’t you exhausted? This song’s already a chart buster, why don’t you send your A&R guy to sample the neighbour’s dog pissing? It’s so meta, I can’t even. It probably even sounds good on record. About the actual rhythm section? Scratch some pads, man, anyone can make music. 


(In case the point was lost, this was pure sarcasm. If you actually do write a song about cream cheese, and if it actually does hit the charts, I want in.

This is not a generic attack on lazy songwriting, and is neither a diss on any of the songwriters mentioned above. 

Except maybe Post Malone. But whatever.)

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A Midnight’s Dilemma

To write or not to write- that is half a question
To go over in the mind asleep;
Slings and arrows of wakefulness
To surface from its sea to consciousness
Or suppress them, end them. To sleep, to sleep–
No more– and by a sleep to say release
Let go of a thousand and more thoughts
That the mind is heir to- ‘tis euphoria
Devoutly to be wished. To sleep, to sleep–
To sleep, perchance till twelve. Ay, there’s the rub,
Of an eye, for ‘til the fresh rays come,
The thought has left this mortal coil.
This gives us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long and dark a night.
For who would bear the glares and ticks of time,
The spacing out, the offended glares,
The pangs of a body hungering for sleep, and its arrival’s delay
The sleep deprivations and the spins
This patient merit of th’ body takes
When he himself his bed made,
With bare hands? Who would fardels bear,
To fumble in the dark, for the light switch
But the dread of losing that thought,
It’s departure to new-found lands
From where it never returns, puzzles the will
And makes us pick those quills we have
And have them fly over flapping sheets
Thus does the clock above make fools of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
To shut the eyes tight, and ward off all thought
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of another thought
But enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard, their currents hasten
But sleep must lose the name of action– Sleep-deprived you now!
The fair inkiness! Black, In thy testament
Be all my sins remember’d.

 

P.S. as you can probably guess, it’s that time of the year again.

Test time.

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Bohemian Lament

Exams draw near, and it brings out the worst in me.

In my defence, I get bored.

 

Is this a real pile? Is it just fall-acy?
Caught in a landslide
Of books sliding down on me
Open your eyes
Look up to the ceilings and see
I’m just a poor boy
Pile of books taller than me,
Knowledge easy come, easy go
Little high, little low
Any way the wind blows,
The answers seem to blow with them
Away from me

Mama just killed a man
Just the turn of a page,
Now he’s confused and filled with rage

Mama, the lesson’d just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away

Mamaaa ooooooooooo
Didn’t mean to make you cry
But I won’t be done with this by tomorrow
Grind on, grind on
As if nothing really matters.

Too quick
It’s time has come
Sends shivers down my spine
Eyes shutting all the time

Goodbye everybody
I’ve got to go
Gotta leave the world behind and face the books

Mama, oooooo
I don’t wanna die
And sometimes wish I’d studied a bit before

I see a little silhouette of a book
Scandium, scandium, can you be less scandalous
Thunderbolts and lightning are just electrons flying at you
Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo Galileo didn’t see this coming,
No-o-o-o-o.

I’m an unpaired electron, nobody loves me
Unpaired and Lost from his metal was he
Spare him his life of unfulfilled valency
Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go
Let him go!
Bismillah! We will not let you go
(Let him go!) Bismillah! We will not let you go
(Let me go.) Will not let you go
(Let me go.) Will not let you go. (Let me go.) Ah
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
(Oh mamma mia, mamma mia) Mamma mia, let me go
Bismuth has an orbital put aside for me
For me
For mee!

So you think the plain ground state was made for I?
So you think I’ll just keep spinning here till I die?
Oh, gaining, velocity baby,
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right out of here

(Put down the book, and)
Nothing really matters
All the prep there can be
Nothing makes the difference
For me.

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Cycle of Life

I was reading an article on how the population equilibrium on the planet will be maintained- a cycle of events that supposedly take place, that ensure a balance in human numbers on the planet.

Very roughly, they cycled as follows:
At first, there was a medium-ish population, and a small, hand sowed-and-reaped produce just enough to feed it.
If the population increased, the food supply was the limiting or checking factor, maintaining our population size.

Then came the mechanisation.
All of a sudden, with industrialisation, machines were reaping more crops than ever.

For once, an increasing population had enough, and even surplus food in store. (Cue: the Great Depression of the late ’20s, where the grain produce was so much, it had no more value in the markets.)

With this, and advances in technology and medicine, the so-far tight check on population growth loosened, and what began was the third phase of the cycle: something we call the population explosion.

In this stage, life conditions look relatively hunky dory, people live, live, and keep on living.

We’re accelerating too much, the problem of today.

Well, here’s what the cycle says.
This is where a fourth phase in the cycle kicks in.

There will then follow a stabilisation, wherein, with lower mortality rates and more longevity, humans will start reproducing less.
There simply won’t be a need for people to have as many kids anymore.
[Also, I may add, the lack of a libido, as seen in the Japanese, and the introduction of AI into the sex sphere, may play big roles in bringing down the very need/urge for human sex, and indirectly, reproduction.]

Now, I’m not economist or researcher. But I have another theory.

The human race will advance further in the intelligence sphere, and we’ll soon be delegating our intelligence to algorithms.

We’ll progress to the point where we’ve become far too comfortable.
(And trust me, we’re on our way there.)

The human body was designed for action. We were predators and prey once. Now we prey on the supermarket.
We use to be on the move.

Heaven knows we may adapt to inactivity. But mostly, I think that would fall apart.

Soon, non-movement-related illnesses would begin to take control of the human race, and human numbers will fall, because most likely, we won’t be able to reverse the damage.
Lifestyles mostly only progressively change, not regressively.

Now birth and death rates will balance out, and for all you know, despite improving technology, we may not have the problem of food surplus, because of the growing importance of (and money diverted to the production of) medicinal precautionary drugs, etc. in the human diet.
We come back to Step 1 of the cycle, i.e., balance. (Birth = death ≤ food supply).

There is another way, though.

Human beings’ strongest claim to the top of the hierarchy has always been their superior thinking ability. We’ve outsmarted and ousted almost every other dominant species on the planet. We call it civilisation.

But, of late, we’ve been handing over the reigns to the Golden Age bearers; with a machine to do everything a human can, the human needn’t work anymore. We have submitted to the idea of the Reigner Supreme: the now preferred machine.
Soon enough, the machine takes over the thinking aspect as well. Like a rusting machine, the now-useless human brain rots away in wastefulness.
No longer the well-oiled machine it once was, the evolution of the human brain stops.
With our front running claim to the top, our biggest weapon blunted, we will slide lower. Rationality and logical thinking will be lost, one bad decision will lead to another, till we’ve effectively dwindled down to the last human.
Ain’t that hard to kill the last dodo, is it now?

At last the cycle will end, and the winners, created by the ones they destroyed, the Reigning Machines, the victors, would stand tall, perfect and purposeless.

Hey, I’m only a science fiction writer, but who’s to say that dolphins won’t rule our planet one day?

 

Social

Sometimes, you just have nothing to say. I’ve often had nothing to say, I’ve just hung around wondering how people talk so much.

Then they turn and hit you with the s-bomb. You’re so silent!

Yes, well, if all you can talk about is the last wedding you all were at and all the food you ate there, there is no way in a million lives I can contribute to that chatter.

I’ve realised of late that my way of coping with this, anticipating that dreaded blow, has been verbal diarrhoea: oh you wanna talk food? Allow me to divert and rant about how spicy this was, and then hijack the conversation and start talking about the history of spices and why all countries in the world wanted to set sail for India back in the set sail times (hint: thé answer is spices). Then I plan to dart and run away before you can throw any kind of bomb at me. I’m out.

Or you can be nice and give me the wifi password and we can avoid this whole mess. Keep me leashed, I guess, if you value your sanity.

And yeah, of course you’ll probably end up in one of my comics. That’s the sole reason why artists exist. We love annoying you.

Leading Line Adventures

 

Where do these lines lead? What lies beyond the bright point? What’s that blue blob? A door? A portal?

I find it interesting how you’ll never know. I do know, because I took this picture, but to you, the very same picture is, and will remain, an utter mystery. A supposition, at best, an educated guess, a figment of your own imagination.

Can you imagine a character running towards the light, arms outstretched, trying desperately to reach that portal and escape to some imagined safety? Do you see a lost traveler wondering how on earth they got into this underground labyrinth, feeling the brick walls as much as to feel its texture and feel some warmth, some assurance, some hope that they’ll ever get out alive, as for some direction? Them, feeling their way along the long, low corridors, fervently wishing for some sign of life to appear… As they make their way down, they see a door. Then another door, hidden in an alcove. Which one might lead to escape? Oh dear, there isn’t time to go exploring, and there isn’t time to waste around guessing!

It’s now or never, they must take their best shot!

The hidden door, that must be it! Freedom can’t be that obvious, right? Here goes, swing, and in!

Swish!

What’s that? Carpeted floors and low, concentrated light. Where is our hero now? They look in front of them: another door? What on earth? It’s too late to turn back. Swing this one open too!

Weeeeoooooeeeeoooowwwoeeeeoooooweeeoooeeeoooo!!

Siren! They’re done for! What sort of trap have they triggered now? What lies ahead for our protagonist?

Our hero sees movement: there are living beings here! They slowly turn their head and look at our befuddled hero. They don’t look happy. In fact, they seem almost… gruntled?

Our hero takes a step back in panic and confusion. They grip the strap of their backpack. So down they must go. Well, they’ll go down fighting!

Sweat droplets begin to form on our hero’s forehead in spite of the cool night air around. Their fist clenches, their muscles tighten. They silently promise themselves that if they make it out of here alive, nothing is going to stop them from going home. They will go home.

Slowly, they take a tiny step forward. They suck in a breath. They open their mouth to say something, but they’re still shaky from the wailing siren around them.

And the figures in the light, they don’t seem to like the wail either.

As they’d figured two minutes ago, “now or never”, our hero whispers through their parched throat.

Just then, a larger figure appears! Her silhouette descends from a higher level and comes down to stand before our hero! As she does so, she blocks the blinding light before them, and our hero’s vision finally begins to come into focus.

With the alarms still blaring around them, our hero really sees the scene they’ve landed themselves in for the first time.

The figure… she seems human, just like our hero! Her brows are furrowing on her forehead, and she adjusts the glasses on her nose. Is she from around here? Will she be able to help me find my way home, and out of this fearsome place? Or is she one of them? What do I do?

At that moment, the woman—for woman she seems to be—begins to speak.

“Sir, I’m going to need you to enter through the other door.”

Our hero simply stares at her in confusion. A-what now?

“Sir, do you hear me? Are you alright?”

Our hero looks up and meets her eye. “What?” they ask.

The lady shakes her head and sighs. “You don’t look like you’re in any shape to pull an all-nighter. I suggest you go home and rest.”

It made no sense, but one word resonates with our hero. Home! That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do all this while: get home.

“I don’t understand,” they reply slowly, the confusion beginning to climb up their chest.

“Kid, you can’t enter the library after 9 PM through this door, don’t you know it’s an emergency exit? It says so on the wall. Now you’ve disturbed everyone around. I understand it’s finals season and tensions and emotions run high, but you need some rest, look at you! If you really have to study in here right now, I won’t stop you, but I highly recommend one thing: get home, and get to bed!”, the librarian gushes.

The librarian?

Our hero looks around as the other faces come into focus. Human indeed. Or maybe almost human. Finals season zaps the humanity out of every studying soul and turns them into zombies. They don’t look happy to have had their preparation for that big final worth 40% of their grade interrupted. Now one of them gives up and leaves to go to the washroom. Curses, now they can’t focus and need a break.

Our hero stands there with their mouth hanging open as they watch the kid leave, taking it all in at once. It’ll be a few more minutes before they can remember who they were and what’s really happened in the last half hour or so. Did they fall asleep in the corridor, or one of the classrooms it leads to? Were they really home? Are they just another student taking finals season badly?

For the truth, as you shall now discover, is that this is an underground passage connecting two of our residential buildings on campus. There is an underground entrance to the library, which comes in very handy during cold wintry days. And during finals season, almost all libraries are open twenty-four hours. It’s a blessed necessity.

Now of course I knew that. You only did a paragraph ago, unless you’re also at my school or just made a brilliant guess, which like I said, is only a brilliant guess.

So there you have it.

Also, if this reads a little weird, I’ll put it out there that I have never written a gender neutral character before. Never used these many “they”s in the same piece. Pick your own adventure, I guess.

Life of the Party

To be honest, I’m probably more of a panel number two. Who wants to deal with real people anyway, right?

Wait, you’re telling me they exist and I’m hurting their feelings? What?

Anyway, there are probably even more stereotypes, but I only get so many square inches of napkin.

You ever sit around wondering how on earth could anyone be enthusiastic about something as dull as a “reunion” with people you mostly don’t know? Or rather, people who ask you if you remember them but you could swear you’ve never met them in your life—but of course you remember them don’t you? You met when you were two years old!

Well, call me a silver-liner, but here’s what I just realised: reunions, or any gathering with a lot of people, are happy hunting grounds for material. So much material. And so here’s the outcome: new material!

What other stereotypes have you seen at gatherings? (Yes, you’ve been to one and had to stay for five hours, don’t hide it. And you observed too. You were too bored, so spill.) Did you run into my characters? And were you the life of the party, or me?

Has Rock Music Changed?

People are always complaining about how things have become so much tamer. People aren’t wild enough. They don’t take enough risks. They don’t step out of home, or their comfort zones.

It’s ubiquitous enough a complain, but it really seems to roar louder in the world of rock music. There are reasons for this.

Since the demise of the grunge movement following Nirvana legend Kurt Cobain’s death, the entire rock music scene lost momentum and spiralled inwards. By the end of the nineties, only the bands that survived the chaos of the younger half of the decade would go on to make it into the next era. The others would be lost, and so would their fans.

Kurt Cobain on stage, Ireland, 1991. Credits: Pinterest

As a kid of the aughts, bands from the zeros seem closer and more familiar to me, but on the grand timeline, it could be argued that they were definitely more obscure than rock musicians have been in past decades. For those that did prevail though, the set of problems they faced were a little different in nature than their predecessors.

Of course, those who grew up in the ‘golden ages’ of the sixties, seventies, or even the nineties, claim that they don’t make it like they used to. The nature of showmanship has changed. The faces of venues have changed. Artists’ demeanour is more closely scrutinised than ever before, and they’re everywhere, all the time.

This is a big change. Earlier, the only exposure you’d have to your favourite artist would be through an interview they did with a music magazine, or an MTV special on the late night telly. You’d hear from them when they dropped their music, and of course, in their music, where they’d always be with you. None of these have changed, although as a compelling article in Spin Magazine argues, the interviews have become rarer, and the music has broken itself into smaller and smaller pieces: from albums to singles, and singles to snippets and breadcrumbs (a phenomenon I recently explored and outlined in this article).
What has changed though, is that in addition to this, you can find your favourite bands on YouTube, their personal Instagrams, Twitter, and for younger artists, even Snapchat. Like every other person, they find these platforms ideal to express their own thoughts and opinions. Of course, for a fan what this means is that your favourite stars are now living in your face, having comfortably nestled there after building themselves a little fire and drinking hot chocolate.

Metal exposed to free air for too long begins to rust, and the same is true of your interest in your favourite musicians. The tabloid has exploded, and everybody can be a reporter; heck, the artists themselves can do it. As you scroll through your news feed in infinite scroll mode, there’s too much stuff to catch your eye, and soon enough, the fifth reposted promotional picture of favourite artist becomes boring. You cast a momentary glance at a gothic, high-heeled, heavily made-up picture of that band you like who would swear to be so strictly folk rock that their getup would be otherwise shocking. But then you move on, because you just saw another picture yesterday.

Rock music was built on the social foundations of ‘rebel and shock’, but what used to shock people is either seen so often that it’s just not shocking anymore, or it’s simply unacceptable.

If Iggy Pop were a rising musician today, he’d have had a tough time.
Iggy relied heavily on the effects of the shock he could have on people, and do it more subtly than contemporaries who would proclaim themselves rebels. (See: MC5)

In particular, Iggy used to cut himself up with a blade live.

Today, he’d probably be cast as having mental health problems. He’d be told, it’s okay, everyone has darker days, and it’s great that you’re putting it out there for everyone to see. Self-inflicted harm? Total sign. Do talk to someone though, please!

And he’d have been a mental health advocate, broken by the stress we all face, a product of that system, with all our respect and our sympathy.
Rebels don’t get your sympathy, and that’s what endeared young rock and rollers to him. That’s what shocked people, and what made him a rebel. It simply wouldn’t work today.

In the face of this, the Noel Gallaghers of the world say that bands simply don’t have it in them anymore, that they’re not dangerous enough. They don’t wake up stoned or turn up drunk onstage (au contraire, only a month ago I witnessed a bassist down seven cans onstage). Artists do what they do. Only the implications of their actions have changed.

Of course, this also makes a band like Coldplay so likeable. In short, Coldplay are anodyne rock and roll: maybe a gateway band to artists more rock and roll, but also a band that you, your mother and your puppy can bond over. They aren’t out to offend and mum and dad won’t hate them. They won’t be in the news for the wrong reasons. In fact, all Coldplay have done to iff anybody is make more mainstream, pop radio-friendly music, and that seems to piss you off more than it does your mum.

But they’re hitting the charts alright.
This is something you’d see showing up all over the charts. Softer pop rock and more mainstream friendly artists are dominating the rock airwaves. Imagine Dragons, Coldplay and Twenty One Pilots are the biggest things rock on the charts. Oh, and probably Billie Eilish.

So is this the changing face of rock music? Has it become so mainstream friendly that it’s no longer friendly to those who created it in the first place? (Case in point: Greta Van Fleet. You either love them, or you love to hate them.)

The short answer is it’s not the end. The rock music scene was always stronger underground. A quick glance at Billboard’s archives tells you that rock music seldom dominated the hot music charts. There were moments when artists shone bright before being replaced by hotter tracks. The limelight was never meant for endurance, only an upthrust. And all legends are written in hindsight. Maybe we’ll be looking back on something we may have missed in our Instagram feeds and think it an incredible display of rock and roll showmanship.

In the meanwhile, do us all a favour and hit your local club, or a bar. There’s tons of good music buried under the unassuming air of carefreeness there that’s just itching to be discovered.

Tip: If you are looking for new music right now, here are some artists I could suggest.

Looking for some laidback surfside Cali blues, and generally a good time? Check out the Beach Goons. In their own words, they hate the beach. San Diego based surf blues-with-a-dash-of-Mexican-rock and roll, they’re my age.

Looking for something with the punk attitude but with catchier tones? I’ve said this before, but check out SWMRS. They’re also a lot better live than their records suggest.

While we’re talking punk, check out PUP. Even Pitchfork seems happy with them, which either means they’ve all caught the flu, or we have a rare conciliatory two seconds before they’re back.

For a classic throwback, try Greta van Fleet. For some good alt rock, try Wolf Alice, or even Royal Blood.

Wolf Alice

Looking for some old fashioned indie rock? Come on, there are tons of bands out there, I won’t even try. Just go to a club, for goodness sake.

Looking for some hard hitting garage rock? Do, do, do check out Phono Pony. It took me forever to remember their name right, but it’s all worth it. British Columbia based duo hitting it in the vein of the White Stripes. Also, in the words of their drummer, “We’re not the White Stripes”. As a bonus, if you happen to be in Toronto tonight, hop down to the Horseshoe Tavern, they’re playing a midnight set.

Then come back and answer me, is rock music dead?

Action!

You were expecting comics, weren’t you? I have many, but I call this a social experiment.
Isn’t the very essence of a comic but the excitement, the suspense, the thrill by the time you reach the last panel?

Well, just a drawing can sort of do that, only it’s sort of only one panel and no words.

But I’m not making excuses to show off my pretty dragon.

 

Or maybe I just am.

Would you agree that there’s action writ large over this one panelled, unintentionally worded but actually wordless comic, with the dragon’s paw (paw?) raised, poised to make a big move, those wings, ready to expand and fly, the fire already escaping those ready nostrils, those eyes, looking right at you?

Don’t you think there’s drama in here, leaving you wondering, “what next?!” Isn’t there suspense in the fact that you’ll never know what happens next because there is no second panel??

Isn’t there extreme thrill in seeing that I can finally draw a dragon properly??
… oh, hi mum.

Anyway, you got a few panels less than you’d bargained for. I hope a pretty dragon makes up for that.

I hope you’re convinced. Have a nice day.

I Got Dragged Back Here. Thanks.

Alright guys, suit yourselves. Look who’s back here, especially when I said I wouldn’t do this here. I’m around kids quite a bit these days—kids of every kind, including a little pupper—so I’m kind of used to dealing with people putting their foot down here and around. The only way to win is to give them what they want, while getting what you want. Subtle. An art. A master move.

And so I’m back to posting these here.

I suppose most of you guys are more familiar with this blog, and I’m too lazy a bean to update you guys with links to every comic I post over there (FYI if you actually are suddenly in this weird position where you’re craving napkin comics, head over to Origin of the Pitchforks, in spite of the name, I promise you the site doesn’t bite. It’s actually quite a pretty blue colour. That came about after precisely four hours of a CSS colour code nightmare. It’s pretty) so the comics have come home.

Don’t you cheer in that corner, you’re promoting anti-lazy behaviour. Boo.

Anyway, speaking of lazy, here’s a lazy Sunday morning comic, because I don’t get to read the newspaper on most other days now.
What do you think of it? Would you have spent any time looking at that dashing Lolex model? I imagine he’d be a tad bit disappointed if you didn’t.

 

Looking Back

Here we go, it’s finally over. I’ve reached the end of the game. Whether or not I’ve crossed the finish line, the game’s over. The suspense may have been killing me, but I’m too exhausted to feel the suspense at this point.

Year 1 is over. I’ve finished a whole academic year at university, my first big change since high school began. It’s had its ups and downs and sheer ecstasy moments; I’ve loved the freedom that’s with being on my own in university, I’ve enjoyed being able to prove myself wrong— in good ways! I’ve loved what I’ve learnt this year, not just in that typical ‘personal growth’ way, but also academically: it’s nice to fall in love with an area you may be in for a long time to come!

I’ve also come to fall in love with the area we live in: downtown Toronto, the heart of the city. I’ve always been a city kid, but my “city” ended in the suburbs—I never fancied living in the rush of the sprawling upward expanses with square glass fingers desperately stretching higher skywards in a place where you’d enjoy it if you live for the thrill of the fast lane 24/7.

Not my kind of thing. But I’ve come to love it. It’s not entirely an about turn, though. Our campus is 1865 powering its way into 2019 and adamantly staying that way, and it’s beautiful. It’s neo-gothic style architecture drives students crazy (and me; sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s a tourist and who’s a student because even as recently as this month,  eight months in, my phone camera is still out. This was on the way to an exam location, no less. I guess imminent death makes everything look prettier! (Naw, it’s pretty as it is)

Now that I’m sitting home, it’s kind of this bittersweet wait. A long, anticipated wait.

I’m awaiting grades and major decisions. It’s been a chaotic last few weeks, and my finals weren’t even half the reason. Finals don’t stress me out, as you’ve clearly seen. All my best work (a twenty-six and counting comics included) comes during my highest periods of pressure. And I’m not even talking academic work. My creative output skyrockets under pressure. When people bring up the whole debate about the tortured artist, I hide my face and run away. It’s not something I can pretend doesn’t happen!

But it’s been a tiring year.

I am, or at least, at this point, I think I am, a computer science student. I can’t pretend I knew much better when I signed up for this, but apparently it’s a well sought-after major. Which means resources are limited, but the demand is pretty high. Which means stuff gets competitive. My school is one of those that selects majors once you’re already in college, so you have a bunch of people scrambling around for places in a pretty limited program, because everyone can take their shots. At the end of the year, based on how you’ve fared compared to the rest of your class, you’re either in, or you’re not.

And guess what, it’s the end of the year.

So it boils down to this. Numbers will be concrete now. The hypothesisations are out. Over. I could be out and over. The possibilities are literally limitless and are veritably driving me nuts.

I’ve been doing more math than computer science this last month, and there are so many loose ends. I don’t normally think of myself as someone with loopholes. It’s a challenging field out there, and while I can’t say the actual coursework has been stressing me out—no sir, I’ve loved it—the consequences of messing something up are killing me. Getting an assignment back is no longer about look! So much of this is right, I’ve learned—maybe even mastered—so much!, it’s about oh no, I’m below the class average this time! How much better am I going to have to do on the next assignment to make this up? Back to the calculator it is!

At this point, I genuinely don’t even remember why I liked computer science in the first place. There’s this hazy mist above my head that’s saying “I remember I used to like it, so I must’ve liked it. Can’t recall why though.” I’ve forgotten what I wanted to do after college, what area of computer science I wanted to specialise in. Goals have shrunk down to micro-goals. What do you want to do in life? I want to get into second year. I don’t remember what came beyond that. Was it research of some sort I’d wanted to do? Go into graphics or interaction or something? Jump on the AI bandwagon? (Look, I’m open, but that probably wasn’t it. I feel an internal need to run away from the mainstream, even if it may end up being something interesting. I wish I could change that, but my internal magnet repels way too strongly.)

The point is, I don’t remember, I’m just so exhausted and worn out, that me saying anything about this will have me sounding like a broken record (ask my poor roommate). I used to be kinda interesting, you know. I used to talk computer science stuff like I was really interested, and I’d leave the conversation having you hooked onto something you’d never imagined you’d find interesting or remotely imagine spending the day with (I can vouch for myself here because I’ve had a twenty minute conversation with a self-proclaimed luddite on binary storage. Better times! Talk to me about it if you’d like, I’ll see if I still have it left in me).

Well, here’s the thing, me not knowing is worse, because it means I’m going to have to do the painful discovery process thing again. If I need to get my ass out of this place and at a new place that’s not quite as much of a gladiator showdown, I’ll need to write another bunch of long and thought out essays on why a college should have me as a computer science major. Last year, I’d swore I wouldn’t do that again.

So here we go, it begins again.

The hunt, the search, the outputting. If you missed the shitshow last year, here’s a repeat telecast.

Man, I just want to be sure, for once. Just know that there’s something out there that I can come back to, and bank on. Maybe you’d call it a backup.

I really don’t want to have to go. I love the place, I love the people, I love what I do. I have friends (I am personally surprised by the number of people I’ve discovered in the last month that would vouch for me) and I was really settling in quicker than I ever have before.

Starting uni, I really just hit the ground running. Things weren’t out of place, culture shock didn’t really hit me, I was weirdly not homesick either (hurray for WhatsApp!) and I really just clicked. It was a beautiful feeling, almost like Toronto had been waiting for me since forever. Even if it wasn’t me in question, Toronto can make anyone feel home and familiar, I’ve noticed, but hey, this here is my theatre production, so back to me.
You can’t seriously be telling me at this point that I’m going to have to pack up and move. Not after I’ve worked that hard. Not after things have worked. Not after everything had been blue skies (actually no. Grey skies with a 40% chance of snow; this is Toronto, guys!) and wind in the sails and a 90 on cruise control. The blow those finals dealt me has me kind of stunned, because me numbers don’t predict graceful nosediving worth a perfect 10 in synchronised swimming.

Basically, I’m confused. I didn’t see that coming and I am not prepared for it. Denial may kick in soon, but I need to plan my bust before that happens.

Look, there’s nothing pretty about this piece of writing anymore, it has descended into a pure mad rant. This is Lady Macbeth checking in, deliriously washing the blood of her murdered grades off her hands and whispering, what have I done? Or more precisely, when have I done this?
Can someone tell me what is going on here.  

You don’t have to read this if you don’t want to, it’s a one-person tragedy now. There’s no more script, just rants. Just someone who doesn’t want to write FIVE more personal statements and who wants a tiny little bit of security in life.
Ironically enough, here’s a computer science major insecure. I heard an english major whining about it the other day and sympathised. Well guess which one of us knows they’re gonna be at this uni in four years time and actually graduate.
The irony kills me.
The competition just killed me. It’s almost not fair.
If you’d have told fifth grade me about this, you’d have gotten a smirk.
Trivial. All you’ve got to do is get from first year to second year!

I’ve added a fancy picture here because reading all that must be an eyesore and you deserve a break. Commendable that you got this far. I wouldn’t have. But thanks anyway. 
Source: not my work

Yeah, it’s totally that simple when you’re not in my major. Really. I have nothing remotely optimistic or witty or quirky to say. I can’t say I’ve learnt how to deal with anything better than I would have without this kind of failure. I’m a little bratty about not getting my way and this isn’t a humbling learning experience. I’ll probably remain a brat. All those easier colleges we collectively shit on because ‘we’re so hard’, I shall probably not feel sorry or take back all that, shall we call it, letting off steam? It’s not a learning curve, we genuinely are harder. I’ve compared course syllabi with other schools, and I like ours better. Call it a learning curse. I shall be sorry to not have access to the incredible stuff my uni’s computer science department has to offer if I leave. I just wish I could still have made it.

I just wish for once I could go to bed thinking I’m a tiny bit of a satisfactory success.

I’m Bad At Promises

First up, I gotta say I try.

But I’m also quite a heat of the moment sort of a person, especially when things happen after 11 PM. Which means, for all the stories I string about being up till 3, I’m there, but I’m really not.

My friend and I have a theory that after 11:30 PM, my alter ego takes over. And after some inspection, we’ve come to realise that my alter ego is in fact a monocle-wearing, Fedora-tipping, moustache-sporting, English journalist called James. 

Too bad half my best work seems to come after 12 AM. 

So I’d promised comics twice a week, and now I’ve put out more. Feast, dear readers! (Actually, I don’t really recommend eating while you’re reading comics. I’ve done that with my Spider-Man comics (with a hyphen, as the guy himself has said!). It doesn’t end well either for your food, or for the mag.)

Here’s one and here’s the second

To be fair, the last one isn’t really a comic, so you can cut me some slack. If you actually like the comics and would want to consider it one, then you’re rare, hurrah for more comics!

New Comic, Everyone!

No, I don’t think I need to do this either, but it’s 12:10 AM, and I’m feeling weirdly restless, and have a final that I’m currently taking a break from, and feel the need to justify in the form of some concrete output, and hence you, poor reader, may just have to bear the brunt of my anxiety and live through yet another post.

Well, I’m keeping my word about updating the comics regularly. And so here’s the next one, albeit on a much nicer looking blog. This blog remains a black background, and majorly just because I’m adamant about that. As a matter of fact, my obsession with dark backgrounds, as clearly influenced by the fact that I’m pretty much a computer science stereotype with the penchant for coding on dark backgrounds, has kind of spilled into my new blog as well. As of twenty-four hours ago, it was a clean, pristine, cold, spacious white. Now it’s dark blue, but a very comfortable dark blue indeed, or that’s my opinion anyway. The cool thing is that while the background is blue, the text and the comic are still on a white background, so I found a good loophole right there. Everybody wins!

Do let me know what you think of the new blog though! It’s kind of shiny and new right now, and I’m eager to see what I end up doing with it. Hope you are too!

There’s Change A-Comin’

Hi

I’ve picked possible the absolute, singularly worst time of ever to decide to do this, but I’ve decided to do this, so I’ll say it here. 

I’ve been drawing a lot of comics of late. My current record stands at 7 in 24 hours. 

Of course, as you can probably guess, I have had a math exam recently. My inspiration to do everything that’s not math peaks around math exam time. 

To put that mathematically, we hit a local maximum on the inspiration function around the input time “math exam period”. 

Some of you have probably seen a few of my works as well in the past week, and in general the response seems pretty positive; I’m impressed someone’s reading my scribbles on a tissue paper, but hey, I have this ego of mine and I’m gonna assume you liked it. 

Just because. 

So I’m going to try and make a bit of a habit of this. 

I’m going to try and make the comics a biweekly thing, and while I love being able to use this ambiguous statement to hide under a rock uninspired and lazy for two weeks before coming out of my cave with a comic, I’ll clarify here that I mean the twice-a-week sort of biweekly. 

At least, I’ll try to mean that. 

Some weeks if I can, I’ll try to push out three. I haven’t decided on the days yet, but let’s work this through elimination. 

Peeking at my exam schedule, I have all my tests on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That counts out all days beginning with a T (and my lazy alter ego yells, “Tuesday, Thursday, today and tomorrow!” Shoulda dons this yesterday.) 

So maybe Mondays and Thursdays. I don’t know, I have no idea how my schedule will look in two weeks time, or if I may sneak back here at 4 AM and try to silently delete this post and wonder, in all my exhaustion, what on Earth I was thinking when I wrote this up. 

But for now, I’ll try to keep it to this!

I have a new blog I had to make for my portfolios, and it actually is a little friendlier to centred images than my comfy black background baby blog here, so I’ll post them there, but will put out links to there on this blog because everyone’s even lazier than I am. 

So I will try my best, I will see you there this Thursday! (Glances nervously at watch and realises she has exactly three days to get her act together)

The (currently gaping wide as an empty galaxy) brand new baby blog can be found here: https://www.originofthepitchforks.wordpress.com and if you don’t like the name, fight me, I like it!

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