Rolling Stone, voice of the hippie counterculture converted into odoriferous perfume advertisement, still has some substance under the varnished attempts to rejuvenate refried music and rock mummies. In its last issue of 2009 it presented the 50 best CDs of the decade, where heavy metal, hip hop, drug-addicted singers, neo-pyschedelics, folk, and neo-punk co-exist. I lost the thread of this pop billboard a long time ago – boredom followed the infinite repetition of almost identical musical structures (a phenomenon that does not exempt other genres, from joropo to baroque, salsa to contemporary music) – but the magazine’s music critics manage to defend a complex genre that survives despite the CD’s commercial cave-in and the erosion of a musical language consumed by banality and the cult of nail polish. Behind the front pages exists a sound that reflects the talent of hundreds of producers and artists whose creativity nourishes an impressive cultural river, a tissue of protests, a gigantic laboratory of musical ideas and very professional swindles.
At number 22, the group Green Day with “American Idiot” vomits horrifying punk music, but the poetic stance has strength. The psychedelia of MGMT at number 18 makes me curious, but it would never fall into the insipid snare of U2 – the vacuous pretentiousness of Bono, missionary of corporate benevolence with fashionable sunglasses, is a prodigious emblem of superficiality. Two Dylan CDs enter the list, in particular Modern Times, reminding us of his beginnings, influenced by the great Woody Guthrie. In the summary, rap surfaces – a much more refined product than the reguetón that assaults us in Venezuela with its sexist illiteracy. “The rapper 50 Cent sold a million copies for every shot he took,” or so number 9 tells us. Certainly gringo rappers have the advantage of writing their themes for a very demanding public with tough competition, obliging them to sharpen their quills in the delinquent whirlwind that is decimating them. Title: Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Anti-establishment? Perhaps, but in the role of anti-hero, not anti-heroin, lamentably for her health, we find at number 20 the interesting Amy Winehouse, the rebel British singer-songwriter whose raspy voice is rooted in soul music but whose body succumbs to crack and needles. Despite the scandal of the drug addiction of certain idols, we see that many songs and articles deal with these issues in immediately accessible terms, without shame or hypocrisy, without detours or charitable therapies. The first step in the fight against addiction is letting the people concerned talk about it. Here in Venezuela, we criticize obscene Anglo-Saxon attitudes, but we are incapable of articulating publicly, in the press, the painful invasion of crack that infects us to the core. In the absence of words, bullets speak.
Ultimately, what is surprising in this best-of-the-decade inventory is the vitality of a modern popular culture that never stops generating musical discourses and poetic proposals, without academicism and apparently without prejudice of any kind. One thing is sure: the best of the decade didn’t enter the Rolling Stone list. Unless you like Maya Arulpragasam.
Translated from Spanish by Rosemary Holland