Friday, Oct. 24, 2008

John Mayer's Cynical World View and Possible Last Laugh

By Evan Rytlewski
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An excerpt from a quickly scribbled blog entry I posted last March:

Well, I'm finally beginning to understand why people hate John Mayer so much. On my commute to work this morning, I heard an extremely uncomfortable NPR segment on the politics of Mayer's songs. I won't spoil to much, but Mayer shifts back and forth between a few of his many personas: self-righteous generational spokesman, laid-back bro, sympathetic superstar and awful yet over-confident stand-up comedian.

NPR's ever-affable Steve Inskeep ate up the way Mayer mugged for the microphone, chuckling heartily at every one of Mayer's asides, but Mayer rubbed me the wrong way. Go ahead and listen to the interview for yourself, then let me know if you really want the guy who wrote "Your Body Is A Wonderland" speaking for the modern anti-war movement

I'd been struck by how inaccurately Mayer painted his generation's attitude toward politics. In his then-recent song "Waiting on the World to Change," he described youth these days as unengaged, passive figures, too removed from the challenges of the world and the political injustices of our times to take any action at all. That characterization struck me as inaccurate to the point of offensive, and antithetical to everything I had witnessed both during and after college. I was also outraged that a man as smart as Steve Inskeep would take a man as shallow as John Mayer at his word: One of the most vapid men in music argued that today's youth is as vapid as he is, and wasn't challenged on this assertion.

I finally understood why so many peopleabhor John Mayer and even why they post vicious pictures online of the singer's grotesque facial contortionsit turns out these expressions are just physical manifestations of Mayer's inner ugliness.

I bring this up now because last night I heard "Waiting on the World to Change" on the radio for the first time in over a year. The song is as vile as ever, of course, but I was struck by the radically different connotation it has taken on over the last 12 months. "Change" has since become a political buzz word inseparable from Barack Obama's whirlwind campaign, so with its non-committal lyrics and nondescript breeziness, Mayer's smug song can now easily be misinterpreted as an inspirational treatise on the Obama movementin fact, that's likely the reason the song still resonates enough to get played on the radio.  It's entirely possible that Mayer's fallacious single will actually be remembered as prescient, and maybe even be taught in future classrooms the way Beatles and Bob Dylan songs are cited as measures of their times.

Let's hope that's not the case. John Mayer shouldn't be rewarded for being wrong.

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