I struggle with modern popular culture sometimes. Whenever I walk into a record store or comic shop, I’m surrounded by a lack of originality. Posters with Dr. Who characters stylized as Peanuts characters, t-shirts with Walt and Jesse emblazoned on the logo from a 90s Batman cartoon series, coffee mugs with Marvel characters wearing Mickey Mouse ears. It all seems so esoteric to be ironic. I think, “Great! If I know someone who loves both Star Wars and Full House, I can get them this stupid mousepad.” It feels like a series of failed experiments where two atomic elements are being smashed together in the hopes of creating a new and exciting element. I don’t feel that way. It all just feels cheap and bastardizes pop art.
I understand that our art is inspired by our predecessors and what inspires us, but I cannot help but think my generation is failing at this. I recently read Elvis Costello’s memoir and he explored his early processes making music. Essentially, he would try to imitate what inspired him. He would fail at mirroring it exactly, but would create something new entirely. That makes a lot of sense to me and exemplifies art as an evolutionary process. However, I don’t see evidence of that when my social media feed consists half a dozen listicles featuring Disney princesses imagined as characters from Firefly, Star Trek, etc.
“Lotion” from Chicago very own Greenskeepers breaks through the cultural bullshit as an example pop culture appropriation done well. “Lotion” is a darkly witty tribute to the Buffalo Bill, the villain from the 1991 film Silence of the Lambs. The lead singer assumes the role of the murderous villain as he commands and serenades his victim. In the film, Buffalo Bill has kidnapped a woman and keeps her in a hole built in his basement. In order to fulfill his perverse fantasies, he demands the woman rubs on the lotion on her skin or else she will be subjected to punishment. All of this is foreplay leading to Buffalo Bill’s desired climax; wearing the woman’s skin and using her skull as a bowl.
The film is incredibly dark, but the Greenskeepers manager to create a tinge of humor. Through the dry first-person delivery of the lead vocals, the clapping, and the indie guitar rhythms, the scene from the film is presented in a fresh way. It doesn’t feel labored or like the band was trying hard to appeal to a particular audience. It is a sinister sounding and really cool song all on it’s own. While it drew influences from a very famous film, it doesn’t cheapen the source of the reimagined final product. The whole listening experience feels tireless and serves as a testament to the creativity of the Chicago music.
Perhaps this is me getting older and complaining about kids these days. It is just too easy for someone to play armchair critic to people they don’t understand. And that is it. I don’t understand who finds these tchotchkes and (obvious) cash grabs interesting. I just don’t understand. Until the day that I do, I can just sit in my rocker and reminisce about things used to be while complaining about kids these days.