I’m not sure you can call what I do “journalism”; I’m just not sure it makes the journalistic cut. That said, there’s just no other heading for it, so if I can do so without bringing out any real journalists’ pent up rage, I’ll count myself among them for the time being. Anyway, I think all journalists and I share an unrelenting envy of rock stars, and that’s what counts.
Allow me to explain.
It’s not (just) that rock stars make more money or achieve greater fame. If it were simply that kind of age-old envy — an envy of money, women or status — then there would be no reason to go after rock stars in particular. Athletes, actors, CEOs and politicians all make more money and enjoy greater fame, but there’s a special privilege that rock stars have, that only rock stars have, and that journalists want desperately.
It has to do with the way they get to use words. That is, they are allowed to make no sense.
Think about your favorite bands. How many of their names mean anything in the obvious sense? Unless you listen exclusively to Nirvana and The Doors, I would venture to guess that the answer is close to zero.
Take a couple of my favorite bands for example: blink-182 and The Strokes. The name “blink-182” is the product of a copyright dispute. When the group got together in 1992, there already was a band called “Blink,” and that band was threatening a lawsuit if the new Blink (that is, blink-182) released an album under that name. Thus, we have the iconic epitome of inscrutable band names.
The Strokes were actually interviewed on the subject. They tried to give a meaningful answer as to why they chose “The Strokes” but failed miserably. Lead singer Julian Casablancas said, “Because it means a lot of things that are artistic and strong. We all do interesting things in different ways, and the words mean interesting things in different ways. It just made so much sense that you can’t deny it.” Au contraire, I absolutely can deny that it made any sense. It didn’t.
Anyway, I don’t think it would take a rhetorical maestro to convince you that song lyrics are given an almost unilateral free pass in the meaning department. In case you had any doubt, here are some of the lyrics to “Vertigo” by U2, which won four Grammy Awards including Best Rock Song: “Yea, yea, yea, yea, yea, yea, yea, yea …” etc.
But for journalists, it’s a different story. We are almost always required to use a name that corresponds directly to reality, with nay but a few mavericks going wild and using initials instead. More importantly, our writing isn’t glossed over by catchy hooks; we have to have a point. Don’t you think I’d like to submit my columns as Mosster 6ixty 9ine? Don’t you think Brian Williams would love to imitate our beloved Beatles and take a break in the middle of his broadcast to say, “Ob-la-di ob-la-da, life goes on, bra”? Why does Chamillionaire get to have his way with the English language when I’m spending lots of my parents’ money to earn a degree on the subject?
I think the answer is the same for me as for real journalists and anyone suffering from those older kinds of envy. What we’ve got here is a tale as old as time and we all know it, whether from heartbreak or poverty or something unorthodox. Envy’s a part of the game of life, and, as Lil Jon would say, that’s “OK!!!”
Ben Moss wants you to say it like you mean it.
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of the April 30, 2013 print edition of the Nexus.
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