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Maria Pulcinella Murray

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The Trouble With "Content Farming," Courtesy of Bradford Cox

Posted: 03/28/2012 1:38 pm

For the past two weeks, the blogosphere has been hard at work deconstructing the "meltdown" that is Bradford Cox, the mastermind behind Deerhunter as well as his solo project, Atlas Sound. At an Atlas Sound show in Minneapolis on March 2, a heckler's request to hear "My Sharona" turned into an hour-long, improvised rendition by Cox. As the frontman's musings on "the death of folk and the birth of folk" interwove the hour-long jam, Cox commanded the heckler to strip on stage for the crowd, which later shook its chairs in the air -- as per Cox's request. Atlas Sound's reflective, dream-pop quality fails to match up with what critics are calling an "outburst" by the performer, but for those aware of Cox's bombastic sensibility and verbose response to the media, we all knew that the Content Farm would have a field day with this one.

"'Oh, he's fucking crazy, he's melting down, blah, blah,'" Cox told Pitchfork in regard to the media buzz. "It's not like fucking Lana Del Rey carved an upside down cross on her cheek and defecated all over herself on stage at fucking Bonnaroo."

Take what you will from Cox's articulacy, but critics are too busy wading through Cox's metaphorical brooding to see that, dark humor aside, he brings up a valid point. During the interview with Pitchfork, he says:

The saddest thing is that nothing can happen for an audience of 400 people anymore. Now it has to be on the Internet and it has to be broadcast so widely. That intimidates people. Maybe that's the issue that makes people want to be more inhibited onstage. It makes people more self-censoring. That's the reason people think I'm a nutjob, because I don't give a fuck who reposts or how I sound.

This isn't a new argument -- music journalists are quick to pick up concert buzz, and YouTube videos saturate the Internet with unneeded content -- but the extent to which we suck the live experience dry is notable. It's not enough to be present at the concert; we have to deplete the essence of the experience by compartmentalizing every aspect of it. To do otherwise would negate journalism's fundamental penchant. We like to classify, to identify cause and effect.

But some performances do not require our analyses. A fan heckled Bradford Cox, and he paid heed to the request. "I am a performance artist," he told the audience. "I must play what you want to hear." "My Sharona" is not the paradigm of hour-long cover jams, but it happened. Some fans left, perturbed, but most remained and rallied in this nameless energy with Cox.

The intimacy of live music is difficult to trace. It's why 80,000 people attend Bonnaroo every year. Virtually no one would submit himself to Nashville's oppressive heat, the inordinate amount of dust that accumulates in the lungs whilst there or days without sleep were it not the crux of the live experience.

Blog fiends love to slap on titles like "Exploding Bradford Inevitable," prematurely pegging a given artist as a newfound iconoclast within fill-in-the-blank genre. These declarations yield perceived authority. Yet, we cannot let a performance exist in its organic form -- because an amorphous, 60-minute cover of "My Sharona" is too much of an anomaly to get lost in the great abyss of the Internet.

This isn't to say that Bradford Cox's sloppy rhetoric deserves accolades. George Harrison may act as a better reference. "It's all well and good being popular and being in demand," he told Rolling Stone in a 1987 interview. "But, you know, it's ridiculous."

Harrison wasn't aggressively disparaging the media, but his point is not lost on the live experience years later. As one critic attributes Cox's popular status in "indie rock" to unwarranted hype, and as the same publication lays claim to his "iconic personality" in "new rock music," he is the one to tell sources, "I am not an indie rock musician. I don't even know what the fuck that means."

The epithet is immaterial. But it's all a part of the content farm. We farm, we farm, and we farm.

Excerpt No. 1 of "My Sharona" cover:

Excerpt No. 2 of "My Sharona" cover:

Excerpt No. 3 of "My Sharona" cover: