Friday, September 18, 2009

Sorry Haters

Jahnke’s Record Collection will return soon but this week, I’d like to turn the blog over to more serious issues. Namely, language. I recently read an article that stated that thanks to social networking, email, blogging and what-not, people are reading and writing more than ever. This is wonderful news indeed. However, much of what is posted online is written in haste. This means that once a phrase enters the collective consciousness, it quickly gets repeated ad nauseam until you never, ever want to see or hear it again. At least that’s the case with me. Your mileage may vary. (See? Aren’t you sick of that?)

There are five of these language-killers that especially annoy me. Every time I see them, it’s like a tooth-ache that you can’t help sticking your tongue in to make it hurt a little more. I can’t stand these things and so, in the vain hope of making you equally tired of them, I spotlight them this week. With your help, we can make the internet a better place.


This one really drives me nuts. Anytime someone feels the need to defend something they like, whether it’s a movie, singer, president or their own blog, the quickest way to end all discussion is by describing everyone who feels differently as a hater. First off, nobody’s asking you to defend yourself. We’re not all going to enjoy the same things. If you like Britney Spears, isn’t it enough for you to just enjoy her music without trying to convince the rest of us to do likewise? I also hate the term “guilty pleasure” for similar reasons. If you like Xanadu, like Xanadu! Don’t be ashamed about it. I sure don’t.

What’s troubling about “haters”, though, is that it implies that people who dislike whatever you’re defending do so irrationally. You have essentially refused the possibility that there may be some very good reasons why people don’t like the movie, singer, president or blog in question. And in so doing, you have just become as closed-minded as the people you’re against are supposed to be. Nice work, Mr. or Ms. Hardcore Fan! You’ve just discovered the topsy-turvy world of the paradox. Hope you enjoy your stay.


OK, time for English class. “Fail” is a verb, not a noun. Something CAN fail but it can only BE a failure. You can’t have an epic fail or a pile of steaming fail and you can’t load a dumptruck full of fail.


Americans have a terrible habit of picking and choosing whatever British slang they find amusing and trying to use it themselves. When they do, they always sound stupid and vaguely pretentious. Here’s a test. Unless you naturally and without thinking tell people to “shut their gob” as opposed to “shut the fuck up”, you have not earned the right to use the term “gobsmacked”.


James Gunn pointed this out awhile back on Facebook and it drives me just as crazy as it seems to him. “Frak” equals “fuck”. We all know that. So just say “fuck”. The same thing with self-censoring words by putting asterisks or other symbols in them. We all know what you mean when you say “sh*t” or “@$$hole” and just because you’ve lamely disguised it, doesn’t make it any less offensive to people who are going to be offended. So either just use the words themselves or, if you’re worried about breaking a commandment, don’t use them at all.


I’ve hated this for years now, so I know I’ve lost this battle and the word is here to stay. That doesn’t mean I’ve got to be happy about it. If someone is handing you a drink and you say “cheers” instead of “thanks”, that’s just fine. No problem. But now it’s everywhere! People use it at the end of emails or to say goodbye. What the fuck are you talking about? Frankly, I don’t think you even know yourself any more. “Cheers” has been used for so long to mean so many different things, it no longer means much of anything. We may as well get rid of it altogether and replace it with a nonsense word that can mean whatever you want, like “geef” or “zoon” or “qwerty”. That’s a good one. It’s easy to type and is fun to say. Go into your email signature right now and replace “Cheers!” with “Qwerty!” The world will be a happier place in no time.

OK, I feel much better now. More music next time out. Until then, pay attention to what you type. Your readers will thank you for it.



Friday, September 11, 2009

Jahnke's Record Collection: Whitney Houston

Usually with these blogs, I can jump right in and pinpoint when the album in question entered my life, what it meant to me at the time, how my relationship to the music changed over the years, and other such burning questions. But occasionally, we’ll have an album like this one: Whitney Houston’s 1985 self-titled debut. In a case like this, there’s really just one question to answer right off the bat.

Why the hell do you have a copy of this in the first place?

Please believe me when I say that in this instance, I really don’t remember. I can justify owning all sorts of weird crap. Say it was a present or I was interested in exploring a specific musical style at the time or whatever. This was not a gift. I bought it my own damn self in ’85 and, if I’m to be completely honest, this back cover probably had a lot to do with my purchase.

Hot-cha-cha! Hey, I was 16. Teenagers, both boys and girls, are allowed to make musical decisions based purely on hormones. How else can you explain the career of David Cassidy?

Anyway, I was obviously aware of the fact that this alluring package included a record album and Ms. Houston’s music was pretty good for its type. “Saving All My Love For You” was and is a perfectly enjoyable radio-friendly tune. “How Will I Know” is dopey fun. In fact, of all the big hits on the album, the only one that I never liked was probably the biggest. “The Greatest Love Of All” does absolutely nothing for me…never has and never will.

This is not a style of music that necessarily appeals to me but what I enjoyed about this album, and what has been all but forgotten thanks to Whitney’s very public downward spiral into crazytown, was her voice. Unlike so many other pop stars past and present, there has never been any question that Whitney Houston can sing. She has a remarkable voice and typically uses it to good effect. “You Give Good Love” shows her at her best. The song itself is kind of a forgettable mid-tempo ballad. But Houston sings the hell out of it. Significantly, she’s in control of her instrument. This doesn’t have the kind of show-offy vocal acrobatics she’d later have in hits like “I Will Always Love You”.

I never bought another Whitney Houston album, although she’d continue to churn out well-crafted, very listenable hits for the next several years. But they were all very similar to each other and I felt this one album was the one example of her work I really needed.

Whitney’s on the comeback trail now, older, wiser and cleaned up, but even with Oprah on her side, I doubt she’ll ever hit the levels of cross-pop-cultural phenomenon she once did. This is no slight against her. I don’t think Michael Jackson would have either had he needed to rely on new music. He had to die to become the biggest star in the world again and I think we can all agree that Whitney is better off than MJ in that respect. Rather than trying to reach out to all audiences, I’d like to see the new, mature Whitney Houston try to reconnect with her original fans by continuing to record the slick, slow ballads that defined her debut, maybe get back into movies eventually. Her career’s second act could mirror that of Barbra Streisand. She might not win a lot of new fans but, as Barbra will tell you, catering to your core fan base can be very, very lucrative.