Talkhouse Contributing Writer Luke Temple is a songwriter and member of Here We Go Magic. You can follow him on Twitter here.
The internet allows fans to feel connected with artists on a more intimate level. No longer are we beholden to any sort of programming — we can curate our own timely relationship with our artists, dipping in and out of their “stream” anytime we wish. This is a double-edged sword, of course: on one hand we relate with the artists as being “regular people,” but on the other, the scrim of “show business” has been lifted and with that, the subtle glow of mystery has been completely extinguished. Now, the house lights are on all the time.
The younger generation of fans seems to be expect this transparency from their artists, and the artists of that generation seem to have a more than natural affinity for that. And yet there are actually people who still say, “In the end it’s the music that’s the most important,” when in reality the music has just become the soundtrack to the brand. And the brand is the artist’s public life.
Mac DeMarco has seemingly effortlessly created this goofy, lovable, drunk uncle, good buddy persona. (Nothing is worse than when your party buddy sobers up. There was a kid in my high school who would shit in the washing machine at parties — it was his one-liner but in the end it served as valuable, rich content for all of us. And we could always count on him to deliver.) The thing is, I think DeMarco is as smart as a whip and a genuinely good guy. He has an effortlessness and an ability to let people in and really feel him that seems true to me. And I think he’s a better musician and songwriter than anyone even knows. It’s as if he’s just giving us what we expect of him — maybe there is a secret laziness beyond even the “don’t give a fuck, let’s get wasted” nonchalance that everyone loves and expects of him. Maybe he knows that if he really hunkered down he could do something with a bit of transcendence.
I bet DeMarco listens to Stevie Wonder and the Everly Brothers and cries. There are whiffs of it, like the end of “Let My Baby Stay,” with his beautiful falsetto. I just think, “Why doesn’t he sing a whole song like that?” It’s as if he stays tongue-in-cheek just enough to not expose too much – that way, he’s safe from not really having to go the full distance. I’ve read interviews with him where he talks about not taking himself too seriously, and that’s obviously a good rule to follow: Taking yourself too seriously means you’re assuming you are more than you actually are, it implies a dishonesty and an arrogance. However, I do believe in taking one’s talents seriously enough to bring them to their full potential.
Mac DeMarco is a very talented boy, it’s oozing out of him. He doesn’t have to do much to get away with whatever he wants, and our very surface relationship to music these days has given him a perfect platform. He probably thinks to himself, “If anybody knew how easy this is…” He’s the dive bar of music, a shot and a beer, please. That’s why Mac DeMarco can make the same record twice: no one is really listening. And my hunch is that he knows that.
One can feel the reverence DeMarco has for Jonathan Richman — and in the title track he actually cites “Hippie Johnny” from Richman’s “I’m Straight” — but with Jonathan Richman there’s a sense that he’s using his utilitarian dryness to convey something deeply meaningful and poetic. There’s a tragedy and a struggle at play with Richman. But with DeMarco you get the sense that, for the most part, everything is pretty cool and he would like to maybe keep it that way. I mean, why not? Things have been going pretty well for Mac, so why rock the boat? It’s just that when put up against the wall a certain desperation starts rising in a person that wants nothing more than to break through and out of that struggle — and that’s when people transform and can be great. In Salad Days he does refer to a sad clown situation here and there — on the title track, for intance, he seems to be talking about a loss of innocence, and on “Passing Out Pieces” he seems to be talking about overextending himself because of what is expected of him. The lyrics have a few darker edges but the music has the same bounce-in-the-park, out-of-the-bar feel.
It’s nice to hear some synth on a couple of jams — “Passing Out Pieces” and “Chamber of Reflection” — and on those two there’s a darker melodic swing going on, but still I feel like he could have dug a little deeper and really brought it out the other side. As much as everybody loves Hall and Oates, they pretend it’s a funny kind of love, because who wants to really give it that kind of frank emotion these days? It somehow seems out of place to be so naïvely emotional with things as they are in the world, like the new realism is actually ironic because everything around us is turning up lies. It’s not as simple as singing “Baby, oh baby, my sweetest baby” when tanks are running over peaceful protestors in Tahrir Square. But… We secretly still want to feel that simple warmth in music, so now people split the difference — they go halfway there and cover the rest up in a joke. I’m with everyone else in really liking DeMarco but I think there’s more. I would love to see what would happen if he were to be locked in a tower on top of a mountain with his tape machine, no booze, no friends, a cot and just enough food to survive the two years he had to stay there and make his next record.
I will say in closing that a friend of mine met Mac DeMarco and remarked on how sweet he is to his girlfriend, and in the end that is much more important than anything I have to say about him in some tower and all that.