The chatter greeting tabloid news of John Mayer’s week-long relationship with Jessica Simpson earlier this month was one of overwhelming cultural befuddlement. A Google search of “John Mayer” + “Jessica Simpson” + “odd couple” calls up no fewer than 670 results. “What could the soulful, perpetual college boy possibly see in the once-reigning Daft Queen of Reality Television?” America seemed to be asking itself.
The same question was apparently on Mayer’s mind as well, since no sooner had the nation’s collective consciousness begun to grapple with this pop culture oddity than Mayer posted the sleeve of Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype” on his blog, co-opting a militant anthem to whine symbolically about Simpson’s public pining — probably not exactly what Chuck D had in mind. Simultaneously, Mayer’s friends took to the press deriding Simpson as a “desperate” now-ex-paramour using Mayer like some G-rated media succubus to “stay in the spotlight.” What sparked Mayer’s initial interest in Simpson remains a mystery. Surely it was not anything so trite as publicity or physicality. Perhaps it was her theoretical conceptualizations regarding the evolutionary biology of Chicken of the Sea’s long march through history into tuna fish?
Conventional wisdom concerning Mayer’s innate superiority to Simpson in the Smarts Department, however, might be a bit off base. While I can’t say I’ve listened to Simpson’s unfortunately titled A Public Affair, I did toil my way through Mayer’s latest, Continuum, a painfully transparent attempt to stretch beyond the lovelorn ballads that propelled him into international stardom into critiques of U.S foreign policy, media consolidation and youth disenfranchisement. Despite being utterly bland, predictable and completely devoid of anything approaching substance, the new set has earned Mayer much praise as a maturing artist.
“Mayer made his name with love songs like ‘Your Body Is a Wonderland,’ but on Continuum his concerns are more global,” music critic Jody Rosen opined in Entertainment Weekly. “‘Waiting on the World to Change,’ with a melody lifted straight out of Curtis Mayfield’s classic civil rights rallying cry, ‘People Get Ready,’ carries an incisive protest message, defending his generation against the charge of political apathy, and railing against the Bush administration and the corporate media.”
Never underestimate the power of carefully tousled hair and a carefully cultivated aura of thoughtfulness, I suppose. Still, for some reason I felt obliged to dig into this “incisive” defense of the Mayer Generation â”¢. Here is what I found in the opening verse:
Me and all my friends, we’re all misunderstood;
They say we stand for nothing and there’s no way we ever could;
Now we see everything that’s going wrong; with the world and those who lead it
The die is cast. The sneering duplicitous “they” have made a terrible error in writing off Mayer and his friends. This is where one might expect Mayer to assert the reasons why “they” are terribly wrong and detail what punishment will be exacted for this unforgivable miscalculation and shortsightedness. Instead we get:
We just feel like we don’t have the means to rise above and beat it;
So we keep waiting, waiting on the world to change
Mayer frets we — I’m using the royal “we” here to signify The Man, his minions and all those in his service — believe he stands for nothing. Why this matters in light of the fact that Mayer makes quite clear, whatever he stands for, he plans to do absolutely nothing about it, but he does offer as a feeble excuse that It’s hard to beat the system when we’re standing at a distance and It’s not that we don’t care, we just know that the fight ain’t fair; so we keep waiting, waiting on the world to change. Brave words in difficult times, and, oh, when does the new season of According to Jim start anyway?
Ironically enough, this much-heralded defense of the unmotivated — one cannot scan FM radio without landing on it at least four times an hour — cannot match the passion Mayer brings to sassing an unnamed lover whom he bluntly prophesies will be a “bitch because you can” in order to “leave me feeling dirty.” What was that bit from Mayer’s last record? “Fathers be good to your daughters/Daughters will love like you do/Girls become lovers who turn into mothers/So mothers be good to your daughters, too.” Right, right…unless, of course, they’re bitches! Mayer’s problem with women and corporate media, however, is nothing compared to his ire for Sir Isaac Newton, as evidenced by his repeated warnings in another song’s chorus, “Gravity, Stay the hell away from me!”
When Mayer gets back to politics, it’s to warn, We’re never going to win the world; We’re never going to stop this war; We’re never going to beat this; If belief is what we’re fighting for.
Let’s tally up then, shall we? No action, no beliefs — save for his conviction in the depravity of certain bitches and the undying badness of gravitational pull — and a handwritten note in the Continuum‘s liner notes in which Mayer confides, “I can’t complain but I know I should.” You know, he’s globally concerned.
Still, Mayer somehow finds it in himself to conclude “Waiting on the World to Change” with the pronouncement, One day our generation is gonna rule the population; so we keep on waiting, waiting on the world to change
Forgive us our doubts, John. Come back in two weeks, give us a progress report on your war with gravity and uppity women, and then we’ll discuss the rest of your agenda. Er, I mean, the Continuum.