Wednesday, July 24

Why Did Matt Farley Put a Song About Me on Spotify?

These days, the song brings in about $1,200 per month, enough to pay his rent, Casey told me, with what sounded like a Lebowskian shrug. “I have other songs that I want to put up,” he said. “But I kind of don’t want to sell out.”

I asked if he knew about the Toilet Bowl Cleaners, and he said he’d heard a few of their songs. “I’m not making this up,” he said. “There’s this other guy, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, the Odd Man Who Sings About Poop, Puke and Pee. His idea was to customize every poop song. So there’s a Steven Poop song, a Bob Poop song, a Mary Poop song. He’s got hundreds!”

I told him that both bands were in fact the same person.

“Well, OK,” he said, as if realizing the full extent of what he was up against. “I like mine better, but I’m biased,” he said, finally. “You can tell he knows how to write songs, but I think he’s just been going for volume.”

In fact, I knew about the suite of songs that combine Farley’s two most successful genres — names and poop — because he was working on a new set of them when I visited him. He estimated that he had already completed about 3,000, but there were always new names.

“This can be kind of painful,” he warned, switching on his keyboard and firing up his laptop. He donned headphones, consulted a list of names and got to work. In the silence of the room, I could just hear the soft click of the keyboard and his vocals:

Jamilah, p-p-p-poop/Jamilah poop poop poop.

In “Local Legends,” which is something like Farley’s “All That Jazz,” there is a fantasy sequence in which Farley imagines the two sides of his personality arguing: one, the serious, heartfelt artist, the other a greasy record executive demanding ever more poop songs. Of course, the scene can only be a fantasy, and can only have Farley playing both characters, because the greasy record executive belongs to a lost world — one in which drastically fewer people had a chance to produce art and the work was often corrupted by corporate gatekeepers, but in which there was also a clearly marked road to an audience and a living. Farley represents both the best and worst of the incentives and opportunities that have taken this world’s place. Certainly, there are few creators working today in any medium who would not recognize the anxiety he embodies: that their work now lives or dies by the vagaries of opaque algorithms serving a bottomless menu of options to an increasingly distracted public. And that if they don’t bow to the demands of these new realities, their work — and by extension they — will simply disappear. Which is to say that while the experience of watching Farley work was not unpainful, as promised, neither was it totally unfamiliar.