How Gnarls Barkley Predicted Today’s Journalism Crisis.

Back in 2006, two guys with fake names took over pop radio. One was named Cee-Lo Green; the other was named Danger Mouse. They toured in a band whose name combined California skater slang with a Hall of Fame NBA power forward. They went on stage wearing costumes from hit 80s movies. They were, somewhat strangely, a really big deal.

Now, this blog doesn’t usually stray to such subjects as the band Gnarls Barkley, but today, I’ll have to make an exception. I am writing this now because I believe I am on the cusp a profound discovery:

I believe Gnarls Barkley’s second album, “The Odd Couple,” is actually a concept album that explains the crisis facing journalism today. (1)

Does that make me crazy?

Specifically, I think the first four songs on “The Odd Couple” are worth analyzing. The first explains today’s media crisis. The second details the emotions of a reporter who’s facing the crisis and sees only layoffs. The third is the story of a brash young reporter who’s accepting the challenges of this brave new journalistic world. (2) The fourth offers a curt reminder to all journalists and consumers of news: the end of the printed age is near.

I’ll go through it song by song.

Track 1: ‘Charity Case’

This song opens “The Odd Couple,” and it does so with these ominous words repeated in hushed tones: “Give it away now. Give it away now” It’s essentially the media’s web strategy in lyric form.

The song keeps going in that vein. “I’m not doin’ so good,” Cee-Loo sings, as backup singers add, “I’m not yet with it/I’m still not well.” The New York Times’ Bill Keller echoed those remarks when announcing budget cuts at the paper on Monday.

The whole thing reads like a letter from a newspaper to its clients. “I’m bleeding, too/Are you needing me like I’m needing you,” Cee-Loo croons. And with ad sales and revenues dipping, it’s tough to disagree with the song’s assessment. Could we interest you in some micropayments?

Track 2: Who’s Gonna Save My Soul

This song echoes the sentiments of every reporter who’s been laid off or fears layoffs. Here’s the opening verse:

Oh, how could this be?
All this time, I’ve lived vicariously
Who’s gonna save my soul now?
Who’s gonna save my soul now?
How will my story ever be told now?
How will my story be told now?

How will it be told? Is anybody going to pay me to do this anymore? Those are the questions all of us are asking now that media outlets are laying off reporters and devoting fewer and fewer resources to news gathering. Preach it, Cee-Lo.

Track 3: Going On

This is the song that cued me into the hidden concept album behind “The Odd Couple.” (3) See, I’m trying to use these new mediums to tell better stories, even as the industry reacts at a glacial pace. But then Cee-Lo goes and sings something like:

The touch and feeling of free
Is untangible technically
Something you’ve got to believe in.

And there it is. Free isn’t a business model. This old model of journalism has been made irrelevant by today’s technology. And if you’re going to try it, you’ve got to believe in these new models.

Somehow, Cee-Lo just summed up journalism in 2009, all while wearing playing tambourine.

But it gets better:

Connect the cause and effect
One foot in front of the next
This is the start of a journey.
And my mind is already gone
And though there are other unknowns
Somehow, this doesn’t concern me.

Okay, so it might be too long to fit on an inspirational poster, but any journalist who’s out there trying to tell stories — even with little idea of where funding is going to come from — knows what Cee-Lo is talking about. “Going On” has one other thing spot on: this isn’t the end of journalism. It’s just the start of a new era in storytelling.

Then comes the kicker:

And you can stand right there if you want
But I’m going on.
And I’m prepared to go it alone.

Sounds about right for the multi-platform evangelists out there. And Cee-Lo even throws in a sarcastic line for those who cling to the old models of journalism: “I’m sure they’ll have a place for you, too.”

Track 4: Run (I’m a Natural Disaster)

Consider this word of warning to those who don’t believe the old ways of journalism are dying:

Yeah, I’m on the run
See where I’m coming from
When you see me coming, run
Before you see what I’m running from.
No time for question asking
Time is passing by.

Certainly, we’ve got no time to stop the presses. Report the news, then break the news: that’s our new distribution model. Plus, I like anyone who’ll be refreshing his/her web browser and TweetDeck in the morning instead of waiting for the paper to show up on the front step.

And just in case you didn’t get the message the first time:

Either you run right now
Or you best get ready to die

The Internet is here. Your revenues are drying up. Get on, or get out.

Next week on what CBS News’ Andy Rooney and Ben Harper’s new backing band, Relentless7, can teach us about the process of editorial commentary.

  1. I am kidding, obviously. This album could also be misapplied and used to explain the 2009 St. Louis Rams football season or the Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. But historically speaking, my blog’s audience hasn’t been especially receptive to either of those subjects.
  2. Here’s to hoping those words do not appear on my autobiography’s jacket cover. This assumes, of course, that books — and book jackets — will actually be printed in the future.
  3. Also worth noting: I thought up this ‘concept album’ idea while running at the gym. The previous idea I had at the gym involved Gallagher, Lou Dobbs and Twitter. I do not know why my thoughts at the gym have become so quasi-delusional.