MattO Presents “It’s All About Me”

Self-absorption is not an American trait. Nevertheless, over here in the land of the free, we might have perfected it. The self-absorbed American has at his disposal an entire battery of words and phrases meant to justify and ennoble his pursuit of personal interest: he’s putting himself first, he’s driven and determined, and he won’t let anything stand in his way. We celebrate his initiative and his refusal to be pushed around. Rarely do we ask about the effect radical individualism has on our communities. Less often still do we ask about the corrosive effect of radical individualism on American individuals.

Sometimes it takes a sympathetic outsider to set us straight. Rock singer-songwriter MattO clearly loves America and Americans — he recorded “It’s All About Me,” his latest single, right here at the Lakehouse in Asbury Park. But he makes his home in Zurich, Switzerland, a place renowned for its cooperative spirit and a widely-shared commitment to social justice. With bemusement and compassion, MattO turns his satirical pen on the States, giving us a portrait of an American striver who has detached himself from his neighbor and hungrily chasing his own goals. While this character study is witty, it isn’t acerbic. MattO’s narrator isn’t malicious or contemptible. He’s just a bulldozer, unswervable and flattening everything in his path in the name of self-assertion. If you’re an American, you’ll know exactly what he means.

He’s matched his storytelling to music deeply reminiscent of that of many artistic heroes of the 1970s music scene. These musicians were all unsparing in their observations of injustice and recommendations for action, and MattO is much the same. In his songs, MattO tackles racism and social division, tacit violence and inequality, and the selfishness that haunts the human condition. On “It’s All About Me” and his other things, he sings in a voice that’s heavy with hard experience, meditative, soulful, and deeply communicative.

His words are the focus of the emotional lyric clip to “It’s All About Me,” which was created by frequent collaborator Marcello Bumbica, a filmmaker who shares MattO’s sense of mission and taste for the classics. Bumbica superimposes the narrator’s confessions over images of MattO at work on his music, surrounded by instruments, and impassioned on the microphone. But there are plenty of shots of the nation he’s poking fun at, too. We’re shown the glass towers of New York and the steel-girdered bridges and skyways of New Jersey: monuments to American enterprise and an ideal backdrop for dramatic storytelling. See, he loves us. He just wants us to be able to love others back.

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