Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Post About Music, Yesterday's and Today's

Before I discuss last night's awful Yankee game, I want to talk about music, and how it now compares with what came before.

I saw this article posted on Facebook, lamenting the sound of rock and roll, and the attitude of "rock stars," today, as compared with the past, particularly the 1970s.

You can click the link to get the full article, but, in particular, the author was comparing Led Zeppelin (never one of my favorite acts) to Mumford & Sons (one of the biggest bands today, although I wouldn't know a note of their music if I heard it):

Rock Stars in the '70s: You'd travel in a big-ass jet plane with your band's logo on the side of it. You'd put out a concert film that featured fantasy sequences where you rode around on horseback, and it would NOT be pretentious, it would be AWESOME. There'd be legendary stories about hotel rooms being trashed...

Rock Stars Now: Today, if you want to be a rock star, you buy some sweaters, I guess.

He also mentioned David Bowie, saying:

Rock stars in the '70s were so huge, they could create completely different personas and their alter-egos would become rock stars too.

Bowie has been Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, and the leader of Tin Machine -- and that's just what I can remember off the top of my head. All those personae did well at the time, and all of the music he made in those roles has held up pretty well. Coming up with the ideas made him a genius; making it still work 40 (or, in the case of Tin Machine, 25) years later makes him an artist who knew what he wanted and knew what he was doing -- which is not the same thing as genius, but is insight, and might make you better off.

Remember when Garth Brooks tried "The Life of Chris Gaines"? It totally flopped. Personally, I liked the idea, mainly because he wasn't being Garth Freakin' Brooks! (I hated him because I thought he was the country equivalent of a poseur. I have since turned around, realized his songs didn't sound so bad.) It was a great idea, but it didn't work because it was too different from what he'd been doing: Unlike Hank Williams Sr. and his "Luke the Drifter" persona, Chris Gaines was so different from Garth Brooks that the fans he already had hated it, and people who didn't previously like him (like me) had another reason to dislike him.

Take another example: Vanilla Ice. We thought he was an obnoxious prick, ripping off both Queen and black performers, and we were right. Well, Robbie Van Winkle might have gotten away with it had simply done an interview, saying, "Look, Vanilla is just a character I'm playing. It's not the real me. I'm just lampooning guys like this, white guys who want to rap but can't, think they're cool but aren't. I'm no more Vanilla Ice in real life than David Seville was really the leader of some singing chipmunks."

A few years later, people praised Sacha Baron Cohen for being in character as Ali G, Borat, Bruno and Admiral General Aladeen. He got away with it, because people knew he wasn't really those guys. But Van Winkle insisted that he really was this hard guy from Miami, instead of some cushy kid from the suburbs of Dallas. Not that Dallas doesn't have some hard streets and serious crime issues, but what the hell did he know about them? I tell people I'm from Bloomfield, but I don't say I came from the Newark ghetto just a few miles away!

So it's not just that music "sucks" today, it's that it's "sucked" for a while now. It's an extension of the author's point.

But I don't totally agree with it. The best performers under age 40 today may not measure up to the ones we grew up on. On the other hand, there was a lot of crap back then, too. I saw something in SPIN magazine in 1990 or so where the author actually (brace yourself: poor taste is coming) praised Milli Vanilli.

He said that when the early-'90s nostalgia wave comes (any day now, I fear), you'll understand that anybody who didn't like Milli Vanilli, or Paula Abdul, or C & C Music Factory, would have been sitting in some damp Greenwich Village coffeehouse listening to folk music while everyone else was Dancing In the Street. (1964)

Riiiight. Had this same guy been a teenager in 1968, he probably would have been listening to "bubblegum music," like the Lemon Pipers ("Green Tambourine") and the Ohio Express ("Yummy, Yummy, Yummy"), instead of going to the movies and watching Monterey Pop and all the hard rock and psychedelic acts, including many who would be at Woodstock like The Who, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

There's always going to be crap on the radio and in the "record stores" (man, did I just date myself by using that term), and there's always going to be good stuff. I watched the Grammys a few years ago, and I was prepared to not like many of the performers. I saw Bruno Mars and figured this was just a gay kid trying to look like Elvis. I was wrong: He was fantastic (and, apparently, straight). I saw Nicki Minaj and figured this was a girl trying to be the next step after Lil' Kim or a black version of Lady Gaga. I was right, and she was horrible, making those two look like geniuses (genii?) by comparison.

That was also the night when Pink did the harness thing and didn't miss a note, showing she was as good as any female vocalist ever.

There's always going to be great performers, but that usually gets followed by a bunch of second-and-third-raters copying them. I couldn't stand Nirvana, and so many acts tried to copy them and looked both stupid and contagious. I did like Alanis Morissette, but her fellow Franco-Ontarian Avril Lavigne fell short, and she's still the best of the Alanis wannabes.

Too many singers are still trying to be Britney Spears, who's still trying to be Madonna, who, on her best day (which is now long past), couldn't touch Cher.

On the other hand, I think Beyonce is the one singer now who approaches Cher -- or Tina Turner, for that matter -- for a combination of great sound and great show. And, as she said a few weeks ago on Twitter, Cher agrees. High praise, indeed.

For every Elvis, there were a few Pat Boones. For every Beatles, there were a dozen Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas. For every Who, there were a bunch of Ohio Expresses. For every Elton John, Billy Joel, Harry Chapin, etc., the early-to-mid-'70s had a slew of one-hit-wonders with awful story-songs that often did better ("The Night Chicago Died," "Timothy," "Run Joey Run"). For every Judas Priest, there were a few Quiet Riots. For every Dire Straits, there were a hundred Glass Tigers. For every Josh Groban who can actually sing superbly well, there's a bunch of Biebers with no Direction, thinking they're acting like a great classic rock band, but actually acting like idiots.

There's always going to be crap. But, eventually, the cream (if not necessarily a group with someone as talented as Eric Clapton in it) will rise to the top. So, take heart: The next great singer or band might be on the way up right now, and he, or she, or they, will win out in the end.

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