…that my blog doesn’t have nearly enough arctic fox or eighties hair-metal references.
I live to serve.
…that my blog doesn’t have nearly enough arctic fox or eighties hair-metal references.
I live to serve.
…is one thing.
Doing all 100 in one 12 minute take, and with only one little tiny flub?
Now that is impressive.
…I’ve pondered the idea of this band covering this song:
…although it was more one of those “what if Napoleon had a B-52 at Waterloo” sorts of things.
Oh, yeah – it’s the E Street Band playing “Highway to Hell” in Perth Australia, as a tribute to native Perthian Bon Scott.
(Closed circuit to Tom Morello; lower your damn guitar. You look like you need more fiber in your diet with your guitar cinched up around your ribcage. That is all).
Leni Riefenstahl was the world’s first notable female filmmaker, and the greatest female filmmaker of the 20th century. She created innovations in the technique and aesthetics of film still used not only in cinema, but in the filming of crowds and athletic events; some of the techniques you see at the Super Bowl are evolutions of techniques Riefenstahl pioneered in filming the 1936 Olympics.
But it’s not considered polite to applaud Riefenstahl in public with out an emphatic verbal “asterisk”, because of her association with the Nazi Party. Her best-known work, Triumph Des Willens (Triumph of the Will) is an epic documentary and one of the world’s best known and most influential pieces of propaganda.
And so Riefenstahl was ostracized for the rest of her long life (she died at age 101 in 2002) as a Nazi impresario, for her association with a regime that killed 11 million people directly and triggered a war that swallowed tens of millions.
I write a fair amount about music in this blog. And when a major musical figure passes away, I often try to write something.
And in his way, Pete Seeger was one of the most important figures in popular entertainment, ever.
Not necessarily because of his music. Oh, he had a few classics of American folks music, to be sure. And dozens of forgettable songs – but that’s true for any songwriter, or any artist in any genre for that matter.
Many conservatives writing about Seeger’s passing note that he was a committed Communist. It’s true – he was, and in a way that seems straight out of Orwell, as during this episode after Stalin and Hitler signed their non-aggression pact in 1939:
In the “John Doe” album, Mr. Seeger accused FDR of being a warmongering fascist working for J.P. Morgan. He sang, “I hate war, and so does Eleanor, and we won’t be safe till everybody’s dead.”…The film does not tell us what happened in 1941, when — two months after “John Doe” was released — Hitler broke his pact with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. As good communists, Mr. Seeger and his Almanac comrades withdrew the album from circulation, and asked those who had bought copies to return them. A little later, the Almanacs released a new album, with Mr. Seeger singing “Dear Mr. President,” in which he acknowledges they didn’t always agree in the past, but now says he is going to “turn in his banjo for something that makes more noise,” i.e., a machine gun. As he says in the film, we had to put aside causes like unionism and civil rights to unite against Hitler.
For years, Mr. Seeger used to sing a song with a Yiddish group called “Hey Zhankoye,” which helped spread the fiction that Stalin’s USSR freed the Russian Jews by establishing Jewish collective farms in the Crimea. Singing such a song at the same time as Stalin was planning the obliteration of Soviet Jewry was disgraceful. It is now decades later. Why doesn’t Mr. Seeger talk about this and offer an apology?
It’s impolite in polite society to laud Riefenstahl after her association with a regime that murdered over 10 million people. Fair enough.
So why does Seeger escape any questioning for doing so much to support a regime that may have killed five times as many?
But as Howard Husock noted in his classic essay on Seeger, his most lasting impact on American culture may have had little to do with music.
Because there was a time when Hollywood’s political ideals weren’t all that different than the rest of the country’s. Seeger was a vital part of a movement that changed all that:
Adopted at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935, the Popular Front tasked communists in the West with building “progressive” coalitions with various institutions—including political parties and labor unions—that the party had previously denounced as bourgeois and corrupt. The front reflected fears haunting Stalinist Russia at that time. “Hitler had shown a strength that made Communist predictions about his imminent collapse seem grotesque,” observed left-wing historians Irving Howe and Lewis Coser… Following this new strategy, the American Communist Party suddenly asserted that it wanted to build upon, not destroy, American institutions. “Communism is 20th century Americanism,” Earl Browder, the American party’s general secretary, enthused, while extolling Abraham Lincoln in speeches.
This led to the creation of the “Popular Front”, whose mission was not so much to assault capitalism as to co-opt it. And one of the institutions it marked for co-option was the entertainment industry.
And Seeger was a key cog in that machine:
It took a while for the Popular Front’s strategy to get results in popular music—and Pete Seeger was the catalyst. Many critics mark Elvis Presley’s arrival in the 1950s as a turning point in postwar American popular culture, not just because he injected a more overt sexual energy into entertainment, but also, they claim, because his rebellious spirit anticipated the political upheavals of the 1960s. But neither Presley nor the newfangled thing called rock ‘n’ roll had any explicit politics at the time (and Elvis would one day endorse Richard Nixon). A better leading indicator of the politicization of pop was the first appearance of a Seeger composition on the hit parade.
It happened in early March 1962, when the clean-cut, stripe-shirted Kingston Trio released their recording of Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Seeger’s lament about the senselessness of war and the blindness of political leaders to its folly soared to Number Four on Billboard’s easy-listening chart, and it remained on the list for seven weeks. “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” eventually became a standard, sung on college campuses and around campfires nationwide. At the time, the song proved one of the biggest successes yet of the folk-music revival then under way, and it marked a major improvement in Seeger’s fortunes. Not long before, his career had suffered from the fifties anti-communist blacklist. Now it was on a new trajectory—culminating in his 1993 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and his 1994 National Medal of Arts.
Seeger did not, himself, “make Hollywood leftist”. But he was a key part of that transition.
Forget his music. That was his real legacy.
I’ll admit it – handbell choirs were one of those things that swept protestant churches in the 1980s that annoyed the bejeebers out of me. They were everywhere.
But as with many things related to music (and disaster preparedness)  the Mormons have it all over the rest of us goyim.
Case in point; a handbell choir doing “Flight of the Bumblebee”:
 And, lately, videography; the last few years of vids from the Mormon Tabernacle’s music department have been visually stunning.
Last year was the fortieth anniversary of Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey - Bruce Springsteen’s first major-label record.
In those forty years, he’s released seventeen studio albums (#18 due in mere days), been bootlegged more than almost any other artist, written a staggering amount of material, developed a repuation as the best life performer in the business, and been recognized as the best American songwriter of a generation…
…and gone through some creative doldrums (1990-2000) that make even the unabashed fanboys (like yours truly) rub our heads and change the subject to Darkness on the Edge of Town.
And even for a committed fanboy, it’s hard to explain to a newbie exactly what it’s all about.
Steven Hyden – who notes that he attended the same concert at the Target Center that I did, back in 1999 – takes a “Hot Or Not”-style whack at the oeuvre, giving an “Overrated”, “Underrated” or “Properly Rated” to an assortment of mileposts in Springsteen’s career; the studio albums, live albums, outtakes collections, live performances, members of the E-Street Band, videos, and various bits of pop-culture ephemera.
And I’m only going to quibble with Hyden on three of his ratings;
First: Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez was a lousy drummer. Listen to “Kitty’s Back” or “Incident on 57th Street” or even “Rosalita”, from The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle; the beat speeds up and slows down without warning, and that’s what they decided to put on a major-label release. How much worse were the out-takes?
Second? While “Fire” is a good song, and “Light of Day” is a great one, “Because The Night” is still the best Springsteen song not originally released by Springsteen: It’s just a fact.
And while Hyden and I agree – Darkness on the Edge of Town is both of our favorite Bruce album - Hyden focuses on its rock-critic-friendly cynicism and world-weariness. For me, it’s nearly the opposite; the record resonates for anyone who identifies with deep isolation, with a place outside the American mainstream, whether you’re across the river from Manhattan or across 100 miles of sod from a city that gets more than two TV channels.
(And while he’s right – Live from Hammersmith Odeon is far and away the best “official” live release of Bruce’s career, the very unofficial “Live at the Capitol Theater”, recently posted in its entirety on Youtube, may count as another essential, if lower-gloss, live recording worth listening to)
On the other hand, Hyden distilled perhaps the iconic image of the young, male, non-Jersey Springsteen fan in his review ofBorn to Run:
There’s a particular brand of vanity that exists in certain kinds of young men between the ages of 19 and 27 where it’s vitally important to present a façade that is equal parts masculine, feminine, tough, and sensitive. For instance (and this example is purely hypothetical and not at all autobiographical), this certain kind of young man may drive around alone late on rainy nights — he actually chooses to drive when it rains because it is appropriately evocative for his inner emotional geography — while listening to Clarence Clemons’s sax solo on “Jungleland.” And when he feels himself starting to cry, he will look in the rearview mirror in order to stare at his own tears. He knows he will never tell anyone that he cries alone to the sounds of the Big Man’s titanic blowing, but he guesses that strangers will sense it, and this will make him appear soulful. (Forgive him. He is a little naive and very silly.) It doesn’t matter that the lyrics of “Jungleland” have virtually nothing to do with his life — he’s pretty sure that the only people for whom “kids flash guitars just like switchblades” represents reality are Danny Zuko and Kenickie. But this song is still his avatar, and he’s confident it always will be.
And on some of those dark, rainy nights, he still just may.
(Except for the crying. Because – dude).
Anyway – you be the judge.
Phil Everly died over the weekend. He was 74.
Rock and Roll, we are told, started as a blender-mix of rockabilly and R&B. Elvis put a rockabilly delivery onto a rhythm ‘n blues beat. Chuck Berry sped up the blues to rockabilly speed. Johnny Cash did rockabilly over a persona that could have made Howlin’ Wolf go “wow. That’s the blues”.
And the Everly Brothers brought the final piece of the “billy” half of rockabilly – the tight, keening vocal harmonies that characterized bluegrass music – out of the holler and onto pop radio.
Since the subject was Crosby, Stills and Nash, it’s probably time to turn to one of their seventies Cali-pop offspring; America.
The band – three American air force brats who met in England during the mid-sixties – generally wrapped up all that was the worst about the entire California pop scene that Crosby, Stills and Nash helped spawn; oblique, tired-sounding minor-key noodling wrapped in ornate three-part harmony that never made me want to dance, sing, fight, cuddle or do much of anything but change the station.
Ventura Highway? Horse With No Name? Muskrat Freaking Love? Whatever else they did? Never could stand it. Bores me stiff. Move along.
Except for Sister Golden Hair:
Why, of all of America’s somnolent oeuvre, do I like “Sister?”
I dunno. Because it has a beat? A slide guitar?
Maybe because the vocal harmony harkens back to doo-wop more than Haight-Ashbury?
Dunno. But in a band whose entire catalog works on me faster than an Ambien/NyQuil speedball, “Sister Golden Hair” makes me smile.
Why ask why?
Ever since I’ve been involved in music, it’s seemed there’s been one crowd or another telling me who I’m supposed to like.
In college, the music majors all dug the Alan Parsons Project. ”It’s like…above rock”, they mewled. Perhaps it was; it was also beneath interesting.
There were others.
(Below the jump, because of all the videos)
Some guys grew up fantasizing about the car they wanted, someday.
For others, it was the gun, the girl, the guitar.
I did all of those, naturally (’67 Mustang, HK91, Marisa Tomei, 1959 Les Paul Standard).
But above all? When I was a kid – and not so much a kid – I used to fantasize about the band I’d have someday.
Usually, the dream focused on some combination of two guitars, keyboards, bass and drums. Nice and flexible, allows for all sorts of combinations of guitar sounds. Sorta like Tom Petty and the classic Heartbreakers (here with an added sax player and background singer, which I’d also dig):
Of course, through much of the eighties – and (koff) the nineties, I thought it’d be fun to have something a little bigger, less garage-y, frighteningly tight, and danceable.
Although that’d mean recruiting someone else to sing. And lead singers are a pain.
At various times, I’ve thought “screw it – I’m gonna go full Stax/Volt”:
And truth be told, that’s where I’m at right now; a band that is something like the classic Asbury Jukes lineup, complete with the horn section.
But then I remember all the crap that goes into keeping all the personalities in even a four piece band together, and I think “screw it; I’ll do a power trio”:
Of course, as always, I’ll stick with “whatever I can find”.
Er, when I start another band…
And I am.
I am thankful, for starters, that someone posted Linda Thompson’s version. Dave Swarbrick’s nasal delivery would put me off my thanksgiving meal…
Generally, when I get involved with someone, I try to do it for the long term.
But I’m almost tempted to try to get into a serious relationship – ideally something with a hip-hop theme, no matter how convoluted - if only so I can break up using the line “you got 99 problems, but a Mitch ain’t one”.
OK, just so you don’t have to ask your kids…
Tom Gross at NRO notes a facet about the late Lou Reed – who passed away Sunday after a long battle with liver failure – that has gotten rare mention in the media; he was one of New York’s few arts intelligentsia who were staunchly pro-Israel:
I mention Reed’s Jewishness because not a single obituary I have read of him in the mainstream press mentions it, when for Reed it was an important factor.
Reed, who died yesterday of liver failure at the age of 71, was born Lewis Allan Reed to a Jewish family in Brooklyn. He said that while “he had no god apart from rock ‘n’ roll” his Jewish roots and standing up for Israel meant a lot to him. He was a frequent visitor to the country, last performing in Tel Aviv in 2008, and his aunt and many cousins live in Haifa and other Israeli towns.
Reed even had an Israeli spider named after him to thank him for his support for the country.
Like Gross, I remember his “Good Evening Mr. Waldheim”, from 1989′s New York album.
By way of going after the former UN Secretary General (who’d served in the SS during World War 2, Reed rips into Jesse Jackson – famous for supporting Farrakhan and the PLO, and for his “Hymietown” jape, noting that some of the civil rights workers murdered in the sixties in the deep south were Jewish.
Lou Reed died over the weekend, proving once and for all that only Keith Richards can ingest absolutely every recreational chemical known to modern science and live to tell the tale forever.
It took me a long time to really get into Lou Reed – which may seem really counterintuitive, if you know me and my taste in music (and if you read the “Music” category of this blog, you do, sort of; I haven’t written about everything, just yet). After all,everyoneknows Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground were the godfathers of punk – right?
But even though the Venn diagram among the different outbreaks of “punk” in New York in the seventies has tons of overlaps, there was a yawning gap between the joyful, garage-band-y noise of the Ramones and the New York Dolls (and their Cleveland descendants, the Dead Boys) and the Greenwich Village scene that spawned Reed, crawling as it was with high-art pretension. The likes of Andy Warhol and William S. Burroughs saw and were seen among the rat-bitten warrens of the Village, hobnobbing with and encouraging the likes of the largely unlistenably shrill Patti Smith, the campy “Stilettos” (featuring a young Debbie Harry, who’d form “Blondie” by the mid-seventies), and of course Reed and the Velvets.
It probably wasn’t until I moved to the Cities and started doing music here that I took a step back, at the urging of my band’s old drummer. “Forget all the BS”, he said, “and just focus on the fact that he’s a guy who loves doing basic rock and roll”.
And in one sense it was true – the classic Lou Reed was all about the joy of playing the most basic rock and roll, simple and unadorned and pared down to its most basic components, filtered through a layer of New York grime.
Reed was also an experimenter. In “The Original Wrapper” (from 1986′s Mistrial), he wryly claimed the title of the orignal, well, rapper – since he never so much “sang” as “spoke in rhythm”. He delved through jazz, experimental music, screeching noise…
…even some pared-down pseudo-classical music – as in this very, very, very pre-MTV video for his classic “Street Hassle”, featuring a spoken-word coda by Bruce Springsteen around the eight-minute mark:
So I’m going to find my old copy of “Rock and Roll Animal” this week here, and give it another spin.
Our government is doing its best to show you who serves who, here.
In a few years, the Chinese are going to be able to yank our nation’s chain and say “bark for your meal, bitch”.
Our state is run by bobbleheads, and the only pro sports team we have that isn’t a perennial embarassment is the WNBA team, which is itself a form of perennial embarassment.
But before you stick that .40 S&W in your mouth, just wait.
Because someone released the entire September 19, 1978 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Capitol Theater in Passaic NJ concert – one of the greatest concerts ever recorded, ever, ever, in really really high quality audio.
Here’s Cam Winton’s website. You don’t have to live in Minneapolis to help Cam shock the world.
And since it was “Springsteen Cover Saturday” in honor of Bruce’s 64th birthday last Monday – here’s my series on why Springsteen resonates with conservatives.
Fascinating article in “First Things” about an aspect of Warren Zevon I did not know the first thing about.
This is an update of a piece I wrote five years ago.
It was 30 years ago today that Big Country’s The Crossing was released.
In America, Big Country has that “one-hit wonder” patina about them, which only goes to show that when it comes to music, too many Americans are ignorant clods.
While The Crossing‘s “In A Big Country” was, indeed, their only real entry into the Top40 in America, it’d be hard to overestimate what a blast of fresh air the album was in 1983.
1983 was a great year in music; it was also the year that provided many of the decade’s musical punch lines; “Putting On The Ritz” by Taco, “Mr. Roboto” by Styx, “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, Kajagoogoo and Culture Club and Asia and Naked Eyes and Laura Branigan and not one but two Jim Steinman bombast-fests (Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” and Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All”) duked it out with some of the great pop music of all time; “Little Red Corvette”, Michael Jackson’s entire Thriller album back before he turned into a walking freak show, and a long list of other classics.
Amid all the good and all the bad, there was a definite trend; it was the era of the synthesizer. The battle between analog instruments like the guitar, bass, physical drums and mechanical and electromechanical keyboards like the piano and organ on the one hand and purely-electronic ones like the synth and the sequencer had just begun.
(And if you’ve listened to pop radio lately, you know that the electronics won. But we’re getting fifteen years ahead of ourselves).
Some declared the guitar dead. Articles in Rolling Stone said that the new wave (heh heh) of cheap electronic technology would finally euthanize the venerable analog stringed instrument. It was the year Yamaha’s revolutionary DX7 synthesizer hit the market, bringing digital Frequency Modulation technology down to around $1,000 for the first time, making it possible for pretty much anyone (with $1,000) to create any sound they wanted, save it onto cassettes (or, for a few bucks more, floppy disks!), play it onto the first inexpensive digital sequencers and MIDI processors and “drum machines” and essentially run a “band” from ones’ keyboard. The future of music, said the wonks, was pasty-faced geeks with hundred dollar haircuts in flamboyant suits, pecking away at keyboards as masses of lobotomized droogs bobbed away in the audience.
Straight into the face of those predictions charged Big Country – a band from Dunfermline, Scotland that mixed technical “wow” with actual fun (the Scottish football-hooligan atmosphere that accompanied their shows and appearances), they blew the knobs and faders off of the synth-wankers that glorious autumn.
The band wrapped itself in “Scotland” – but ironically, none of the band’s members were native Scots. Bassist Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki were from London, guitarist Bruce Watson was Canadian, and guitarist and singer Stuart Adamson was from Manchester (although he grew up in Dunfermline. His impenetrable brogue was the real thing).
The “wow” came partly from technology (really cheap technology, like the MXR Pitch Transposer and the e-bow, basically a hand-held electromagnet that acts like an electronic violin bow, giving a guitar infinite sustain), great guitars (the lads favoredYamaha SG2000s and Fender Strats) clever engineering and pure guitar technique to wrench amazing impersonations from their instruments; they loosely modeled bagpipes, Irish fiddles, and all manner of supercharged traditional instruments which, combined with the Gaelic-y arrangements and playing technique, roused talk of a “Celtic revival” in that year that also brought U2, the Alarm and Simple Minds to the charts.
And of course, there was great musicianship; Butler and Brzezicki were superb session musicians before Big Country; Adamson and Watson were excellent in a more restrained, controlled way.
Adamson and Watson rarely played power chords, sticking to carefully-orchestrated one-and-two-note patterns over their carefully-built sound-setups to create a distinctive, loud, joyful noise.
Nearly every song on the album was a keeper:
The album was a huge splash in 1983.
But the band never really had much impact in the US after their debut; they only charted with one more single (“Wonderland“, from the next year, one of my favorites) which peaked at #86, while Steeltown, my favorite Big Country album, barely dented the album charts in the US (it debuted at #1 in the UK). Steeltown’s marquee single, the spectacular “Where The Rose Is Sown“, a Falklands War protest of sorts, didn’t show up at all.
I think I spent sixty hours over my “interim” period in 2004 (my college was on a 4-1-4 system – January was spent on one, all-day class for the whole month) learning how to play and imitate every single song on the album. I had the bagpipe thing figured out, anyway…
Adamson, after years of fighting alcoholism, committed suicide in December of 2001. The band knocked around in limbo for most of the last decade, held up with legal wrangling among the surviving members and the Adamson estate. They re-united last year, with former Alarm frontman Mike Peters singing lead, and Watson’s son Jamie sitting in on guitar.
I’m gonna down a Newcastle and break out the SG in honor of the anniversary.
This was the band I always wanted to have when I was in high school or, even moreso, college:
I mean, not necessarily with Steve Van Zandt (AKA “Silvio Dante”) sucking up all the oxygen – but a horn-based Stax/Volt knockoff kind of thing.
Oh, don’t mind me. I’ve been having one of those weekends where every single earworm was an Asbury Jukes song. Which is far from all bad.
But here’s a a trivia question. Look at the guitar player in the pink shirt (Bobby Bandiera) with the white guitar. That very guitar appeared in a major motion picture (along with the rest of the band).
Put those Amy Winehouse records away.
Wherever you are, Duffy, take five.
Kelly Clarkson? I love you, hon, but take a knee and listen up.
Nicky Minaj? Lady Gaga? Taylor Swift? Take a seat.
As I noted when I started this series a week or so ago, part of the reason I didn’t care much for most of the music of the seventies was because, in my drive to be just plain different than everyone around me, I figured if I was in for a dime, I’d best be in for a buck; go all-in with the punks and whatever else was cooler-than-thou.
But it needs to be added that it was, in many ways, a terrible, terrible decade for pop culture.
Maybe it reflected a hangover from the turmoil of the sixties. Maybe it was a measure of a society floating aimlessly and beginning to decay after a couple of decades of purpose and dynamic growth. Maybe it was just all those baby boomers.
But like polyester clothes, The Brady Bunch and the Chevette, much of the music of the 1970s was a reminder that times were really not good.
…I wish I was in New York this week.
I’m tired of writing about politics this week. I need to do something to stir up my blogging mojo.
Regular political blogging restarts, most likely, next week. ’Til then, I’m going to follow through on an idea I first started noodling with close to three years ago, and see where it goes. It’s another of my loooong series on pop music history. But unlike my recent “Springsteen for Conservatives” series (which I had a stone-cold blast writing), I don’t have to try to keep up a cohesive narrative for weeks on end.
Which fits my attention span much better, these days.
I graduated from high school in 1981. I grew up in North Dakota, which is still a bit of a national punch line for “isolation” (although these days North Dakotans are doing most of the laughing), but in those days before the Internet, was much, much moreso.
Pop culture came to my hometown, Jamestown, much later than most of Western Civilization. Until I was in elementary school, we only got two TV channels (or only two that Mom and Dad told me about, anyway). Only Algore had the Internet in those days.
For a couple of years, we didn’t even have a movie theatre in Jamestown. First the Grand Theatre on Main Street – a splendid old 1890′s opera house – got torn down to make way for the worst Holiday Inn in America. Then the Star Theater closed, probably due to health code violations; stories of people reaching into their popcorn and coming up with a handful of rodent were standbys in Jamestown’s urban legend library at the time. Without a theater? Forget about catching the tail end of one of the great eras in American film; we didn’t even see Star Wars or Jaws until a year after the rest of the country did.
Oh, we caught little bits and pieces of seventies culture when I was a kid; books and magazines had those gawdawful swishy seventies fonts and typefaces; polyester and bell-bottoms and suits made of corduroy or denim cropped up.
Entertainment? Well, I was too young to “get” some of the great stuff of the era, “The Rockford Files” and “Mary Tyler Moore” and the first “Bob Newhart Show”, among others. But if you were a kid, it was the heyday of Sid and Marty Kroft, and the beginning of Hanna-Barbara’s thirty-year nadir – most everything the former cartoon powerhouse produced between 1968′s “Banana Splits”, which I hated with a passion even as a kid, until 1998′s “Powerpuff Girls”, which I loved as an “adult”. And even then, I couldn’t stand much of it – from Gilligan’s Island reruns (to which my friends glued their faces every night after school) to The Brady Bunch, most of it annoyed me to one degree or another.
And as re music, which was then and now my primary whiff of pop culture? Jamestown’s only two radio stations played either country or, at the station I started at when I was 16, something radio people used to call “Middle of the Road” – a little Beatles (not the “hard” stuff, mind you, like “Daytripper”), a little Top 40 (the mild stuff) and any variety of pop standard going back to the forties and fifties. Think Ann Murray in her heyday.
Things changed a bit in seventh grade, when I finally got an AM radio of my own. Spinning the dial when I was home sick one day, I found radio stations from other places – WDAY in Fargo (which I’d been to maybe twice), KFYR in Bismarck, and – once I discovered night skip – WLS in Chicago.
And it was in eighth grade I discovered two things:
And the punks of the day exercised a studious disdain for the mainstream of the day. Whatever the mainstream was; from bloated art-rock holdouts like Pink Floyd, to the Album-Rock Top Forty warhorses like Bachman-Turner Overdrive, to the easy-listening pop of Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Brown and Fleetwood Mac, I cultivated a studied hatred of the whole noxious corporate (so I was told) stew that was Seventies music.
Oh, not all of it. I liked Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and Creedence Clearwater, all of whom had the seal of counterculture critical approval, sure (although I liked each before I knew that), but I also liked Boston because I had a blast learning to play their first album on guitar, critics be damned. And I loved Heart because I was a 15 year old guy with a standard-issue set of hormones (and a thing for Nancy Wilson’s fingerpicking style). And as a guitar player and wanna-be showman, I loved Van Halen, and so did everyone else, quit lying.
And throughout high school, I loved loved loved The Who, because Pete Townsend was a vainglorious pseudointellectual arrested-art-school adolescent drama duke, and I was a vainglorious wanna-be pseudointellectual actual-adolescent drama duke.
But, nearly alone in Jamestown North Dakota in the late seventies and early eighties, I sniffed derisively at the mainstream, at BTO and Bad Company and Pink Floyd and Shooter and Head East and REO Speedwagon and Styx and Kansas and Emerson Lake and Palmer and Ted Nugent and Rush, and the R ‘n B and Country Western of the era, and waved the flag for The Clash, the Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Dictators, Elvis Costello, the Cars (but only the first two albums), Television, The Police, Gary Numan and the Tubeway Army, the Pretenders, eventually U2 – and some of the more-traditional bands that kept or gained their critical cred during the New Wave; Petty, Springsteen, Bob Seger, Dire Straits, even AC/DC.
I was, in short, a teenage wanna-be hipster douchebag.
And being a wanna-be hipster douchebag with a garage band beat the crap out of being a greasy-haired acne-ridden geek who couldn’t run a fast break without slamming into the opposing team’s bench. As high school identities in rural North Dakota in the late seventies and early eighties went, it was a big step up.
Well, I’m not 15 anymore. And I don’t have to adopt an attitude to throw in peoples’ faces, because when you’re a Republican in Saint Paul, one is a fish swimming in a contrarian sea with no need for artifice.
And a few years back I started listening to some of the music from the Seventies – much of which I’d spent the eighties through the mid-2000s aggressively ignoring in an ever-more-vestigial burst of “too cool for thou” – with a much more open mind.
And I thought I’d write about it a little.
Maybe once a week until I run out of ideas, anyway.
It was twenty years ago today that U2 played their famous -and controversial – gig on the roof of Los Angeles’ late Republic Records:
It was the video that brought on two reactions from me:
Joe Doakes emails:
My iPod collection is eclectic. Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City (On Rock-and-Roll)” just played.
It occurs to me that if you’re talking about San Francisco, that’s probably true; Haight-Ashbury typifies that burg.
But New York or Cleveland? They weren’t built by rock-and-roll. They were built by Big Band and Swing, the music of the people who won The War and made American manufacturing the greatest force in the world throughout the 1940’s and 50’s.
Rock-and-roll was the Baby Boomers music. Rock-and-roll didn’t build those cities, it killed those cities, and many more. Detroit was Mo-Town when the old folks ran it; with Baby Boomers in charge, it’s Mo-Handout-Town. The fortunes of iron-ore-mining town Hibbing waned exactly as home-boy Bob Dylan’s waxed.
Okay, it’s only a song and not a very good one at that, not some great philosophical commentary on society.
Joe is too tactful. Starship’s “We Built This City” is perhaps the worst song in Top Forty history, rivaled only by Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight”.
But that actually reinforces his point:
Still, I wonder how much difference it would make if popular culture turned away from “if it feels good, do it” and back to “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Tangential thought: what does it say about either the music or the city that Minneapolis’ “Wedge” neighborhood (from Franklin to Lake between Hennepin and Lyndale) is exactly the same pompous, pretentious, overpriced wanna-be-artist’s-garret toilet now as it was before the Replacements’ heyday?
Speaking of which:
No, Joe’s right. America was the first culture in history to develop an “independent” “youth culture”. And now that those “youth” run the place, we’re completely screwed.