I recall as a young child sitting with my four older sisters and big brother in front of the old Zenith television. My siblings were eager to check out Ed Sullivan’s guests that evening – four talented lads from Liverpool. Honestly, what I remember most about that evening was my cranky old man who made it darned-near impossible to hear what the Beatles were singing. Of course, the screaming girls in the audience weren’t helping matters, either.
“They just keep repeating the same [excrement deleted] over and over,” scowled my father, while I thought to myself, “How can you tell when you’re too busy talking over their songs?” Not too many years later, Mr. Crabby Pants would rebuke his by now eight children any time he found out we had changed the radio-dial settings in his beloved Buick Electra 225. “I had to listen to some pantywaist singing about how much he loved drugs,” he’d harrumph. Ever the rock’n’roll fool, I’d throw gasoline on the fire: “No, dad, he’s singing ‘Love Is the Drug.’” My pops – apparently not a Roxy Music fan, was not amused. Nor was he pleased when he came in from the barn one Saturday afternoon to discover his reprobate children grooving to Billy Preston on Soul Train. “I gotta song that ain’t go no melody,” sang Preston, and my dad responded: “That’s for G-D sure” before flipping the off switch.
By high school, my father had burned all the rock’n’roll vinyl he could locate in our house (I managed to preserve Santana III, Best of Cream and Three Dog Night’s Golden Biscuits, as well as 45s by Trini Lopez, Vicki Carr and Sgt. Barry Sadler), for which he, in turn, would suffer Jack Bruce’s thundering bass on “Born Under a Bad Sign” nearly every evening after the de rigueur dinner table argument between we two. What better way to pay him back?
These anecdotes came to mind after reading a piece by Chris Richards in The Washington Post, titled “This one tastes bland, too: Sweetlife and the decline of the American music festival.” Poor Mr. Richards just can’t get his mojo working for the young folks playing music on his lawn, it seems. Join the club, sir. I stopped going to music festivals and stadium rock concerts years ago when I felt the tickets and beer were too expensive and the bathrooms too crowded and filthy. The final straw came after seeing Fleetwood Mac while sitting next to a stranger whose middle-aged spread rivaled the land mass of Rhode Island. Dude was wearing shorts, and his fleshy legs melted into my jeans at the knee. He had no sense of rhythm, but furiously pumped his feet rather than merely tapping them throughout the show. I could’ve churned butter with the involuntary motion of my own leg.
Of course, I lie: I’ve seen the Who and Eric Clapton within the past several years, but only because my bride never got a chance to see them back in the day. I even took her to see Alice Cooper a couple years back. Alice, you know? Same show he’s been performing for the past 30 years, but the songs still are great and he always has talented musicians backing him. The opening act, however, was Marilyn Manson, and I have to confess I just didn’t get it. Nor did I get it at his peak back in the 1990s.
Saying I don’t get it isn’t the same as saying it was without merit. Lots of people there were enjoying themselves, and I can’t believe the drugs and booze entirely were responsible for that vibe.
Richards, the old coot, finds the outdoor festival Sweetlife, held in Columbia, Md., tiresome and talentless. He’s bored, as Iggy Pop sang, chairman of the bored. Too which I say, perhaps it’s time to hang up your spurs, Chris, ‘cuz you think the music of your era was inherently better and your aging hipster vanity requires you to crap all over what the kids are listening to these days. Dude, you sound like my dad. Lighten up, Francis, and put down those matches. Record burning is so passé.
Richards cavils that the newer acts these days actually spend time telling the audience how great, awesome and such the audience is. That’s apparently bad, although I remember waiting hours for the main act to appear on stage back in the 1970s, and then staggering out on stage in near-comas because … well, you know … drugs, groupies, alcohol. That was so hip to disrespect the audience! Trust me, I’d love to take a time machine back to the 1970s to see Led Zeppelin appear on stage at the same time printed on the ticket, perform a professional set and thanking the audience for the financial and personal impetus to play their hearts out. Not only did the partying back in the day result in some pretty embarrassing performances, but as well the too-early deaths of some of the best, a club that includes Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Buckley, Kossoff, Elvis and Moon. So yeah, give me professionalism (and a little gratitude) or give me death.
And…what’s this? Richards complains about the uniformity of attire he witnesses in the audience? Yeesh, back in the day, we all had the same long hair (or short hair during the punk craze), blue jeans, boots and concert tee-shirts. Girls would mix it up some, but not much. Peasant blouses, shorts, jeans, tee-shirts. Dang, dude, you’re really reaching to find something to whine about. And what would’ve grunge been without the accompanying wardrobe of flannel shirts and Doc Martens?
Speaking of attire, Richards goes out of his way to mull whether empty pockets on boys’ tee-shirts is a metaphor for spiritual and/or cultural emptiness. Really? Now you’re just grasping at straws. It’s time for you to go gently into that good night with the music that inspired you to become a critic many, many fads ago before it evolved into the music you don’t like because it wasn’t made for you and your generation. I remember a similar case of existential critical crisis when Trouser Press magazine folded in 1984 after 10 years because the editor was no longer excited about the music. Remember this: Kids don’t make music for adults. Instead, kids make music for other kids.
Finally, you just know a rock critic is talking out his hipster pork-pie hat when he types the word integrity. Integrity? Rock? Sorry, you’re gonna have to back that one up with some real examples. Rock is supposed to be devoid of integrity, you pretentious nitwit. For the most part, it’s a commercial enterprise to get the kids up and dancing before they settle down to raise their own kids and go to work nine-to-five. Once they do, they’ll be screaming at the youth they created to turn the music down, just like (to quote John Hiatt, echoing my reality) my dad did.
Bruce, is it ok if I think popular music today on the whole is just not very good? Would that make me a nostalgic boomer who just pines for his youth? I think objectively the 60s and 70s were an amazing time of creativity and productivity in the world of popular music, and I want to share with you some anecdotal evidence that makes my point.
My 13 year old son has been taking piano lessons for several years now, and just recently he heard some old Yes tunes, and I started hearing him play them. This started happening more frequently, with old Gabriel era Genesis tunes, Beatles, etc. We have a couple guitars around, and he started getting all fired up about old Who tunes, and Zeppelin, Cream, more Beatles , and now he’s playing the guitar all the time. That happened to me when I was about his age, but I was into music on the radio then, not music from 40 years ago!
I think you’d probably agree with me, but it’s been very cool to see him get so inspired and see his skills get so much better, and the oldest thing he’s playing is 90s era Spock’s Beard (Neal Morse wrote so many great piano licks).
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