Thursday, March 19, 2015

Good Songs XXI

Stop – Jane’s Addiction
How Many More Times – Led Zeppelin
Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver – Primus
Tomorrow – Silverchair
Waiting for the Sun – The Doors
Evenflow – Pearl Jam
Hey Joe – Jimi Hendrix
Root Down – The Beastie Boys
Fortunate Son – Credence Clearwater Revival
No Woman, No Cry – Bob Marley
Can’t Even Tell – Soul Asylum
Live Forever – Oasis
Stutter – Elastica
Where Did You Go? – Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Shakedown Street – Grateful Dead
Territorial Pissings – Nirvana
My Wave – Soundgarden
Sex Type Thing – Stone Temple Pilots
Rhinoceros – Smashing Pumpkins
Deeper Shade of Soul – Urban Dance Squad
Spin the Bottle – Juliana Hatfield

NOTE: After I got done posting Tuesday’s Good Songs entry, it occurred to me that I made that tape right before I left for summer break between Freshman and Sophomore years in college. So, technically that entry should have been listed as the 17th edition of Good Songs. I hope that this mistake doesn’t ruin the entire Good Songs experiment for you.

This playlist has a little bit of everything: classic grunge (Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden), classic rock (Led Zeppelin, the Doors, the Dead), 90s British Invasion (Oasis, Elastica) even some crap (Silverchair).

Even if you don’t remember the band Silverchair, you’ll probably recall their most famous song, “Tomorrow”. And that’s because of the infectious chorus, “You’re going to wait too, fat boy. Wait for tomorrow.” I’m not sure why the lads (and these were Aussie teens, when this song came out the lead singer was 15-years-old which accounts for the terrible lyrics) had to get so personal with the chorus, but maybe that’s why it was one of the decades most memorable. Or maybe because the chorus was just so awful.

When historians look at history’s eras and epochs, the most challenging thing that they encounter is finding a definitive moment when an empire ends. Many people agree that the ending of the Roman Empire was in the 4th Century when the Barbarians sacked Rome. Though you could probably counter that argument and say when the empire was split in two was the beginning of the end.  Or you could even point to the decades upon decades of insane emperors using the coffers of Rome as their personal band and its citizens as their personal concubine as a point when things went south. The point is unless you’re debating about the end of 80s metal era—and we all know that began around the time that Warrant busted out their first canister of AquaNet—determining when the milk goes sour is not easy.

When it comes to Grunge, many have argued that Creed was the Warrant of its day (or the barbarian horde) that destroyed 90s rock and they wouldn’t be wrong. That’s because most sane people hate Creed and love to blame stuff on them—personally, I blame Scott Stapp for ISIS. But for Patient X, you have to go all the way back to 1995 and Silverchair. Even Courtney Love, a person who can barely remember the Clinton administration, said, “So this young guy from Silverchair looks like my dead husband and sings like Eddie Vedder- how lame!” in 1995.* And guess what, she was right.

* I found this quote on a Silverchair fan site that was created using AngelFire. I love the ultranet, which is what my brother used to call the internet. But if I’m carefully maintaining an AngelFire fan site for Silverchair, this may not be the quote that I’d use. It kinda makes people think your favorite band sucks.

Silverchair isn’t the first grunge band that was accused of not being authentic (hello Stone Temple Pilots), but they were the first where the accusation stuck. And for 1995, that was a pretty big deal. After the Milli Vanilli and C+C Music Factory “controversies” of the early 90s, it was important for music acts to be authentic, or to at least give the appearance of being real. It didn’t just affect rock acts, hip hop artists were always touting their realness and where they came from. I don’t know whether Silverchair was or wasn’t “real” enough but I do know that they didn’t have another hit in them. After this song fizzled, they went back to a place where women glow and men plunder.

Speaking of poseurs, I’d like to tell you that I first heard Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” after I picked up a copy of “Natty Dread” from a second-hand record store. But I didn’t. I found out about this song the old fashioned way, by noticing that everyone on my freshman floor had Marley’s “Legend” and then running out to buy the cassette. Then, for a couple of weeks, I was “really into reggae and Marley” even though I had only one tape and a nickel bag.

I will say that I did not go the whole nine yards, I never bought a gigantic poster of Bob Marley smoking a spliff, nor did a buy a “drug rug” from the hippies selling overpriced crap in the Merrimack College quad. My only real crime was liking a greatest hits album.

And that’s the thing that sucks about “Legend”, everyone has it in their music collection and everyone is judged by it. But at the same time, it’s a really great greatest hits album and it was a jumping off point for a lot of people to get into reggae. That’s not a bad thing. 

I’ve written a lot about how women took a more assertive role with their lyrics during the 90s, but I think that Elastica’s “Stutter” is a great example of that. I can’t think of too many songs about impotency, much less one that’s as catchy as “Stutter”, but Elastica was able to take a topic that no guy (or even girl) would openly talk about and then sing about it from the female’s perspective. And it wasn’t a mopey tune about how it was the woman’s fault. The dude got drunk and couldn’t get it up and the women from Elastica were pissed because they were ready for action.

Another song on this tape that was about female empowerment was Juliana Hatfield’s “Spin the Bottle”. The difference between this song and “Stutter” was that Elastica took control of the situation while Hatfield’s song juxtaposed the chance of entering into a sexual relationship with her crush through a child’s game with her straight-forward thoughts. “She is such a sucker he (her potential paramour) don’t want to fuck her.”

Again, in an institution where women are traditionally ornaments, it was exciting to get a perspective from these “ornaments”. There was a lot of jokes made in the 1990s about the “sensitive male”, the guy who was the antithesis of the “fuck first, ask questions later” tradition of how a man should act. And that perception seemed to be true as rock stars and other male celebrities tended to care more about women’s feelings (at least publicly) but what wasn’t as highly reported* was the way that women also took control of their perceptions too, turning from shy violets to a person with opinions and perspectives.

* And yes, there was that one overly-cartoon character of the big-boned woman, usually named Roxanne or Big Bertha, who was loud, obnoxious and took what she wanted. But that’s not Hatfield or Elastica lead singer Justine Frischmann, they were “regular” women who wanted to be treated fairly.

The popular tide was turning and women were being looked upon as the rational ones, the intelligent ones, the ones who used reason to handle problems. Guys were starting to become the cavemen, the dingbats, the person who wasn’t in control of their emotions. In the coming decades, other media followed suit as the man-child (think of the main characters from most of Judd Apatow or Adam Sandler movies, or the male stars of most CBS sitcoms) took center stage. Father no longer knew best, but he did know who all the characters in the Mos Eisley Cantina were. 

The tables were being turned in the 90s and it wasn’t just in rock. I can remember feeling uncomfortable when Salt N’ Peppa were at their peak. They were doing what men were doing for years, turning the opposite sex into mere objects. But this time, I wasn’t the one doing the ogling, it was women and they were looking at dudes who were in far better shape, packed more in the pants (according to Salt N’ Peppa) and who could “fuck like a volcano” (which is an awesome line from Liz Phair’s hit “Supernova”).

It wasn’t until sometime later did it occurred to me that women were probably insanely uncomfortable in 1980s when videos from David Lee Roth or Whitesnake or practically any popular band had a gigantically chested, over-sexed, impossibly hot bikini model frolicking over a car (“Here I Go” video) or on some “nerd” (“Hot For Teacher”) or with pastry (“Cherry Pie”). As a pubescent boy, I loved those images. As a father of two girls, I wonder what it did to the sanity of the girls who watched those videos every day.

I’m not saying that the rampant sexism in the 80s (and earlier) was wrong, it was a part of its time. And I definitely did not choose these songs for this tape because it made some sort of feminism statement. If that was the case, there would be a lot more Tori Amos on this tape and that would be the worst. What I am saying is that when females finally grabbed control of the conversation and discussed sexuality and relationships openly and honestly (girls get horny? WHAAAAA?) the music started getting better.

Hiding behind clichés, demureness and innuendo like Madonna* or the Bangles or the Go-Go’s is childish and silly. Authenticity and realness, the two words that folks coming of age in the 90s hold so dear, are what moved records and influenced minds back then. And that openness (or appearance of openness) is what ruled.

* Madonna as a “feminist icon” is so overblown it makes me sick. She’s just not. She’s a sexual icon, there’s no doubt in my mind about that, but she played to the most base stereotypes of what a woman should be and how a woman should act. So she wore a pointed bra and kissed a girl? Who gives a shit. That stuff wasn’t done to make a statement, it was done to sell records – which is fine, she’s in the entertainment industry. But don’t tell me someone who unironically referred to herself as a “Boy Toy” or who defined by whom she happened to be sleeping with is the Gloria Steinem of the 80s and 90s. Christ, Cyndi Lauper was more of a feminist than Madonna.

“Stutter” and “Spin the Bottle” were the opposite of Stone Temple Pilots’ “Sex Type Thing” which was a song done from the perspective of a male rapist. Rock music is littered with many depictions of women as nothing more than sex objects and STT is an aggressive continuation of that tradition. Let me state that I don’t think that just because you write and record a song from the perspective of a rapist, it makes you a rapist. According to Wikipedia, lead singer Scott Weiland said that he wrote the song after an incident where his girlfriend was raped by three football players.

I’m not sure why he wrote it from the point of view of the rapist though, seems like a strange choice for Weiland to make. Another interesting tidbit about this song is that it was their first single off of Core (their debut album) and their first video to be run on MTV. In a 1993 interview with Rolling Stone, Weiland was angry that he had to defend himself as anti-rape just because he wrote a song sung from a rapist’s POV that was the debut single off his band’s first album.

Quit being so rapey, STP, Jesus.

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