Thursday, April 09, 2015

Good Songs XXVII

Pop Song ’89 – REM
Jingling Baby – LL Cool J
Paint It Black – Rolling Stones
Let’s Go Crazy – Prince
Don’t Drink the Water – Dave Matthews Band
Flagpole Sitta – Harvey Danger
I Am the Walrus – The Beatles
Sure Shot – The Beastie Boys
Rock & Roll – Led Zeppelin
Bulls on Parade – Rage Against the Machine
Number One Blind – Veruca Salt
School Days – Chuck Berry
The One – Tracy Bonham
Calling Dr. Love – KISS
Mountain Song – Jane’s Addiction
Moonlight Drive – The Doors
Where It’s At – Beck
Manic Depression – Jimi Hendrix
Alone + Easy Target – Foo Fighters
With Plenty of Money and You – Count Bassie and Tony Bennett
Deeper Shade of Soul – Urban Dance Squad
Rape Me – Nirvana
Rhinoceros – Smashing Pumpkins
I Wanna Be Just Like You – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

If you look at two of the last five songs on this mix, guess which movie I was really into at this point in my life? If you said “Swingers”, you win a no-prize. At this time in my life, it was no surprise that I obsessively watched the adventures of Mike, Trent, Sue, Rob and Charles. They were around the same age, they were in the same weird limbo between career and college, they drank a lot, played Sega and looked for girls. This was all stuff that my friends and I did. The only difference is that they were in Los Angeles and I was in Boston.

The style was consuming for awhile; I tried being a martini drinker, dressing nice(r), listening to swing music (I bought the Swinger soundtrack AND a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy CD), but it didn’t stick. By the summer I was back to my beer-drinking, slovenly-dressed, rock and rap ways. It was a nice suit to try on, but it didn’t fit.

This was a pretty decent Good Songs, on this listen I enjoyed pretty much all of the songs* and it’s one that I’ll probably fire up again. What I found interesting, is that not only do Count Bassie and Tony Bennett make their first appearance on the penultimate Good Songs tape but Prince, Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones do too.

* I haven’t heard DMB’s “Don’t Drink the Water” in years, but I remember it being one of the last songs of his that I actually enjoyed. On this relisten, I can say that the song is excruciatingly terrible. It’s plodding, masturbatory, directionless and the lyrics are so ham-handed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Porky Pig was listed as a co-writer. Even the uncredited background vocals of Alanis Morissette doesn’t help much—though the way I felt about her at this point in my life, I’m sure it was a strike against the song. I always thought that it was DMB’s fans that drove me away, turns out it was him all along.

I wonder what took me so long to include the Rolling Stones on a Good Songs tape? The answer to that question is because I don’t own any of their albums, tapes, CDs, 8-tracks or MP3s (except for this one). It’s not because I don’t like the Rolling Stones, they’re an all-time great band, but I’ve never been inspired to transfer money from my wallet to a store’s cash register in exchange for one of their albums.

This isn’t a situation like Bruce Springsteen or Pink Floyd where I’m not crazy about their music, but I get why they have fans. I like the Stones and all of their hits and I’m sure I’d be crazy about their deep cuts too. But the Rolling Stones seem to be everywhere and they’ve never left us, which I think is the big differentiator from other bands that are seemingly everywhere like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin*.

* The Who fit into this mold too and I don’t own anything by them either, despite really enjoying their music. There’s a lot of great Who songs and they’re different and they’re loud and they’re smart and they have great lyrics and music, but I’m just not a Who guy. There’s not even a Who song on any of the 28 volumes of Good Songs, which is kind of surprising. I also don’t have a Tom Petty song on any Good Songs tape, which is even more surprising.

But the Rolling Stones won’t go away. The Beatles’ songs are still everywhere but the band broke up, John and George died, as a collection of individuals they did their own things. And some of that thing includes Beatlesque stuff, but they aren’t coming back. Same with Zeppelin. John Bonham is dead and Robert Plant—for whatever reason he’s giving this week—doesn’t want to reunite with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.  

This is my problem with bands like the Stones or the Who, they’re old (in their 70s) and they’re still touring. And yes, they’re still pulling in fantastically large crowds and are selling out arenas all over the Earth, but at some point, enough is enough. One could argue that these bands love what they’re doing and they’re moved by the spirit of the music. But when was the last time the Who or the Stones played at a small club? They’re playing in places designed to get as many people as they possibly can for as much money as they possibly can.

And that’s fine, I am not of the mind to tell a person when he or she has too much money*. But at the same time, it starts to look a little embarrassing, doesn’t it? I understand that baby boomers and the like will still feel youthful as long as Mick and Keith are prancing around a stage at Madison Square Garden like they did almost 60(!) years ago. But they’re not fooling anyone and they haven’t for quite awhile. Aside from Lorne Michaels or a few investment bankers, who thinks that Mick Jagger is cool**?

* Around the time that I created this mix tape, Led Zeppelin announced that they were going to lend their song, Rock & Roll, to a Cadillac commercial. It made me so angry and I mentioned that to my roommate, who was an accountant at a (then) Big Six accounting firm in Boston. We had a heated debate on selling out and how much money should a band make and whether commercial music is art. Not surprisingly I was on the liberal side of the argument and thought that this was abhorrent as Page, Plant and Jones had plenty of money and were ruining their song. My roommate said I was crazy and that pop music is a commodity and if someone wants to buy it, they should get cash for it. I was adamant that he was wrong, but after going over that debate, I was the one who was wrong. There is integrity among artists, but there’s never a time when one has “too much money” and for me to suggest that was dumb and naïve.

** Keith Richards will always have some semblance of coolness only because of what he’s done in the past. As a person, right now in 2015, Keith Richards isn’t really cool at all. He's old, he's broken down, unintelligible and is miming his way through old age. But the life that Keith Richards has lead is undoubtedly cool, so it carries over into his present day-to-day life. And I know how ridiculous it sounds for a 40-year-old man to be judging who or what is cool, but it’s my blog and it’s what I do.
As I get closer to the end of this project, the idea of youth and nostalgia is becoming more and more clearer. No one wants their youth to end—actually I should amend that, no one wants the youth that they have encased in amber (like the dinosaur DNA hidden in the mosquito in Jurassic Park) to end. But like that dinosaur DNA, if you try to replicate that youth now, it would go horribly wrong. And that’s what the Rolling Stones and their ilk are caught up in—though caught is probably the wrong word. Maybe partake? I don't know.

Audiences have long struggled when it comes to deciding how they want their entertainers to age. Do you want them to keep going on and on and on and on doing the same stuff year after year, decade after decade like the Stones or the Who? Do you want them to evolve as people and as artists so that their new stuff sounds nothing like their older stuff that you grew up with, like the Beastie Boys did before MCA died?

I don’t have the foggiest idea and often go back and forth on the topic as there are pros and cons to both sides of the argument. The Rolling Stone solution (for lack of a better term) is good because you can pay for your seat, hear the songs that you love, take a stroll down memory lane and for awhile feel like you’re young again. No one wants to hear a new Paul McCartney song or a new Stones song because you love the old ones so much and don’t want to sacrifice a hit for a song that will probably suck*.

* Musicians are like athletes. They peak in the late 20s and by the time they’re in their 30s (especially if they’re successful) it’s all downhill. There’s nothing worse than a millionaire trying to remember what it was like when he or she was poor.

But at the same time, that visage of nostalgia is smashed when you look on the Jumbotron and see octogenarians singing about banging chicks, taking drugs and being street fighting men. It’s embarrassing. And after the embarrassment wears off you look around and see all of the old faces and it dawns on you that you’re old too. That realization, juxtaposed with the music echoing your youth can be a real mindfuck down depression road.

The Beasties solution is the other side of the coin where you know you need to change, you do it and hope that your fans come along for the ride. It would have been real easy for the Beasite Boys to release License to Ill 2, LtI 3, LtI 4 and so on. The records would have sold a bunch, they’d have made a lot of cash and they’d be the heroes to bro-frat boys everywhere. But they realized that that wasn’t who they were and they changed it up for “Paul’s Boutique”, which was so far ahead of it’s time (it’s probably my favorite album ever) that it was a bomb.

No one knew what to do with a non-wiffle-ball-bat-raping Beastie Boys.

They released “Check Your Head” and their audience started to catch up. By the time they released “Ill Communication”, the Beasites were back on top and they were given carte blanche to do whatever the hell they wanted. 

Full disclosure: I love the Beastie Boys, they're one of my favorite acts. So I think that the way that their career trajectory went was probably the way I'd do it if I was in a band. But it was a struggle to go from hasbeens to geniuses and I bet they lost a lot of fans who thought that they “sold out” or “got weird”. Not a ton of bands can do this and the road to Cleveland is littered with acts who tried to switch it up and got left in the dust. If MCA hadn't died and the BBoys toured until they were 80, I'd probably line up to see them (though I'd have wondered if maybe they should change their names) so maybe it has more to do with the generation. On the whole, Baby Boomers are obnoxious and I've been waiting for them to exit the stage since I was a teenager, so there's a good possibility that I'm transferring my frustration with a whole generation on a five dudes from England. 

Because I get why these nostalgia shows are so popular. The last two concerts I saw were Living Colour (who played the entirety of their first album from front to back) and the Kings of Rap Tour (De La Soul, Ice Cube, Public Enemy and LL Cool J), so it’s not like I’m trolling for new music every weekend. It’s cool to take that DeLorean back to 1993 and relive your youth, I get it. I mean, I do it once or twice a year at most, but I wonder if it takes a toll on the artist?

And as terrible as this sounds, the only solution is death. Not your death, of course—that's crazy, but the death of your favorite rock star, which is terrible thing to wish for. But with the death of an important band member, that band stays crystalized in amber forever.

I’m not a person who puts too much stock in legacies—I think for the most part people who talk about that stuff are full of shit—but do you know how terrible the Doors would have been if Jim Morrison lived? He was would have spent the 1970s doing one embarrassing thing after another, recorded sloppy albums with messy poetry and it would have been bad. The 80s and 90s would have seen a revitalization in the Doors (like our 80s and 90s) and there would have been reunion concerts and Morrison being paraded around on talk shows like some relic from the dangerous past.

Jim Morrison, the one that we know, could have only existed in one time and that was the late 1960s. People had a higher tolerance for bullshit back then and the stuff he used to pull was considered whimsical and free-spirited.

“He doesn’t kow-tow to the Man, man.”

But you know who the Man is? It's us. If you paid money to see the Doors and Jimmy decided to tie one on or whip out his penis and the show was cancelled after two songs? That sucks, no matter how good of a story it is. You paid to hear music, not some drunk slurring through his songs*. I went to a Jane’s Addiction show where security was a joke and a crush of people bum rushed the stage in the opening minutes. The concert was postponed for an hour and when the band came back, they played for 40 minutes (all slow jams) before splitting. I felt ripped off.

* I know I wrote about this in a previous entry, but I bought a Jimi Hendrix/Jim Morrison "bootleg" that I thought was going to be magical. It was terrible. Hendrix was way too wasted to play the guitar and when he brings Morrison on stage to sing some song, Jim is too drunk to remember the words. I felt as if both of the ripped me off from beyond the grave. Stupid hippies. 

It’s almost better to go out early and leave a pretty corpse.

A few things:

Harvey Danger – When this song came out, I had a girlfriend and she said that every time she heard “Flagpole Sitta” she thought of me. I’m not sure why and I’m not sure if she still feels that way, but it was an interesting observation to make*. That got me thinking, I wonder if there are other songs that people associate with me? I know that there are a ton that I associate with people I know. I should probably make a list, I bet that would be interesting.

* My friend Ryan’s sister Keri said that every time that she hears Living Colour, she thinks of me. That’s probably because when I was at Ryan’s house, I’d make him play Vivid over and over and over again. It’s probably a PTSD thing. Sorry about that, Keri.

Veruca Salt – This song (Number One Blind) is on a very short list of my favorite songs of all-time. It wasn’t particularly popular, it doesn’t hold any special significance to an event that happened in my life, but for some reason I really love it. Okay, it’s the guitar solo at the end, so awesome. If I end up drinking too much and have my laptop in front of me, I will watch this video (only shown on MTV five times) on a loop.

REM – I put this song on here because it reminded me of a really tough time in my life and how I get past it. I was living in Winthrop with some friends and I couldn’t take my fund accounting job any more, so I quit (for the second time in four months). It felt awesome to leave and the last day was fucking great. However, after two months of no job, that awesome feeling was not so awesome anymore. I missed my work friends, I missed having money and I was getting worried that I’d never find a job.

I found one. For about a month I worked as a sales associate at J. Crew in Danvers, MA. There was nothing good about this gig: the commute sucked, the job was mind numbing, the money was horrible, no one there liked me and I used to let Gordon College coeds steal as much stuff as they wanted because I was so apathetic. But the muzak played “Pop Song 89” a few times during my shift (also George Harrison’s “What is Love?”) and it was the only good parts of my miserable day.

Things eventually got better, I ended up getting a job that I loved which lead to better jobs and experiences but when I hear both songs now, I think about those long, sad days and how tough it was.  It’s been a difficult few months for yours truly, but after listening to these two playlists and remembering where I was when I created them, I know that things are going to get better. There is some darkness in every life, but you have to keep plugging away and push and eventually that spring light is going to come cascading in.

I’m sure of it.

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