Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Note Before The Actual Post-

I went out on a kind of blind-date kind of thing tonight. It wasn’t the Vegetarian Yada-Yada Episode, certainly, because I don’t see myself getting too much comic mileage out of tonight, but still: I was invited out to a local restaurant by one of the guys I drink with for karaoke. His wife works with a single girl, who my friend said was shy… This girl was beyond shy. It’s like looking at a prism and saying, “And, if we could only see it, that would be ultraviolet.” The girl was noncommittal towards everything. Favorite musical genre, favorite band, favorite movie, food, you name it. She’d just smile and say, “I don’t know.” Pissed me off, because I felt like I was talking to a brick wall.

I know I don’t talk about myself too often, but here’s what I’m looking for: I’m looking for a girl who has guns and is willing to stick to them when pressed on any particular subject. I’m looking for a girl who will say, “Fuck you, Umgawa, you’re just fucking wrong.” In closing, I wish the best for this girl, that she will find a man just like herself so that they may both starve to death when one asks the other, “So, what’s for dinner?”

Second Note:

I got Buffy Season 5 yesterday with money I made babysitting the rugrats (my niece and nephew). I immediately watched “Into the Woods” (one of my favorite episodes) and “The Body.” Basically, out of about ninety minutes’ worth of TV-show, I probably sobbed for more than half of that. I’m just saying that because sometimes I talk about movies that suck because they don’t get to me either intellectually or emotionally, and here’s a TV show that manages to do both at least a few times a season (except the first season, which didn’t do anything for me).

Sick and Tired of Hearing Things From Uptight Short-Sighted Narrow-Minded Hypocrites:

Over the past, say, fifteen years, lots of things have become extinct. All you have to do is go to a wildlife or rainforest-preservation website and they’ll give you some statistic that says, “On average, one-hundred thirty-two species go extinct every day.” Most of the time, it’s something most of us regular folks has never even heard of; after all, most of us won’t even take notice until the domestic housecat goes the way of the dodo.

But the guitar solo is certainly on the endangered list, at least as far as contemporary music goes. Hell, given the Billboard charts these days, maybe the guitar itself is on its way out. Chalk up one more musical instrument to be devoured and spat out by the suits at the music conglomerates, who realize –in their infinite wisdom- that it’s easier to produce, market and maintain a pretty face and pair it with a producer who knows what he’s doing.

But we all know these faces, most of the time, aren’t artists, because there’s a line to be drawn between ‘performer’ and ‘artist.’ It’s a rarity to be both attractive enough to get a demographic’s attention musically talented enough to put together either a catchy song or one that captures some piece of an individual’s heart, mind or soul.

For example, let’s take my Holy Trinity of American Rock and Roll: Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Tom Petty. They’re about as great as any artists out there, but you’ll never see them on MTV, VH1 or pretty much anywhere else because they’re average-looking guys who are about twenty or thirty years older than the mass-marketable audience.

Now, as an example: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Pink: All are pretty damn good looking (when not dressed like total whores), but they don’t hold a candle to the kind of songwriting capability of the aforementioned artists. Furthermore, while they may be good (or mediocre, in Britney’s case) singers, Celine Dion is a good singer, but she’s no artist; she’s a tool. Good carpenters are given credit for building a good house, not the contents of their toolbox. As a sidenote: Given this example, Pink makes music that is qualitatively better than Britney or Christina, elevating her to the level of quasi-artist, largely thanks to the fact that much of her better work is co-written by the singer of 4 Non-Blondes, who happens to be an artist and anything but a face.

It’s a rarity to be both. As far as hugely popular music goes, the Beatles… Okay, actually Lennon and McCartney were good-looking and good songwriters. If you don’t believe me, just ask any woman who was a teenager in 1963-65. After they picked up with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, sure, they didn’t look as good, but they sure got better as artists. I suppose the drugs helped, too, in both their artistry and their looks; or maybe they just got older, which happens to help those sorts of things along, too.

Back to talking about suits: It’s easy to manufacture individuals. Target a demographic and just drop a musical atomic bomb on them. For example, Britney Spears’ first video was driven like a freight train at anyone who gets turned on by Catholic schoolgirls; a demographic which encompasses all heterosexual men over the age of ten. We hadn’t seen a video like that since the (infinitely superior) Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love” video, which was directed by David Fincher. This audience may not buy into her music, but give the girl a couple of years and larger breasts and they’ll buy cases of Pepsi because she said so.

I’d like to think –and I might be wrong, here- that my readers go for artists over faces and listen to music that never gets played on TRL (back in my day, it was called Dial MTV), which is the only chance you get to see videos anymore. I’d like to think that at least one of you has heard the song, “Gimme Some Truth” by John Lennon, which is my song of the week, because as I write this, I’m listening to the three-disc Pearl Jam Live at State College, PA (May 3, 2003) album, which I got for all of fifteen bucks. Yes, Pearl Jam, which many of you probably gave up circa 1992, when they made their last video (“Jeremy,” which was probably my least favorite song off that album). Outside this particular CD, all I’ve listened to today are Five Year Jacket, Ben Folds and Bruce Springsteen: Artists one and all.

Really, it’s a miracle that Pearl Jam’s stayed together this long. I talked about the ease of managing individuals, so here’s a group that’s stayed together and has regularly been recording and touring for over a decade. By this point in a band’s life, internal politics, arguments over direction and arguments over money generally get the best of a band, let alone the outside influences of record-company suits saying, “Your album just isn’t commercial enough.” Apparently, Pearl Jam has managed to weather all of these forces, although they manage to burn through drummers like Spinal Tap. I’d like to say I knew something about the band’s arguments, but the best data I’ve gotten comes from reading interviews with Stone Gossard, who answers questions with the sort of “dance around it” capability of professional politicians.

The whole drummer thing aside, none of the members of Pearl Jam are dead (as in the case of Nirvana), or were victims of high-profile drug convictions (Stone Temple Pilots) and none of them ever caused their keyboard player to overdose on heroin (Smashing Pumpkins). Oh, and none of them married Yoko. Beyond that, my only theory is that Pearl Jam is more than the sum of its parts, and the individuals in the band realize that fact. Pearl Jam without Eddie Vedder is like Creedence Clearwater Revival without John Fogerty, and Vedder without Pearl Jam would be like Robert Plant without Led Zeppelin. It’s entirely possible that they stay together because they need each other, both commercially and musically.

I just asked myself, why the hell am I listening to Pearl Jam? I mean, seeing how I haven’t listened to one of their CD’s since I bought Vitalogy. First, I like the live stuff a lot better. I’m a sucker for concert CD’s, because it’s generally a better look at how a band actually is when not encumbered by a producer, engineer, mixer, and about a dozen suits who get ‘input,’ when it should really just be five guys and a tape-deck. This is the same reason why I used to pick up Grateful Dead bootlegs: Hated the music, loved the concerts. Live music has imperfections, and that makes it real (at least when it’s not horrifically fucked-with, as Rush did with their live album).

The other reason brings this post full-circle: Guitar solos. Mike McCready’s guitar solo’s on “Ten” are largely representative of the blues-oriented solos that I’ve always loved; indicative and derivative of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton… lacking the sheer genius of it all, but clearly in the moment of the music. Between McCready and Stone Gossard, you get a lot of the great melodic guitar playing that’s been absent in rock and roll since the dissolution of Guns ‘N’ Roses.

Which is what I’m going to close with: If we ever do see the release of “A Democratic China,” which is the playful name the next G’N’R album goes by, it won’t have Slash, who’s the reason I bought the guitar I did (a black Les Paul). For my money, he’s one of the great guitar-players, and I still listen to the “Use Your Illusion” discs just to hear him play. Sure, a lot of people might say that “Appetite for Destruction” is a better album –and they’re entitled to their opinions- but I don’t think that it can be argued that Steven Adler is a better drummer than Matt Sorum. For straight-up rock that borders on AC/DC cock-rock, “Appetite” is a better album. The “Use Your Illusion” discs showed them evolving as artists, and it’s too bad Axl had breakthroughs in therapy, the band split into factions and they ultimately broke up.

I’m not saying that they could’ve been the Beatles, but it’s just a crime that “The Spaghetti Incident?” was their swan song, and that (“Use Your Illusion”) G’N’R lineup ends up being just another case where the band was more than the sum of its parts, but that just didn’t matter. Why do I still listen to them? Because they’re artists, not faces.

AIM: therbmcc71
ICQ, MSN, Yahoo: Yeah, right, like I use those.

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