Monday, May 18, 2009

Music And People, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Soundtrack Of "Wicked"

My high school years were not spent dissecting frogs, or making out with Debbie Fongiulagazzo in the bleachers, or agonizing over calculus homework. They were spent fighting. Not fist-fighting, but loud and brutal arguments with a bunch of girlfriend-less guys over who was the better drummer, John Bonham or Neil Peart. "Your mother wears combat boots" was not a reason for a beatdown. "Ritchie Blackmore sucks," on the other hand, could get your ass-kicked by certain guys on Nostrand Avenue with one eyebrow and a less than stellar vocabulary.

Thinking back to a few years earlier, I could remember sitting in my friend's bedroom, barely 13, listening to "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John, and for a reason I really didn't understand then, Olivia Newton-John's "Let Me Be There" album. I loved Elton, but my friend loved Elton AND Olivia. I didn't want to punch him. I just wanted an answer to the question, "Why?" Back then, it made little sense to me musically. When I tried bringing records like Queen's "Sheer Heart Attack," "The Slider" by T-Rex, or "Mott" by Mott The Hoople into the mix, the most positive reaction I got from my neighborhood friends was, "Homo!" Tough crowd, we were.

More than 30 years later, I still find myself questioning why someone would like A but not B, or A, B and C, but not D. I stopped getting violent over it, but I still tend to overthink and overtalk it. Yes, there have been reviews on these pages and on the pages of The Huffington Post, where I was less than kind to an artist. (See my Shelby Lynne review HERE) Or Radiohead, for example. I have been over Radiohead for 10 years or so, now. Not because I think they stink. They most certainly do not. I just feel like they've abandoned a very accessible songwriting formula for a more experimental, and to my ears, difficult listening experience. (Difficult, not demanding.) 30 years ago, these comments would have found me on the opposite end of a spit-filled tirade from one of my dearest friends. Now, I just get the occasional nasty remark on my comments page.

Something else I've been thinking about happened a few months back, when it was announced that Bon Jovi was booked for the second weekend of the New Orleans Jazz Festival. The bile that was spewed in the official Jazz Fest Chat Room was nothing less than obnoxious. Responsible adults screaming "FOUL!" Really angry words about the injustice of the booking. I still don't get it. Just like I don't get why people often use "Living On A Prayer" as a punchline. A multi-million seller, with a perfect chorus and a great riff is nothing to shake a stick at, and certainly not something to get angry about. Don't like Bon Jovi? Don't go see him perform and don't buy his records. (You know you like "Livin' On A Prayer.")

Here are just a few of the comments pulled off the Jazz Fest forum regarding Bon Jovi:

"Laughable. Maybe a reunited Poison will be available next year. And people were thinking Bruce or Neil, LOL."

(I'm pretty sure Bon Jovi has sold more records in the last 20 years than Neil Young. Although Neil has probably released about a million records. But that's not my point.)

"Nothing says New Orleans Jazz and Heritage like Bon Jovi."
(And Spoon, Wilco, Drive By Truckers, Emmylou Harris, James Taylor, Joe Cocker, and Jimmy Buffett all scream Lower Ninth? Where are the snide comments about JT rocking the Crescent City with "Her Town, Too?")

"Who cares about this 80s has been/never was. They need to get better talent than this if they think that people will spend their hard earned $$$ during an economic depression."
(Has been? Anybody listen to the last 32 Joe Cocker albums? He's covering himself. And did anyone specifically NOT go the Fest because of Bon Jovi's late addition? Just dumb.)

"What an absolute disappointment this announcement is particularly after the rumors of Springsteen, Neil Young, Fleetwood, Clapton, etc..."

(Amazing to think Fleetwood Mac circa 2009 and no Christine McVie is somehow "cooler" than Bon Jovi. And has anyone heard the last 32 Eric Clapton albums?)

All of this brings me to Burning Wood and some loyal readers who have been offended by some recent posts about Queen, Bruce Springsteen and The White Stripes. I am apparently "abandoning my roots." Really? What are my roots? It's music, isn't it? It may not be your music, but it's someone's. Even a good ol' boy like Steve Earle has The Beatles, Johnny Cash AND Nirvana on his iPod. (I'm guessing) You can certainly hear the influence of all three in his music.

I still know too many people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s who wouldn't be caught dead listening to Abba, even though Benny & Bjorn have created some of the best pop music this century. And if they do like "Fernando," it is usually expressed in the form of an apology, something like, "I am really sorry, but I like "Fernando." Why are you apologizing? What is it that still keeps confident adults insecure about their music likes and dislikes?

One more thing, apropos of something, I am not a Deadhead. I find Bob Weir's singing voice to be no better than Mike Huckabee's. But with a lifetime of goading from some really persistent friends, I now respect the Dead more than ever, and listen to certain Dead records more often than not. I found an amazingly soulful voice in Jerry Garcia, not to mention a fantastic guitar player. All it took was some patience, and the respect for my friends' taste in music.

I can say the same for hundreds of artists that many wouldn't be caught dead listening to. Sure, these people will mock the artists without ever hearing a note, but that's the American way, isn't it? I have recently found some appreciation for things that seemed completely out of reach some years ago; the original cast recording of Wicked, for example. Some really beautiful stuff there. And I am NOT sorry.

Man cannot live on bread, or Steve Earle alone.

In closing:

Ritchie Blackmore does not stink.
John Bonham is better than Neil Peart.
I still don't really care for Olivia Newton-John, but I really love "You're The One That I Want."
Bon Jovi is ok by me.
I love Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, and Queen.

The White Stripes...not so much.


buttshark said...

Bonham may have been better than Peart....but Peart is still alive. Got to give it to him on that couont.

soundsource said...

very interesting and excellent post and I would have to say from my point of view absolutely dead on. Growing up in the era of 45's (you know the ones with the big hole) I have always contended that even the worst band had the potential for a glorious 2minutes and 45seconds (or in the case of Prog rock 27minutes or so). On the other hand as any serious nutcase music fan (am I the only one here, not..)there is nothing I like better than arguing the fine points of the relevance of The Who in 2009 vs The Who in 1972, etc. So this leaves me with one troubling lingering question Mr Wood, do I have to give Celine Dion another listen ?

the sandwich life said...

Wonderful post....I am SO with you!

itsok2beright said...

Excellent piece, but I probably would have enjoyed watching the spitting match...I didn't realize Clapton and Cocker both put out 32 bad records in a row...My guess is that you probably liked 'You're The One That I Want', because it reminds you of Olivia in those leather pants...I agree with those who don't want JBJ in N'Olins. He is a cowboy from Jersey, 'nuf said.

This post should start an 'Outing' and not saying I'm sorry. I officially out myself and admit to liking some Avril Lavigne and ABBA tunes!

FD13NYC said...

What's all the hub ub, bubs? Just play what you like without any fear of criticism from anyone. Many good drummers out there besides Bonham and Peart. One of my favorite ONJ songs is A Little More Love. I like 4-5 ABBA songs. A lot of artists put out crap that you don't listen to, it's your decision. You're going to like music that other people don't. You can go around and around in circles with this one.

I'm a musicologist from waaaay back and never had any trepidation expressing what songs or artists I enjoyed, to anyone. Rock On!!

Nice picture Sal!

Sal Nunziato said...

It's not "hub bub," FDNYC13, it's called writing.

Noam Sane said...

Shelby Lynne's reading of such classics as "Anyone Who Had A Heart," "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me," and the title track, "Just A Little Lovin'" have no soul. Zero.Geez. Thanks for that. I thought I was the only one who saw that for what it was: empty and soulless.

Really interesting post. But part of the fun of rock and roll is slagging the stuff you don't like.

I don't usually buy t-shirts online, but I was really tempted by the one I saw a few weeks back...a venn diagram of two intersecting circles. The left circle said "Music I Like". The right one said "Music you like". And where they intersected was labelled "Music I used to like".

Keep it up, Sal.

Sal Nunziato said...

"But part of the fun of rock and roll is slagging the stuff you don't like."

I guess that's one way of looking at it Noam. Thanks for reading. I LOVE that t-shirt.

Sal Nunziato said...

"But part of the fun of rock and roll is slagging the stuff you don't like."

I guess that's one way of looking at it Noam. Thanks for reading. I LOVE that t-shirt.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sal:

Every once in a while I need someone to make me lighten up and get the heck off of my high horse.

There was a time when I was ashamed to admit I loved the Dave Clark 5 and the 4 Seasons.



geno said...


I'm sure the debate of who is better in music may have started right after Edison spoke "Mary Had a Little Lamb" onto a wax cylinder. There have always been camps...remember when you were a Beatles or a Stones fan? Or maybe you don't?

Every July, here in Stockholm, they have an outdoor concert series downtown called the Stockholm Jazz Festival. It's been going on for 26 years and has had some ups and downs financially. To offset the money crunch, they started to bring in pop acts to put some fannies in the chairs. Of course, that started the debate of how can you call it a jazz festival when you bring in "those" kind of acts? Sure enough, at her press conference, the very first question that was asked to Patti Smith was, "Why are you playing a jazz festival?" Much too polite to answer that she was asked to, Patti talked about how her band likes to improvise and isn't that the essence of jazz? So the "hub ub" down in the Crescent City goes on wherever music is played.

Speaking of Sweden, your mention of ABBA struck a chord. I always had treated ABBA as a disco band, unaware of their huge fan base in Europe and Australia. Finally, after hanging out in an Irish ex-pat pub, the constant playing of the songs on the juke box and the Friday Night dances, they were finally beginning to be appreciated by your reader. After seeing "Mama Mia" on the stage here in Stockholm, I stocked up on ABBA singles on the iPod and discovered something else. Much is written about Fleetwood Mac writing during their marital breakups and liaisons. "The Winner Takes It All", "Slipping Through My Fingers", "One of Us", and "The Visitors", (that Creem said, "Abba feel. Abba are socially concerned. In fact, Abba take things so seriously and react to life and love with such overwhelming intensity that Ingmar Bergman would do well to sign them on for a soundtrack'") are some of the most adult takes on love gone wrong.

"Touch of Gray", "New Speedway Boogie", "Black Peter", and "Ripple" are songs by the Dead that I always stop to listen to.

I was always a Keith Moon - Charlie Watts- Richard Starkey kind of guy.

Sal Nunziato said...


Thank you. And while I'm at it, thanks to all the readers who make time to comment.

When I started Burning Wood, I wasn't expecting to change the world. But the loyal readers I do have, really make it all worth while. Thank you for your time. Great GREAT stuff.

steve simels said...

My hate for Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer is very simple.

The modulation at the end.

Which is to say the tape splice.

It's too blatant. I realize, as they say in Eddie and the Cruisers, that Bon Jovi aren't great, they're just some guys from Jersey.

Even so, they could have faked the key change a little better....


Music means diff things to diff people. When they were exposed to it, where they heard it and who they were with. There are numerous reasons we love and hate other acts. In my opinion, if you have taken the time to learn an instrument some respect should be given (unless you are Creed). Your piece was a truthful piece. We all love some music others deem embarassing...alas, if it makes you feel good, then what is embarassing about it? If you like it, that is all that should matter.

Anonymous said...

Hey , great shot of you and your cd collection , you must have thousands of cd's to listen to , i envy you!

Anonymous said...

I think your larger argument about the pressure that even adults feel regarding what they should like and not like is really what's most interesting. John Tierney has a piece in the times right now about the subttext of what we buy/listen to/Drive/Eat Drink. Slap music on there, too.

Example: Rod Stewart's public persona could put a whole market or group of people with a certain style, or whatever you want to call it, off him forever. Yet, out of that demographic (see how many ways we can refer to a subgroup?) How many of those put off by Stewart can deny the brilliance of his work with the Small Faces?

When the show was still called "Siskel & Ebert" they used to talk of guilty pleasures - films which didn't "live up" to their standards of cinema, but films they liked anyway. I think there's a lot of self-hating at work here. Plus I think there's a lot of music out there that just plain blows...