Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"I Gave Up On Lou Reed After The First Pre-Velvets Acetate" And Other Lies Told By The Jaded

As I listened to The Who's "Quadrophenia," savoring every massive bass lick by John "The Ox" Entwistle, I got to thinking about a few friends who have on several occasions helped precipitate a twitch by offering up comments like, "I won't listen to anything after The Who Sell Out," or, "I gave up after Zeppelin 2," or, "Bowie lost me after Hunky Dory." At first, I thought it was generational, as most of the comments came from people 10-15 years older than I was. This unpleasant parade of "been there/done thats" made little sense to me, and mostly just fired me up. 

While I was happy for those friends who got to see the Stones in 1969, or any number of shows at the Fillmore, it didn't quite add up to me, that these music lovers who I respected, could toss off Zeppelin's "Physical Graffiti" or the Stones' "Black & Blue," just because...well... it mattered more THEN. What was it they weren't hearing, or dubiously choosing not to hear in such spectacular records as "Led Zeppelin 3," or "The Who By Numbers?" Was I hearing a different record because my first show at the Academy Of Music in New York was after they changed the name of the place to The Palladium? Why would you love the early records of a band, only to then not have any interest in the later records? It's probably not about "liking" versus "not liking" at all, but something deeper.

As another friend pointed out, there are just as many who are 15 years younger, who possess that same thinking, opting for only the first three "good" R.E.M. albums, dismissing work such as "Out Of Time" and "Automatic For The People," as if they were tossing away mealy tomatoes.

I have a buddy in a slightly famous band, a few years older than me, who I can always count on to point out how everything sucks except for the few things he loved when he was 13. The first two Cheap Trick albums, the first two Zeppelin albums, and little beyond. Whatever you bring to the table is a joke to him because it cannot compare to the first two Aerosmith albums, or the time before bands ever learned to play, write, and produce. (You know, like those crazed Replacements fans who loved how they'd show up drunk for their gigs, play out of tune, and barely get through any songs. Rock and roll?)

Another guy is an amazing music loving guitar player who's about 23 and LOVES the post-makeup era of Kiss. He doesn't care that it's the part of their career where the rest of us had walked away. It's where he came in, so it's the era that feels like his own pure joy of discovery, before he got old and cynical, or knew that hack songwriters were crafting calculated hits for a floundering band. Shorn of context, he sees "Lick It Up" as classic Kiss, for the joy of his discovery it evokes. I see Gene Simmons acting in "Runaway." (I'd like to add, I don't understand the people who love The Ramones but show disdain for Kiss. They both play excellent, boneheaded rock and roll. Lighten up.)

No one would see the sense in only wanting writers who hadn't learned to write, or architects whose buildings were based only on their earliest ideas. I think musicians may be exciting in their first years, and as the cliche goes, they have had their whole life to write their first album's songs. Elvis Costello is exciting on his first albums, but I'd argue that you miss out if you never even listen to the mature writing of his later work. I don't trust people who claim they love music but refuse to embrace his work with Burt Bacharach or the Brodsky Quartet, simply because neither rocks like "Pump It Up."

The Beatles and the Stones are always exceptions to everything, but I think one would be poorer if they never were open to the later work like "Abbey Road," "Plastic Ono Band," "Some Girls," etc., where those bands had lived lives complicated enough to reflect on with maturity. (though the Stones can have Bridges To Babylon back if they'll take it.)

I think it's often false and empty to ascribe your own guesses on the motivation for people disagreeing with you about works of art. Sadly, I find myself doing that very thing, more often than I'd care to admit.  But if I had to try to guess, I always felt like it's that person's own innocence and unjaded reaction to those early formative musical impacts that they fetishize, and they cannot allow themselves to like or even be open to the possibility of liking anything new, or anything that doesn't fit into that pre-conceived narrative they see themselves in.

I know I'm supposed to feel obligated to like Bon Iver, but I don't. I do feel obligated to go back and try again after each new 5 star review. To decide that nothing the Stones have to say after "Exile" or The Who after "Sell Out" is worth listening to in a world where the alternative is being force-fed Bon Iver, or listening to Zeppelin I and II for the rest of your life because nothing else is as pure, is losing a golden opportunity. To me, "Some Girls" is a demonstrably better album than either Bon Iver CD, but because it came out after we collectively decided the Stones had grown tired, we'd rather close our ears to its possibilities and circle our wagons around the music of our youth, secure in the feeling of innocence and sense memory it provides.
It's hard to not react strongly when hit with such cynicism towards anything we love, but what confounds me more, is the irrationality of it all; the way one friend could show such disgust for the first Fountains Of Wayne album, but embrace their follow-up as if it was indeed, "The Who Sell Out." They don't owe me an explanation, but boy, somedays, I'd sure like one. I've always felt that disliking something because it's popular is actually slightly worse than liking something because it IS popular. It's more trendy, and seems even more based in fear, and therefore fake. This could explain Bon Iver's popularity. It may owe more to wanting to belong, than to actually enjoying the music. (I'm talking to you too, Fleet Foxes.)

In the 1980 Louis Malle film Atlantic City,  Burt Lancaster's character says to a young man who'd just seen the ocean for the first time, "It used to be really something. You shoulda seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days." That's a great actor in a great movie by a great writer-director, late in their careers, evoking that feeling, somewhere beyond nostalgia, in which we all feel the nagging feeling that something has slipped away from the world, something we seemed to see so clearly in our youth, and I think that something was our own ability to each unabashedly feel moved by these pieces of art that made us who we are. They made us feel deeply then, and they allow us to access those deep feelings today, by calling them back up within us in a song, a movie, or a band before they learned to disappoint us.  But I could be wrong, I first saw "Atlantic City" when it came out. You shoulda seen "Atlantic City" in those days. 

(Special thanks to Harry Greenberger for his invaluable contribution to this piece. And to Mark Levine for always firing me up.)


kevin m said...

Hey Sal - Interesting piece. I'm 48 and got into Lou Reed around the time the Blue Mask came out. 30 years later there are about two songs on my iPod from that album but I do have most of the Velvets and early 70s Lou. Let's face it; Lou hasn't done anyting interesting in over 30 years besides being a crank.

As for the Stones, I agree. I think each album since Tattoo You with the exception of Dirty Work has moments of brilliance (particularly Bridges) alongside songs that wouldn't serve as demos on Sticky Fingers.

the sandwich life said...

good post's easy to fall into this kind of thing. Sometimes I think it's just a matter of the excitement of first love----no matter how wonderful later music is---it's hard to again capture the excitement of discovery and that always brings something special...

Uber Steve said...

I've always been perplexed by how we have these arbitrary cutoffs for artists, and everything they write after that is "new stuff"- time for a bathroom break if they pull it out at a show.

Anonymous said...

I'm 52. For me, one of the great things about getting older has been moving beyond the black-and-white way I listened to music when I was younger. I used to hate Earth Wind & Fire and Fleetwood Mac and Wings because they were "mainstream" or "commercial" or uncool or whatever. Now I love all that stuff and hear the value in it. Hating stuff on principle, being snobby about music--being immature but PASSIONATE--is maybe necessary to becoming a true music fan, the way going through all the dopiness of adolescence is necessary for becoming an adult; and I wouldn't trade my discovery of Elvis and the Clash and the Talking Heads for anything, the way I thought that was the only music that MATTERED when I was 19; but man, I'm glad my ears have opened up. I'm glad I'm older and wiser and my taste is almost too eclectic. If only my skin weren't getting crepey. (Stay out of the sun, kids.)

Great post, Sal.

Bruce H.

jeff k said...

i don't know, i much prefer early nunziato posts to the more recent ones.

allen vella said...

excellent post Sal..I think about this kinda stuff way too much.. I am totally guilty of chauvinistic thinking about the music I grew up with (early 60's and onward). Of course, it was some of the greatest rock music created ;-), but I've always tried to keep an open mind to new music.I think for someone of my generation( I was at the Fillmore as a teeneger) it's a combination of nostalgia, witnessing great performances,and ageing. Elvis is a good example, we are the same age..and I've followed his career more closely than anyones ( and Bruce)...I've always loved his constant exploration and even when I didn't love the results (rarely), I do appreciate the work. I think a lot of it though, is where you discovered music, the first least in my expiriance, I'm one of those guys who grew up on am radio, the Beatles forever changed my life, and punk/new wave was the second coming of great music... My taste changes thru the years, I'm much more a fan of 50's 60's RnB than I was 30 years ago, New Orleans music became an obsession in the late 80's (and continues), vintage Jazz and Country continue to facinate me, and I'm still learning...really, although there are some bright spots (more than some), the last 20 years can't hold a candle to what went down before, if you look at it as an era...but that is from where I sit, and I admit my bias. But I keep the ears opened, and continue to find music one of the most important facets in my life...which is the true joy of reading your stuff, and a bunch of others on the 'tubes..keep searchin'

allen vella said...

....and what Bruce H said too!

FD13NYC said...

Hey Sal, superb writing and insight as always.

I believe that one should listen to their fsvorite artists' offerings through the years and decide for themselves. Yes there are peaks, and there are the low points. That's going to happen, especially if a band sticks around for a long time.

So much music out there, and as for the youngsters, they should go back and discover the earlier music from a band they just got into, they may be pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, you like what you like as the saying goes. Take it from someone who's been listening and collecting for a long, long time. Keep what you like and dispose of what you don't, simple.

soundsource said...

for me the issue is not necessarily the recorded works so much as the live performance when members have quit or gone missing, age and hair color or lack thereof have taken it's toll and what separates a glorified oldies act from something vital and exciting. It's not all black and white more like shades of grey (pun intended).

another thing is where the bar is set. When your early albums are classics it's hard when later albums have a couple of decent cuts or are just a rehash. I've always been a believer in the nobel experiment as opposed to color of the month or retreaditise.That's why although Neil Young has more gorgeous failures then brilliant succes he still gets my respect. As opposed to Van who I truly love but who has so many albums that are just retreads.

I do agree with what Anonymous said that as I get older my taste are less influenced by perceived cool and musical snobbery and more by what is good and grooves.

Eric said...

came across this...never bought an album nor ever, ever had a desire to see them perform...but this a bonafide 9 hit list that each disgustingly smooth lick/chorus seeps out of my mouth...that royalty money must be sweet..
Foreigner Setlist:
Double Vision
Head Games
Cold as Ice
Waiting for a Girl Like You
Feels Like the First Time
I Want to Know What Love Is
Hot Blooded
Juke Box Hero

Eric said...

@Kevin M-- u are missing the boat big time on LOU REED if u never checked out NEW YORK...and at your age, where were u when rock n' roll animal came out???

as far the "placemats"--- i was fortunate to see bob stinson perform in a diaper at fillmore west in 86'... the thing about the drunken mats' was that you had to see a few shows on any tour because ultimately they would nail IT BIGTIME...

Sal Nunziato said...

Let me make it clear, I am a Replacements fan. I'm just not a fan of fucking shit up.


Hey ... this is fun!

There is a strange "too cool for school" pathology in dissing things once others get on board.

* I had an old friend who claimed that Rolling Stone magazine was never the same after they added staples.

* I recall outrage when Dave Marsh in Rock'n Roll Confidential dared to write an essay in support of Madona as an artist. (and you note I'm too cool for school in calling RRC by the original Rock'n Roll Not the updated Rock'n Rap Confidential).

* And what came to mind this morning -- and just finished playing -- is John Hiatt's Pink Bedroom where that little girl

She got the lip gloss
She got the short-shorts
She got her records and
They're all imports
She got her good looks
She got her yearbook
She got it all
She got it all
She got it all
In her pink bedroom

"Got her records ... and they're all imports." How cool is that? Today she'd be riding a fixie and dissing old farts like us!

Thanks Sal.

Anonymous said...

Sal, this was your best work since Scary Monsters!

Seriously, a lovely, honest, & humble piece-- keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I recently turned 49 and growing up in the late 70's pretty much formed my musical opinions. I agree with the comment that the last 20 or so years doesn't match up to the old stuff. Maybe it's just the age showing.

There is no way I can listen to Pump after Rocks. Two different bands. The Stones weren't eh same after Exile although Some Girls is a classic. They did however crank out some incredible music in that time, the lp's just contained too much filler. Those classics were all killer and no filler.

Bruce is a good example of great work in the later years. The 90's were only OK for me (Lucky Town was pretty darn good) but The Rising and Magic are really good in my opinion. He gets a pass for Working On A Dream.

Whenever I find something new I go backwards and forwards. I can't help's what music junkies do. I explore now more than when I was a kid because I have more musical maturity to try different genres and the resources to do it.

Shutting out music because it is "less cool" is sad. Play it and enjoy and to hell what others think.

itsok2beright said...

Not sure if this is about the 'why' we do this, or whether or not we do it. As from the responses, i think we ALL have done it.

The "new and different" always plays a role as to why we grab onto a band early in their career, such as Queen I and II. But, I noticed that with all of the bands that I have done this with, is that once they release an album that was pretty much 'phoned in', I give up. Night in The Ruts, by Aerosmith comes to mind. Nothing they did after that is worth listening to. Hot Space, by Queen is another one. I know they evolved and had some reasonably worthwhile songs, I just can't absorb the albums as before that.

@jeffk: I completely agree. Sal's old posts are so much better than his new ones.

Carl said...

Great article but while reading it I noticed your cbox dialog about Yes and thought to myself that I bailed on Yes after Relayer, which I hated, but I then jumped back on board during the Trevor Rabin years and haven't been back since. Maybe we do that because the novelty wears off. In the case of Elvis, I welcomed the Bacharach and Brodsky Quartet stuff because it was new, while I've been cool to his more recent stuff because it just didn't excite me.

Paul in Brentwood said...

Once met a guy that said nothing Pink Floyd did was worth listening to after "Piper at the Gates of Dawn". Sure.

Anything Should Happen said...

Great post Sal and a lot of it is true.

I do leave some things as others get well into them, I often asked myself if I'm a music snob.

I've come to the opinion that nothing reaches the satisfaction of discovering and the intensity that you feel for them.

There are quite a few exceptions, but once a band generally hits paydirt, there seems generally to be one or two great albums left in them and then the muse or quality goes.

It may be the money and the fall outs regarding it, the drugs, the no need to produce an album that kills or the fact that it's mediocre and they think it's ace.

I also tend to stick with bands throught thick and thin and suffer the dross just believing that the next album will be the one.

I spent close on two decades waiting for Cheap Trick to release something that was listenable to after a week again and they finally did.

The REM example is a good one, but taking it one step further is anything from the past 15 years anywhere near what went before.

At 48, I listen to far more music than I've ever done but still return to tried and trusted at some point in the day.

I'm introduced and listen to a lot of new bands, not too many knock me out.

It's perhaps not because they are poor, but maybe that over 50 years on there's not much around that hasn't been done before and you compare them unfairly to the best in their particular genre.

Sal Nunziato said...

I'm glad this is connecting with so many, but I do want to point out one thing.

I wasn't saying, or at least I don't think I was saying, that we all should stick with every artist from head to tail. As Soundsource pointed out, when someone releases as many records as Van Morrison over so many years, it's easy to give up when the sound remains the same. I feel that way about Graham Parker.

I was specifically talking about, or I think I was specifically talking about, those who gave up early. It's not as if Led Zeppelin was around for so long, or had put out 60 records. People in the age group I suggested, barely KNOW "Houses Of the Holy" or "Physcial Graffiti."

If a series of records by one particular artist is just bad...say...3 or 4 in a row, it's hard to defend. You move on. Changing personnel or direction? Sure. I can see having no interest.

But that "irrationality" of "I won't listen to The Who after Sell Out", or another of my faves, though this is the opposite of what I'm saying, the sentiment is the same, "I don't really like early Beatles."

It reeks of something other than genuine dislike.

Anonymous said...

I struggle everyday to keep my ears open to fresh sounds. It's not always easy.

I forced myself to open up to modern pop music this past year by allowing my students to play the New York City pop stations in my art classroom this year. While I only genuinely liked maybe a half-dozen of the songs, I did find a begrudgingly respect for modern pop. It works within it own terms and much of it reminds me of early sixties Top Forty in it's own twisted way. I stopped caring it didn't sound like the Stones or the Airplane.

As to our music, I frequently go back to albums I rejected at the time of their release and usually enjoy, sometimes love these albums when listened to them later. I'm able to drop my preconceptions of what I expected/needed from the album at the time of release and could hear it with fresh ears. So reevaluation has alway be a part of my musical listening experience.

Thanks for a thought provoking essay. You rock, even at this late date in your career!


William Repsher said...

Past few years, I've veered away from pop rock and recognized there's far more music out there than I can handle, but I'm willing to try. Celtic. Blues. Old Country. African. Brazilian. Various Classical. Jazz. I don't mean delving into an album or two -- I mean going on months-long journeys where I came away with thousands of tracks and not enough time to fully absorb where I've just been.

Just got bored with pop rock and the cultural head games that go with it. Sure, still listen, but no longer tied down to that genre. Newer indie rock goes right by my for the most part -- I try, but more often than not it just sounds like pale/lesser imitations of 80s indie rock. Feel no need to maintain my hip credentials, especially when it means championing mediocre music.

Also find myself going back and uncovering artists I never really knew that much about -- your recent post on Frankie Miller is a good example. Thought I knew him, but really didn't know that wealth of album tracks he had. Happens a lot less as time goes on, but better late than never.

There's too much great shit out there for me to love than to worry about, or spend one second listening to, music I don't like. Life's too short!

A guy called Tak said...

Sal, another great piece. I'm 58 and did not like Lou's solo stuff after "Berlin" and then when "New York" came out, I flipped out.
"Atlantic City" reference was brilliant. Yes, I saw that film when it was released. A classic by a master.

Mark said...

Great post, Sal, especially the Atlantic City quotation -- man, Susan Sarandon sure was something in those days! Most great bands become more hit and miss as they age, but, as you say, why give up the times they hit just because they aren't as consistent. Neither am I.

erik said...

I'm a little bit younger than most of y'all, so, for me the Stones cut-off point was Tattoo You, 'cos I was 15 when it came out. (Shut up! It's got some great ballads!) I grew up reading stuff like the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of R&R, and I think I got a little bit of this from there- that you could magisterially look at a career and say, *there*, that's where they lost it, and now who cares anymore.

'course, it kind of does come in handy as one ages. having things you're comfortable ignoring. (and man, I will never have any time for a lot of the Klassic Rock stuff that you love, and that's perfectly OK!)

Because yeah, the Carter Family, and Allan Toussaint, and even Buddy Holly, and Betty Davis are all still out there to listen to- stuff I never heard as a kid. What are the chances that I'm going to get as big of a kick out of the last 15 years of Springsteen albums as I'll get out of them?

Even still, I'll sometimes listen to something and think "eh, this is *lesser* Neil Young, am I wasting my time?" 'cos even lesser Neil is still probably decent, but what about the $thingI'veneverheardbefore that I'm missing because of it?

No great point to make, but hey, a thought-provoking post as usual sir!

steve simels said...

As Paul LeMat said in AMERICAN GRAFFITI --

"Rock 'n' roll's been all downhill since Buddy Holly died."

Shriner said...

Popdose has a tangentially-on-target discussion about "bands you no longer like" today:

soundsource said...

oh yeah by the way I believe this may be the last comment that may sum up something or other about this thread.
drum roll mr. wood


Sammy said...

This is the kind of post that inspires comment. I find that I can enjoy a particular artist or group at a specific time in his/their career and not at another point. Maybe the music no longer speaks to me; maybe it's a new message i can't relate to or it's a once infectious beat I no longer dance to... maybe a key bandmember is gone from the group...perhaps the artist sounds as he always has but my own tastes have changed. It just doesn't seem so odd that our feelings about some particular music can change, too. There are musicians with only so much to say and maybe whatever that is, has already been said as well as it ever will be. Do we need to hang in, remain a part of the faithful, even when the music just doesn't do it for us anymore? I believe the Stones' music just wasn't as good after Exile; I don't need to hear anything from the Who after Sell Out. I'm sure Elvis Costello still writes some really good stuff, but I'm ok just listening to everything up through Imperial Bedroom. That's just the way it is (for me) and it has nothing to do with musical snobbery. Incidentally, is there anyone who wouldn't agree that III was Led Zep's best?

draftervoi said...

55 here. LOVED the "New York" album. There's not only the snobbery of "everything new sucks" but also of the "everything started with rock and roll in 1955." I keep finding incredible records from before 1955 (ever heard "I Want To Be Evil" by Eartha Kitt?!) and after my "era" (I'm 55).

On the other hand...there's also "satiation." I own every Stones album except "Got Live" and all but five of Neil Young's albums, and have dozens of I'm not as excited about a new release as I used to be.