Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"The About Face" : A Mid-Week Reflection (Or Something)

I had a friend who teased me occasionally. It mostly had to do with my complete u-turns regarding records and artists. I could be an ardent non-supporter of Clammy & The Half-Shells for most of 1983, then one afternoon, after reading an article or having a discussion with a Clammy fan, I would suddenly hear the music in a different way and become a devotee. My friend would attempt a lame impersonation of me, saying things like, "You know, I was mowing my lawn, and putting a new door on the tool shed while listening to Vikki Carr's Tribute To Connie Stevens, and you really is good!" It was a point.

Recently, thanks to reader Robin, I went from dismissing the new Paul McCartney record as nothing more than a rest stop, to placing it in heavy rotation, completely absorbed by his phrasing and the beauty of his falsetto. "Kisses On The Bottom" has become quite the record for me. It may not have, if Robin wasn't so passionate about it.

Yesterday I tossed off "Shackled & Drawn," the third track off of Bruce's upcoming release, calling it samey, or something like that. I didn't say I disliked it. I just found it less compelling than the rest of the record, and I blamed it on sequencing. Some friends who I respect, called "Shackled & Drawn" their favorite track on "Wrecking Ball." I decided to go back in and just listen to it, away from the rest of the album. It's a killer, alright!

My enthusiasm, whether for or against something, seems to either amuse people, which doesn't really amuse me, or piss people off. One afternoon, while minding the counter at my now defunct CD retail shop, a regular customer came in and asked me what I thought of the Costello/Bacharach CD. The memory is vivid, unfortunately. As I gushed about the song "God Give Me Strength," he gave me "the hand" and said, "Ok. Ok. Relax."

Boy, did I feel stupid. (I also secretly wished he'd grow a boil on his neck.)

Music isn't just music. It can't be.

If I can write something that enlightens, or simply helps someone hear something differently, I've been successful. I welcome any and all opinions, especially if they'd help foster further listening and appreciation of something I may be missing.  I hope you feel the same.


Jeff Matthews said...

edisant plortGood topic for a discussion thread: albums/songs/artists for whom you've done a 180, and the event that triggered it. For me, and probably thousands of other people, it was Elton John and the bus scene in Almost Famous.

Sal Nunziato said...

Already did it, Jeff. I just can't remember the name of the post. It's gonna drive me nuts.

sclinchy said...

What if the customer at the store had loved the Costello/Bacharach record? Then he would have joined in your enthusiasm. We tend to dislike passion for things we either don't understand or aren't passionate about ourselves, but we love it when other people share our own passions.

"Painted From Memory" is a great record, by the way.

FD13NYC said...

Hmmm, I'm not sure about this about face thing. Usually, I really don't do an about face about something I've listened to that is not pleasing to my ears, or boring or just doesn't cut it musically with me, whoever it may be.

Like with the McCartney, a nice effort, but a real snooze. And the Bruce, which I haven't heard yet, except for We Take Care Of Our Own, which is just OK. Now don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed a lot of his music over the years. But IMO he should take it easy, making records and touring over and over again. As with other older artists who want to somehow still remain in the spotlight. It all becomes a big haze after so long.

Anyway, it all boils down to this. Why go back to something that really wasn't pleasing in the first place and try to force yourself to like it, just because someone else seems to think it's good. To me, it's a waste of time. Different strokes for different folks.

kevin m said...

Clammy and the Half- Shells? Classic.

buzzbabyjesus said...

You got me to listen to Rush.

Sal Nunziato said...


The customer wasn't enthusiastically disagreeing with me. That would have been welcome. He was telling me to relax, which implies I shouldn't have been enthusiastic one way or the other. Big difference.


To YOU, and probably many others, the McCartney is a "real snooze." That isn't my point. My point is, art deserves more than a "skim." I wonder how many just didn't listen to the Macca because they don't like standards. Nothing wrong with that. As you always say, we like what we like. But again, I don't think my point was about opinion. It was about unfair dismissal and reevaluation.

I only recently heard the story about Doc Pomus and what "Save The Last Dance For Me" was about. It's about his wedding day, and how he couldn't dance with his wife because of his handicap, but wanted her to enjoy the day. Can anyone not be moved or listen to that song the same way knowing that?

As for your thoughts on Bruce and how he should "take it easy making records and touring," I'm sorry, but why? That's silly.

The man is still making relevant music, songs with a message, records that mean something.

It may be a haze to you, but making such a last word, blanket statement is just ridiculous.

misospecial said...

i about-face on occasion, sometimes in a big way, and i (perhaps self-servingly) think of this as flexibility, openness, and other positive stuff.

when i was young i had any number of strong opinions that embarrass me now: i liked either/ors, so i preferred billie to ella, thought john was the one who made the beatles edgy and brilliant and sir paul was a music-hall careerist who wrote shallow lyrics and skated on being cute (how wrong can i be?), and... well, you get the idea.

sometimes (rarely) i about-face on a movie. hated ":LA confidential" the first time, in the theater, and later saw it on cable and after a few viewings came around.

i totally agree that this isn't about telling people that they should or shouldn't like stuff, and that for me, like you say, this is all much too important to stay in a prison of first impressions.

and i have experienced the joy of being told to "relax." it raises my blood pressure and makes me wish the speaker would grow a goiter the size of a watermelon.

Jeff Matthews said...

I think I read that Doc Pomus anecdote in his biography "Lonely Avenue" which was recommended to me by Bill Barol. One of many moving stories in it - you're right about the way it makes you listen differently. A great read if you haven't yet

@FD13NYC - wow, I really disagree. The immediacy factor does apply in many, perhaps most, instances with respect to pop/rock music. But some of my favorite works are the ones that took repeated listens. I get great pleasure having my musical ears opened, through the influence of friends, through the explanations of other artists or critics, or simply by my tastes evolving over time.

Peter Ames Carlin said...

"Music isn't just music. It can't be."

That's one of the wisest things I've read this year.

big bad wolf said...

that's a great story about "save the last dance for me." does it make me a hard man to say that it doesn't change the way i feel about the song? i've loved the drifters version for decades; i won't love it any more knowing the story, though i will happily retell the story and expect others to be touched by it as i am.

but art works, or doesn't work, apart from the emotions that may have attended to its construction, i think, and with song art works only if the musicians can bring out the feeling the written lyrics hoped to summon. the drifters did that with last dance. the musician and especially the singer matters: "dock of the bay" is heartbreakingly sad and disappointing and somehow simultaneously stoic in otis redding's voice; in michael bolton's not so much.

on the larger point, sal, i am in full agreement with you. art deserves more than a skim. anyone who is trying to be more than the flavor of the month (and there's nothing inherently wrong with that, my ipod is full of singles by bands i think never did anything else worth listening too)deserves a relisten or four. it needn't be immediate, it might be years later, but they do deserve it, and if we listen with ipen ears, we often find things we missed before. at the least what i find is that even in things i end up still not liking, i recognize craft and skill that i missed the first time through. it may not be enough to bring me back again, but it softens and informs my judgments. this is so for example, of one of my bete noirs, tom morello. i continue to find him clunkingly, sometimes laughable, obvious as a songwriter (and i share much of his political views, so i am not grading him down for his poltics), but i can hear the guitar playing now in a way i couldn't the first time through.

steves said...

As you're someone whose musical tastes I respect, I guess I'll need to revisit McCartney's latest. It didn't make much of an impression on me the first couple of times around, maybe once more will be the charm. My initial impression was that he was strictly coasting and tapping into Rod Stewart's action.

Sal Nunziato said...


The Macca is the complete opposite...speaking of "about faces"...of Rod. I don't think one needs to actively listen to Diana Krall's trio and their brand of jazz to realize that they are the real thing. Listen to "Always." Sure, it's a standard that may not need revisiting, but Paul's vocals are absolutely pure. It blew me away, as did most of the record on repeated listens.

Shriner said...

Admittedly, I've had an about-face to disco music (well, not *all* of it -- stuff like "Disco Lucy" deserves it's own circle of hell, for example.)

I don't know how much of that is nostalgia, though.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to comment how much I enjoy reading your blog. You have pointed me to some music I didn't know and some I had forgotten. Keep up the good work.


FD13NYC said...

You see Sal, there you go again. Calling my statement, comment and opinion ridiculous. Not fair. And to everyone. I've been listening to music for a very, very long time, and I like what I like. Music is just music, and I love it, but It's not a life altering or changing experience, it's not that deep. Music has always been, to me a thumbs up or thumbs down procedure. Upon first listen to anything, I either enjoyed it or I take a pass. Getting older now (55) I don't have the time to go over and over something that didn't interest me in the first place. Sorry Sal, my old pal, but this is my opinion and this is how I roll with it. Stop jumping on me.

Sal Nunziato said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin said...

I've been listening to the Bruce one song at a time via Backstreets, so I heard "Shackled" isolated, and I love it. I loved the Seeger Sessions, and some of what I've heard so far is reminiscent.

My turn around was Bruce, especially Born to Run. I had my back up about him and the album, I don't know why. I remember a friend showing me the lyrics to some of the songs, "this is a singer songwriter who can rock and he's a better writer than that silly Jackson Browne", I'm sure my retort was, "he's not a better writer than Dylan!" (obvious and safe defense, I know, but I was young!). Still I listened and it didn't click.

My uncle knew all along I was a Bruceaholic in waiting. He played me Greetings, Innocent, I was done for, except for Born to Run. It wasn't the songs, it was the album's sound. It was too dense, this despite my desperate love for all things dense and Spector-ish. It was only after I bought and became obsessed with Darkness that BTR started to slowly capture me as a whole. I played them back to back a lot, not really knowing why. BTR seemed to shed its shell for me in a way. It finally caught me and never let me go.

mpjedi2 said...

I'm just gonna say...The last new Springsteen album was in 2009, three years ago. (I, personally, can't count "The Promise" as new)

That's not really ramming product down people's throat...that's pretty much being a working major music act.

So, I'm with Sal.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big Bruce fan and I had no intention of ever listening to Wrecking Ball, but due to this post, I downloaded it and am listening to it as I write this. Might listen to it again, might not, dunno.

The deal is, talking and reading about music makes me want to listen to music - no matter what it is. Randy

charlie c. said...

Sal – your turnabouts on Bird and the Grateful Dead are the stuff of legend! I think what is happening here is that you are so passionate about music, the depth of what you are saying escapes the lay listener. Just curious – does this happen with literature too?!?
@ FD13NYC – you post a lot, I respect your opinion, and I usually don’t like to get in the middle of stuff but I really don’t think our host is jumping on you. It’s cool that he takes the time to get back to people individually. Plus, saying that Bruce should wrap it up, or slow down or whatever just makes me cringe . . . Here’s what you said: “Music is just music, and I love it, but It's not a life altering or changing experience, it's not that deep.” Bro – music is that deep and it has and continues to change and augment and enrich my life. That’s my opinion.

cmealha said...

Music is such a subjective thing that of course thinks are going to change including our opinions. There are days I can't stand listening to 'Stairway to Heaven' or some other piece of music we've listened to ad nauseum and then there are days I get lost in the under of it like the first time I heard it. One of the great reason to listen or read differing opinions about music is that sometimes a phrase may make us rethink our opinions and give something another try. Sometimes it works (Glen Campbell-"Ghost On The Canvas") sometimes it doesn't (Todd - "Liars"). We should always be open to changing our opinions and letting great music in as much as possible.

Gyro1966 said...

Sal - I give you a lot of credit that you are able to still get excited about major label giants like Springsteen, etc. I have loved much of the music you speak of. However, with the advent of punk rock in the 70's, then my gradual discoveries of garage, blues, R&B, soul, surf, rockabilly, gospel, hillbilly, honky-tonk, etc…..I find that I would much rather listen to this earlier raw and wild music than anything The Boss has to say. In fact, I think Little Steven privately feels the same way. It's not that I don't care for much of today's music, in fact I love a lot of it. It's just that there is only one of me, and if given the opportunity, I will listen to the earlier raw sounds any time I can. There is no comparison. So I don't really have time for Springsteen, U2, new Dylan, new McCartney, etc. But again, I do respect your passion for these big name acts.

Sal Nunziato said...


I dont deserve credit. It's not a chore. Big name acts weren't always big name acts. As long as the music continues to say something and challenge the listeners, I have no reason to give up on artists just because they are huge.

The acts you mention...Springsteen, U2, Dylan, and McCartney...all get pounded occasionally by critics and fans alike. Sometimes, it's not even about the music. The fact that they need to be referred to as "major label giants," as opposed to just their names, already says there's a stigma.

There are a lot more BNA I have given up than those I still listen to.

And as for the "raw" stuff you much of it graces my iPod and turntable. So much great music and so little time.

Gyro1966 said...

Sal - I enjoy your blog and your passionate writing. It keeps me informed of albums that I may not have a chance to listen to, but at least i know that they are out there. I can at least join in a conversation about them. So I do come here often just to read about music and be entertained by the discussions.

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks Gyro. That means a lot.

allen vella said...

Again another fantastic subject and wonderful responses...the opinions and passions about this force called music never fail to capture endless facination, I could read this stuff forever. Which is why I read your posts daily...reading through the comments never fails to bring up or confirm or open my mind to all the various feelings I experiance while listening to music. I don't listen as much as I once did, time seems to vanish these days, and there is so much more music that I have discovered and love than I did 20-30 years ago. I will say that music for me is certainly life changing, it remains my window of expression, my go to medium, above film, visual arts, only the printed word can compete...bottom line: I love reading about music and others opinions, because they CAN inform me of another angle or way to hear...listening to music for me is so much more than casual...and of course context is very important on how we respond to songs and artists. It's all best memories and experiances are entwined with music and I imagine, always will be.

oldkdawg said...

Wow, what a post. Gyro and Allen, to me, really sum it up. There is so much old and some new music that I have been enlightened on since I have started reading your great blog along with a number of others that they kind of force out the bigger name stuff. That's not to say that I don't enjoy the bigger name stuff (and sometimes go on a streak of just the big name stuff) but there is just not enough time in the day, know what I mean, to listen to all of the great music. Some of my favorite music is stuff that was just ok on the first couple of listens. There is a lot of stuff that I loved and played to death and looking back I realize that I haven't listened to those albums in probably 20 years. Your one of the first things I read now and the comments are great. Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

Sal, your posts--even, and possibly especially, when they contradict themselves--are always very nourishing food for thought. Changing my mind about a song, artist, or even genre, is such a part of my own listening history that I have no trouble with you or others doing it. In fact the frankness with which you do so is a nice change from many reviewers.

Shriner mentions Disco; one of my greatest shames is that I managed to miss a great era of 70s soul and R&B because, as a kid under the influence of Detroit rock radio, I dismissed it ALL as Disco. I robbed myself of Al Green (for example) until I was wised up in college.

Keep calling 'em as you see 'em. I'll keep reading.