Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Morning Rant #14

Something has been stuck in my craw.

Over the years, the debate over aging rock stars, reunion tours, as well artists losing their mojo, has taken up a solid amount of space on these pages. Should the Rolling Stones hang it up? "The Who really isn't The Who without Keith Moon and John Entwistle." "Bruce Springsteen hasn't made a good record since 1978."

I have strong opinions about all of the above and more. I'll get to them soon.

Last week, I saw more than a fair share of positive comments regarding Miley Cyrus's SNL performance of "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover," as well as a number of negative remarks regarding Paul McCartney's performance of "Maybe I'm Amazed."

Cyrus and company delivered an acceptable arrangement of the Paul Simon hit, while McCartney's performance seemed to highlight his aging, tired voice.  In regards to Miley, even a broken clock is right twice a day, yet the vitriol on social media--at least in my circles--over Sir Paul, seemed to hone in on his inability to hit the notes at 73 years old he once hit at 33 years old.

Regarding SNL, why is there more patience and acceptance of a character like Miley Cyrus than there is for a legendary artist like Paul McCartney? In general, I see this practice often. What makes it so easy to slam Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball," a record that is a shadow of the E-Street sound of past glories, yes, but by today's standards, a pretty smart and remarkable collection of music, yet we throw high praise at the mediocrity that is so many current artists just because they are new. Or more accurately, not old.

Miley Cyrus is a spectacle with a voice like a gremlin, and even as pop idols go, is unlistenable. Her Paul Simon cover was fine. That's it! Fine. It wasn't great. It just wasn't horrible. And Macca's voice? Yeah, it's beginning to crack and sadly sound frail. But he has been on tour for years. Maybe he's just tired.

And if you're going to hold your head high while giving Bob Dylan's new Sinatra project a 5-star review as well as your time, and then trash the last 20 years of output from Bruce, McCartney and David Bowie, we need to have a serious chinwag.

Should the Stones hang it up? I think they should, but only because they sound bad and charge too much for tickets. (Mick and Keith could work this out. I know it.) As for The Who not really being The Who, Roger and Pete plus the son of rock royalty who was taught to play drums by Keith Moon, is good enough for me, plus they still sound great. Was the last great Bruce album "Darkness On The Edge Of Town?" Of course it wasn't, so get over it.


William Repsher said...

The answer is easy, and why things are the way they are now, i.e., with mediocrity and deeply average artists being hailed as "geniuses." We should expect more of the great artists. They've recorded legendary songs and albums that gave form to and have shaped musical generations.

And it's not like they're called out every time they demonstrate mediocrity, which is a given with any decades-long career of highs, lows and in-between points. McCartney got plenty of free passes over the years that were either ho-hum or just flat out bad (and I don't need to hear the Press to Play demos, man!). But every now and then ... usually related to a live performance (like The Who at the Super Bowl, or this recent McCartney performance), they get called out for not performing on that level.

I think it's a good thing. It would have been a better thing if we held him to that high standard he set with the Beatles and his best 70s solo work, instead of giving him a repeatedly free pass for being a legend. This practice has warped the musical landscape to the extent where artists with far lesser talent than that are heralded as great artists ... a practice you yourself have routinely recognized with indie bands that are sort of OK, but nowhere near the level of greatness.

We created this sub-standard system of valuing artistry that has resulted in everyone being pretty much equal now because no one wants to deal with unpleasantness ... dovetailing nicely with the "everyone gets a trophy" mentality so many parents have raised their kids with over the past few decades.

So, in effect, a woman with a good voice who isn't an artistic giant can pull off a pretty-good version of a Paul Simon song and be praised for it, and a legend can have an off night ... which will not kill or in any way damage his career. I'd say in this case both were honest appraisals. Frankly, I'm much more disturbed by that junky song he did with Rihanna and Kanye West becoming a Top 5 worldwide hit. Compare that piece of shit with the original "Maybe I'm Amazed" then get back to me about what's wrong with this picture!


Yes ... Yes ... Yes ... Correct ... Correct ... Correct ... I agree ... I agree ... I agree ...

Well said Sal.

wardo said...

I was thrilled when Talk Is Cheap came out, and kinda hoped that Keith would tour as a trio with Bill and Charlie. I know I've listened to Main Offender several times, but it never seems to stick.

The Stones are very much the same oldies act as the Who at this point; the argument's been made that McCartney has the best Beatles cover band out there, but at least he's attempted to make music in this century, every couple of years. In that time the Stones have put out exactly one so-so album, a handful of "new songs" that aren't the highlight of whatever retrospective they're pushing, and reworked some unfinished stuff for a few deluxe editions. I can't get excited about them any more.

Since you brought it up, I'm hoping the plug is pulled on SNL as soon as Lorne isn't involved anymore, whether he's retired or dead.

Sal Nunziato said...

"The answer is easy, and why things are the way they are now, i.e., with mediocrity and deeply average artists being hailed as "geniuses." We should expect more of the great artists."

Ya see, William, I don't think the answer is easy. At what point do we stop "expecting more from these artists."

Dozens of readers on this puny forum alone, have admitted that they "stopped listening to the Stones after Exile," or "Bruce after The River" or "McCartney after Band On The Run" or "Bowie after Heroes." It's ludicrous.

It just isn't reasonable to think these artists haven't released exceptional material since the 70s. Quite frankly, I think it's just as lazy to dismiss the output of these artists as subpar as it is to accept and praise the current crop of mediocrity.

Sure, Macca's "New" or "Driving Rain" or Bowie's "Reality" or Bruce's "Wrecking Ball" might not be 5-star, but that's only because we continue to weigh it up against history, or worse, we just give them all half-listens, thanks to the predetermined feeling must suck.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I hated the SNL 40th. I wish we'd seen Eddie Murphy's/James Brown "Hot Tub" instead of Chris Rock telling us about it. The Blues Brothers were cringe worthy. I felt embarrassed for Paul. His performance for the Olympics was equally weak. Myley Cyrus did a fine job on "50 Ways". The song is sturdy and the arrangement swell.
It's interesting that after teaming up with The Flaming lips (which I thought was fun), she's doing a better job at transitioning from child star to adult artist than Justin. Let's see if she actually pulls it off.

Gene Oberto said...

I hear what your saying and I agree with the premise.

We give Miley Cyrus the “praise” (“she didn’t suck…”) because it’s a shocker that she can sing sorta normal AND keep her clothes on.

Yet, we have such high expectations for the heroes of our music genres, that when the voice can’t get there anymore we shake to our very deeply rooted remembrances of what once was.

Maybe we sit on the sidelines and snipe at their shortcomings out of disappointment. I have no problem that the Stones still tour, or Bruce, or, for pete’s sake, Stiff Little Fingers for hitting the road. Because despite our cool and detached observations about their demise, there are people still wanting to go see them.

Unfortunately, music, just like people, does get old. Bruce can’t jump up on Ray’s piano like he once could. Eddie Vedder doesn’t swing from the light standards, Keith, The Ox, John and George won’t play again. What’s worse, a missed note live or a picture of a musician frozen forever.

The irony of it all is that if one of these icons of disapproval was to pass on to the next bandstand, a lot of these naysayers would be eulogizing them for their long contributions and ground-breaking achievements.

However, Paul’s need (and Madonna’s and Steve Tyler’s) to be au courant with today’s “sound” makes me cringe. Want to help with a melody or lyric? You should. But becoming a rhythm guitar player and back up vocalist is not becoming.

William Repsher said...

At what point do we stop expecting more? When the artist routinely functions on a lower level, yet manages to have the same level of visibility and respect. Of course, that's wide open to debate for all artists. I stopped listening to Radiohead when Kid A came out and was hailed as the emperor's new clothes. Stopped buying the Flaming Lips on sight when they're last two albums sounded like static instead of that quirky, off-beat, but melodic mess of sorts (that I thought was pretty good).

You're probably a lot like me that you buy certain artists on sight, no questions asked, if it's this guy, it must be good. We've both been burned numerous times, but even after that, we'll often go back and do it again on the next release. Sometimes we're surprised and sometimes it's more of the same. I usually find inconsistent greatness in aging artists like McCartney. Every now and then, he gets it, really gets it, like he used to get it most of the time. (And even when he got it most of the time, let's not forget "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" ...)

Each case is different for me. But I'd rather judge a respected recording artist by that artist's standards the he set personally for himself than by a general set of standards that take into account, say, a band like Journey, doing what they do really well. Or Miley Cyrus. I'd never judge her on the standards set by Paul McCartney or Simon.

Then again, I wish there was ONE standard for excellence, like it seemed there used to be back from the 60's through the 80's. Was there?

Sal Nunziato said...

"However, Paul’s need (and Madonna’s and Steve Tyler’s) to be au courant with today’s “sound” makes me cringe."

I agree completely, Gene. But those moments, at least for McCartney, have only just started to appear. But isn't it a case of damned if you do? I often use Page and Plant as the best examples of this. Both were trashed for just about every post-Zeppelin project, for eithr sounding too much like LZ or not enough like LZ. It was only when Plant met Alison Krauss that he started to regain some respect, and even now, that's waning because he "doesn't sound like he's trying."

That's really how I feel about all the artists I mentioned.

And to William-

"At what point do we stop expecting more? When the artist routinely functions on a lower level, yet manages to have the same level of visibility and respect. Of course, that's wide open to debate for all artists."

You're right, it is open to debate, though it seems that most of the time, McCartney doesn't always get the free pass you mentioned. It's been 42 years since "My Love," enough already, and I happen to like that song. "Spies Like Us," on the other, I am not so forgiving.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Duke Ellington said there are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind. For me it still holds true.

Sal Nunziato said...

I also like Irving Berlin's line- "Pop music is popular because people like it."

Anonymous said...

Using McCartney as an example: It's just not worth it to me to spend a lot of time listening to nine mediocre or lousy McCartney songs to find the one gem. Too much time and energy for not enough return. He's disappointed me too often to make the effort or have enough interest to continue listening.

There are a few artist I will buy anything they release without question but they haven't burnt me that often as to question whether to buy their releases. Artist like Richard Thompson, Patti Smith, Dave Alvin or Lucinda Williams. So far I can trust them.

Capt. Al

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,

Do I think the Stones (or Paul, or Pete & Roger) should hang it up? Well,no. I guess the question really is: should an artist stop practicing their craft after the majority of their audience has moved on?

I think too often, we view mature artists through the lens of economics - they've got tons of money, why would they continue to do this? Umm...because they love it?

Or we view it through the lens of athletics. Why would this or that baseball player continue to play when they can't deliver their old numbers? Umm..because they love it?

A few years ago, I saw a show by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. In the middle of his solo rendition of Ellington's gorgeous "Single Petal of a Rose" Joe Temperley, the 80 year old baritone sax player, hit a bum note. A really, really bum note. Didn't ruin the performance for me one bit. I got to hear Joe play "Single Petal". That was enough for me. Joe plays because he loves to.

I saw Frank Sinatra at the tail end of his career at Radio City. Yes, he had lost a LOT off his fastball by then. But it didn't ruin it for me. I was glad to witness an artist doing what he loved.

Anyway, I'm not too put out by artists staying with their art past their prime. With out that, we wouldn't have Monet's Water Lillies or Matisse's paper cut-outs. Or Isfahan by Ellington. Or American Recordings by Johnny Cash. Or.....

Best Regards,

stivseed said...

I thought Paul`s voice sounded tired, with good reason. Did`n`t he do an invitation only show the previous evening for Valentine`s day? Also, even though the party aspect of the SNL 40 Show is just a pale shadow of it`s coke fueled past, there were multiple run thoughs of said song, as well as other bits he was a part of. Really, younger men men have less energy. People are essentially vultures. Screw `em.

Sal Nunziato said...

"It's just not worth it to me to spend a lot of time listening to nine mediocre or lousy McCartney songs to find the one gem. Too much time and energy for not enough return. He's disappointed me too often to make the effort or have enough interest to continue listening."

Just once I'd like to hear those exact words said by the throngs about Dylan or Neil Young, two revered artists who 40 years on, have more crap now than good in their catalogues.

McCartney's "standards" record came and went with nothing but contemptuous snorts while Dylan's Twin Peaks-ish take on Sinatra is suddenly the release of the year. (And people are still defending "Reactor" and "Greendale." PLEEEZE!)

I can't change the minds of people who think McCartney puts out records with a 1-10 gem-to-crap rate. But I do think these artists, the Maccas, the Bowies, and even Bruce for a long time now, get too easily tossed aside and too unfairly criticized for years of solid work, 'Pipes Of Peace," notwithsstanding.

I just can't see myself not finding time for these artists, so I can be mildly amused for a couple weeks by Natalie Prass, Father John Misty or the War On Drugs, who can only hope to be releasing work as good as "Wrecking Ball," "New," "Chaos & Creation" and so on...five years from now, let alone 50.

William Repsher said...

I must admit, the problem with these "rock artist doing standards" albums tends to be the quality of the vocals: it's just "wrong" in some over-poweringly innate sense to hear Dylan and Stewart doing music like this. Not because they're particularly bad at it. Their voices simply aren't suited to that kind of material. Twin Peaks is a good frame of reference, although I was thinking more of the Uncle Floyd Show.

I'd love to hear Van Morrison do an album like this. McCartney's take on this was much more palatable, but still didn't really grab me. If Neil Young puts out an album of Hoagy Carmichael standards, I'm leaving the planet!

Anonymous said...

There are certain artists whose releases I approach on a one at a time basis including Neil Young. I have to hear each record to see if it's something I enjoy before I'll buy it. For the last few years he's in one of his funks again, nothing of his music works for me.

With Dylan, I pass on his goofy projects (Christmas & Sinatra) while enjoying his albums of original material. Yet I don't dismiss all of his cover albums either. His two folk/blues albums of the early nineties were damn good.

With Bruce I have to admit I do feel his last great album is 'Darkness' but he's put out many worthy albums since then, just not constantly great from start to end. His good to crap ratio is high enough to continue collecting his material, just with slightly lowered expectations.

As I state on my radio show almost every week, I listen to a lot of recent releases, but it's likely if I'm really enjoying it, it sounds as if it was recorded in 1971 like Sarah Borges, Lydia Loveless or Kenneth Brian.

Modern/Alt. Rock has been in a Rocco phase for two decades. Ironic, detached and self loathing. Not what I look for in my music.

If my students at the high school I teach at are any indication, Alternative Rock is a not listened to by the majority of teenagers anyway. They are into Modern Pop and Hip Hop. So the future of rock maybe shaky at best.

But here is what really scares me, the oldies station in NYC, WCBS-FM (or whatever it's called now) has dropped all 50's and most 60's music from it's playlist for the hits of the 70's & 80's. You are more likely to hear a hair metal song or a new romantic song then CCR or Little Richard. So project 30 years into the future and shutter over which music may be remembered from the past 20 years.

Musical history belongs to the victors.

You really can get me up on my soapbox sometime Sal!

Capt. Al

HippieGirl21 said...

To be honest, I like the fact that The Rolling Stones are still charging on. They could make tickets a little cheaper and maybe come to more cities, but I gotta hand it to Mick and the rest of them-age sure isn't stopping them. And plus, a lot of younger people nowadays are discovering these old legends. And those new fans most likely want to see those legends in concert. I think the Rolling Stones should only stop touring if they want to.

ASWAN said...

Coming from left field...I believe we hear music differently today than we did 30 to 40 years ago due to lack of patience, medium, focus and the world. We bought albums and listened for hours while examining the album cover and lyrics intensely. We came to know the songs and "rooted" for them because we invested so much time, effort and money in them and the experience. We surrounded ourselves with people who shared the same experience. Media re-enforced what we believed and heard with shared experiences; limited amount of songs and artists played by limited (by today’s standards) radio stations. We know the songs well and when we hear them performed not to studio standards, we "snipe" and "bulk" and say the artist can do better...better being like the original we have burned into your brain over many, many years.

Newer works by old favorites (McCartney, Springsteen, etc...) and new works by new artists are no longer being “rooted” for. We do not invest our time, focus and patience in music as a society as we did many years ago. Everything is fleeting! Everything is now! Therefore, what we know as classics (artists and songs) became classics due to the experience of society 40 years ago…we no longer allow time for classics to happen in today’s world and therefore the so-called mediocre is mixed with the bad and the great and it all becomes the same due to lack of time. Time invested by the artist, the listener and society. Lack of time and patience has changed the music landscape of our world.

PS – Everyone has a voice now due to social media and “critics and reviewers” are much younger than me or you and have different perspectives on what music should be and what they have heard. Remember, you could be writing for a blog and be 30 years old, which means you were born in 1985…

soundsource said...

I'm not gonna argue the fine points but generally speaking your right on the money.

William Repsher said...

I'm not so sure. We might be listening differently, but I don't think we're loving music any differently than the way we did back then. True, we had a longer time to live with and bond with certain albums back then, but that wasn't every album, I can assure you. Nor every artist. We picked our favorites based on track record. I don't think the Stones, in their minds, are making music any differently than they every did. Yet, that stretch from Beggars Banquet through Exile will always be something to behold.

To put it all down to scattered/fractured listening habits due to multiple media streams might be part of the picture, but not all of it.

Classics happen in today's world, even if we don't want to recognize them as such. I'd wager that many people are going to carry Adele's last album through the course of decades. And I've seen fans of more than a few indie bands put all their faith into these bands (even if I think the bands are over-rated).

I have no more or less time than I ever did: it's how I choose to spend it that changes over the years, and how I choose to value it now that I can sense I'm closer to the end than the beginning of life. People who love music, whether they're my age, or teenagers, or in their 20s, they're going to go on doing so, listening, nurturing, reading, paying attention to people they sense they can trust in terms of taste. Like I did at an earlier age. Like I do now. It's hard to gauge this culture that so much of music is "free" now, whether via massive illegal downloading (which is still rampant) or streaming services that open up access to millions of tracks.

Of course, we could never admit that the music just isn't functioning on the same artistic level as it was ... could we? Never mind for new artists, for the artists themselves who created those classics, too. Rock sort of did its thing over the course of decades, very well at times, but what more can be done? Maybe it's that impasse we should be pondering instead of wondering why nothing seems to matter as much anymore. Every genre reaches its creative peak at some point then recedes. Maybe we're just there and can't or don't want to admit it?

Chris Collins said...

We seem to get mad at rock stars when they get old instead of treasuring the fact that they're here.

I would, for example, LOVE to be able to see a 70-something John Lennon sing a slightly off key "Instant Karma" on SNL last week. But we can't see that, can we. And yet, we bitch about Paul.

For the record, I'd put Bruce's "Magic" up there with "The River". I'm not kidding. I think it's brilliant.

And I like Miley. I can't help it. I like Taylor Swift too. I don't think either of them are Aretha or even Thelma Houston, but they're fine as pop stars.

rick said...

A bit late to this party, Sal, but I’d still like to chime in. To use a sports analogy, Willie Mays kept playing too long, and it was painful to watch his skills deteriorate. I felt the same way listening to Paul do damage to his own amazing composition, “Maybe I’m Amazed.” It made me cringe. And I was thoroughly impressed with Miley’s cover of “50 Ways…” Whenever I hear someone cover someone else’s song, especially a song I like, my thought is always, ‘Make it new, or don’t bother’. And I felt she delivered something fresh: a new way to hear an old favorite.
“Why is there more patience and acceptance of a character like Miley Cyrus than there is for a legendary artist like Paul McCartney?” Because he himself set the bar so high: we’ve come to expect such great things from him that it’s a let-down when he doesn’t clear it. I’m not comparing him to today’s standards; I’m comparing him to his former self.
A few years ago I got to see and hear Elton John do a show with no band, just him at the piano for 2 and a half hours. Yeah, his voice cracked a couple of times, trying to reach some notes that are now out of his range, but at no point did I feel like he was butchering anything. Sir Paul, I’m afraid, butchered it the other night. And then took it a step further and teamed up with Kanye? “Why is there more patience and acceptance” of characters like Kanye? Because artists like Paul are giving them an undeserved legitimacy.

Michael Giltz said...

I agree with everything everyone said -- even though everyone often contradicted each other and even themselves. Music is a passion! Who wants to be logical or consistent about pop music? Not me.

I'm not sure what Sal read that ripped Paul McCartney but I hope he wasn't reading blogs or worse scrolling through comments. Unless you're on a site with a rep for thoughtful comments by intelligent readers (like this one), comments are just a snarky waste of time that will send your blood pressure soaring.

Paul has said he isn't vain but keeps dying his hair because fans get upset when he starts to look old. If he's getting old that means they're getting old. So when his voice is clearly aging, we're all feeling death staring us in the face. Paul is going to die which means WE'RE going to do. I'm not being facetious. If Paul doesn't deliver in concert, people get angry because it's time stalking them and even their heroes.

I disagree/agree strongly with numerous comments.

No one REALLY defends Greendale, do they? Yeah Neil Young is in a rut, but he's pretty awesome. I disagree that Dylan's crap to good/great ratio is tilting towards crap. He's at the top lifetime precisely because he has delivered some great, classic albums in six different decades -- make that five decades but I'm sure something will pop up before 2020.

Artists moan when their new music is slagged. "If anyone else released this album, they'd be praised but you keep comparing us to Murmur!" Tough! Of course, I agree it's silly to ignore a legacy artist like Bruce or Paul just because they haven't made an album as great as their best (which is THE best). I liked a song off the last Beach Boys album for pete's sake. But I also grew tired of Rolling Stone magazine's tendency to give those same artists rave reviews album after album after album. It doesn't make me lash out at the artist but it does make me lash out at the critics. A little perspective please. Can't we be kind to artists without coddling them?

And I think about how we've been cheated of what John Lennon would be like pretty often. The music, the politics, the presence. Sigh.