Monday, October 19, 2015

It's Not About The Beatles

I spent most of the weekend working, but did manage to listen to a dozen or so records, because I always have time for music. I gave Bruce's "The River" a spin, all four sides. With the news of an expanded multi-disc box on the horizon, I was inspired. About 20 seconds into "Sherry Darling," the second song on Side One, I was immediately transported to Madison Square Garden, the night of November 8th, 2009, when the E Street Band performed the record in its entirety. 30 years after the fact and yet that performance still stands out as one of the greatest evenings of my life.

I listened to "Rubber Soul." I sang along, occasionally miming a Ringo fill, but mostly just listened and wondered how a 25 year old kid could write "Girl."

I listened to Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits, the Peter Green years. I was inspired by a chapter in Elvis Costello's new memoir, where he mentions slow dancing to "Albatross" and goes on a bit about the joys of "Man Of The World." The blues bores many. To those people I say, I can understand that, but then you must not have listened to Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. There is quite simply, no band like them.

The Costello memoir made me pull out "Imperial Bedroom," a record I have not listened to in years. I recall thinking at the time, that this was Costello's masterpiece. I am happy to say, I loved every minute of it as much as I did then.

I listened to the new record from a favorite New Orleans artist, Jon Cleary. The record is called "GoGo Juice," and it truly is a perfect New Orleans record. It doesn't pander to the casual Crescent City listener, with songs about gumbo. It never mentions Bourbon Street or the phrase "Le Bon Temps Roulez." It's a collection of nine real songs by real musicians that hit all the right marks, evoking second line beats, southern funk and heartfelt rhythm and blues.

I also listened to Todd Rundgren's "A Wizard/A True Star," Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is," the Rolling Stones "Live At The Marquee," Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," Blondie's "Eat To The Beat," Dion's "Runaround Sue," "The Zombies' Odessey & Oracle" and "The Who By Numbers."

I mention all this because I woke up this morning staring at a blank page completely uninspired. I went to Rolling Stone dot com, hoping for something to catch my eye and ear. Three of the first four headlines were devoted to Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez. The fourth was about Phil Lesh's bladder cancer. And if anyone cares, Gwen Stefani has a new depressing single out, all about her divorce from Gavin MacLeod. (Or whoever that guy from Bush is.)

Years ago, when I stood behind the counter at my retail outlet, and watched people stop buying CDs because there was "no good music anymore," my reply was always the same.

"What do you like?"

One person said she loved Tom Waits, so I asked if she had a favorite and she said "The only one I have is Rain Dogs." She was surprised when I told her the news about his dozen or so more releases and I said "There are thousands of records out there that you haven't heard and they are all worth buying. There is always something good to buy."

I was trying to avoid at all costs another rant about how much I dislike the music being made these days. Partly to spare you from another "been there/done that" Monday and partly because I didn't want to hear a few of the inevitable accusations having to do with my lawn or attitude. I took this approach because the music I did listen to this weekend, some of it over 50 years old, not only still holds up, but still sounds fresh and still inspires me. The depth of the songwriting, the quality of the musicianship and the lost art of creating albums versus songs is long gone and I just cannot smile and mean it when I listen to records that are supposed to be amazing. I need them to actually be amazing. Or at the very least better than "not bad," which as you know, is the new "great." I don't feel a need to stay current, or pretend to like some young mediocre band just so people don't think I am stuck in a time warp. I listen to it all with great enthusiasm, and that enthusiasm is usually murdered three songs into most new releases.

This is not about hype. Not this time. This is about quality. It's disappeared almost completely. The bar has not been lowered. It has been buried.

(And no, I was not working at Nunziato Florists.)


Anonymous said...

Nothing to add to your statement, since it's too big a topic for me to tackle and I've not tried to articulate my thoughts on it. But I will second your words on Peter Green's version of Fleetwood Mac. Count me as one of those generally bored by blues, mostly, because like reggae and bluegrass and hardcore, there's a strain of purity in it that renders much of it same-sounding and thus boring to me after a couple songs. But, as to those genres, I love lots of the stuff that lead into those types of music, so have lots of 1950s-60s bluebeat/rock steady/ska, early-to-midcentury "hillbilly" music, and KBD/early wave punk. And so it is with blues -- I have lots of mostly acoustic early stuff, tho I love love love Slim Harpo. And early Fleetwood Mac. There's a spirit in both of those artists that reaches across the decades, and musicianship on top of that; Green is simply one of the finest guitarists ever in rock, and a fine vocalist, to boot. I liked the Californianized Mac, too -- "Hypnotized" and the live version of "I'm So Afraid" rank among my favorite F Mac songs ever -- but PGFM is on a whole other planet.
C in California

William Repsher said...

I'm reading the Costello autobio, too. As you'd guess, he's a very good writer, picking little vignettes and moments from his life to expound on in no particular order. I'm enjoying the pictures of his father as first a big band crooner, and then Peter Sellers-style hipster when the styles changed. Also enjoying him describing his early musical listening habits, which include plenty of early 70s rock staples that he would have officially sneered at in 1977 punk guise. The one thing I loved about him was that it was crystal clear from album one that he had a lot more going on than your average punk rocker -- and that first album will always be the masterpiece for me.

Good music? Dude, I'm 300 tracks behind in my listening habits at any given moment. The methodologies of listening to and absorbing music have changed so radically for me that I can't really point at albums for people to buy, A lot of times, I can recommend songs, and point them at artists who I think have something going on over the course of a few albums. (The Dears were the latest band I stumbled over ... sort of picked up the Radiohead flag when those guys went blip blip.) I wouldn't put an album on to demonstrate greatness these days simply because I don't have a turntable, and there's dust on my CD player! But I always have a stable of new tracks to listening to, some legitimately new, others simple reissues, others stuff from the past decade that I simply wasn't up on in the first place. I recognize in this sort of listening environment that it's impossible for that traditional sort of rock greatness to shine through as it once did ... simply because the emphasis is no longer on albums. And that said, nearly all those artists you listed with great albums ... assuming they didn't die or stop putting out albums, suffer the same fate in terms of fading greatness and no longer being on that exalted level.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Every once in awhile I hear something new that I like. I randomly downloaded Christopher The Conquered's "I'm Giving Up On Rock and Roll", probably for the title, to see how bad it was, and was surprised to find an artist who is worth watching.

I've played the album several times, which is a lot for me, and I'm not finished with it. I don't usually go for piano guys, but Christopher has a lot of talent, and is a very charismatic performer as evidenced by the live clip of "On My Final Day"

The album was recorded at Ardent, in Memphis, and sounds really good. I'm sure all the basic tracks were recorded live in the studio.

Sal Nunziato said...

"And that said, nearly all those artists you listed with great albums ... assuming they didn't die or stop putting out albums, suffer the same fate in terms of fading greatness and no longer being on that exalted level."

Good point William and I won't argue that. I will argue this, though. You take Bruce's "Wrecking Ball" and "Magic" and Elvis' "Momofuku" or "Secret Profane" or say some artists I didn't mention like GP & The Rumour's "Mystery Glue" or John Hiatt's "Terms Of My Surrender" and compare those records to "BTR" and "My Aim Is True" and "Squeezing Out Sparks" and "Bring The Family" and of course you will see "fading greatness." But take those same records and compare them to what is now considered the new breed and their "great" records and suddenly it becomes a more complex argument.

Again, I want to stress, I hear good new music. But these bursts of "not bad," like discovering Christopher The Conquered, or even someone I raved about, John Fulbright, seem futile. We all talk about not having time anymore. William, your 300 songs behind. For me, I'd rather not waste time trying to discover something that will end up being an almost certain disappointment.

Anonymous said...

Have you given 'Lost in the dream' by The War on Drugs a try?. The other day I was reading (again) an old Uncut Magazine and someone was stating that all the reviews were 4 stars reviews. Meaning that all the new stuff was outstanding. Which I agree with; you cannot truly believe that all the new stuff deserves even a couple of listens. But Lost in the dream is something apart. Not many lp's like this anymore. Sadly.

Sal Nunziato said...

I listened to War On Drugs and remember none of it. It was a real listen, too. Vinyl copy, in my living room, focused. Did nothing for me.

William Repsher said...

The game has changed radically since the 60's and 70's. The amount of music and means/speed of consumption at our disposal is so vast in comparison now. Back then? I was probably a lot like you ... listening to predominately, almost exclusively, the pop/rock of that time, the best of which, you'll get no argument from me, was on another level. I look at that as the nice river I grew up on ... and now I'm on the sea, recognizing there are other seas I know comparatively little about, but am learning all the time.

I wouldn't call what I do "discovery" so much as feeling my way around music I sense I will like, possibly even love. The problem now being there's SO DAMN MUCH I haven't heard in numerous genres, as opposed to the well-plowed field of classic pop/rock that I know like the back of my hand.

It's not a condition of the times for greatness to exist. That may sound weird. But the playing field is so much larger now, the listening options so many ... that the easiest thing to do is create a Top 40 template and stick to it (which has been happening since the mid-90's or so). So long as there's that sort of cultural stranglehold on the most popular music, nothing will change on that level. And what we're talking about, and what younger people don't seem to get, is that stuff like Rubber Soul and Ziggy Stardust and Who's Next WAS that level that's now reserved for the Taylor Swifts and Miley Cyruses of the world. A lot of times, the best, most adventurous stuff was the most popular.

And we were raised with standards, even if we didn't like to acknowledge it at the time, songwriters like Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers/Hammerstein ... I couldn't fault someone from that background hearing Jimi Hendrix and muttering F this!

The standards have changed in ways that you and I probably don't fully comprehend or like. Lower? You be the judge. Was Bob Dylan lower than Woody Guthrie in terms of pushing culture forward? Or Pete Seeger? Maybe, but his impact was huge. And that's how I view of lot of stuff going on now that doesn't particularly grab me.

Shriner said...

So, I had been saving this for your annual "best of" lists, but I'll contribute something that maybe will help. I thought the first part of 2015 was really disappointing and then -- all of a sudden -- I found a bunch of stuff I really liked. Maybe my mood was better and I was more forgiving when I heard them, but...

So I now share my favorite albums from 2015 (so far!)

Veruca Salt — Ghost Notes
Tommy Keene — Laugh In The Dark
The Sonics — This is the Sonics (boy, does this kick ass for a bunch of 70-year-olds!)
The Orange Humble Band — Depressing Beauty
The On and Ons — It’s The On and Ons Calling
Nada Surf — Live at the Neptune Theatre
Dawes — All Your Favorite Bands
Pugwash — Play This Intimately [As If Among Friends]

Almost all of these are existing artists with only one "new" band on the list so far. I'm not sure what that says about my habits, though, and I listen to a *lot* of stuff, too..

I have a subsequent list of "good, but not fantastic" albums that I need to revisit before making my final list as some might move up. There are still two months to go in 2015...

Signtopia said...

Oh the suffering and overwhelming disappointment that we experience all too often in order to find that one diamond in the rough. I had become so frustrated with it all that I ventured into the progrock realm and discovered alot of music gems that I probably would have never heard had I not sought it out. Again, while that foray has been somewhat fruitful, even that has become very dull and began to be a very similar boat that I wanted to get off of. Much of the music today, I just simply do not "get it" and as a result I have ventured into a realm of music that has tickled my ears and it is music from places I never considered before.....such as Poland. If you have never heard of Brathanki, Golec uOrkiestra, Marek Balata, or Dorota Osinska, you are missing much. What makes it all special for me is that I cannot understand the Polish language and yet I "get it" when I listen to this stuff. As far as musicianship and talent goes, discovering this new territory has stimulated me far more than I would have ever thought. Sometimes you have to go outside of the box.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I think Christopher The Conquered might be great, but it's too new to tell. I've listened to it about 5 times, a few cuts 10, and I like it better than I did at first. If it's not this one, I think he has a masterpiece in him.

I'm cautiously optimistic.

hpunch said...

You can't beat a Gavin MacLeod reference on a Monday...
Once I finish the John Fogerty book, I'll start the Elvis.
The Fogerty makes you want to go back and hear the old classics as well.

William S. Repsher said...

That Christopher the Conquered track sounds similar to "I Don't Love You Anymore" by The London Quireboys ... which isn't a bad thing!

ag said...


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Sal ( on The War On Drugs, too, but on the post itself, I mean)
I don't think it's ranty old man get off my lawn to point out the simple and obvious fact that there is simply no one on the horizon that compares to the first or even second string of decades ago.
There simply is no Hendrix, Dylan, Lennon, Joni, Costello, Springsteen etc, and it's obviously because "artists" of today think they arrive fully formed, simply because they can ape the moves of those that come before them, or simply because they have strong pipes. A Leon Bridges isn't suddenly the equal of a Sam Cooke just because he bears faint resemblance. Sam Cooke played a thousand shows before he had a hit. These people worked the clubs, got booed, sang in churches, slaved on the road, putting in their Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours to become a master of their art and their craft.
To argue that because YouTube and iTunes can give Taylor Swift the same number of hits the Beatles had puts her anywhere near their caliber is just silly.
Someone like Robin Thicke isn't Marvin Gaye just because he can effectively sound like him, he's a cover band that got away with slipping in one of his originals and the crowd kept dancing.
People like Dylan and Garcia didn't arrive fully formed, they learned huge swaths of the music that came before them and played it for years, absorbing it into their DNA, and then becoming something new when they made their own music.
So, keep pointing out the emperor's naked ass for us, Sal. It'll always anger those commenters that insist on pretending to believe the hype, but their offense to what you say will never make it any less true when you say it.
I know you. I know that like me, you are relentlessly checking out new music, and always hoping for something to like, and trying to like the stuff that comes close.
It'll come. There will be new bands that make beautiful new music. That doesn't mean we have to pretend it's happening every time we see five stars printed on a prominent page.
PS and the War On Drugs is as empty, transparent, and useless as the real War On Drugs. A sound in search of a song. IMHO I tried too.

Anonymous said...

It's never a wasted trip to Burning Wood. Long may you smolder. :)

EastSide Stu said...

Thanks, Sal, jeez Jon Cleary is so good. He reminds me very much (in all the good ways -- voice, funkiness, songs) of 70s Robert Palmer. And remains unique and original at the same time. What happens when you just don't give a damn and make music you love.

Anonymous said...

In 1966 or 1973 or 1982 I'm sure there were a whole bunch of people saying exactly what Sal is saying about today's music versus the old classics. And right now, I'm sure there are plenty of kids whose lives are being changed by new records that Sal thinks are meh, or hasn't bothered to listen to. And thirty years from now, those kids will think that music from 2015 blows away whatever is popular in 2045.

It's the cycle of life as filtered through pop music. Beautiful, ain't it?

Sal Nunziato said...

"In 1966 or 1973 or 1982 I'm sure there were a whole bunch of people saying exactly what Sal is saying about today's music versus the old classics. And right now, I'm sure there are plenty of kids whose lives are being changed by new records that Sal thinks are meh, or hasn't bothered to listen to. And thirty years from now, those kids will think that music from 2015 blows away whatever is popular in 2045."

It doesn't matter what people were saying. People LOVED "Unbelieveable" by EMF. 10 years ago, Bright Eyes was the greatest thing since the wheel. So what? This is always the go-to neutralizer, to talk about the people who hated Elvis in the 50s or the Moptops of the 60s.

No one wants to take away whatever young pop artists are driving the kids crazy, the way the Beatles drove us crazy. But I think it's silly to pretend that Tame Impala or War On Drugs or Leon Bridges, however effective their work might be to their fans, are anywhere close to the caliber of quality of music of the 60s and 70s, or for that matter, the 50s and some of the 80s. It's okay to not like stuff, or as the other ANON mentioned, to "point out the emperor's naked ass." And though I loath to bring up any "get off my lawn" reference, I personally find those close-minded cranks just as offensive as those who desperately try to be hip by raving over some current mediocre crap.

And what's with the passive aggressive "hasn't bothered to listen to" comment? Are you the manager of War On Drugs?

buzzbabyjesus said...


Anonymous said...

I think I brought the War on Drugs to the conversation...

I am a regular reader of this blog. I always have felt welcomed. And though not a donator, I have discovered some music that I was not aware of by downloading this file or by clicking on that other.

I was just mentioning an example of some current music that I really enjoyed and keep enjoying after some listenings. No passive agressive, no hidden intentions, no one trying to be hip (not me, at least) just to comment on music.

Hell, I will have to go back to my English lessons (I am not a native English speaker)

Sal Nunziato said...

To Anonymous #2, if you were the first one to mention War On Drugs then you are correct. Those comments were not passive aggressive. You should continue to feel welcome, as should everyone.

It would be nice if people signed ANY name, so there'd be no confusion.

The most recent ANONYMOUS comments, which I cut and pasted, are the comments that included what I thought was a P-A comment and my War On Drugs retort was sarcasm.

Anyway...carry on.

William Repsher said...

I don't think people who weren't alive back then grasp just how big/invasive/all encompassing the Beatles influence was. Or Dylan. Or The Stones. I wouldn't even bring it down to a quality issue in terms of following artists not being able to match the quality of that music: I'm thinking more in terms of cultural impact. There are plenty of good bands now who are never going to have anywhere near that cultural impact. Wilco, for instance. A band I love, have followed all along, but know, most people out there don't know or care who they are. There was a huge cultural shift that started in the 80s, took hold in the 90s, and seems to imply now that the "really good stuff" is always underground and/or indie. Which I tend to agree with, but isn't always true.

Cultural impact of that magnitude seemed to stop with hiphop, or at least nothing has come along since then on that large a level. EDM? Seems like warmed over rave culture from the 90s to me, which in essence was disco not dying, but merging with synth pop. There's a very large difference between how people who were raised in the 60s and 70s perceive music and its impact as opposed to people who came after, who seemingly will always have a chip on the shoulder regarding the music they like or love. I see benefits to both ways of seeing the world. But I understand why old men like me still buy Dylan reissue boxes in droves ... or at least will in another week or two.

A walk in the woods said...

It would be hard to say the music produced today compares, overall, with the best of the music of the 60s/70s. But yes, there is still great music, as you said... aside from excellent albums by aging favorites (I love Paul Simon's last album), here are some of the current era I listen to quite a lot:

White Denim & Bop English - everything they do
Tame Impala - Currents
Mac DeMarco - Salad Days
Tommy Keene — Laugh In The Dark
Jamie xx - In Colour'
Caribou - Our Love
Kurt Vile - Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest (and his side band, Atlas Sound)

Anonymous said...

To quote that old saying "You're only as good as your competition"! Think of the musical contenders constantly trying to up each other in the 50's, 60's & 70's, then think of who could possibly be challenging today's musicians. No wonder they so under achieve.

On that note I will mention I'm really beginning to like Ezra Furman a lot.

Capt. Al

James Grady said...

Rubber Soul: I agree absolutely about the unbelievable maturity of some of the songs on this LP. As I've got older, In My Life brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. For someone less than 25 years old to write lyrics of such insight and maturity is hard to believe.
Then again, I wonder what was going through my head when I got it for my ninth birthday!