Monday, February 10, 2020

Age Ain't Nothing But A Number

There was a moment on last night's Oscar broadcast during the Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig segment, when the camera cut to the audience while they were purposely oversinging a hilarious medley of tunes, as a showcase for all the directors in the audience. The camera caught Billie Eilish grimacing and rolling her eyes during the ladies' five seconds of Chris DeBurgh's "Lady In Red." To my eyes, it appeared that Eilish was thinking "What is this shit?" To be fair, Eilish is a kid. She may not have recognized "The Lady In Red" as it was a hit 15 years before she was born. Or for that matter, she may not have recognized Maya Rudolph or Kristen Wiig. Or, maybe she possibly was unaware she was at the Academy Awards. Or, to be kind, maybe her brother just showed her some funny video on YouTube and her reaction had nothing at all to do with anything on the stage.

Then, there was "Yesterday," Eilish's miserable and misguided take on the McCartney classic, while Oscar showed clips of all the actors and moviemakers lucky enough to have been dead during her performance.

I have listened to Billie Eilish with the same focus and intensity that I would give to anyone from Bob Dylan to AC/DC and back again. No, I don't like her record. Not at all. But I don't think it's fair to say, "Her music isn't for you." Quite frankly, I got tired of the "Get off my lawn" bullshit and accusations years ago. If I say I don't like the new Bob Dylan record, no one will accuse me of being cranky. And, if I had really dug the new Billie Eilish record, no one would have admonished me for listening to music that is "not for me."

I have been listening to music on a daily basis for over 50 years. To say, music is my life is an understatement. I could probably live longer without water than I could without music. Many of us could admit to the same. Is this not enough to qualify for real criticism of an artist?

At what age do we lose the ability or the right to criticize new music?

I've listened to those who have championed Eilish. I've heard "She's a real talent.'' I have also heard "Her brother is the real talent. He is amazing." She won five Grammy Awards.

This is the Song Of The Year:

So you're a tough guy
Like it really rough guy
Just can't get enough guy
Chest always so puffed guy
I'm that bad type
Make your mama sad type
Make your girlfriend mad tight
Might seduce your dad type
I'm the bad guy, duh
I'm the bad guy
I like it when you take control
Even if you know that you don't
Own me, I'll let you play the role
I'll be your animal
My mommy likes to sing along with me
But she won't sing this song
If she reads all the lyrics
She'll pity the men I know

The issue I have isn't with Billie Eilish at all. If this is what she is capable of at 18 years old, then so be it. The issue I have is with this need to stand behind it or be accused of not letting "the kids have a shot."

Janis Ian wrote "Society's Child" when she was 13, by the way.

The Billie Eilsh record is not the worst thing I have ever heard. But if all the cranky men over 60 are going to take one side or the other--"I recognize her talent" or "This is crap!"--why is the third option never taken into consideration? Just maybe she isn't very good. Maybe she isn't ready for the big time. Send her back to the drawing board.

But guess what?

She is popular. Huge! She is already a pop star. But to use a very old comparison, McDonald's serves billions, and we all know it's crap.

If you want dark, moody music with personal lyrics, listen to Nine Inch Nails. These records are made by someone our age and they are a helluva lot better. But if even then you find yourself saying, "Nine Inch Nails doesn't speak to me." Or, "AC/DC doesn't speak to me." Or, "rap music, heavy metal, jazz, bop, EDM, folk, punk" doesn't speak to me. If you find yourself thinking "Hey, I really don't like anything except this safe little place of pop and rock music on my iPod" then maybe you are as much of a problem as anyone.

I don't think Billie Eilish is very good and I don't think it's because I am old enough to be her father.


Anonymous said...

C'mon, Sal, at least she's got streaks of color in her hair kinda sorta like Todd.


Sir Otter said...

I've been enjoying immensely the recent spate of YouTube videos of younguns reacting to the songs of my youth (and before), usually with rapturous astonishment at how good those songs are. Occasionally, someone will even admit that current popular music isn't anywhere near as good. My wife likes the new stuff, so when we're in her car, she has the satellite radio on stations that play current hits. Not sure what else is out there, but I last about three songs of the offered playlist before being compelled to change the station to anything else. There are way too many symphonies and operas and actual good music yet unheard to willingly waste my time on what has consistently proven to be barely music by any objective definition. There was a time when I looked forward to new music, but I've been disappointed too many times in the last few decades to get excited about the flavors of the week. Eilish's horrendous mangling of a classic does nothing to change my mind. This isn't (just) me being old. It's a deep sadness that our young folks have been trained by the music industry to have such low expectations.

Troy said...

Interesting take, Sal. I think I see where you're going with this, but I feel differently about it. See, I recognize that a lot - - most, in fact - - new music is not written for me. I doubt Billie E and her brother thought when they were making their record "man, I hope that 53 year old, middle age dad from suburbia likes our record". I give it a listen and if it connects, great. If not, I just say 'meh, not my thing' and walk away. I don't have to get behind it or criticize it. I just know what works for me and what doesn't.

I personally don't think a lot of the new music I've heard is well written, in terms of melody, song structure, lyrical depth, etc. But that's ok, people are enjoying it. I agree with Sir Otter about the music industry training people to have low expectations (I suspect it is largely financial). When I was a kid growing up, older adults thought what I listened to, from KISS to Cheap Trick to Van Halen to The Police or The Pretenders, U2, Talking Heads, REM, etc was crap. It wasn't for them. And now years later the new music isn't written for me. I may like a few songs here and there (I LOVE White Reaper's 'Might Be Right') but I'm not going to criticize the rest.

I think it is easier to go backwards and listen to more of the undiscovered (for me) music. I find more rewards from digging into the catalog of Lowen & Navarro (a recent obsession) than I do from exploring the songs of Post Malone, Billie E, Eminem, and Halsey. I've tried them and they are just not my thing. My listening time is shorter than it used to be, so I want it to be rewarding. Does that mean I'm not giving new music a chance? Maybe. But I try not to be a grumpy, get-off-my-lawn kind of guy either.

Hope I understood the assignment, perfesser....

Sal Nunziato said...

"When I was a kid growing up, older adults thought what I listened to, from KISS to Cheap Trick to Van Halen to The Police or The Pretenders, U2, Talking Heads, REM, etc was crap. It wasn't for them."

I really hadn't experienced that. That's the truth. Yeah, maybe Kiss turned some heads. I also remember my grandmother finally losing it during the spacey break in "Whole Lottla Love." But the adults in my life recognized a song. If they didn't dig "Precious" by The Pretenders, they accepted "Brass In Pocket" and "Kid." AM radio was on all the time. We have stock footage of the same blue haired ladies mocking the Fabs haircuts and how dirty the Stones looked. But there is also stock footage of different blue hairee ladies snapping their fingers to "All My Loving."

I think Sir Otter nailed it with his last paragraph:
"There was a time when I looked forward to new music, but I've been disappointed too many times in the last few decades to get excited about the flavors of the week. Eilish's horrendous mangling of a classic does nothing to change my mind. This isn't (just) me being old. It's a deep sadness that our young folks have been trained by the music industry to have such low expectations."

My issue is not enough people will admit that. Its easier to say "meh" and turn it off, and that is why the bar gets lower and lower.

Bombshelter Slim said...

''If you find yourself thinking "Hey, I really don't like anything except this safe little place of pop and rock music on my iPod" then maybe you are as much of a problem as anyone.'' ??? Really ??? That would be a textbook example of get-off-my-lawn-ism if ever there was one. Not that I disagree with most of the post... Popularity Blvd rarely intersects with Artistic Integrity Ave, but so what?

Sal Nunziato said...

How is that an example of textbook lawn-ism? I was shooting for the opposite. Please explain. My point is, if you're not open to anything but your safe place, how can you distinguish good and bad in all fields?

And I don't agree at all with popularity not intersecting with artistic integrity. Where does Dylan going electric fit in?

EW said...

Billie's music, like most new music made these days, is all drama and spectacle in a Vegas-y kinda way. It's just meant to bowl you over and wow you. If that appeals to someone, then fine. I just can't see how anyone actually enjoys it.

Shriner said...

So let me lead off with I didn't like the entire B.E. Album. But I like "Bad Guy". I don't *love* "Bad Guy", but I won't turn it off if I'm actually listening to the radio and it comes on. It's a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of the Top 40, frankly.

But in the context of Grammy-winning "Song Of The Year" winners -- Bad Guy was certainly nothing like anything else on the radio and I can see why it got a lot of attention -- but I also thought the competition was fairly tight ("Old Town Road" could have won -- so could "Truth Hurts", frankly>0 But going through the list of previous SOTY winners, I don't think BG is any worse/better than many other winners (of which many I could not hum the tune if you put a gun to my head -- "Change The World" by Clapton? Can't think of a thing about it.... "Bad Guy" is memorable, at least.

Sometimes the Grammy's get SOTY right -- "Beautiful Day" was the last great U2 song (IMO). "This Is America" -- fabulous.

Sometimes they don't: "Don't Worry, Be Happy"? "Little Green Apples" Really?

I haven't watched the Oscars yet (tonight, I'll go back to finish it -- I stopped at Eminim...), but I wouldn't gauge a performer based on whatever they have to sing for the "In Memorium" section of the Oscars. It's filler music to the pictures. If it's not offensive, then it worked.

By all means, criticize away, though!

Sal Nunziato said...

I gauging B.E.'s based on her In Memoriam performance. I just added that to illustrate the bigger point. "Offensive" would have been better. This was awful and that is worse.

Shriner said...

Having B.E. sing "Yesterday" was probably a poor choice of song for any 18-year-old TBH.

At some point, you don't have really young artists work their way through 50-60 year old songs that have little meaning to them. I will temper my statement after I watch it in context of the rest of the Oscars later.

I thought she was great on the Grammys and on SNL recently, though.

Bombshelter Slim said...

Sal, is it one's duty to discern what is "good" and "bad"? What you and I may say is crap is merely our subjective viewpoint. And I did say "rarely intersects", and I challenge anyone to make a different case. I had no problem with Dylan going electric (Like A Rolling Stone on the radio in 65 was the first time I'd actually heard him), but I did have a problem with him going "crappy" and staying there. My opinion, of course, and I'm sticking with it!! LOL.

Sal Nunziato said...

"Sal, is it one's duty to discern what is "good" and "bad"?"

Then I might as well close up shop. Criticism of the arts has been going on a lot longer than any of us have been alive. Is it a "duty?" Well, I may be just a poor schnook with a blog, but there are others who have made a very decent living discerning what's good and bad. Some I actually respect and listen to because for the most part, they have led me down the right path.

pmac said...

Agree with just about all that has been posted. What saddens me the most is the fact that while technology has given today's aspiring musicians untold tools (and cheap access to them) to create incredible music, it appears that pablum is what is being produced.

Sal Nunziato said...

It's not their fault. No one is there to stop them.

Christine said...

Honestly, if I had just listened to her without actually seeing her perform, I would never have listened again. I do think it's fun to watch her jump around on the stage. Maybe they should just go straight to Vegas. I've always felt that my (old) age really has nothing to do with who I choose to listen to. It's good or it isn't--so I agree with you 100%. But, maybe I didn't like her rendition of "Yesterday" because I don't think she's old enough to understand mortality; maybe it really was just awful. Still like watching her jump around. :)

Gene Oberto said...

Fortunately, the Oscars and other prize ceremonies come on in the wee hours of the morning here in Sweden. If I'm not staying up for the Super Bowl, then I'm sure not going to lose sleep over industry award shows. Like the recent Grammy dust up, all these shows are pre-determined self congratulatory events where people need to be seen and schmooz.

Billie Eilish singing "Yesterday" was just a schtick to get young eyes on the broadcast. I've seen Miss Eilish in different non-singing situations and she seems to be an 18 year old putting on a tough, street smart act to cover her lack of experience. That young girls follow her says more about her posture than her talent.

I've seen teens younger sing rings around her on clips from AGT and Idol. But they are not artistes. But the song would be sung with the respect it is due.

I also dabble in the latest thing in music. Some I dig, others I don't. Case in point is the Swedish pop artist, Robyn. For some reason, I just latched on to her music. Last August I saw her live and came away with a smile. She's the real deal and I'm glad I found her music.

Like all of you, music is my passion and it plays as the soundtrack to my life. While I don't think of myself as a "get off the lawn" guy, I would rather discover all the music I've missed since hearing "Rock Around the Clock" as a kid than force myself to listen to the latest thing in pop to try and stay hip.

Sal Nunziato said...

Regarding Billie Eilish not being old enough to understand mortality, Paul wrote the song when he was 22.

Joni wrote "Both Sides Now" when she was 23.

Was there something in the water then, or is there something in the water now?

Anonymous said...

My first exposure to Billie Eyelash was here performance on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago, I wanted to see what new thing the "kids" were into now. After about 3 minutes of whatever song she was singing I had to turn it off. There just wasn't nothing in it for me. I think that's the thing for me with new music, there just isn't enough "it" in it. Can you imagine if The John Sally Ride had the money machine that Interscope has put into Ms. Eyelids, how big you guys would be?

J.D. Hughes said...

I agree with you 100% and that rendition of "Yesterday" was absolute garbage.

Jim G said...

I don't get Billie Eilish either, and to be fair to us old farts, neither do my 11 year old twin girls. Her version of Yesterday isn't awful, mostly because Yesterday is such a great song that if you have the slightest bit of talent or at least commitment to the lyric, and don't mess with the melody too much, you're probably good. I don't sing, but at age 52 and knowing this song for most of my life, I'm pretty sure I could do justice to it and move a few people.

Shriner said...

I watched it and (as I assumed), it was just...there. It served it's purpose and she sang it in the same style as she sings her other non-up-tempo songs -- no better, no worse. I certainly didn't find it awful.

Whomever sings an "In Memorium" song is not supposed to be the focus of the performance anyway. If you were focusing on the song, you missed the point of celebrating the people who have died. Be it the Grammys, the Emmys, the Tonys or the Oscars.

Sal Nunziato said...

"If you were focusing on the song, you missed the point of celebrating the people who have died."

Okay, Shriner, really?? A subtle guilt trip for those of us who didn't pay attention to the montage of recently deceased key grips? Please! If the singer and song don't matter, how about booking me next year and I'll juggle three tennis balls while wearing a propeller hat?

Sorry, but while I appreciate your glass half full approach to Eilish, I think you're missing the bigger picture.

How many 16 year olds do you think watched the Oscars? Who was Eilish there for?

How many talented singers and actors who are waiting for a real break could have nailed that song? Now THAT is a respectful tribute. Not some 18 year old who probably doesn't even like the song, or hadn't even heard the song before rehearsal. That to me is less of a celebration to those who have died than paying attention to the singer.

She was there as the Flavor Of The Month and that is what all of my whining is about.

Anything Should Happen said...

Wonderful piece as always Sal! I don't agree with all of it, but I understand the sentiment. I quite like Billie Eilish, but I completely understand why people don't. To be honest, what I found most hilarious was many trying to show how hip they were by shaking and nodding to Eminem, who I thought was great.

You are right for the not aimed at you abuse, it may not be, but you are entitled to an opinion. I'd rather listen to something new and not like it than watch some X Factor wannabe shouting out a song.

Also was it only me that thought a better Elton John Song could have been performed?

Oh Shriner! I completely disagree with your do not concentrate on the music comment. In that case why is it there? I look forward to a Death Metal Version of I Love The Dead next time. It wasn't a surprise that these people had died, we were told on Social Media.

First time I've watched The Oscars in a long while. It is a big investment of time, particularly in the early hours over here.

Finally on the Eilish front. If some 60 year old likes her because they really like what she does that's great. I suspect most want to look hip.

Sal Nunziato said...

I think the Elton song performed was the one that was nominated, so he had to.

Shriner said...

I have no idea why Eilish was there any more than why Eminem was there this year, tbh. (I'm sure they interviewed the producers of the Oscars to explain why, but it Eminem was certainly an enjoyable surprise...)

Didn't mean for it to come across as a guilt trip -- my own interest in the In Memorium segments is to see who they choose to honor over the past year much, much more than figuring out who might be singing "Send In The Clowns" or "Wind Beneath My Wings" in any given year.

That said, I spent 2 seconds looking up a BE quote about this performance:

""Honored to be performing during the in memoriam segment for the oscars tonight covering a song i’ve always loved," she wrote."

I get that not everybody liked it and I'm sure somebody else could have knocked it out of the park, but -- for what it was -- I was expecting a lot worse based your review and it was just acceptable background music -- which is what it should be -- for the segment.

It's the Oscars -- not the Grammys. I'd rather talk about how Randy Newman's Toy Story 4 song is terrible and the Elton John song that won -- is super dull to me. :-)

Sal Nunziato said...

I wasn't completely serious about the guilt trip. Not to worry. But my feeling about it all remains the same. All awards shows are basically crap, none moreso than the Grammys.

One more time I will say, I have less of a beef with B.E. and what she is delivering than I do with the enablers. The piece I wrote for the NYT in 2014 still stands today. Sure, it pissed off all indie musicians, but the fact remains, having talent, a real voice, solid musicianship, being a true poet, a songwriter, knowing melody, being blessed with the art of making a record...ALL OF IT is less important now. You have GarageBand, a Twitter account and a Casio keyboard and you can be a superstar. It may not be a big deal to others, but it sure is a big deal to me.

Christine said...

Well--just awful then! I don't know about the water. Perhaps we had higher expectations back then. It's true, as Sir Otter stated, "our young folks have been trained by the music industry to have such low expectations".

As a side note, I loved Tyler, the Creator's over the top insanity at the Grammy's so maybe there's something in MY water.

Chris Collins said...

Billie could definitely use a record label and some mentor guiding along. I agree that she's not quite ready for Prime Time, but if she wasn't the New Big Thing I think I'd like "Bad Guy" just fine. I liked it when I first heard it. She's not bad. It's just odd how she's completely dominated the conversation for a while now. Her grammy haul was kind of absurd.

PS- Steve Van Zandt LOVED her "Yesterday" performance. For what it's worth. I thought it was a "nice try" kinda moment.

big bad wolf said...

I am most baffled by the fact that people apparently thought rudolph and wigg were funny.

Taste is subjective and often times-defined. Craft, less so. A well constructed, well thought out song or album lasts longer than those less well worked out.

Steve Van Zandt could be wrong

Mr. Baez said...

It would have been a cool moment and one of more gravitas if Elton had sung "Yesterday" instead of B.E. during the In Memoriam segment of the Oscars.

George said...

My problem with Ellish is that she's not an artist, she's a construct.

She's "never heard of Van Halen" huh? Roll's her eyes when anyone 5 years older than she is performs huh? Well, here's the thing....

A REAL musician, a REAL artist has some knowledge of what came before. Even, perhaps, some admiration. When I was a young man and just beginning my journey, I knew who my parents enjoyed, musically. Yeah, they weren't anywhere near the top of my playlist, but I knew who Sinatra was, who Benny Goodman was. Clapton acknowledged BB King. BB King acknowledged Bukka White. Who does Ellish acknowledge?

And maybe she does know who older artists are but pretending not to is part of her schtick. The hip, edgy kid. Disdainful of anyone who isn't in her age bracket. Well, can't say it doesn't work for her, I suppose.

But here's the I said in the beginning, a real musician acknowledges who came before. However, I don't believe she is a real musician. What she a haircut and a pair of tits some record company exec looked at and thought, "I can sell this."

Chris Collins said...

George, Billie Eillish may not be my ideal of an artist, but what, precisely, do you know about Billie Eillish other than that she doesn't know Van Halen? She's acknowledged plenty of musical influences, from Billie Holiday to hip hop to Amy Winehouse. (by the way, the the time distance between Billie and Amy is equivalent to the time distance between Clapton and King). I've never seen her "roll her eyes" at anyone. She's an 18 year old kid who writes and performs music that means a LOT to other 18 year old kids. And a lot of other people. Her music touches something in a lot of people. Not me, but a LOT of people. Music that she's written herself. Not some hired pop songwriter. She and her brother. Music that she released herself on Soundcloud and gained plenty of traction without any outside help.

What evidence do you have that she's "disdainful of anyone who isn't in her age bracket"? This assertion is supported by exactly nothing.

"Hope I die before I get old"- hip, edgy kid

George said...

Hello Chris,

Thank you for the thoughtful response. The "eye roll" was from a reaction she had to watching older performers at the Oscars. It was televised, and it did happen.

If she has acknowledged other influences then good on her. I just do not believe she "never heard" of Van Halen (and no, I'm not a big Van Halen fan).

As far as her music touching a lot of people...I hate to trot out the MacDonalds analogy, but MacDonalds sells crap, and just because they sell billions doesn't magically turn their "pink goo" burgers in filet mignon. People have lower standards today. It's sad, but true.

Finally, I stand by what I said. You don't have to agree, that's fine. We'll agree to disagree, I suppose.

"Live long and prosper" - Mr. Spock

All my best to you, Chris. Blessings and have a good life.


Chris Collins said...

In all fairness, the camera cut to her during a comedy bit, and she looked to not be rolling her eyes as much as just not getting the bit. Also, she could have been reacting to anything. But thanks for your response as well. Be good. Thanks