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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thoughts on music, life, and The Grammys - A Cranky Old Man Rant

I didn't watch the Grammys last night.  The clip I checked out on YouTube of Taylor Swift (who I really don't mind) - she was really flat.  While I respect the decision not to use autotune, she and Stevie Nicks together kinda sounded like a train wreck.  Stevie's always had pitch issues.

That being said, of all the cover songs I play You Belong To Me is one of the better-written and catchier melodies.  Someday I will share my Cheap Trick-style version with you.

Two very cool things about the Grammys though:

1)  Ramblin' Jack Elliott won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album.  I doubt Jack has ever won an award in his life.  A HUGE influence on Bob Dylan, Jack was the king of the scene in Greenwich Village in the early 60s.  78 years old.  I LOVE that shit.  Show em how it's done, old man.

2)  Neil Young won his first Grammy, even though it was for Art Direction on one of his Archive box sets.   Think about that, though.  Love him or hate him, Neil Young has a HUGE influence.  The whole Pearl Jam/Nirvana Seattle scene worshipped him and was extremely influenced by his fusion of folk, punk, and hard rock styles.  Also his scraggly hair.   His first Grammy?  How insane is that?  It's great but it sucks too...he has released over 30 albums in a career spanning decades.   Maybe he hasn't been relevant to the culture at large for a period of years, but does music ALWAYS have to be culturally relevant?  Can it ever be judged on its own terms?   Or is all that matters that people buy it?

We are giving Taylor Swift at age 20 armloads of awards as if she is the "best" because she happened to sell the most last year...

so without sounding too curmudgeonly, I need to express how much I really despise these kinds of events where today's artists are celebrated as if they are Artists with a capital A.  The music of the 60s was a youth movement, perhaps the greatest youth movement of all time.  I also understand that ages 15 - 25 are the #1 sales demographic because they are not spending their money on power bills and mortgages, they buy CDs and downloads.   I love young people btw.  I know a lot of them who think the current pop music is crap, too.

BUT I want to scream how the emperor (or empress, in Lady Gaga's case) has no clothes.  At least Gaga is visually interesting.  In my lifetime, though, I have seen pop music rise and fall.  There were the quirky early to mid 80s where for a brief, shining moment being weird and interesting was celebrated.  Then the dance music and hair bands leapt in, to be smashed by Nirvana.  All of a sudden it was again cool to be interesting.  Since Nirvana, though, it seems like we've been slowly sliding downhill with all of the interesting artists marginalized and the most mainstream stuff getting more and more watered down...there have been some bright moments - "Are You Gonna Be My Girl", "Drops of Jupiter" - there will always be great pop songs even in the darkness....but it seems to be getting worse.

What it boils down to is I have a deep and abiding love for music created on guitars and pianos.  A drum machine beat and a fuzzy synth can be fun once in a while...but nobody in the mainstream really uses the tech that creatively these days.  I am thinking here of one-man band synth pioneer Howard Jones whose singles had real texture.  I suppose I am old-fashioned, but I believed these things in the late 80s too when I was only 17...

What is my point?  Maybe the best stuff has always been outside the spotlight.  There will always be good music being made.   For example, this new disc by a group called Seeland is amazing.  Check them out: - there is no reason that they shouldn't be huge.

Our musical culture is so fractured right now that unless you go out to bars all the time or listen to whatever top 40 radio station is left in your town, you probably haven't even heard Lady Gaga.  That is somewhat comforting, even though Gaga is the best of what's out there on the charts right now.

Lester Bangs wrote an essay on Elvis in 77 when the King died which ended with "I'm not going to say goodbye to Elvis.  I'm going to say goodbye to you.  Because we will never agree on anything so much ever again."   Foreshadowing!

I ramble.  I roll.  But (since I don't post regularly) maybe nobody will read this!   I promise to get better at this whole blogeration.  Cheers.