Sunday, November 19, 2006
Shut Up. Listen. Learn.
Just about everyone has that moment.
It typically comes during the formative years, and its sheer weight cannot be overstated, simply because -- upon reflection later in life -- it will always be held in the kind of esteem and spoken of with the kind of reverence typically reserved for a first kiss or a conversion to Christ. I'm speaking of course of that single, epiphanic event which inarguably determines if not the final outcome of your musical tastes, then at the very least the path that will be taken to eventually arrive at that point. It is the juncture which often decides whether you'll spend entire evenings passionately arguing the merits of the new Secret Machines album, or debating the necessity of Muse's existence were it not for the fact that Radiohead doesn't write actual songs anymore -- or think to yourself that you might pick up that new Mariah Carey record at some point; whether you'll seduce a potential lover with a mix playlist that includes Jeff Buckley, Marvin Gaye, Zero 7 and Protection-era Massive Attack, then inevitably have mind-blowing sex with that person to the Deftones' Change (in the House of Flies) -- or half-heartedly try to decide between Kenny G and Enigma should you actually convince someone of the opposite sex to spend an evening with you in a manner that doesn't involve chloroform and a tube-sock.
To put it simply, it will decide whether or not you suck.
As I sit here typing these words, I'm listening to the new Army of Anyone record. For the unfamiliar, the band features the DeLeo brothers (formerly of Stone Temple Pilots) and Richard Patrick (lead singer of Filter). It's the kind of album which will in no way align the planets, but as good, melodic rock records go, it more than serves its purpose. I owe the fact that this is currently being played in my home to one person, and one person only. His name is Robert Rivero. I haven't seen him since the sixth grade, which is coincidentally the same year I met him.
Up until the point that Robert Rivero entered my life, my music had come from the same source as my Toughskins jeans -- Sears. And as with those jeans, the authority deciding the specifics of what I would be listening to was my mother. Thankfully, my mother had pretty decent taste in music -- when it came to what she herself listened to. With the exception of the sage purchase of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours album however, the music she foisted upon me showed no such keen judgment. In fact, as I think back to a small stack of records that included Leo Sayer, Abba and a pre-ironically-hip Bee-Gees, I realize that my mother owes her current freedom only to that era's liberal child abuse laws.
When Robert Rivero stumbled into class on the first day of school in 1979 however -- eyes mere bloodshot slits, dressed in the ubiquitous stoner uniform of a Led Zeppelin t-shirt, torn jeans and suede chukka-boots -- everything changed. He and I made friends quickly and within a month or so, much to my parents' abject horror, Robert was influencing everything from the way I looked and acted to, most importantly, what I listened to. In an ultimately pathetic vision-quest to be more Rivero-like, I would put my allowance toward the purchase of vinyl and beg regularly to be chauffeured to the mall to pick up AC/DC's Highway to Hell or Sabbath's Paranoid. I had fantasies of running into Abba on the street and setting them on fire in an effort to demonstrate my unwavering allegiance to Jimmy Page, and -- by proxy -- Satan.
The irony however, is that it was through the attempt to emulate someone else that I learned to make my own decisions; it was through an influential kinship with someone my own age that I learned to develop tastes and appreciations that were independent of my parents. It also, as I mentioned before and can't stress enough, started me down the passionate musical road which I continue traveling to this day.
The titular "Highway to Hell" perhaps.
About a month ago, I voiced my considerable like for the new My Chemical Romance album The Black Parade. That opinion still stands -- in fact, after repeated listens I can honestly say that I like it even more than I did when I first wrote about it. As that post was quick and to the point -- as opposed to some which are long, rambling and take forever to make their point, like this one for instance -- I didn't expect much in the way of reaction. I was wrong. Given the responses that I received, both on the comment page and via e-mail, you would've thought that I had suggested replacing every other noun in the pledge of allegiance with the words "pee-pee pants." What surprised me most was the implication by many that the enjoyment of MCR was somehow beneath me -- that it was unexpected for someone who considers himself an independent thinker to support a band that was so obviously populist.
And that's what led me to feel the need to make my musical tastes clear.
My first job in broadcasting was as a DJ at WVUM, the radio station at the University of Miami. Before finding my place as the host of a show which was essentially talk and opinion, I made the rounds in the general DJ pool, where I played a combination of my own choices and the songs and bands which the program director had deemed worthy of broadcast. I'll probably make my first pro-mainstream statement regarding my likes and dislikes (aside from my MCR jones of course) by saying that most of what the program director picked was shit. In fact, most of what's played on college radio in general -- then and now -- is shit. Although there are many fantastic bands on tiny labels which certainly deserve to be heard, there are three times as many bands that are on tiny labels with good goddamned reason. A message for college radio kids: playing bands that are so far underground that they've never even heard of themselves doesn't make you cool, it makes you desperate to appear cool, which in turn makes you suck.
Likewise, abandoning a band simply because they evolve, get a major-label deal, or suddenly achieve some measure of success merely shows that you weren't half as interested in the band as you were in how the band made you feel about yourself. Once again, this makes you suck.
I look at music the way I look at politics: if an equal number of people from both sides of the aisle -- in this case, the pop-lovers and the indie kids -- hold you in the same disdain, you're probably doing something right.
So, without further ado -- and in appropriate stream-of-consciousness fashion -- here's the music that I love and hate...
My three "desert island" albums are, in no particular order: Radiohead's OK Computer, Jeff Buckley's Grace, and Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Buckley's Grace contains probably the most beautiful song -- and certainly best cover -- ever recorded: Hallelujah. OK Computer meanwhile is the best rock album of the 90s (yes, better than Nirvana's Nevermind). Although Nirvana are a vastly more important band than the Foo Fighters, they are not, in fact, a better band; when their bodies of work are compared side-by-side, Foo Fighters are an infinitely better band. There's a reason that pop music is pop music: it's pleasing to the ear; as such, I'd rather truly enjoy Neil Young's gorgeous Harvest Moon album than have to trudge my way through his nauseatingly self-indulgent Arc album, which consists of nothing but noise. Hip-hop right now is little more than noise -- unlistenable noise being shouted by mindless dipshits with a lot of money, and I'd probably give up the brilliant work of Mos Def, Public Enemy, Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, Ice T, Slick Rick, the Beastie Boys and others if it meant that the cultural virus known as today's rap could be completely eradicated. If you think this is racist, you're probably a tool. Tool is one of the best and most instrumentally complex bands in the world right now, however, song-for-song I prefer A Perfect Circle. Perfect Circle is R.E.M.'s best song from Michael Stipe's pre-intelligible stage, Sweetness Follows is their best post-intelligible song. R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People is one of the 10 best albums of the 1990s. Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend is one of the top 25 albums of the 1990s, despite containing only three really great songs. Every Matthew Sweet album contains only three great songs, tops, but those songs are typically better than other artists' entire discographies. People who claim that vinyl is better than compact disc or digital music should be treated with leeches and trepanation the next time they get sick. AC/DC should've broken up after Bon Scott died from choking on his own vomit. I'll never forgive Rick Rubin for turning the Cult into a latter-day AC/DC on their worthless Electric album. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Howl album, although brilliant, should've come from another band; their original incarnation, doing Jesus & Mary Chainian psychedelia, filled a much-needed hole in the musical landscape. BRMC -- then and now -- are one of the coolest bands on the planet; the others that come to mind are Girls Against Boys, Queens of the Stone Age, and the Dandy Warhols. I'm in love with the Dandys' Zia McCabe, and not just because she occasionally performs topless. Liz Phair's old material is great. Liz Phair's new material is average. Whether Liz Phair's material is great or average doesn't matter, because there's no one in rock n' roll that I'd more like to have sex with. Gwen Stefani used to be both adorable and the singer for a really decent band, No Doubt -- she's now a hip-hop anime character. Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl is one of the worst songs in the history of recorded music; it makes me wish I'd been born deaf. Fergalicious by Fergie is equally bad. Jennifer Lopez's disappearance from the music business is proof that there may in fact be a benevolent god. Despite the underlying Christian message of their music, Switchfoot are actually a pretty likable band. You can like a band's music but hate the band itself (Good Charlotte). You can like a band but hate their music (Happy Mondays). Oasis are music's biggest assholes who also write great songs; they also have the distinction of being the only band whose b-sides are actually better, by and large, than the material on their albums. The Red Hot Chili Peppers may be the last great rock n' roll band with any kind of longevity. U2 may very well contradict my last statement. Upon further reflection, yes, Green Day's American Idiot was that good. Billy Joel has recorded more phenomenal music than any other single artist working right now; although The Nylon Curtain is his best album, Zanzibar is his most underrated song. Cheap Trick are rock's most underrated band. The Grateful Dead are rock's most overrated band. I never get tired of hearing the Stones' Gimme Shelter, the New Pornographers' Use It, Crazy Town & Orgy's Black Cloud, Gnarls Barkley's Crazy, Fiona Apple's Sullen Girl, and Zero 7's Destiny (or the entire Simple Things album for that matter). I got tired of hearing the White Stripes midway through their debut album and actually believe that Jack White's new band, The Raconteurs, are far better. No one is better than Tom Waits. Elvis Presley has always been overrated. Elvis Costello cannot be overrated. Somehow, New Order released their best album two decades into their career; Get Ready is shockingly good. There is nothing, NOTHING, better than a playlist which includes Coltrane, Monk, Mingus, Miles, Brubeck and Jimmy Scott. The debut Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy album and, more recently, the debut N*E*R*D album contradict what I said earlier about hip-hop. Generally speaking, both blues and funk are types of music played by brilliant musicians who can't write a song for shit. Faux-punk music would probably be tolerable if it didn't try to bill itself as punk. When Avril Lavigne was labeled "punk," Joe Strummer, in a final show of defiance, died. Sid Vicious was an idiot; Johnny Rotten was anything but. The Pistols were gods regardless. Every night I thank God for Henry Rollins. I want Debussy to be the last thing I hear before I die; Clair de Lune is perfection. I want Nine Inch Nails to be the last thing I hear before I kill; The Fragile is a masterpiece. I loathe Missy Elliott. I miss Elliott Smith. I miss Husker Du. I miss the Replacements. I miss the Smashing Pumpkins while simultaneously not missing Billy Corgan. I will never, NEVER, be able to figure out why Jonatha Brooke isn't huge; stop reading this immediately and buy everything she's ever released. I will never be able to figure out why Ken Andrews isn't huge; buy the Year of the Rabbit album immediately. Abandoned Pools are the best band you've never heard of, besides possibly The Start. David Baerwald's A Secret Silken World is the best song you've never heard. Sloan rule. I believe that the Sneaker Pimps are actually better without Kelli Dayton. I believe that Brian Warner/Marilyn Manson is a fucking genius. I believe that Charlie Benante of Anthrax can drum circles around Lars Ulrich of Metallica. Buddy Rich can drum circles around both of them. Greg Dulli has never sung a bad song, whether it's a cover or an original -- whether he's fronting the Afghan Whigs, the Twilight Singers or solo. Surprisingly, Motley Crue's cover of the Tubes' White Punks on Dope isn't half bad. Unsurprisingly, Motley Crue's cover of Street Fighting Man is terrible. There has never been a good reggaeton song, and there never will be. Madonna should be killed on principle. Killing Joke's Night Time album is probably still my favorite record of the 80s. The Killing Moon from Echo & the Bunnymen is probably the best song of the 80s. The Cure was always better than the Smiths. You can tell a lot about a person by his or her preference in Cure material: my favorite Cure songs are Burn from The Crow soundtrack, The Kiss, and anything from Disintegration; I have no use for Friday I'm in Love. I loved Gang of Four the first time around, which is why I can't take two seconds of the wholly derivative crap that Franz Ferdinand churns out. Sometimes it isn't about the music, so much as where it takes you when you listen to it -- this is why I can listen to Trespassers William's Different Stars album and Thievery Corporation's The Mirror Conspiracy over and over again. Liam Howlett should've kept Prodigy intact. Big Audio Dynamite and Faith No More are both vastly underrated, and contributed more to the sound of modern music than anyone willingly gives them credit for. 1992 was the last truly great year for music. Were it not for the greatness of Pearl Jam, the death of Andrew Wood and the collapse of Mother Love Bone would have been one of the biggest losses to rock n' roll ever. Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash were too fucking cool to live. Prince, David Bowie, Trent Reznor and possibly Todd Rundgren may be the only musical geniuses still living. Perry Farrell isn't half the musical genius he thinks he is. Ritual de lo Habitual was Jane's Addiction's best album; their last album Strays was a good rock album, but not a good Jane's Addiction album. Ministry's Psalm 69 is the best non-metal metal album ever recorded. John Doe's Meet John Doe is the best non-country country album ever recorded. Everything you've heard about Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is true. Lou Barlow is indeed the King of Sadness. Steely Dan's Deacon Blues is one of the coolest songs ever recorded; Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street is as well, if for no other reason than the first note of one of the best and most understated guitar solos around. Five strings, ten fingers, countless great songs, one name: Van Halen. Earth, Wind & Fire are gods. Joni Mitchell's Blue is beautiful beyond words. Duncan Sheik has a place in my heart for covering Joni Mitchell's Court & Spark, Jeff Buckley's masterpiece, Lover, You Should've Come Over, and Radiohead's gorgeous Fake Plastic Trees. Nessun Dorma, from Turandot -- particularly when sung by Pavarotti -- always makes me cry, ALWAYS. The Beatles were, in fact, the best band in music history.
Yes, the new My Chemical Romance album is fucking great.
And no, I will never be able to repay Robert Rivero.