Friday, September 23, 2016

Old Ears

As a forty-year-old artist, it is noticeable to me that the years bring with them a sense that one’s tastes have to keep changing. Rock music is certainly not the most advanced music in the world; is, basically, a kind of folk music; yet what’s good, or even best, about rock music (when it’s good) is a sense of solidity and depth, which can take a good long time to hear. Inversions abound: musicians might be surprised to know that to forty-year-old ears, George’s songs are the best, most musically solid, of the Beatles’ tunes; that many of McCartney’s 70s Wings singles (Goodnight Tonight, Listen To What The Man Said) are more solid then any of his Beatles material; and that of the Beatles oeuvre, the Lennon songs are the big floozies; in fact, the whole Beatles set-up, mythology and all, including hierarchical rankings, is a sham as one gets older. Viva George! As for more hometown pride/flag-waving; it is hilarious to me that Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton get to be ranked as acclaimed virtuosos on the surface, but Daryl Hall, for his vocal prowess, does not; Hall is another solid figure in pop music whose best songs get better as you hear them over the years. Then, the tug of war begins; do you have the guts to bring your own opinions to the surface, against the counterweight of who wants you to say what?

They did, on the other hand, play Hall and Oates with some frequency at the Last Drop in the Aughts. They also played the Velvet Underground, who I used to care for very much and don’t anymore; mature ears can’t not hear a paucity of musical intelligence in Lou Reed’s tunes, however interesting the lyrics might be. Big Star is even weirder; they shouldn’t still work, for a number of non-solidity musical reasons; yet, the je ne sais quoi factor is huge. The Big Star parts shouldn’t add up to something I can still listen to, but they do. Conversely, there’s so much about The Who that I want to get into again; like Roger Daltrey really putting some guts into his vocals; but the je ne sais quoi factor works the other way around with them. Then, you learn, the branch of rock subsists like Yes and much of Led Zeppelin, that’s actually classical music in disguise, and righteous as such; maybe Floyd, too; but then you wonder if Floyd were ripping off Sun Ra. And if you find yourself still able to deal with the Stones, it might be because, very much against the grain of most rock music, they were allowed to make a number of albums musically solid all the way through.

The Cars have to get better over the years, because their sense of what the electric guitar can do in rock recordings is more subtly advanced then it appears to be. Nick Drake is clearly a musical genius but lacks visceral impact; Bruce, Neil, and Van are still around in little bits; Bob and Joni never. Dylan starts, if most of us are being honest, from a middling ground, which he loses as one’s ears grow older. As far as the 90s are concerned, for me Smashing Pumpkins resolutely wins now as they won then. Whoever made the two or three major records had to be a formally trained musician. Bars were counted, folks. Poor Kurt is sounding pretty bedraggled these days, and Jeff Buckley is Daryl Hall’s worst nightmare, and a bad joke. The Aughts and Teens I don’t feel comfortable even addressing yet; we’re still too close to them. I will say that, with the Internet being what it is, there is no chance in hell that there isn’t a lot of good rock music floating around. For old heads such as me, it’s just a matter of being patient until you find the solid stuff. Music is solid, folks. The spirit of music is no floozy; and as long as people can express themselves on high levels musically, in rock and in higher branches of music, all of us who love and play music have a connection out into space which can never be severed.       

Thursday, September 22, 2016


In the last month, I’ve had two songs, She Disowned My Life (Eris Temple EP) and Deflating Raft (Darkyr Sooner) chart high enough on Soundclick to call them hits. As rock and popular music transition into a new era, in which online is as important as other contexts (like radio and print), I reflect that transitional eras bring to the surface all the demons that have ossified into rigid form, making other time-periods solid/distinct but also holding them back. Like, for example, the zoning restriction that makes selling rock music from Philadelphia impossible. Philadelphia, the master narrative has been created and sold, is allowed to produce as much R & B, hip-hop, and jazz as it possibly wants; but rock music, in its purest form, is never allowed to sell when it starts here on the surface. This explains why The Nazz, for instance, who were, if not as big as The Beatles in the 60s, at least as big as The Doors or The Byrds, and produced material as worthy, were erased from rock music as of the 1980s. Yet Philadelphia is a very large, very complex city, and, with its complexities as ornate as its architecture, it stands to reason that this particular zoning restriction could not stay in place forever. So, to have a few straightforward rock hits from Philly opens up a vista which I hope other dedicated rock folk here will follow up on the right way.

In terms of interactions of different sectors, it is also interesting how online can effectively contradict radio and print media sources around rock/popular music. The media paradigm I grew up with in the 80s and 90s; a seemingly omniscient press corps, handing down edicts and Commandment-laden tablets, has been chewed up and spit out again by this transitional era, which has made the possibility of standing at the center of culture (or politics, or anything) an impossibility. It is not just that, as the song goes, the center cannot hold; it is that there very demonstrably is no center anymore. If you happen to be big on the radio, you may not be big on the more crucial DJ sites; if you happen to get the right kind of numbers on YouTube, it better be backed up by strong numbers in places more wholesome, less obviously corrupt. The game is, as it has always been, but in a more exaggerated form then ever before: you’re big here, I’m big there; and, with nothing occupying a central or centralized position anymore, in the music business or anywhere else, your guess is also as good as mine regarding what will likely be more important in the long run.

I like the idea of an era with no center, a transitional era, because it allows creative individuals more freedom to maneuver. People forget what the 60s and 70s must have been like; the media were not imposing their Commandment-laden tablets on the public, and anything and everything could be as big as anything else. Artists floated in their own orbits and in their own head-spaces. No one had to worry about the dread 10 Greatest lists, 20 Greatest lists, 100 Greatest lists; and the media fetish for placing individuals in inappropriate shoeboxes and leaving them there was not yet an epidemic. The 80s and 90s were a swindle that way; the Aughts got better; and the Teens continue an upward trend towards what I call a Psychedelic America, in which spaces open for things to float, and no one needs to be trapped, pinned and wriggling, against a wall, or in a shoebox. Does this make up for our economic hardships in 2016? I think so. I also think that this year’s Disappearing Election is proof positive that the brighter sectors of the populace have developed a will of their own, against taking mainstream politics on the surface that seriously. Psychedelic America is the perfect backdrop for the reemergence of Philadelphia as a city with a successful rock scene; we no longer have to be hidden under the proverbial ice.