My evil twin is attempting to get me to write about Paula Abdul and her tirade against nail salons, which I’m not saying was undeserved.
And, believe me, as you know by now, I am an individual well aware of the snark potential in that storyline (talk about low-hanging fruit just ripe for the pickin’).
Nevertheless, even I draw the line at articles that venture too close to discussions of, well, nail fungus and stuff.
I’ll leave that to, say, Bill Nye the Science Guy. Yeah.
No, what I think really needs to be said in relation to American Idol at this moment in time concerns Bo Bice and “Credible Rock Radio.”
Specifically, I’m keying on a felicitous—not—quote from a recent Rolling Stone, to wit the comment by a certain KROQ DJ Stryker, who opined:
“Credible rock radio won’t go near it” (by which I assume Stryker means American Idol and, therefore, Bo Bice’s music, since Bo Bice came up through American Idol).
(KROQ, Los Angeles, is the Credible Rock Radio station at the feet of which all other rock radio stations bow.)
And that morsel of insight was under a Rolling Stone headline that blared: No Dice for Bo Bice? “Idol” runner-up faces an uphill battle to win over rock fans.
Okay, let’s take this one pebble at a time.
First, let’s consider who has been knocking down Bo Bice’s dressing room door lately:
The Ides of March, who fell all over themselves to praise Bo’s rendition of their hit, “Vehicle” (in stores now).
Then there’s that little matter of Richie Sambora, one of the great rock guitarists of all time, who not only performed—and I do mean performed—on Bo’s studio take of “Vehicle,” but Richie also is swinging his axe live behind Bo when Bo does Leno (“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”) on July 6th.
So my first point is that while Rolling Stone and the Kevin & Bean-ers at KROQ in L.A. appear—quite sincerely, I might add—to continue to foster the myth that there is credible and non-credible rock ‘n roll these days, actual Credible Rock Musicians are lining up and taking a number to “go near” Bo Bice’s music.
And that means . . .?
It means that it doesn’t matter what a person sings or how he sings it.
To The Establishment, including Credible Rock Radio (yes, Virginia, they becometh what they claim to abhoreth), your music is the least thing that matters in determining your “credibility.”
Frankly, what really matters is whether your star was created by—you guessed it—The Establishment (which includes Credible Rock Radio and which does not include American Idol, since AI deigns to allow the unwashed masses to vote).
Then and only then is your star as a frontman for rock—for [[cough, cough]] rebellion and anti-establishmentarianism and non-conformity and questioning authority and espousing power to the people—bona fide.
IOW, so sayeth The Establishment:
A rocker is “credible” only to the extent he or she was developed through establishment modes.
And seriously, didn’t all this get started simply because Bo happened to have long hair?
I mean, really, if Bo Bice had had the exact same voice and stagecraft and musical tastes he does have, but he looked like Clay Aiken rather than a distant cousin of ZZ Top, do you think it would even have occurred to the American Idol TPTB, including Simon-Paula-Randy, to categorize Bo Bice as a “rocker”?
No, Simon-Paula-Randy would have said the same thing to Bo that they said to Mr. Aiken: “Wow! How does that big, rich, powerful voice come out of that skinny white body?” (or words to that effect).
Simon-Paula-Randy never would have told Bo Bice in a Clay Aiken body—regardless that he was still Bo Bice and sang like Bo Bice and performed like Bo Bice, “Wow! Finally, American Idol has a real rocker on board!”
Why not? Because it’s not about the music.
(Actually, try this at home, folks, under the influence of a good set of headphones: take the long hair and gnarly image away and Bo’s voice sounds remarkably similar to that lovable old crooner, the antithesis of rock, the anti-adolescent angst crooner, the ever-bon vivant Tom Jones.
And just what is Tom Jones up to these days? Well, if you want to hear him sing, but don’t want to pony up the big bucks, just tune in the Cartoon Network and check out the opening theme song on “Duck Dodgers.”
Oh, yes, it is too him!
I’m serious: don’t miss it.
And if you do want to pony up the big bucks, Tom is still out there croonin’ and the ladies are still swoonin.’
Which leads me to observe: I thought during that particular period in American history (a/k/a The Heyday of Tom Jones) women were burning bras. But, no! They were throwing bras! At Tom Jones! While he sang lyrics such as, “talking about the little lady, and the lady is mine /Oh-oh-oh-OH!”
But I digress.)
Recently I spoofed on the very idea of attempting to classify a singer as a “rocker” and then to use that label as a standard against which to evaluate the singer’s “credibility.”
It’s one thing to say a person is a “rocker,” as in he likes rock music, which fundamentally is this:
music usually set to four-four time, with emphasis on the second and fourth beats, and with the major sound produced on guitars, bass and drums.
It’s quite another thing to attach a comprehensive, and more or less rigid, set of personal standards and industry biases (determined by . . . who?) to the term “rocker” and then to judge that person, and consequently his music, accordingly.
Of course, there are people—again, quite sincerely—who argue that rock basically is a religion, that it is—I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP— a “central and coherent ideology, as viable as any other ideology competing for primacy on the world intellectual stage,” and that it is (or must be) a “self-contained ‘movement’ that adherents choose to join.”
Okaay. (Acutally, David Townsend—relation to Peter?—you do an interesting analysis there, my man.)
But you know what?
This is the only way judging a singer’s “credibility” as a “rocker” can make sense: if rock is indeed a club with a Big Rule Book by which The Establishment (a/k/a Credible Rock Radio) judges just who is and who is not a club member in good standing.
And, may I remind that, in this scene the actual music is the least consequential factor in determining whether a person is “in” (i.e., “credible”) or “out” (i.e., not “credible”).
If this were not true, Bo Bice’s version of “Vehicle”—a wondrous, rollicking, head-thumping rendition of a “credible” rock hit by a “credible” rock band sung by a great rock singer backed by a great and “credible” rock guitarist loaded with “credible” hard rock riffs—would be all over Credible Rock Radio.
But it’s not.
The prob comes in because, like all Establishments, the people in The Establishment are the last to know that the gig is up.
They continue to think that they are the gatekeepers, the holders of the magic pixie dust, the Be All and End All. That it is impossible to breathe, much less flourish, without their bureaucratic imprimatur of “authenticity.”
Rubbish and quaint snobbery, I say!
Fact: there was a time in human history when rock, at least for many people, was a movement and a lifestyle (though, fortunately for the next generation, it was a somewhat vicarious lifestyle for most).
But that’s just not true today.
Rock today is not a movement, a club, a lifestyle, an ideology, or a statement. Individual songs, or even bands, may fulfill those functions or serve that purpose for some people, but rock itself is now one of many musical genres.
It is one of 1,929 music channels on America’s dish network.
Sirius sat radio, for example, lists seemingly endless rock categories. Early Classic Rock, Later Classic Rock, Deeper Classic Rock. Jam Bands. Classic Hard Rock, Pure Hard Rock, Alternative Rock, Classic Alternative Rock, Hair Bands.
And then there’s Kid Rock, who sometimes sings with Sheryl Crow, who is listed under Adult Album Rock.
Even the incredibly iconic Long Hair of Rock no longer rocks—certainly it doesn’t rock, i.e., shake up, the world in any way, shape or form.
You see a man with long hair today, you might think he’s an artiste or possibly that he makes coffee at Borders (or that he stars in a cable access show broadcast out of his basement and complains that his parents, with whom he still lives, forbid him from listening to his rock music at the “appropriate” volume).
But you don’t immediately flash to scenes of protest marches, campus sit-ins, “flower power” bumper stickers or experimental spoken word fusion discs about lizards (thanks, Jim Morrison).
Hello, this is not 1969. Long hair simply doesn’t stand for allegiance to rebellion. It doesn’t shout anti-establishmentarianism. It doesn’t register resistance to The Man.
It is just another personal fashion expression, a choice or a happenstance among an infinite array of personal expressions. It takes its meaning, if any, from the individual, not from a movement.
I mean, my plumber has long hair and he’s such a Star Trek freak, he never got the joke in Galaxy Quest. Figure.
Anyway, of course there will always be identity music, one of the attractions of which is the sheer idea of belonging to the club, complete with its own lingo and uniforms.
Emo, for example—and not to be confused with the big bird or its other brother, Big Bird—like Goth and Punk (also known as “bands with a gloom edge”) before it, has a dress code for members in good standing (naturally, however, it depends on whether you are going for the “indie emo look, the nerdy emo look or the dressy emo look”).
That’s fine. At least there is an honesty there that conformity to community standards of dress and style is part of the fun.
But to cling to the chorus that your music stands for rebellion and freedom and anti-establishmentarianism and “doing your own thang”—but then to dismiss a singer as “not credible” simply because he was discovered outside the mainstream of The Establishment (including Credible Rock Radio)—in fact, discovered mostly by the people—well, the mind boggles.
Fortunately, la de da, as Simon Cowell said, Bo Bice won’t need the self-appointed Credible Rock Radio to succeed. But then again, the time is coming when, who will?
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