VH1 was re-broadcasting the UK Music Hall Of Fame Sunday night and the Soulfish wife starting watching it when she noticed some old footage of The Kinks. Soon I joined her and saw the Pink Floyd induction and Black Sabbath one. Then the mighty original line up of Sabbath performed “Paranoid” and what little bit of my teenage angst I had left crumbled to dust. It wasn’t the spectacle of 50 year old men rocking out. Since the young kids seem more inclined to steal old songs and recycle them as hip hop trash somebody needs to rock out; it might as well be the senior citizens of the world. What did me in were shots of the audience clapping their hands with glee and Ozzy exhorting them to do it some more.
It would make me beyond happy to see Black Sabbath live. I would probably applaud them too. But I don’t think I would be smiling like an oblivious idiot during their show. Their name isn’t Black Sabbath for kicks. The music is ominous, loud, and dark and the lyrics to the songs are the same. Somebody remarked (I believe it was Tommy Lee) that they were the opposite of the fun and the sun Beach Boys so why was the UK audience acting like they were at a beach party? “Paranoid” is not a fun, hand clapping song.
Here’s what Lester Bangs (np relation) had to say about it from the June 1972 issue of Creem in an article titled “Bring Your Mother To The Gas Chamber”:
“People are strange, when you’re a stranger. It’s a melodrama of alienation, just as “Paranoid” is a terse, chillingly accurate description of the real thing, when you suddenly find that you’ve somehow skidded just a fraction out of the world as you have and other still do perceive it. “Paranoid” renders perfectly the clammy feeling of knowing that at this point there is absolutely no one on the planet to whom you can make yourself understood or be helped by. All alone, like a real rolling stone; it’s no wonder in such circumstances that the imagination might get a little hairy, and turn to dreams of science-fiction revenge. I’ve felt the arctic wedge of disjuncture myself at one time and another, stuck in the painful place where you can only send frozen warnings cross the borderline and those inevitably get distorted. Because they’ve captured it so well Black Sabbath means a lot to me and a lot of my friends for “Paranoid” alone.”
So lets all clap our hands like we’re at a party okay? I don’t think so. Maybe I can’t find true happiness or perhaps I’m blind, but shouldn’t such a chilling tune have a chilling effect?
The very fact that they were being enshrined should have sent little prickles of danger through me. And earlier this week it was announced that Black Sabbath would be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame along with Miles Davis, Sex Pistols, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Blondie; all artists that I love. And I wonder whether they are being enshrined for their art or that were able to turn rebellion and iconoclasm into money better than others.
Because that’s what it all comes down to: selling fantasy worlds to teenagers. There’s this idealistic vision of rock stars being tortured artists being exploited by the huge corporations that release their music, but I don’t doubt for a minute that those artists don’t exploit the market on purpose themselves. I bet they sit in boardrooms with the record executives plotting ways to capture a certain demographic. If you believe otherwise you’re either a deluded romantic who hasn’t grown up or you’re a kid. I bought Black Sabbath’s Paranoid album at Wal-Mart after all. I was probably 14 years old.
Maybe the people at the UK show had it right after all. “Paranoid” isn’t a great piece of rock and roll art. It was only a product used to sell the Black Sabbbath brand and it was big hit which meant lots of people made lots of money off it. Whatever meaning the lyrics and song possessed were ripped from it the minute it left the pressing plant because it’s only music, music to be bought and sold, which is what those vapid faced rock and roll careerists clapping their hands signifies. It’s just great music. But when I was 14 that music meant something beyond this. And I was right, but there was a dichotomy involved.
I bought into the fantasy world those cocaine snorting sharks in their record label satin jackets were selling. I gave my money, my time, and a lifestyle to it. And I’ve found it was an ephemeral thing. There is an expiration date on it. They’ll try to convince you there isn’t with all of the repackaged CD’s and classic rock radio stations. It’s a wonderful thing when groups like The Eagles reunite and milk their fans for all they can. Those fans love it too. I guess it’s the chance to bask in the glow of your youth once again.
But I don’t want to bask. I want the music I love to be timeless. I want it to be a well of inspiration or consolation (and sometimes I just want it to rock) that I can return to time and again. It’s a shock to realize that the well is poisoned and much of the meaning and significance I’ve afforded things is a debilitated one. I should clap my hands and be happy. But I can’t. Why should I? It’s not like I’d have to worry about people thinking I’m insane because I’m frowning all the time.
This meandering diatribe on loan from the museum of Soulfish Stew.
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