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The Rockologist: What If They Were On American Idol?

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Let's get something straight here first and foremost. I'm just not that big of a fan of American Idol.

Oh sure, as strictly entertainment value while I'm eating dinner or whatever, it provides a harmless, and occasionally humorous enough diversion. I laughed as hard as anybody else during the Sanjaya segments from a few seasons back, and I especially love the earlier parts of the competition where guys like William Hung or "Pants On The Ground" guy are weeded out.

You go, Platt! 

Still, I could use a lot less of the really nasty references to things like "monkeys" and "retards." That's just some really hateful stuff. But I digress…

In the cases of both aforementioned contestants, I especially love it when they actually catch on in a populist sense. To me, this is musical subversiveness at its most fly-in-the-ointment-best — color me nuts, but I was one of the guys actually rooting for Sanjaya, okay?.

That said, I have also wondered aloud to myself what would happen if some of the musical greats from the past were to go up before the American Idol judges? Would they pass the test? My money is on doubtful — but I'll let you decide. More on that in a minute…

Here's the thing though.

One thing that I like, watching this season of Idol as I usually do at about the same time the Pork N' Beans and Rice are sizzling on the burner, is that the judges seem a little more willing to break through the barrier of innocuous pop singers that have characterized the series thus far than usual…

I like that. I like that a lot actually…

As Kara told one contestant, at least in not-so-many words, "You are bringing something different to Idol — and maybe after seeing you, we can somehow find our way outside of this cookie-cutter crap."

Okay, I added that last part. But one can hope, right?.

On that note, they do seem to be looking for something a bit different this year than someone who can trill a Mariah Carey song like nobody's business. For which I can only say "Thank God" and good for them. It's about damn time, even if it's a case of too little too late.

To that end, my money is on the chicks this year.

Damn, did I really just say that? Not just the part about the chicks, but the admission that my money is actually on anybody?

Have I actually been drawn into this overblown karaoke contest that has, at least in my own humble opinion, contributed more heavily than anything else — including free internet downloads — to the downward spiral of the record industry this past decade? Am I really ready to sign on to the whole idea of the here-today, gone-tomorrow stars promoted by American Idol?

The truth is that, yes, perhaps I am.

Are any of these Clay Aikens, Adam Lamberts, or even Kelly Clarksons going to have any sort of a shelf life beyond their allotted fifteen minutes? Hell no, they are not. Will our grandchildren remember them the same way we remember the Beatles or Dylan? No, I am sorry, but they will not. That's a frickin' guarantee.

The American Idol franchise is on life support as it stands anyway, and anyone with a brain knows it. Ratings magnet Simon is gone after this season, and just between you and me, I don't think that whoever they get to replace him — the smart money right now is on former U2 producer Steve Lillywhite — will reverse the downward spiral. The party is over, and for my money at least, thank God that it is happening before I go bemoaning this monstrosity into my own grave.

But that's just me…

The singers this year — save for the occasional breath of fresh original air like Lily Scott or Crystal Bowersox — mostly suck. The fact that my own money is on one of these two to win it all this year is largely moot.

We already know what happens to anybody with a remote streak of artistry or actual originality on Idol. Just ask Constantino (or whatever that guy's name was). Better yet, ask Adam Lambert — because his personal fifteen minutes are about to be up any second now. Gay glitter rock went out back in the seventies with Queen and Bowie, okay?

So put a fork in it kids, cause it's done and then some. And in my own humble opinion it couldn't come a second sooner. Hopefully, Lily or Crystal wins it all this year, and we can salvage something from what I am sure will be remembered for generations to come as the decade we all re-discovered our inner Pat Boone. And a none-too-begrudgingly hippy-hippy shake to that, okay?…

But it's done. Thank me later for saying so.

So in the interest of dancing on Idol's grave, I thought it might be fun to imagine how some of the greats from the past might fare in the "competition."

So what if? Let's take two:

Janis Joplin sings "Ball And Chain":

Randy: So listen up, dawg…oh,sorry, I meant "dawg-ette." You've got it on goin' on! It was a little pitchy in places…but man, I gotta' tell ya'… Dawg…I'm lovin' the whole look! You are hot, baby, hot!"

Ellen: Wow man, you were really wonderful, but I'm just not that comfortable with your song choice. So what was your phone number again?

Kara: Listen sweetheart, we loved you back in San Francisco, and I'm just wondering what happened to the sweet little girl we all fell in love with?

I'm a big fan, and I'm rooting for you…but this was a terrible song choice for you tonight…I'm really sorry. What we need to see is more of that country girl we all fell in love with back at the audition. Don't shout so much, honey, okay? More of that "Bobby McGee" thing, that's what we want to see…but I'm still your biggest fan."

Simon: Janis, I am just horribly disappointed here…(boos from audience)…Sorry, but that was utterly atrocious! I had faith in you based on the audition, but those wild shrieks of yours only had me reaching for my bottle of Excedrin! Your a very nice girl, but you simply belong back at the soda fountain where we found you (sorry….).

Bob Dylan sings "Like A Rolling Stone":

Randy:(Hilarious Shrieks Of Laughter)… Dawg! Dawg! Dawg! — you know I'm your biggest fan, right? But what is up with with that voice? You know I'm lovin' that whole guitar-and-harmonica thing, right, dawg? But I was just feeling the whole "Knockin' On Heavens Door" thing from your audition in Minnesota a whole lot more, dawg. I'm still a fan, but definitely not your best performance, dawg."

Ellen: Wow, Bobby, I just really don't know what to say here! Too wordy, for one thing. If I was at home vacuuming up cat fur from my carpet,  I'd much rather have visions of you laying across my big brass bed than having me scrounging for my next meal — ya' know what I mean? I'm still a fan, but this was definitely not your best performance.

Kara: Wow, Bob, that was just all over the place, okay? The vocal performance was just really pitchy, and it wasn't the best song choice, okay? Get with me after the show though, okay? Because man, have I got the song for you!

Simon: Look Bob, I like you. I really do. But that performance was absolutely the worst thing I have ever heard. Your voice sounded dreadful, and I could make absolutely no sense of the lyrics, because you seemed to be mumbling them to yourself. At this point, I doubt you will make it past this round…sorry…

(Boos)….Sorry, but were any of you hearing the same thing I just did? The worst performance I have heard so far this entire competition!

Have I made my point?

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • “Have I made my point?”

    Not beyond the point that you don’t like most singers on the show, and unless your a Nielsen household who cares?

    They are not looking for unique voices or artists that will forever change the musical landscape. They are looking for pop singers and neither of us old-timers are the demo they are looking to appeal to.

    Take a step back from what you like and tell me who in this day and age sings like Janis or Dylan is on the charts? Besides, doesn’t the fact that they have Crystal Bowersox refute your assumptions to their reactions to Janis?

    Also, a couple of your premises are totally wrong. To blame AU “more heavily than anything else — including free internet downloads — to the downward spiral of the record industry this past decade” is not only ridiculous but you offer no proof. Technology has caused the industry, and many others, for this major shift in the way it works and business models are still being created. I would also point out I have discovered more bands across more genres in the ’00s than I did in the ’90s when there were very few gates for musicians to squeeze through.

    “Am I really ready to sign on to the whole idea of the here-today, gone-tomorrow stars promoted by American Idol?”

    Comes off like you are saying this idea is unique to AI, which ignores the entirety of almost all pop music. Pre-Idol, many of the turn of the millennium boy bands came and went. And speaking of “here-today, gone-tomorrow” that defines every one-hit wonder band unless you are still following acts like the guys who put out the “Macarena,” The Proclaimers, and Kajagoogoo.

    “Are any of [the] Kelly Clarksons going to have any sort of a shelf life beyond their allotted fifteen minutes?”

    Again, you need to look beyond your music collection. Seven years after Clarkson won AI, her fourth album hit #1. That’s quite a long 15 minutes wouldn’t you say? Also, 2004 winner Fantasia is currently touring with “The Color Purple”, which she appeared in on Broadway and will likely star in the movie once Oprah gets that going, and 2005 winner Carrie Underwood is doing well for herself having three #1 albums over five years and won her fifth Grammy last year.

    Have I made my point?

  • Wow, Bicho. I must have hit a nerve here since your response was nearly as long as my article….

    But lets put this in perspective, okay? First off, I would hope that its at least a little obvious that I wrote this article with my tongue firmly planted in my own cheek. Like a lot of the stuff I write, the idea came from a conversation I had over a few beers with a guy I play trivia with. We were both speculating on how the stars of yesteryear might fare on AI, and well, off I went…

    That having been said, and on a more serious note, my biggest problem with AI is the method with which they measure talent. A Janis, a Patti Smith, or a Dylan would simply never make it on this show. All three are just too…well, you know “pitchy” and stuff.

    The fact that an oddball like Crystal or Lily seems to be doing well this year however gives me encouragement that they are broadening their horizons. That I guess is my true point here, literary license that I took in making it aside…

    I’m just glad these guys weren’t calling the shots back when music was changing the world. We would have all been grooving to Mitch Miller if they had.


  • Great response, Glen.

    There was a similar discussion on NPR today concerning the movies that were never nominated for or won the Oscars – such as The he 2001 Space Odyssey, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Apocalypse Now, The Last Tango in Paris, Pulp Fiction . . .

    Some, because they were “director’s movies,” others because the majority of voters were “old farts,” lots of reasons. Go figure.

    Anyways, now they’re classic.

  • zingzing

    “I’m just glad these guys weren’t calling the shots back when music was changing the world. We would have all been grooving to Mitch Miller if they had.”

    that’s why engelbert humperdinck sold more copies than “penny lane/strawberry fields forever.” and this is the closest we’ve been to oligarchical control over the pop industry since the 60s in some ways. (the music industry, in total, is much more free.) there just weren’t many ways you could really hear music without it being spun through a machine and pooped into your mouth back then. the major labels were it. you were being fed, although i guess you were being fed relatively well.

    but… music didn’t change the world. the world changed music.

  • Well, zing, music is trying to change the world, no?

    What’s rock ‘n roll if not a street theater?

  • I was actually gonna’ go a little further with this and put Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen in the hot seat with Simon and company — but then I ran out of both beer and gas at the same time.

    Maybe next time…


  • Paul Simon, the musical genius?

  • zingzing

    music can try all it want to change the world, but it’s people who inhabit a reality that change music and the world. unless music starts making itself (which has been tried… systems music is pretty cool shit…), it’s always people who change the world.

  • Of course, but you’re being picky. Music is a vehicle.

  • And BTW, do you mean “music making itself” on analogy with automatic writing?

  • zingzing

    yeah, well, “music changed the world” is hippie-dippie bullshit. i’m sure people in 1967 china would have been surprised.

    meh. i understand the sentiment, but it’s kinda ridiculous.

    as far as “music making itself,” there have been attempts to set up systems wherein the musical product of said system is undetermined by the system itself, as randomness is inserted into the system to such a degree that the system is destroyed. but that can only get so far. the randomness has to still conform to some set of pitches, tones, rhythms and timbres, or else it’s just like letting a cat walk on a piano keyboard… if it had 88 feet and epilepsy.

    “neroli” by brian eno is a relatively famous example of this. random notes are struck for random durations at random harmonic intervals, but the timbre is consistent. there’s also “i am sitting in a room” by alvin lucier, in which a recording of the artist telling you the instructions for creating the piece becomes the piece, as it is, and it does have quite a musical result. but, it’s just someone telling sound to do something, then it does it.

    john cage also tried to take himself out of the compositional process, sometimes with fantastic results, sometimes with maddeningly ridiculous crap.

    but yeah, automatic writing is a pretty good analogue.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Personally, I don’t believe that A.I. means jack squat to the living, breathing organism named music. If those contestants want to limit their creative experience solely based on fame & money then they will and it will always continue in that fashion while us music lovers will look for the talent and passion beyond the almighty dollar lovin’ trend setters. I’ll continue making music based on my love for the endless avenues that one can take to communicate. To me, A.I. is like a great commercial – It catches you for that 60 seconds then it can be somewhat fun to talk about but ultimately it leaves the brain after a couple of days. Music shouldn’t be constrained to shallow formulas…

    Those are my two cents and with that, go check out some of the rough tracks that my band has jammed @ October Arrest *shameless plug* See, We couldn’t do this shite back in the 90s:)

  • Interesting idea. I will check it out.

    I’m sorry though you haven’t lived through the hippie era. I’m certain your opinion would be affected thereby.

    Let’s say that music of the times reflected popular sentiment – early Elton John, Cat Stevens, et al. Better yet, it did serve to expand consciousness, not unlike grass or LSD.

  • Well, color me one of those old farts hopelessly mired in my own “hippy-dippy bullshit” then I guess.

    “Changed the world” probably is a bit of a strong statement though. How bout’ “made a difference” then? Does that work better for you?

    My point here is that guys like the Beatles and Dylan didn’t just impact culture, they also affected the political landscape. Why else did all those hippy kids go out and protest the war, civil rights, etc.? Half of them probably just did it thinking they could get laid with all the free-love nonsense, sure. But they did it just the same.

    Now, I wholly understand this is a different time, a different generation, and all the rest. I also understand that “American Idol” is an entertainment thing, plain and simple, and has its own place being such.

    I just don’t see Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert, or even Kelly Clarkson (who along with Carrie Underwood has had the only real longevity of the lot) having that same type of impact anytime soon.

    All I’m sayin’…


  • Anyway, this one seems to have y’all talking, so I guess I’ve done my job here. We’ve even got the politics guys lurking about in our little music ghetto…LOL…


  • The problem with zing, Glen, is that he’s got no idea how dynamic the times were – Vietnam, Civil Rights, Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, Black Panthers and Malcolm X, Kent State, Free Speech Movement, Joan Baez, and the flower generation. Watergate was already anticlimactic.

    We haven’t had such explosive period in American history since, and zing can’t simply relate.

    The entire culture was undergoing upheaval, from music to Andy Warhol, Alan Ginsburg and the like.

    We’ve become stagnated ever since.

  • Hey, Glen,

    Culture and politics are very related to me.

  • zingzing

    “Why else did all those hippy kids go out and protest the war, civil rights, etc.?”

    because there was a war on and civil rights had been brewing for years. if there hadn’t had been a war and civil rights wasn’t coming to a head, do you think the beatles and dylan would have written about them? it’s a chicken and the egg thing i’m getting at here, but the answer is obvious.

    and certainly don’t blame clay aiken, adam lambert, etc on a “generation,” unless it’s your own. you birthed em and you’re the one selling them now. of course not you, particularly. and i’m not the one buying them either of course. still, comparing aiken and lambert to the greats of the 60s is like comparing the pop crap of the 60s to the greats of today.

  • A chicken and question? No doubt.

    But art and culture must respond to the times. If the times suck, so will art.

  • zingzing

    oh, roger… it’s not the world that has stagnated, it’s… no offense… you. you think war, civil rights, assassinations, government abuse and joan fucking baez went away? nope. you just stopped thinking about them the same way.

    it was an unusual era, to be sure. a lot of things came together, or popped up at the same time. and it is amazing how much the world changed in that decade.

    but the world has changed in exponentially larger ways since then. the only thing that hasn’t changed as that people look back on their youth through rose-colored glasses.

  • zingzing

    “If the times suck, so will art.”

    that’s not true at all.

  • Not comparing them — I mean, how could you? — so much as I am pointing out the fact that the pop drivel which is so spoon-fed to the public by American Idol and the like will never impact the cultural zeitgeist the way that Dylan, the Beatles, etc. did.

    And yes, I recognize that there was a fair amount of pop dreck around back in the sixties too. Can you say Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass? Okay, how about Bo0bby Sherman then? Back then, we called it bubblegum music.

    But the fact is, that the sixties (and to a lesser extent, the seventies) was just about the only time (at least that I can remember) where the most artistically interesting music was also what was popular in the mainstream. Aside from maybe Radiohead, Jack White’s various bands, or Wilco there’s not a lot of bands making really challenging, innovative music that are having the same sort of commercial impact today.

    An earlier commenter made the excellent point (actually I think it was you, zing) that the corporate suits are in control of music right now like no other time since the pre-Beatles 60’s…at least I think that’s what you said. And that is spot-on, dead on target, right.

    As an old sixties “hippy-dippy” that is something which saddens me a lot more than it probably should.


  • One other thing…

    I think a decent argument could be made that the times we are living in right now are every bit as explosive as the sixties were. I mean were in the worst economic times since the great depression, and we just came off of eight years of an American president who made Nixon look like a freaking choir boy.

    The difference is that the musicians today are reacting to the world they see around them in the same way. And to me, that’s really a shame.


  • AREN’T reacting to the world in the same way, meant to say above.

  • zing,

    Just think. Every flourishing of the arts is inseparable from the general flourishing of the culture – from Renaissance to any fucking period. You’re making no sense.

    Decadent times result in decadent art, unless we’re talking about real geniuses who transcend their era and look toward the future.

    But if you buy the latter proposition, then you’re buying into the idea that arts can change culture.

  • “but the world has changed in exponentially larger ways since then. the only thing that hasn’t changed as that people look back on their youth through rose-colored glasses.”

    How has it, zing. You tell me.

    And you tell me whether the sixties haven’t served as an impetus and the major propeller as to where we are now?

    (Forget now all the reactionary movements by such as Reagan, the ensuing culture wars, and the present political situation.)

  • I think you may be right, Glen. What we’re going through right now has all the makings of explosive times. So why aren’t the artists reacting in appropriate ways?

    One possible reason: a kind of disconnect with the popular sentiment – fame and success on the one hand and popular message on the other; everybody’s too much into the money, fuck everybody else.

    Second, don’t forget the draft. It’s relatively easy to dissociate oneself today from the war if you don’t have to serve yourself.

    But I sure hope that time of awakening will come.

  • zingzing

    “An earlier commenter made the excellent point (actually I think it was you, zing) that the corporate suits are in control of music right now like no other time since the pre-Beatles 60’s…at least I think that’s what you said.”

    they were in control up until punk. total fucking control. they allowed you to make the music you wanted if it sold, and it did.

    “the sixties (and to a lesser extent, the seventies) was just about the only time (at least that I can remember) where the most artistically interesting music was also what was popular in the mainstream.”

    but that’s not particularly true. there’s so much more shit from the 60s and 70s that was much better (other than the beatles, dylan, stones, et al). look at what happened to the velvet underground, big star, the modern lovers, terry riley, etc, etc, etc, i could go on forever… pop was fantastic in the 60s, but just like today, it was just the tip of the iceberg.

    “The difference is that the musicians today are[n’t] reacting to the world they see around them in the same way.”

    that’s not particularly true. it’s just that the pop world inhabits a different space now. music has kept up with the world. it’s just that there’s so much more of it available now. if you look, it’s there. pop is about escapism.

    just because billy bragg didn’t light up the charts in the 80s certainly isn’t his fault. and just because autechre’s “anti” ep, which directly took on a law, didn’t spark a movement (even if it did) isn’t their fault either. the fault is in the audience.

    music remains political. it’s the people who have forgotten the power of music, probably because it utterly failed to deliver back when you all thought it might.

  • If music remains political, as you argue, and I sure hope it would – than what fucking good it does if it doesn’t energize popular culture.

    You’re painting yourself into a box.

  • zingzing

    roger: “How has it, zing. You tell me.”

    think about what you did in 1970. you eat, shit and fuck in the same way, but little else. how do you communicate with the world? and what did the 60s solve? aren’t we still grappling with many of the same questions? but what has technology and the passage of time opened up to us?

  • zing,

    we brought Vietnam to an end, brought Nixon to his knees, won Civil Rights. Ain’t that enough for you?

    Don’t be bringing up the Internet and technological revolution as the be all and end all. In and of itself, it doesn’t mean shit. It the use you make of it that counts, not the medium itself.

    And thus far, we’ve all been fuck-ups. Nothing to brag about.

  • zingzing

    “If music remains political, as you argue, and I sure hope it would – than what fucking good it does if it doesn’t energize popular culture.”

    it does what good it can. what if no one had listened to dylan? would you blame him?

    when i lived in england in 2000/01, an album called “xtrmntr” by primal scream came out. it’s a ridiculously political album, if a little vague in where its anger comes from, but it certainly radicalized me to the point where i dropped out of school and ran off to drugs in amsterdam. yay! just like the old school hippies. anyway, just google “primal scream accelerator.” totally evil song. wants to destroy your speakers.

  • In the sixties, rock and roll became big business in spite of itself Zing. The record companies fought the whole thing tooth and nail until they simply couldn’t afford to do it anymore — because the sound of the revolution had also by that time become so culturally significant (and popular!) it was also big business.

    But don’t think for a minute that the suits didn’t fight it with everything they had early on. Despite the shell of its former self that it is today, rock and roll was perceived as dangerous by anyone associated with the established order — not the least of which included the record companies.

    When Mitch Miller was the head of A&R for Columbia he was on record in his opposition to the new “teenage music.” Even George Martin was initially assigned to the Beatles as a Capitol Records house producer. Fortunately Martin was astute enough to see the talent of Lennon & McCartney and listen to their ideas. In time, he became not so much the controller EMI probably hoped for, but rather a full-on artistic collaborator.

    I do hear what you are saying about underground artists though. There has always been an “underground” and there always will be out of necessity. Because there is always going to be that one or two artists who are just too “out there” or otherwise ahead of their time (Lou Reed and Patti Smith both spring to mind) for the mainstream.


  • Missing the point, zing.

    Dylan was listened to because he was “on message,” because he connected.

    Ain’t that what art should aim?

  • zingzing

    “we brought Vietnam to an end, brought Nixon to his knees, won Civil Rights. Ain’t that enough for you?”

    you limped out of vietnam only after the government got tired of fucking you with it for 11 years, nixon got off scot-free and civil rights was certainly put into law, but do you really think you won?

    just a different perspective, even if i only put it that way to put it a different way.

  • zingzing

    “In the sixties, rock and roll became big business in spite of itself Zing. The record companies fought the whole thing tooth and nail until they simply couldn’t afford to do it anymore — because the sound of the revolution had also by that time become so culturally significant (and popular!) it was also big business.”

    punk to the 70s
    rap to the 80s
    eventually, it seems the world got over it, although there’s always that music that’s deemed to dangerous and corrosive on our young peoples.

    roger: “Ain’t that what art should aim [for]?”

    and it does, but do you listen?

  • Sorry, buddy. LBJ decided not to run because of the protests.

    You compare that now with the Iraqi and Afghanistan fiasco, still going strong, and rather lame opposition except for the few radicals.

    There ain’t no more radicals; they’re called communists now. A radical was a name of distinction back then. Today it’s hardly in use.

    You do suffer from a myopia – not your fault though, just a generation gap.

    Indeed, you would be much stronger force for the good have you lived then.

  • zingzing

    ahem. “too.”

  • zingzing

    roger, i was there, in the runup to iraq. i was there at obama’s inaguration. and so were several hundred thousand to 2 million.

    i, along with a lot of people, was surprised when bush won a second term. lbj also quit because he knew the south wouldn’t vote him in again after the civil rights legislation went through. it wasn’t just the good of this nation that kept him from running. it was a symptom of the times.

  • LOL…I can see it now…Abbie Zingman stickin’ it to the man…



  • And don’t get me started on Obama guys…

    Talk about a disappointment.


  • zingzing

    he’s got another 3 years, glen. it’ll happen, i [hope thesaurus].

  • It ain’t the question of my listening, zing. I don’t need any props, I’m happy to say. In fact, I’m all for the revolution, the leader, the instigator, the deliverer.

    The larger question is – who are the ones that listen. Where are they? How come they’re not part of the larger culture? Instead, we’re back to the union thugs on the one hand and the tea party crowd on the other, stale politics and stale people. No way, friend, the art ain’t doing jack shit for today’s young as far as changing the world. If anything, it turns them off.

    I am ready and willing to change the world.
    Are you?

  • zingzing

    sure, i’m willing to change the world. but it’s not going to be because of music, i’m sad to say. and i like music better than i like the world.

  • A pun on Abbie Hoffman, thanks.

    Anyways, we’ve got ourselves a topic, zinger. Good for you.

    I’ll still say you’d be tenfold the person you are if you experienced the sixties.

  • Which is no doubt why I tower over you so, ha ha!

  • Screwing in the mud to Jefferson Airplane while zinged outta your brain on pharmaceuticals? Yup. Some thing tells me Zing would fit right in with the sixties.


  • zingzing

    i’d still be the same person. i might be more bitter now. not that i’m saying you’re bitter or anything.

    but i’ve got all the experience of the post-60s world that you do. i’ve got all the music, all the cultural ephemera, all the memories of old fogies, all the tales and ideas, they still exist. the past isn’t forgotten.

    thing is, the 60s had their chance. but they fucked up and produced the 70s. as a decade is wont to do.

  • “. . .but it’s not going to be because of music, i’m sad to say. and i like music better than i like the world.”

    Aha! That’s your weak spot. You’re more of an aesthete than a revolutionary.

    How about this for a suggestion? Try to make you life into art’s work!

    That’s one way of merging the aesthetic impulse with the existential imperative.

    Anyway, it was a good conversation and I think we should continue.

    There’s a lot to be said about the greater connection between politics and culture and arts.

    Good ole Glen here may not have realized at the time of writing what a potent topic he had brought to bear.

    Thanks, Glen.

  • I know he would.

    We would have been the best of buddies then, and that’s in spite of his eclectic musical taste.

  • I didn’t expect it to veer off into this particular direction Roger — it was just a nonsensical story idea about American Idol that I got earlier last night BS’ing with some guy at the bar I play trivia at.

    No complaints here though. If you think about it, some of the ideas in my otherwise nonsensical article do lend themselves to a broader discussion about the culture.

    So yeah guys, by all means, carry on. Just don’t mind me if I occasionally jump in…LOL…


  • The sixties didn’t fuck up except in the musical sense.

    It just ran out of steam. It produced the victories it set out for itself and went to sleep.

    It underestimated the power of the silent majority, still present. It should have gone straight for the throat and eliminate the bastards. Instead, it was basking in premature triumph.

    And now, we’re still paying the price.

    But hey, I’m far from bitter. It’s happening, dude, except that America is no longer the playing field. It’s the world at large.

  • Yesterdays radicals became todays conservatives once the party was over and the money started rolling in. That’s my take.


  • zingzing

    i’m in line with the hippies. fuck the world, let’s listen to music.

    have you ever heard of the “enoist vs dylanist” approach to music appreciation? eno was a musical genius who only used lyrics as a way to complement the music, and dylan, of course, was, at least for the purposes of this test (he passes the enoist test a lot as well), a lyricist who bended music to his lyrical will.

    i’m an enoist to a ridiculous degree. no music passes my muster without passing the purely sonic test. it’s sound i’m after. if a musician is a great lyricist, well, that’s just a plus. (that’s not quite true, because mark e. smith might be my favorite singer, and he’s good for nothing but mumbling and diatribes and incredible one-liners, but whatever.)

    prince is the most political artist of all time. at least the politics that count–the bedroom.

  • Glen,

    The way I figure, you ideas about AI as representative of our pop culture are not only on target; I think they reflect your thinking in general. And we’re not always completely aware of the underpinnings of what we write or say. Ofttimes, we’re caught unawares.

    So it’s all to the good. You’re just as much part of this conversation as any of us. I just hope I won’t be chastised by debating the larger points and deviating from the topic.

  • The politics of the bedroom, zing?

    Now we’re bringing in Marquis de Sade, a precursor of Prince if I may say.

    I’ll check on the rest of this thread tomorrow. It was exhilarating, but got to finish my movie.


  • No chastisements forthcoming from me Roger. I actually like the direction this thread has taken. I’m just surprised (and quite flattered) that my silly little American Idol article was the catalyst.

    Zing…I’m liking your eno/dylan analogy too.

    I’d only add that in addition to his lyrics, it’s also the unique way Dylan has with turning a phrase that makes him one of the true greats. Dylan gets a lot of crap slung his way about his voice and he always has. But to me, that’s one of his greatest gifts. I’ll maintain it to my grave that Dylan’s phrasing is some of the best in music this side of Sinatra himself.


  • “I’ll maintain it to my grave that Dylan’s phrasing is some of the best in music this side of Sinatra himself.”

    I like your phrasing, Glen. Many deny Sinatra, but considering the problematics surrounding the WASP male’s soul, he’d had come as close as anyone to epitomize it. (Of course, he was an Italian-American.)

    French have a much easier time with it in that it comes more or less natural (Edith Piaf, Yves Montand).

  • zingzing

    meh. nina simone bitch slaps either one of them. then she apologizes, but, inside, she’s still fucking mad.

  • I’ve got to see it to believe it. Anyway, Piaf set the pattern. She was the prototype.

  • But then again, zinger, what would a Finn know about the soul. Aren’t you all Nordics cold fish?

  • zingzing

    you forget i’m southern. actually grew up about an hour away from where she grew up. half a century later, of course.

    “Aren’t you all Nordics cold fish?”

    nah, we’re just tall and beautiful.

  • I was putting you on.

    Well, I forgot about country music – but it’s a soul ridden with whiskey, disappointments in love, and despair.

    Is that Nina Simone’s genre?

  • riddled with . . .

  • zingzing

    shocker. nina simone crossed up all sorts of things–classical, jazz, soul, protest, pop, country, funk, gospel, blues, experimental… she’s a marvel.

    check out “sinnerman,” which, believe it or not, was recorded in 1965. you can hear the beginnings of krautrock (can and kraftwerk definitely listened) and the velvet underground with that chug, suicide in the little clusters of sound… and that breakdown about 5 minutes in just hits my sweet spot.

    she had an incredibly varied career. unfortunately, she didn’t give a shit about albums, sequencing, etc. and she was batshit insane.

  • Sure will, zing. Didn’t know she went that far back.

  • I take it you rate her over Janice.

  • zingzing

    she goes back into the late 50s, but her best stuff was from the early 60s to the mid 70s.

    janice… joplin? never really got into her that much. had an album or two back in the day, but i was never really into them. as i said earlier, i’m much more about sound, and her backing band always struck me as kind of shaggy and lifeless. as far as 60s rock goes, i can’t think of a single san francisco band that i even like at this point.

  • Shoot, zing. Now I remember: Forever Young, Gifted & Black. Of course, she transcended mere “Soul” and all one-dimensional protests. She’s in a class all by herself.

    There is no soul like the African soul, and mixed perhaps with American elements.

    The closest thing that comes to mind as a white counterpart is perhaps the later Paul Simon’s experimentation with reggae.

  • Now, check this one, zing.

    After the best of Billy Holiday, Dinah Washington, you name it.

  • dang, i missed the party. had company and was too busy making pasta from scratch and all…

    so, AI: i see it as no different than the variety shows that were so big in earlier television eras…maybe it’s on steroids as far as it’s viewership goes.

    and as to the idea of music and its impact and culture…the thing is that our culture is SO different from back then. there used to be radio, film, books, and television with just a few channels. our modern cultural attention has been split into so many pieces that it’s that much more difficult for any one little chunk of it to become the object of focus.

  • zingzing

    hrm. that link just leads to lastfm’s nina simone radio… i’m thinking that’s not what you intended.

  • You’re right, zing. But still decent music.

  • zingzing

    it is, but it’ll be different for you and me. yours will be based more on your taste (if you have an account) than mine would be.

  • It’s a matter of recognizing the different elements which go into the making of distinctly African-American music – gospel, spiritual, jazz.

    I sure hope that Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk don’t deserve your scorn.

  • KPFA from Berkeley used to have a Sunday program featuring music from around the world.

    There was one Zulu opera that particularly impressed me – never heard anything like that.

    I’m not sure if it was Princess Magogo.

    I suppose I could check the archives.

  • zingzing

    i’m not heavily into jazz, and what i am into tends to fit on the more shronky, free end. ayler, coleman, brotzmann, etc. one of my favorites is borbetomagus, who sound like a sick cat being turned inside out by a lawnmower on a very slow setting. “barbed wire maggots” is a favorite. anyway, the jazz i’m most into is very far away from the roots of the music.

    davis i like, but i pretty well despise fusion, even some of his own, and the cool/bebop stuff is very far away from the type of jazz i prefer. monk i know very little about. i’ve got a collection of stuff by him, but i probably haven’t listened to it in years, and i bet i’ve never listened to it all the way through.

    i have a real soft spot for jelly roll morton. the library of congress recordings (from the 40s, i think,) are quite special. it’s late in his career and he takes you back to songs he first performed in the teens and twenties. tells little stories and sings with a metronome ticking away. some of the songs reach upward of 20 minutes long, and they’re these incredibly dense stories. you never heard such cursing in your life on some of them. one’s called “the murder ballad” and it starts like this:

    I know you’ve got my man,
    I know you’ve got my man,
    Try to hold him if you can.

    I know that man don’t want nobody but me,
    I know my man don’t want nobody but me,
    If you don’t b’lieve it, I’ve got his room key.

    If you don’t leave my fuckin’ man alone,
    If you don’t leave my fuckin’ man alone,
    You won’t know what way that you will go home.

    I’ll cut your throat and drink your fuckin’ blood like wine,
    Bitch, I’ll cut your fuckin’ throat, drink your blood like wine,
    Because I want you know, he’s a man of mine.

    I’ve told you once, I’m not gonna tell you any more,
    I’ve told you once, I’m not gonna tell you any more,
    Right to the burying ground your big black ass will go.

    I’m gonna tell him, I’m gonna tell him ‘bout you,
    I’m gonna to tell him, I’m gonna tell him ‘bout you,
    He’ll either have me, or he won’t have you too.

    Let me tell you one of the things that I’ve said,
    Let me tell you one of the things that I’ve said,
    The bitch that fucks my man, they’ll find her among the dead.

  • Wow, that’s something.

  • Concerning Miles Davis, you’ve got to give a listen to his rendition of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez”, Sketches of Spain album.

  • Wow, you guys are still at it, huh? I’m off to an Oscars party, so I’m gonna be taking a powder for the next several hours. Just thought I’d check in though. Carry on…


  • I wasn’t aware you wanted the thread to die.

    Screw Oscars, though, and the self-admiration society.

  • Not saying I wanted it to die Roger…not at all. I’m just surprised its still going, that’s all. And I like the Oscars show…basically there are a group of us who do a party every year, where we enter a pool to pick winners and the winner comes out with a few extra bucks in the pocket. Great fun.

    And on that note…


  • Enjoy then.

    (You opened the topic and we’re just mining it.)

  • Is this what you call fusion, zing?

  • zingzing

    nah, that’s cool/modal jazz.

    fusion was about a decade later. started (well, sorta) with “in a silent way” and blew up on “bitches brew,” neither of which do much for me. he did do one called “on the corner” which i really like a lot. it’s sounds like little else, but was a big influence on the recording methods of bands like can and pil. (teo macero, miles’ producer, is just as important on this record as miles himself is.) it’s basically take an improv (and one with a damn steady rhythm) and just go for an hour, then the producer took the tape and chopped it up and moved things around until it came together. it’s an interesting way to work, and removes a lot of the structural issues i have with jazz.

    i’ve heard sketches of spain. it’s one of the few miles albums that i’ve heard that i’m on the fence about. i think it’s really good at what it does, but it’s not what i like about jazz, so it doesn’t really interest me unless i’m in the perfect mood for it.

  • zing, you are a musicologist!!!

    You should try making some money while you’re at it.

  • zingzing

    i actually do get paid for writing about music, but not nearly enough to claim i make my money doing it.

    i’ve thought about becoming a musicologist, and have been looking into the musicology programs at nyu. problem is that to get into the graduate program, you pretty much had to have a music-intensive undergrad background, which i don’t. and i think you have to be able to sight-read, which i’d have to teach myself how to do again (and much, much more ably than i used to). i’m also not much for music theory (i don’t want to turn my musical appreciation into some sort of search for theoretical perfection), and they put a heavy emphasis on that… especially in the historical musicology program (as opposed to the ethnomusicology program), which is the one i’m interested in. their undergrad musicology program looks focuses a lot on things i’m not interested in, and i’ve already got my undergrad and i don’t want another. plus, 4 years is a long time.

    and musicology as a career is a bit of a catch-22. in order to make any money at it, you pretty well have to have a masters. but it’s not like nyu is going to pay me to study it. and nyu ain’t cheap. and even when you do get your masters, you’re not going to make much money at it.

    that said, i really want to be alan lomax, even if he was an ethnomusicologist.

  • Well, when I was going to NYU for my masters, I had full scholarship. But that was a long time ago.

  • But fuck, zing. Get a fucking student loan – I understand you may be able to get it directly from the government, eliminating the middle man.

    Time shouldn’t be factor since it’s one thing we all have and it’s up to decide what shall we do with it.

    You’re still young.

  • up to us . . .

  • zingzing

    going $40-60k in debt to get a musicology degree makes me very, very nervous. i think grad schools are getting a little more iffy about handing out free rides. and the liberal arts are really getting the short end of that stick.

    besides, i think if i were going to get a student loan, i’d do it in a place where the whole loan would be sucked up by fucking rent. and i like nyc. want to stay here.

  • It’s only a two-year program for masters. NYU is a great school, right down your alley. Fuck money.

    You may get a TA and eventually be teaching and therefore corrupt young minds.

    I can’t think of a sweeter scenario.

  • Just for you, zing, if only to whet your appetite.

  • Description of the program.

  • Check out their financial aid, too.
    You may be pleasantly surprised.

  • zingzing

    yeah, that’s the one i’ve been looking at, especially the historical musicology grad program. i really don’t think that i’ve got the educational background they’re looking for. and the gre is a daunting thing. but i’m looking at it. have been for a few years now.

    “All graduate students receive tuition remission and MacCracken Fellowships, which include provision for teaching undergraduates over either two or three years. Within musicology, we maintain a small and close-knit program, with only two or three students admitted each year.”

    first sentence of that is wonderful. second, not so much.

  • Screw that. You can socialize outside the department. NYU is great for that – not to mention Washington Sq., perfect place for hanging out and meeting chicks.

    I’ll send you some money if I win a lottery, not before.

  • zingzing

    ah, it’s not socializing i’m worried about. it’s the exclusivity. maybe there aren’t hordes banging on the doors of the historical musicology department, but i’d bet there’s plenty more than two or three. i severely doubt i’d be one of the top candidates. it’s a dream, and while it’s not impossible, it’s improbable.

    (i’m copying and saving that offer of lottery money.)

  • Anyway, it wouldn’t hurt to pay them a visit and talk to the graduate advisor.

    Sorry, can’t do that for you.