Friday, December 24, 2004

 

Yeah, I'm A Rockist And Darned Proud Of It

I happened to notice this article on Blogcritics by virtue of its title, the bling bling spelling of the Stones title intriguing me. As soon as I saw the Sulzberger entity mentioned in my first cursory glance of the article (it happened to catch my eye immediately, even though it's toward the middle of the article) my interest was piqued, as most music criticism offered by that less-than-august rag (with the notable exception of Allan Kozinn) is on a par with the dross proffered by its editorial page. The quote which got me was the definition of a "rockist" -
“favoritism toward traditional rock & roll over producer-driven genres like disco, rhythm-and-blues, and hip-hop”

which was actually published in a correction, of all things. This is of course an interesting comment, as of course in the greater context of the article it makes hay of those who accuse us "rockists" of every deadly sin in the politically correct playbook (e.g. racism, homophobia).

I would venture a guess that most "rockists" hold traditional African American music in far higher esteem than most young people who fit that ethnic description. Most "rockists" can quote chapter and verse about Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, B.B., Albert and Freddie King, not to mention the great R&B singers like Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. Most "rockists" are incredibly supportive of African American musicians who carry on the tradition, the Robert Crays, Vernon Reids and the Robert Randolphs. So why the hell are we being treated by the music press as if we were on the short list for indictments at Nuremberg?

Quoth a moron at the Village Voice, a paper which has degenerated even from its historic lows to utter drivel:
"...Every single time someone plays the ‘real musician’ card, they're wrong. They're ideologically hobbled and behind the times. They're attacking remarkable music, and defending shit because it replicates the rockist aesthetics that trace back to Clapton Is God etc… You think you're a noncombatant, but in the aesthetic marketplace there's no such thing; if you're buying Alicia (Keys) and Norah, you're buying into the avatars of an utterly perjured and reactionary position. You're holding back the ears, and it won't work. History will judge you harshly.”

Without a doubt, this sounds so much like Marxist polemic (not to mention sheer nonsense) that it would be unworthy of comment however, since I'm fond of fisking idiots like this I suppose that I can't resist. I would hardly consider Ms. Keys and Ms. Jones examples of contemporary rock, there are any number of examples out there such as Spock's Beard and Dream Theater that one could cite, however, the author's neglect in searching out any such examples merely serves to reinforce my position. I would hardly call what is coming out of the "producer-driven" circles great music. There has yet to be a single rap or hip-hop song that moves me. As far as dance music goes, I freely admit to having two left feet, and am firmly of the belief that dancing ability (with the exceptions of legends like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Donald O'Connor and the like) is inversely proportional to intelligence. I'm a musician, and I play the stuff. If I happen to be on the sidelines I can groove to it, but I can't dance to it.

Which brings up disco. Needless to say, back in the 70s, I too was an SMF at unnumbered Twisted Sister shows, damning the genre to the depths. It still grates on me in a lot of ways, but I've mellowed out in my opinion, at least of the stuff on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I suppose that transformation happened when I actually sat through the movie instead of automatically switching the channel and comparing it to a Leni Riefenstahl epic, and seeing that the music fit the subject matter and that the film was actually pretty good (and depicted a lot of characters I recognized from my Brooklyn days). There was good craftsmanship at work there, and I've learned to appreciate it. The same does not go for most of the rest of it, especially things like "Fly Robin Fly" or "More More More". That indeed is producer-driven stuff, and therein lies a bit more observation.

Way back when, I went to singles weekends at various Catskills hotels, which was an eminently bizarre experience that warrants an article in itself, but one evening, the "group" that performed "In The Bush" was the musical act. They were backed up by the hotel's band, an outfit consisting of a seriously old guy channeling Lester Lanin (albeit in a seriously bad tux), and a couple of obviously frustrated fortyish musicians (this was of course in the days when the hotels were already in serious decline, so no lush orchestras like at the Concord in the glory days) playing bass and drums. The group came out, played a lackluster set, and did their "signature" piece, which always annoyed the hell out of me (I mean, come on, we all know pop music is about sex, but for cryin' out loud a touch of subtlety sometimes communicates a heck of a lot more effectively). And it came to me. This stuff cannot effectively be reproduced on stage. Nope. No how. You can throw the same number and quality of musicians at it, but this is ultimately soulless music that doesn't have a life outside the studio recording. I happened to catch a Saturday Night Live rerun with Mrs. Federline the other day, and her performance was blatantly lip synched. The mantra with people who like "producer-driven" music is that the visual is ultimately more important than the music. Asking Mrs. Federline to merely sit on a stool and reproduce her repertoire would fail miserably, whereas you could hand Mr. Clapton a low-end Takamine, place him on the same stool, and he would blow the audience away.

The term "producer-driven" is of course a serious misnomer, as names like Phil Spector and George Martin come to mind when the word "producer" is mentioned. The punditry mentioned in this article prefers the like of The Neptunes, whose quote unquote art is a complete mystery to me. The magic of record production is in creating something durable. As loopy and dangerous as Philly is, even The Neptunes would have to acknowledge that "Be My Baby", "You've Lost That Lovin Feeling" and "River Deep Mountain High" have long since stood the test of time, and warrant playing loud to this day. I venture that most of the quote unquote classics of the dance/hip-hop genre are rarely played today (when was the last time you heard "Rapper's Delight"?) but you will hear R&B from that time frame still played. Why? To use that godawful Broadway show metaphor, "Tradition!".

It's of course a bit of a left-wing thing, as we rockists honestly don't give a crap about melanin, where the loonies have to inject some form of victimization into every issue. We care about supporting artists who make lasting, powerful music that's fun and musically valid. Ever hear a kid when he gets his first electric guitar? Odds are that kid will be plunking out "Smoke On The Water" within minutes. Thirty two years after the fact. I suppose the authors who made the inane commentary about us rockists will comment all about how some kid got his first turntable and scratched out a classic beat. Spare me.

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