Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why I Hate ABBA (Part 1, I think)

“I can’t do disco, man. I’d rather sell vacuum cleaners. They make better music!”Dr. Johnny Fever, “WKRP In Cincinnati

I don’t hate disco. Far from it, actually.

But I do hate ABBA.

Or, okay. Given that I am a practicing Christian who genuinely does try (and usually succeed) at loving his fellow man, I suppose I shouldn't (and therefore don't) technically hate anything or anyone.

So, okay, I'll amend that thought. When it comes to to put this No. I hate them.

I was out the last night at a gathering and was talking with a couple of very cool pals before I left. We were talking about music and the stuff that did it for us. We mentioned all of our favorites and talked about what it was about music that pressed our buttons. Soulfulness, honesty, talent to be sure, connection with the fans, as well as that indescribable something that sets off tripwires in our brains and draws us forever to certain bands and certain singers. Certainly I've had many of those, one of which I wrote about it depth here a few months ago. It was a cool discussion, one I hope we continue.

But when we got around to discussing stuff we didn't like, I instantly offered up, "My absolute basement is ABBA. Nothing is worse than that for me."

They didn't object, but they were surprised. And one of them asked why. He was just curious.

And I...I had no real definitive answer.

I mean, I talked in broad strokes about how sanitized and phony it sounds to me, even telling him, "I'd rather listen to a truck backing up for three hours." I talked about how soulless it was, how squeaky clean and detached. But I didn't have that absolute locked down Grade A reason for it. Something like "They killed my whole family and left me alive to be haunted by it when I was a child." Or something maybe a little more harsh.

So. Why do I hate ABBA so damn much?


It's easier first to say what the reasons are not.

It’s not the super-heavy production. Hell, tons of legendary artists have had high levels of production gloss placed atop their music. Like, say, The Beatles? Or U2? Pink Floyd? Or Bruce Springsteen ever since he discovered Brendan O’Brien? And the results with all have been pretty amazing. So it’s not that.

It’s not that it's so wrapped up in disco or dance. Hell, I really like good disco. And dancing is good! I mean, no, I can't do it, and I dance like an arthritic goat on ice, but it's still a very good thing. As for disco, sure, there was a lot of slop offered up in disco's mid-70s heyday, but any moreso than all the lousy hair/glam rock of the late 80s? Nope.

And despite all the bad stuff, there were simply rock solid awesome tunes like "Don't Leave Me This Way" and "Turn the Beat Around" and "Jungle Boogie." Not to mention supreme artists like Donna Summer and Chic and, hell, the Bee Gees? No, no. The outright hatred of disco (despite Dr. Fever's noted objections above, which were obviously done for comic effect) were often rooted in homophobia and racism, and the blanket dismissal of it all (again, Johnny Fever made his comments in a sitcom for laughs, and plus he was a whacked out old rocker, so I'll excuse it) was highly unfair. So disco, dance music? No. Not why I can't stand ABBA.

It’s not that it’s pop. Again, weren’t the Beatles pop? Wasn’t Elvis? Isn’t U2? Hell, wasn’t REM and Nirvana before too long? All of them charted, and high. So no, it’s not that ABBA was so very pop.

It's not even that it sounds so...cheesy. I like cheese! (Scott doesn't, but that's just an issue for him to work out in psychotherapy). Musical cheese can be enjoyable and filling, if not exactly healthy. But take Barry Manilow. While my love of him isn't quite as far-reaching as Scott's (he knows Barry will one day come for him), I genuinely appreciate and enjoy Mr. Pincus. He's talented and he sings well and he has a good voice and seems to enjoy himself and seldom take himself too seriously. Cheesy can be good. Yes, it can be bad too (see Diamond, Neil).  But that's not the reason.

It’s not even the ridiculous costumes ABBA wore. Because lots of bands had ridic...



Okay. Maybe the costumes had a little to do with it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

All You Need Is Love

Watching the Christianist below, I thought of the words of a few noted philosophers. Not so much my normal standbys of "seventy times seven" or "turn the other cheek," notions so radical that virtually none of even the most dedicated of that philosopher's adherents are able to really follow them fully.

No, instead, I listened to this sad little man, and I thought:

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. In the end, cowards are those who follow the dark side. 

Beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression: the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.

Or, to put it another way: it's easy—all you need is love. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Brand New Day (Please)

It will never make sense. Ever. It happened 60 miles away from me and 3,000 miles away from Scott, but I can say with certitude that it hit us both equally. Which is to say, it devastated us. And our families. And everyone we know. And everyone we don't know.

We pray. We try to give comfort where we can and find comfort where can. And we hope - we hope - that someday soon we do better. That we are all able to do better by our fellow citizens. We have no choice.

Tomorrow is a brand new day. And may it please, somehow and someway if only for a fleeting moment, be a better one.

Friday, December 7, 2012

David Bowie on the Pixies

I'm not sure I agree with everything he says here but I'd still pay a pretty penny to hear David Bowie talk at length about, well, pretty much every artist there is or ever was.

Looking at this and how damn gorgeous a physical specimen he is, in addition to his obvious intelligence and musical talent and sheer charisma, his absence from the public stage these many years suddenly struck me as especially ominous. He's going to be gone one day, hopefully not for a long time, but...but in the meanwhile, I hope someone's getting his autobiography out of him in some fashion.

And just because, here's Frank Black and the Thin White Duke getting fashionable. Of special note is just how much Reeves Gabrels shreds it here, and—in stark contrast to the late and not at all lamented Tin Machine—in a good way.

They're doing it over there but we don't do it here. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Your Time Is Gonna Come, Loser

The mind is an odd thing. How many times have I heard each of these songs without hearing the connection between them?

The other night, I was hit with the urge to put this on one (along with the out-of-the-blue suspicion that my daughters would love it instantly—I was right).

The moment the drums kicked in, I started wondering what it was reminding me of. The vocals added to the mystery. But once the chorus kicked in, I got it.

Because I think of Beck as being part of the whole alternative rock scene with his emphasis on irony and collage, the incredibly obvious comparison to Led Zeppelin never struck me before, but both are musical omnivores whose deepest, most lasting bedrock loves are the blues. Layer some hip-hop beats, or Joni Mitchell-inspired acoustic guitar over that foundation, and the results can be gloriously transformative, bringing something new to the table while retaining the utmost reverence for those that came before.

You can't write if you can't relate and my time is a piece of wax. 

You're a loser, baby? Not to worry—your time is gonna come.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Frank Zappa

Scott recently sent me a post from entitled “Did Frank Zappa Actually Like Music?” Here’s the link.  

The point was yes, he was an amazingly proficient guitar player who attracted crazy-talented musicians to carry out his musical visions. But does it sound like he was really enjoying himself? Was he emotionally invested in it?

And I have to say, after thinking about it…no. I don’t think he really did. I don't he was as crazy about music as he should have been. And I don't even think it's that close.

I think he liked being good at music—he liked playing the guitar and tossing off killer riffs and creating intricate sounds with monster studio players. But with a few exceptions—most notably his earliest stuff with the Mothers of Invention—his music, while to be appreciated, always left me a bit cold.

Take the Joe’s Garage albums, no doubt one of his most popular recordings. At the outset he has three absolutely Grade A rock songs, bawdy and nasty and rock-n-roll to the core: “Joe’s Garage,” “Catholic Girls” and “Crew Slut.” And at the end you have a stunningly gorgeous piece of extended guitar work called “Watermelon in Easter Hay” that goes on for close to nine minutes and is mind-boggling in how moving it is. And throughout you have this dead-on statement about the evils of censorship. But in that middle 60% of the album(s) you mostly get sexual innuendo-rich musiporn. You get extended sophomoric jokes that only he seems to be in on. And it’s not bad—it’s just…cold. And it’s a shame.

Or take this clip from Saturday Night Live in 1978, when he first gives a monologue and then offers up soon-to-be-hit “Dancin’ Fool.”

Zappa comes across as 100% too cool for school throughout, starting with his cue-card focused monologue reading and extending all the way through this somewhat funny song. But rather than deliver it with the drollness we hear on the Sheik Yerbouti record, he delivers everything—monologue, lyrics, and particularly the interplay with the young woman at the end—with this clipped, detached, “let’s get this over with” level of apathy.

Zappa comes across as the eye-rolling senior at a freshman party, who doesn’t need to be there but keep showing up anyway, if only to point out how stupid this all is.

Which is a damn shame, really. Because holy crow could the man play. Check out the studio version of one of his finest hours, all the way back from his debut album Freak Out! in 1965. Yes, it’s got a social pulse—a rather hard look at the Watts riots of that year. But there is a soulful menace in Frank’s voice—save for the sarcastic “Blow your harmonica-phone!” at the end—that propels the song every bit as much as the thunderous bass and chaotic guitar.

He sounds pissed, and he sounds invested. Once more, the man had chops most could only dream about. He was an intelligent and thoughtful advocate for free speech and he attracted only the very best of the best of musicians for when he felt like playing. It’s just a shame we didn’t hear more stuff like his in the quarter-century of his career that followed. More music that sounded like he cared, rather than just reminded us how smart and talented he was.