Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year. And I am depre$$ed.

Last night, before succumbing to a world-class headache* that left me semi-conscious, draped over a love seat and altogether out of the New Year's Eve loop by 10:45, I caught a bit of Dick Clark's annual Times Square extravaganza, nowadays hosted by the ubiquitous Ryan Seacrest. (One pictures ol' Dick sitting off in a corner counting residuals between TIAs.) These fetes always feature live music, or a barely plausible excuse for same. And each year, as I listen to the plausible excuse of current vintage, I grow increasingly disconsolate.

What happened to music or, more precisely,
musicality? Where are the people who can actually (a) sing and/or (b) play?

Before we go any farther, let's cl
ear something up real fast. What you're about to read is not another cliched, nostalgic rant from some pathetic, barely sensate old fart who sits around in his stained and smelly recliner, gulping Vesicares by the handful as he pees into his Depends while insisting that Marciano could've beaten Iron Mike (as if!) and pining for the days of Glenn Miller or Elvis or the Beatles or even Springsteen. (The Boss couldn't sing, either, for the record.) I like to think I can separate my personal tastes from my grasp of aesthetics. And I pride myself on having never gotten stuck in a certain time period and grown stale, artistically. No, I'm talking about musicianship here, in whatever genre. I'm talking about originality and invention. I'm talking about the simple and pure ability to carry, or at least interpret, a tune. (Example: Jagger has a lousy voice, but was a great interpreter of the music he sang and played. Same with Tony Bennett.) I know what you're thinking: Salerno's a jazzophile. He's never going to find anything he likes or admires in pop music. For the record, here are some musicians from the pop/indie camps that I like and greatly admire: Stevie Wonder, Sting, Prince, Trent Reznor, Rob Zombie, Michael Jackson, the late Guru of Gang Starr, Robert Plant & LZ as a whole, Walter Becker/Steely Dan, Phil Collins (can't sing, but lots of musical talent), Redman (ditto), the Deftones as a group. Stevie Wonder gets my vote as the single most brilliant all-around musician to emerge from the pop realm in the 20th Century. Reznor is a close second: nowhere near Stevie for vocal talent, of course, but his musical instincts are scary-brilliant. The pickins since the world ended in Y2K are slim indeed. Alicia Keys is ... just OK. John Legend, on the other hand...yeegads. What an ironic name. And to think that he's bracketed as a "jazzy" singer. Bleccch. I find him unlistenable.

Anyway, suffice it to say no brilliance was on display last night. Before disappearing into merciful unconsciousness, I heard three performances, at least two of them described as "top-of-the-chart hits of 2010!" These performances were by Ke$ha (that's how she spells it), Train and, God help us, Will Smith's 10-year-old daughter, Willow. (And what is it with the name Willow! It's becoming the Jennifer of the 2000 set.) I was appalled. Just appalled. The songs were simple-minded and absurd (Soul Sister a bit less so, but hard on the ears anyway, possibly because I'm so sick o
f hearing it at the gym), the interpretations were dreadfulnot a grace-note of musicality in the bunchand the backgrounds/harmonies were of a caliber that any non-ADD-afflicted 9-year-old with a half-decent memory could master in perhaps a half-hour. These were the top hits of 2010. This is the music America likes. (Incidentally, Ke$ha, on her site, offers this invitation for fans to keep up with her tweets: "Twitter my a$$." Cla$$y gal, that Ke$ha. Too bad $he can't $ing.)

It occurs to me that all of pop music now is like advertising jingles. Think about top-40 radio. These songs that we uphold as our mega-hits could easily be radio jingles for McDonald's or Midas Muffler, with their pulsing, hummable melodies and their droning repetition of key phrases every 8 seconds or so.
("Gonna git me some, baaa-by... Oh yeahhh ... Gonna git me some, baaa-by ... Oh yeahhh ... Gonna ... ") This must explain why you seldom hear today's top-40 performers described as "artists." (Am I right? Who was the last...?) Even the promoters and producers who are banking millions off the efforts of these posers and buffoons are ashamed to use the term. Do you realize that it's impossible to write a parody of top-40 music that is any sillier than our friend Ke$ha's Tick Tock? Seriously. Give it a try. I defy you.

Of course, this is part of a larger syndrome that also plagues prime-time TV, movies and, ahem, literature. The movies and TV shows, too, are written and rendered on the level of an ad jingle, to appeal to an audience of giddy pubescent females who spend half their time chain-texting everyone they know and the other half worrying about when they're going to begin filling out their training bras so Josh will finally notice them. The literature is an exception. It's designed to appeal to somewhat older women who, though they may fill out their bras better, for the most part still think on the level of a pubescent female. (Do I sound bitter? No argument there. See title of post, above.)

And in footnote, here's something else that struck me funny about the whole Will/Willow Smith thing. I remember distinctly a Babwa Walters interview with Smith-the-father some years back in which he bemoaned the stereotypical black youth's tendency to talk in street slang, to elide the closing letters of words (e.g. "bruth-a"), etc. He emphasized the importance of speaking properly enunciated, syntactically correct English. He held himself up as a role model for these virtues, saying he was willing to take a stand on this even at the cost of losing street cred or being labeled a sell-out by some "in the community." Say what? Will, did you happen to hear your daughter singing [sic] last night? I guess this sell-out thing cuts both ways, huh?

No wonder I had a headache.

* Just FYI, I do not drink. The headaches are vestiges of my college football career back in the era of the head-slap. They come and go, sometimes with a bizarre and surreal predictability. When I'm in a "headache period," I'll get them, say, every afternoon at precisely 3:07.


Dimension Skipper said...

I hear you $teve...

I think Trudeau got it right when he had his Jimmy Thudpucker character become a ringtones artist in Doonesbury.

As of January 2009, he has branched out into recording and selling ringtones.

Jimmy's biggest fault seems to be his habit of "reinventing" himself, often switching musical genres on a whim. When he does so he changes his name to match his new style; he became Jimmy Ray Thudpucker to perform country music, MC Jimmy to perform rap music, Jimmy T. to record a Christmas album, and James R. Thudpucker III to make an album of standards.

Btw, Googling Jimmy T. turns up myspace and facebook pages as well as assorted others which may or may not be relevant, but I didn't check any out myself.

I gave up on the New Year's eve shows years ago. At some point I realized not only that I'd lost touch with the popular "music" scene, but that I was also perfectly OK with that. I found country music in the 90s to be much more to my own tastes (Alan Jackson, Mark Chesnutt, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood to name a few specifically from that era) and a good bit of it more reminiscent of 70's era folk/rock/pop music. But since the turn of the millennium that genre too seems (to my ears) to be either stagnant (at best) or trying more and more to distance itself from the country label. And they're just churning out interchangeable performers with less and less actual talent. They certainly don't seem to make'em like the old guard such as George Jones, George Strait, Merle Haggard, et al anymore.

Glad (though not surprised, of course) to see Becker and Steely Dan on your list. I highly recommend Becker's Circus Money from a couple years ago, but that's one of those albums that only the truly hardcore Dan fans would have heard of. It's a great complementary piece to Fagen's Morph The Cat, but neither one got any real record company promotion or radio airplay to speak of. They're more than just mindless monotonous beats and disjointed screamed repetitive phrases, so why would anyone bother to even listen?

I don't even think most people really want music anymore, they just seem to want background filler.

Pretty much most of the so-called stars anymore attain that status without me hearing even one note of their "music". However, I'm well aware of the meat dresses and "going commando" incidents. I still don't have a clue who Justin Bieber is, really. Sometimes I see the musical acts on the late night talk shows and think to myself, "This is what's passing for music these days?"

But hey, if saying all that makes me the fussy unhip curmudgeonly kind eulogizing rock, then that's what I be...

Steve Salerno said...

I don't even think most people really want music anymore, they just seem to want background filler.

Gotta love it.

swami said...


Slurred as a style is just lazy musical communication....Barry Manilow (who by the way, can't sing either....he's a songwriter) has his enunciation thing down.....find the good in all thngs.

Steve Salerno said...

Swami, thanks for stopping by. Though one hates to be labeled a Manilow-lover (in multiple senses), at least the guy can carry a tune and generally stay on-key. In contrast, listen to some of top-40 music's biggest names attempt to sing a capella sometime (e.g. the National Anthem at ball games). It's frightening.

Btw, I get security warnings when I attempt to visit your site. I don't know what's up with that, but I just thought I'd mention it (also for the benefit of other SHAMbloggers).

RevRon's Rants said...

I might be inclined to believe that my preference for '60s~'70s rock - along with my distaste for much of what plays on the radio nowadays - was as indicative of my own curmudgeonly nature as of any lack of true musicianship, were it not for the fact that my own kids, as well as many others in their age bracket, also shun most of the newer stuff.

IMO, there is no rock vocalist who can even approach Plant in his prime, and no group who is even in the same league with the Moody Blues or (especially) Jethro Tull. What that is being produced today possesses the melody, structure, and nuance to allow it to be performed by a full symphony orchestra? IMO, that is one true test of a piece's "musicality." It's no accident that "Stairway To Heaven" is the single most popular rock song of all time.

And for the record, I made my primary ringtone from the opening bars of Zep's "You Shook Me," and my message alert from Tull's "Bouree." And I still smile when my phone "rings."

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, I purposely didn't include Moody Blues in my list of the greats. They certainly belong there, but they were heavily jazz-influenced, and I'd already mentioned Steely Dan, so I didn't want to be accused of the subjective assumption that the more a given group/genre sounded like jazz, the better it was/is. (Though frankly, I do think that's true, at least musically.) I omitted BS&T and Chicago for similar reasons ... though if I'm going to be honest, what those two groups really excelled at was synthesizing and combining styles created by others, rather than inventing new musical forms of their own.

I did enjoy a lot of Tull, even if I wouldn't put them in the same league with some of the others. Just personal preference.

I should add that I'm also heavily influenced by emotional considerations in my musical tastes. For example, I generally grit my teeth at C&W, but I could listen to Waylon Jennings sing "Defying Gravity" all day long--and get teary-eyed to boot--simply because it was the theme for the powerful film about Gary Gilmore, The Executioner's Song.

Dimension Skipper said...

I recognize that country is not for everybody and among my circle and generation of friends, I'm the only one who really, really likes it to any significant extent. (Others only seem to like the occasional poppish crossover single or a sexy bare-midriffed woman with the sound turned down.)

My main point was only that the downward-spiralling (flushing?) "talent pool" doesn't seem to be a genre-specific trend. All genres have always had their fair share of "crap," I think, it just seems like the generally recognized crap/quality ratio is much worse than ever and still trending downward.

Here's a Country Universe blog post on four major artist hits collections of 2010 and what it may ultimately indicate for the future of the genre. The item concludes...

"Of the four collections, Paisley’s may be the least impressive, but it’s still a decent representation of one of country music’s last superstars, and it speaks volumes about the creative holding pattern that still paralyzes the genre. Unless the spiritual successors to Alan Jackson or the Dixie Chicks come along, Paisley’s might be as good as it’s gonna get on country radio."

Imo, the music labels ultimately simply self-destructed due to their own greedy practices. Combine that with the ease (both in practice and financially) of artists being able to record to quality standards (which isn't the same as recording quality tunes, mind you) on much smaller personal scales and you get what we have today... Self-publicized "superstars" who sell mere tiny fractions of the units of past superstars. To achieve some measure of "fame" requires as much gimmickry and tricks as it does musicality.

And everyone who listens to music seems to want to feel like they've "discovered" their own personal niche artist whom they then dub "the next big thing" as if declaring it makes it so. The whole music industry is way too fragmented for my taste and finding quality new artists requires a much greater investment of time and resources that frankly makes it seem too much like "work." Used to be the music simply found me, now it's a chore for me to find the music and I just can't be bothered. I think it's a combination of less quality music to be found and the distribution methods having gone all Mandelbrot on us. (Again this leads me back to my own pet theory about increasing complexity in the world and all systems simply due to too damned many people. Not that anything can be done about it, just sayin'...)

For the record (pun intended) I've attended more Moody Blues shows than Steely Dan/Donald Fagen, because A) I like them a lot too and B) a friend of mine is pretty much the cliche #1 MB fan on the eastern seaboard and so I've gone along for accompaniment to many an A.C. MB show.

RevRon, I'm glad to read your comment about the younger gen not really liking the newer stuff either. Gives me some minor hope that maybe eventually things will cycle back to actual musical talent counting for something.

RevRon's Rants said...

Well, Salerno, you obviously never attended a Tull concert. Of all the concerts I've attended (and there have been a LOT... quite a few at Winterland or the Filmore West), the top two were both Jethro Tull.

Now, if you'd just come down to Texas and attend even one Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic, you'd likely find a lot more C&W to un-grit your teeth over.

namowal said...

This post and the comments so far have cracked me up. (in a good way)

I've often found myself lamenting the state of current music lately, but then I figure that I don't really know much about the current music scene. Many of my favorite band/musicians are not household names. I got into them through friends and going to random shows and buying random CDs when I was younger and constantly consuming music. Now I mostly listen to the same set of CDs that I purchased 10-15 years ago.

I do think that, for a lot of people, the music that they had access to in high school/college (whether current or older) becomes the standard that is hard to live up to with later music.

For conversation starters:
best performances I've seen:
underworld (st andrews, detroit, 1999)
radiohead (riviera, chicago, 1997)
beta band (metro, chicago, 1999(?))
kid koala (carrboro, north carolina, 2007)

(perhaps not much overlap with readers of this blog, but who knows...)

a realist said...

Steve, you write this as if it's some great revelation. Anyone who takes a stand in the name of quality, be it art, music, writing or whatever is likely going to end up poor. Some lucky bastard will hit a nerve now and then and make a killing. But the average artist who's truly an artist starves. Hence the phrase "starving artist". This isn't rocket science. :-)

Movies are made for teenagers, mostly girls who see them over and over again with their friends. Novels are written to provide romantic escape for women or some type of intrigue for men. Novels for young people almost always involve vampires, wizards etc. besides the usual dating themes. Pop music is pop music, duh. Did you really expect kids to run around humming Dizzy Gillespie?

The saddest part about today's culture is that what used to be lowest common denominator is now the mainstream. Fewer and fewer people even bother to try aiming high, and who can blame them when there is so much more success attainable by picking the low hanging fruit.

RevRon's Rants said...


Yanno, the more I think of it, the more I'm inclined to believe that the guys riding around in cars with trunks converted to subwoofers are the true bastions of musical excellence. They're willing to let their entertainment dismantle their most prized material possessions, one bolt at a time, all for the love of their art.

And if you doubt that they're devoted to their artistic pursuits, just look through the tinted windows; you'll notice that the guy has inevitably chosen to eschew female companionship in favor of his tunes. That, my friend, is devotion!

On a side note, the city of Hutchinson, Kansas was the first city in the nation to pass a statute making it a misdemeanor to play music that could be heard from 100' away. Those Menonites sure know how to spoil a good time.


Dimension Skipper said...

And now for something completely different...

Just to sidestep the musical ranting/despair for a moment, this actually came up in another virtual venue for me when I was pointing out Phil Plait's re-posted Discover piece for the new year explaining the definition(s) of "year."

Which reminded me of a particular song, but I didn't mention it right away... Then someone else posted this YouTube link to the original version of the tune I was thinking of and only then did I respond with this YouTube link to Clint Black's 1999 cover (with new intro co-penned and co-vocalized by the original artist).

The original has some humorous visuals in the vid (except for the very last scene, but it only drives home the overall point) and no doubt will be the one most folks prefer (if only because it IS the original), but I love'em both.

Just thought that it was kind of, sort of generally SHAMbloggy in tone/point to begin with and certainly in an appropriately tangential vein for this particular topic.

And Steve, as a completely out-of-left-field aside, here's a vid of Clint Black on drums (band member Brian Austin on lead vocal) performing "Josie", which they've been known to do as part of their encore (at least for a while there anyway, but I've never been to a CBlack show myself). I don't think it's horrible, but I could be hampered by my own musical blind spots. I think it's certainly interesting at least as a curiosity piece.

And now back to our regularly scheduled ranting...

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, DimSkip ... I think.

Steve Salerno said...

DimSkip (p.s.) Clint Black on drums for "Josie"? Why do I chuckle at that, just in concept...?

Dimension Skipper said...

I don't know, Steve...

Aren't Steely Dan covers and celestial mechanics the two main things you think of when you hear the name Clint Black???? Both seem like perfectly natural associations to me.


Apparently Black has expressed an admiration of Steely Dan, particularly of Aja, of course, but that should be no surprise.

I've always felt (and found) that good music is essentially rather genreless and even musicians known for one particular style were not influenced only by artists within that style nor do they confine their own listening tastes in the same aural straitjacket.

But for my own tastes, music must at least be, uh, "musical." Which is to say I rely on the ol' "I know it when I hear it." Nothin' wrong with a good toe-tapper.

Steve Salerno said...

Also off-topic (while we're sort of playing free association) is that Black happens to be married to one of the most no-talent, plasticized, phony-looking, oooh-I'm-just-too-sexy-for-myself actresses of all time, Lisa Hartman. She's rivaled only by Nicolette Sheridan, who found "stardom" (gag me) in roughly that same period, then managed to have herself rediscovered on Desperate Housewives.

And neither of them can play a lick of jazz trumpet...

a/good/lysstener said...

The music of my generation sucks, Steve. There's no other way to say it, though I couldn't disagree more about Springsteen. The Boss is still The Boss!

Steve Salerno said...

Alyssa: Never saw his appeal (the so-called Boss). Ditto Mellencamp (ugh), Elton John (and we revere this man for what reason??), or Billy Joel (save for one song to which I have a sentimental attachment, as it was playing when my Dad died). I guess I just missed out on that whole "rock troubadour" thing. Also thought Bob Dylan was horrific, but maybe not quite as bad as his progeny.

Dimension Skipper said...

Well, be that as it may (though I can't really dispute anything you said) you prompted me to google Mrs. Black because you made me realize they've been married quite a while now and I was curious as to just how long. According to Wikipedia they married in 1991... so going on 20 years here in 2011. Say what you will, but at least that's gotta stand for something, I would think, for such a celeb couple. And I don't recall hearing anything about either one having affairs or any sort of marital strife. Doesn't mean there hasn't been any, I guess, because it's not as if I typically have an ear to the ground on such celeb relationship gossip stuff. But I really do think I would remember if I'd ever heard about something like that if there was ever anything substantial goin' on. And even if there was, well, they're still together so, again... that's gotta count for somethin', right? Must work for them, at any rate.

Dimension Skipper said...

On a slightly different tangential offshoot (or expanded focus) from the original topic, I've been thinking that I have the same quality issues with (particularly) sitcoms and movie comedies as I do with music. I find that I don't go for the newer styles and less and less I find lol funny. I've been in theaters where the entire crowd is laughing hysterically and I'm still in search of the joke.

So I'm thinking most of this is probably just my inevitable decline into curmudgeonly old fogeydom.

I think there's a certain natural progression as anyone ages that because we've seen more and more of, well, everything in life, or at least those things which tend to draw our attention, that eventually most everything just has a "been there, done that" mustiness. I hear a joke and while I may sort of appreciate the effort, I can't help but think "Oh, so-and-so was doing that sort of joke better back in the 70s." It's because of Hill Street Blues that to this day I really don't get into cop shows on TV because I don't see how the genre could ever be done better.

So maybe I don't give new stuff enough of a fair chance, but I guess what I'm saying is I don't know that it's even possible anymore for me to give new stuff that fair chance, whether it deserves it or not.

It's not that everything has to be "original" because I don't know that that's possible either. But usually I have more problem with shows and movies that I perceive as "trying too hard" to be "original." They end up resorting to gimmicks and playing with visual formats.

God, I am so sick of the faux documentary style tht everyone somehow seems to think is still so clever. It's certainly not original or innovative. On Modern Family, they don't even bother trying to explain why there's a documentary in progress, it's just simply there for the purpose of having those behind-the-scenes explanatory and/or extra quips.

On How I Met Your Mother how long is the narrator going to go on avoiding the story of how he actually met his kids' Mother? Seriously.

Granted, I don't watch those shows beyond the occasional surfing-by snippet I may catch so maybe they have explained some of it, but those are samples of a couple of reactions I've had to new stuff.

And I'd just as soon have a traditional laugh track as to resort to quick jump-cut whoooshing scene transitions and cartoony sound effects or goofy incidental music which, to my mind, are really just alternate forms of a laugh track, cues which say... "laugh here."

Maybe it's kind of like how magic shows don't hold the same allure after I saw one or two of those "here's how they do it" shows. I become attuned to seeing the mirrors and wires, noticing the nuts and bolts of any project structurally instead of just absorbing the whole picture.

But again, I think that comes back to just having been exposed to a lot of similar experiences, particularly when it comes to shows/movies, such that I've built up tolerance. (Or would that be intolerance?)

Younger people still view certain things as new and original where older folks know they aren't. Doesn't mean the new stuff isn't good, just that the viewer/listener is more jaded by past experience.

I'm sure I'm not saying anything wonderfully new here in this view, either, but that doesn't necessarily make it inaccurate. It's how I kind of see it anyway. It may not be a hard and fast rule for everybody in life, but in general this explanation feels right to me. I seem to encounter more and more situations in life that make me (internally to myself) shake my head and mutter in the back of my mind, "It must be me!" And that's exactly what I'm saying here... I really think it literally must be me, i.e. just a natural byproduct of my aging.

Dimension Skipper said...

Actually, thinking about it all just a tad more (and I'll be brief this time) I really do think there's a middle ground explanation here. There's a good portion that is just my own approaching "You kids get off my lawn!" status. But I think too that there's a substantial portion of this lesser quality effect due to the artists/performers/writers striving too hard for originality and to stand out in yet another ever more competitive human endeavor (entertainment). It's not enough to tell a good story with good characters and good acting, or to simply have a nice toe-tapper with a decipherable lyric, ya gotta STAND OUT or strive to be ORIGINAL! But that effort may work at cross purposes to the idea of quality, thus a shifted (but perceivably so to the viewer/listener) emphasis.

In the end I often get a feeling of something being amiss, probably both internal to me and within the work itself. We just end up not meshing as far as the creative expression and my enjoyment/appreciation of it.

But hey, I have every confidence 3-D will elevate quality levels back up the ladder!

(Please understand too I'm not really talking about obvious general concensus, albeit still puzlingly popular dreck here either. I'm referring to stuff that may actually be more generally well accepted as having at least some substantial quality, but doesn't quite work for me... or often doesn't even come close to working for me.)

Steve Salerno said...

DimSkip: Wow. So much to say. Let me grab a coffee. (Yes, I'm serious.)

Steve Salerno said...

OK then. I have to agree with that whole "best part of waking up" campaign; for my money there's nothing like a good cup of Folger's. You can keep your Starbucks.

Self-knowledge tends to be, well, a sham, but I personally don't think I'm as susceptible to the "you kids get off my lawn!" syndrome, and that's at least partly by design. I try always to be mindful of poor Igor Stravinsky. As a young composer, Strav was savaged by the symphonic old guard, who denounced his groundbreaking work with putdowns like "It's hideous! It's simply not music!" Stravinsky, of course, defended his work and made his critics out to be old farts. But guess what: In his later years, our friend Igor leveled the very same charges against the vanguard of the electronic-music movement. He had followed a familiar pattern among innovators, growing stale within the boundaries of his own innovation. This is too often the case even with the "great visionaries."

So no, I don't think my stance on pop music (and pop culture as a whole) is rooted in any nostalgic pining for the good old days. Nor do I think the criticisms that you (DimSkip) and others raise here are fatally flawed by subjectivity, for the most part. Let's keep the focus on music for a moment. I grew up in a house filled with jazz, then was formally trained for years in what laypeople lump together as "classical" music, then I earned money on and off by playing in both a wedding band and a jazz-rock group. I won the “music medal” as outstanding musician in a highly competitive high school, then was similarly honored upon my graduation from Brooklyn College. (Not boasting; just establishing my bona-fides.) I was a card-carrying member of famed Local 802 for a decade. As I write this, there is a keyboard to my left, and there are many points during the day when I'll turn in that direction to work out a sequence of chords that popped into my head. Point being, I know my music, and I have an astute musical ear. I recognize complexity—and its absence.

Leaving aside the alternative/heavy-metal realms, there is no question that the great bulk of today's pop music is "distinguished" by an utter lack of musical complexity. There is almost nothing original or inventive about it. No one even seems to strive for invention anymore. Indeed, the goal often seems to be to try to hit upon the simplest and most easily hummable catch-phrase that (a) evokes another hit song that will strike a chord (NPI) in listeners, and (b) you can repeat and repeat and repeat ad nauseam throughout the track. In most pop tunes, the background harmonies, if you will, are basic a-b-c-d fare. No surprises. Nothing that would ever stop an actual musician in his tracks and cause him to pause/rewind the CD/mp3 to hear the phrase again. To use the most approachable example for a non-musically trained audience, compare that situation I've just described to, say, the harmonies in a standard like The Shadow of Your Smile or even just the first two bars of Here's That Rainy Day. This is not subjective, DimSkip. Musically speaking, there is just no comparison. (And do we even need to comment on the lyrics?)

'Twas not always thus, even in pop. Stevie Wonder was and remains a brilliant composer; sure, he too can get a little bit stuck in some of his favorite "changes," as we musicians say of the flow of chords in any given song, but they're inventive changes; they're changes that, to no small degree, Stevie himself introduced to rock music. And Stevie could sing them (beautifully) and riff on them. Where is today's up-and-coming Stevie Wonder? Where is today's Michael Jackson? Prince? Sting?

(to be continued)

Steve Salerno said...

Turning to sitcomes: We don't want to be too hasty here. In our reverence for the likes of I Love Lucy and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and, later, Seinfeld), we shouldn't forget that there was an intervening period when virtually all sitcoms were, in effect, Three's Company. Pretty lame. I actually think that today's sitcoms have improved a little bit over what they were at their worst; they make a few more intellectual demands on viewers than some of what we were stuck with right before the cable revolution kicked in, if memory serves--a big "if" nowadays. And there's always Family Guy, although even that's an acquired taste; I hear people criticize MacFarlane for taking the low road and also relying too much on cheap-shot humor.

I could drone on and on, but my day's schedule demands attention. I do want to add before departing that there are other factors in play here. I'm not the first to observe that a show like All in the Family probably wouldn't get a very warm welcome from network TV anymore. It would be even more controversial (and targeted by the PC police) today than it was when it debuted at around this time in 1971. That strikes me as a very sad and pointed comment on some of the other topics that have found their way onto this blog in recent months.

Dimension Skipper said...

Oddly enough there's a new over-the-air subchannel 17.2 known as Antenna TV that has started with the new year in the Philly area. (Supposedly also on cable channels in some cities, 252 for Comcast in Philly, though it doesn't seem to be there in my local suburbia when checking at a relatives's home.)

They're featuring some retro shows such as two you just mentioned... Three's Company and All In The Family. (Plus Sanford & Son, Maude, Good Times, Married With Children, The Nanny, Benny Hill, and The Three Stooges et al.) It's a mix of shows I liked and didn't, but if there's nothing on my regular channels I may find myself checking out some of the oldies such as AitF, S&S, The Nanny, and yes, even 3C which at least didn't seem to try to be anything more than what it knew it was. BH & 3S appear to be weekend nighttime fare, though they ran marathons of each on the New Year's weekend which I checked in on here and there for a few nostalgic chuckles.

For the record, I hated Seinfeld when it started, came to like it a lot in the middle years (seasons 2-5) after numerous attempts to try to get into it, then ended up hating the last three seasons as some of the worst, most pointless stuff I'd ever seen. So I end up liking certain classic episodes, but overall I don't think it even cracks my top 20 sitcoms of all-time whereas many folks rank it right at the very top. Family Guy is as likely to make me switch channels as it is to make me laugh (which it can on occasion when I've tried it). Used to love The Simpsons back when it had a story through an ep, but about a decade or more ago it became a disjointed series of unrelated jokes/skits and no longer "flowed" for me so I dropped it.

As to music, I have no talent, I just listen. I bow to your bona fides in that area, and gladly so since it seems to support my general impression, so... validation to some extent which is always at least a little gratifying.

Dimension Skipper said...

Btw, TV is just as fragmented as the music industry, of course... Used to be 3-4 major broadcast networks and that was it. Now most people have access to 100 channels, some folks 300, 400, or even more. Every show on every "network" has to aim to grab its own narrowly targeted niche audience. Like music, I just find it's almost too much of a chore anymore to find stuff that used to be just "right there." This is part of why I don't have or want cable or satellite TV... They brag about offering hundreds of channels, but hey I can only watch one at a time and all those choices just drive me insane. Some choice is good, too much is overload. For me.

Books too... I like science fiction (but usually not fantasy though they get lumped), always have, but that used to be the extent of the genre categorization. Now there's cyberpunk, steampunk, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and other niche sub-genres that authors and readers target from the outset. Vampires & zombies have essentially become entirely their own extremely narrow sub-genre in recent years. I say enough with both already! We certainly don't need vampirepunk or zombiepunk. Like the case of cop shows and HSB I say that after Buffy and its Angel spinoff, we don't need more vampire stuff for a long, long time.

So I'm back to increasing fractalized complexity simply due to too damned many people and that inevitably leads also to, yes, too damned many kids violating my lawn!... ("Hey you! STOP that!")

At this point I've pretty much settled upon my issues with such things being a good mix of "It's me" and "That's crap"... I just have to assign percentages. On some level you could say it's 100% me because what else could it be? But otoh I gotta believe that a certain bulk of my impression has to be "right" too. It may be ego talking, but I'm leaning towards at least a 25/75% ratio of "me/crap". I might even go with a higher percentage of actual crap except that admittedly I've reached the point where I just don't even bother much to try out new entertainment experiences. Of course, that's just the percentage of my personal attribution factor, my reasoning... I do think that the actual crap, as I see it no matter what the reasoning, is a much higher percentage as per Sturgeon's law

I think (at last!) I've said all I need or want to say on the matter (apologies for droning on and monopolizing the thread) and I'll try not to add anything more (unless addressing very specific and brief items). If folks don't get my drift by now, then further explanation probably won't be helpful (nor likely welcomed).

Steve Salerno said...

DimSkip, I wish I had time to comment on all the issues (and sub-issues, and sub-sub...) you raise, but for now I will simply note that there's something weird and uncomfortable about the idea of your bowing to my bona-fides....

Dimension Skipper said...

Just to briefly reinforce my point about increasing complexity and nicheness, specifically re science fiction and the many sub- and sub-sub-genres that have arisen...

I'm pretty sure it's not an "officially recognized" designation, but Fashionpunk? Really???

Dimension Skipper said...

Off-topic, though actually probably on-topic as far as being depre$$ed in the new year... I'm sure that like most of the free world, Steve, you're soooooo looking forward to OWN. Thought you might appreciate this Alan Sepinwall item.

Note: I personally didn't read Oprah's actual response, but I don't think it's necessary to enjoy the item and perhaps best completely avoided so as to allow full enjoyment. Like standing on a mountaintop overlooking a panoramic scene of a beautiful valley... Binoculars bring fine details into focus, but there's just something about the overall fully-encompassed-at-once view that is awe-inspiring.

I think you'll enjoy this collection of tweets* from during Oprah's gabsponse too, probably more.

* The tweets link was posted by a commenter under the Sepinwall item.

Dimension Skipper said...

Oops... I didn't get the memo. Apparently OWN actually started with the new year, so no need to "look forward" to it. The Age of Enlightenment has apparently already begun.

Matt Dick said...

I will establish credibility with this crowd first by saying that Jethro Tull is my all-time favorite group. I love jazz from a variety of eras. I have a great fondness for '60s and '70s rock--my favorite era for rock music.

I also love opera, country (but not much new country), and all manner of classical, baroque, etc.

But we shouldn't bemoan the state of today's music. All eras were overrun with crap, with some transcendent music that survived to grace the next generations. You may love Led Zeppelin, Tull, Queen, Rush etc, but please don't tell me that The Captain and Tennille, KC and the Sunshine Band, and The Carpenters didn't suck, suck, suck, the they *all* had #1 hits.

All eras mostly sucked. And they send their best forward.

Where's today's great rock? Well it's out there and it will emerge and you'll know about it, but not for a decade or so. You don't follow current pop (and neither do I), so you can't see the gems in there, but they will shake out and we'll know about them eventually.

As for television, I submit the same holds true. Bad crap existed in the 1960s/70s along with the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and they died and you've forgotten. The Office was innovative, and I think it was great, and shows like Community are still innovative and clever, even if they're not super-popular.

I will send some links to some of my favorite current artists if you're interested, but I just wanted this to be about the general idea that all eras suffer from an overwhelming number of bad acts with only a few surviving their era as superior art.

Matt Dick said...

In fact I want to go one step further and say that I did go and listen to Tick Tock and while it's true that it's no good, and Ke$ha doesn't seem to be able to sing on key, I would put that song up against Muskrat Love *any* day, and I challenge anyone to say otherwise.

Muskrat Love... just remember that it was a number one hit for contemporary adult music in 1976. Number 1. Muskrat Love, for God's sake.

Steve Salerno said...

Matt: Points taken...


Toni Tennille could sing. Yeah, I know, I know; I know. But the girl had a set of pipes...

Matt Dick said...

Okay Steve, I didn't want to do this, but you've forced my hand. You only have yourself to blame for the memories this will bring back.

In 1976 Rush put out "2112" and Led Zeppelin dropped "Presence", but Donna Summer countered with "Love Trilogy" and the songs "Convy" and "Disco Duck (Part 1)" topped the charts.

And that was only Disco Duck Part 1...

Steve Salerno said...

Disco Duck. Wow. I guess I'd repressed that.

OK, Matt. You win this round. ;)