Historical Inevitability

The idea that history is cyclical has been put forth by numerous historians, philosophers, and fiction writers, but one Italian philosopher, named Giovanni Battista Vico (1668-1744), wrote that a fall is also an historical inevitability. In his book La Scienza Nuova, Vico suggested that evidence of this can be found by reading history from the vantage point of the cyclical process of the rise-fall-rise, or fall-rise-fall recurrences, as opposed to studying it in a straight line, dictated by the years in which events occurred. By studying history in this manner, Vico suggested, the perspective of one’s sense of modernity is removed and these cycles of historical inevitability are revealed.

To those of us who have been privy to the lofty altitude of the information age, this notion seems impossible to the point of being implausible. If we are willing to cede to the probability of a fall, as it portends to a certain historical inevitability, we should only do so in a manner that suggests that if there were a fall, it would be defined relative to the baseline of our modern advancements. To these people, an asterisk may be necessary in any discussion of cultures rising and falling in historical cycles. This asterisk would require a footnote that suggests that all eras have creators lining the top of their era’s hierarchy, and those that feed upon their creations at the bottom. The headline grabbing accomplishments of these creators might then define an era, in an historical sense, to suggest that the people of that era were advancing, but were the bottom feeders advancing on parallel lines? Or, is it possible that the creators’ accomplishments might, in some way, inhibit their advancement?

“(Chuck Klosterman) suggests that the internet is fundamentally altering the way we intellectually interact with the past because it merges the past and present into one collective intelligence, and that it’s amplifying our confidence in our beliefs by (a) making it seem like we’ve always believed what we believe and (b) giving us an endless supply of evidence in support of whatever we believe. Chuck Klosterman suggests that since we can always find information to prove our points, we lack the humility necessary to prudently assess the world around us. And with technological advances increasing the rate of change, the future will arrive much faster, making the questions he poses more relevant.” –Will Sullivan on Chuck Klosterman

My initial interpretation of this quote was that it sounded like a bunch of gobbeldy gook, until I reread it and plugged the changes of the day into it. The person that works for a small, upstart company pays acute attention to their inbox, for the procedures and methods of operation change by the day. Those of us who have worked for a larger company, on the other hand, know that change is a long, slow, and often grueling process. It’s the difference between changing the direction of a kayak and a battleship. 

The transformational changes we have experienced in technology, in the last ten years, could be said to fill a battleship, occurring with the rapidity of a kayak’s change of direction.  If that is true, how do we adapt to them at such a breakneck pace? Those 40 and older can adapt to change, and we incorporate those changes into our daily lives at a slower pace. Teens and early twenty somethings are quicker and more eager to adapt and incorporate the latest and greatest advancements, regardless the unforeseen, and unintended consequences.

Some have suggested that if the technological changes we have encountered over the last 10 years occurred over the course of 100 years, we might characterize that century as one of rapid change. Is it possible for us to change as quickly, fundamentally, or is there some methodical lag time that we all factor in?

If we change our minds on an issue as quickly as Klosterman suggests, with the aid of our new information resources, are we prudently assessing these changes in a manner that allows us to examine and process unforeseen and unintended consequences before making a change? How does rapid adaption to technological change affect human nature? Does it change as quickly, and does human nature change as a matter of course, or does human nature require a more methodical hand?

These rapid changes, and our adaptation to them, reminds me of the catch phrase mentality. When one hears a particularly catchy, or funny, catchphrase, they begin repeating it. When another asks that person where they first heard that catchphrase, the person that now uses the catchphrase so often now that it has become routine, say they don’t remember where they heard it. Even if they began using it less than a month ago, they believe they’ve always been saying it. They subconsciously adapted to it and altered their memory in such a way that suits them.  

Another way of interpreting this quote is that with all of this information at our fingertips, the immediate information we receive on a topic, in our internet searches, loses value. One could say as much with any research, but in past such research required greater effort on the part of the curious. For today’s consumer of knowledge, just about every piece of information we can imagine is at our fingertips. 

Who is widely considered the primary writer of the Constitution, for example? A simple Google search will produce a name: James Madison. Who was James Madison, and what were his influences in regard to the document called The Constitution? What was the primary purpose of this finely crafted document that assisted in providing Americans near unprecedented freedom from government tyranny, and rights that were nearly unprecedented when coupled with amendments in the Bill of Rights. How much blood and treasure was spent to pave the way for the creation of this document, and how many voices were instrumental in the Convention that crafted and created this influential document?

Being able to punch these questions into a smart phone, and receive the names of those involved can give them a static quality. The names James Madison, Gouvernor Morris, Alexander Hamilton, and all of the other delegates of the Constitutional Convention that shaped, crafted, and created this document could become nothing more than answer to a Google search. Over time, and through repeated searches, a Google searcher could accidentally begin to assign a certain historical inevitability to the accomplishments of these otherwise disembodied answers. The notion being that if these answers aren’t the correct answers, another one could be.

Removing my personal opinion that Madison, Morris, Hamilton, and those at the Constitutional Convention the composed the document, for just a moment, the question has to be asked, could the creation of Americans’ rights and liberties have occurred at any time, with any men or women in the history of our Republic? The only answer, as I see it, involves another question: How many politicians in the history of the world would vote to limit the power they wield, and any future power they might attain through future endeavors? How many current politicians, for example, are likely to vote for their own term-limits? Only politicians who have spent half their life under what they considered tyrannical rule would fashion a document that could result in their own limitations.   

How many great historical achievements, and people, have been lost to this idea of historical inevitability? Was it an historical inevitability that America would gain her freedom from Britain? Was the idea that most first world people would have the right to speak out against their government, vote, and thus have some degree of self-governance inevitable? How many of the freedoms, opportunities, and other aspects of American exceptionalism crafted in the founding documents are now viewed as so inevitable that someone, somewhere would’ve come along and figured out how to make that possible? Furthermore, if one views such actions as inevitable, how much value do they attach to the ideas, and ideals, created by them? If the answers to these questions attain a certain static inevitability, how susceptible are they to condemnation? If an internet searcher has a loose grasp of the comprehensive nature of what these men did, and the import of these ideas on the current era, will it become an historical inevitability that they’re taken away in a manner that might initiate philosopher Vico’s theory on the cyclical inevitability of a fall?

I’ve heard it theorized that for every 600,000 people born, one will be a transcendent genius. I heard this quote secondhand, and the person who said it attributed it to Voltaire, but I’ve never been able to properly source it. The quote does provide a provocative idea, however, that I interpret to mean that the difference between one that achieves the stature of genius on a standardized test, or Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test, and the transcendent genius lies in this area of application. We’ve all met extremely intelligent people in the course of our lives, in other words, and some of us have met others who qualify as geniuses, but how many of them figured out a way to apply that abundant intelligence in a productive manner? This, I believe, is the difference between the 1 in 57 ratio that some have asserted is the genius ratio and the 1 in 600,000 born. The implicit suggestion of this idea is that every dilemma, or tragedy, is waiting for a transcendent genius to come along and fix it. These are all theories of course, but it does beg the question of what happens to the other 599,999 that feed off the ingenious creations and thoughts of transcendent geniuses for too long? It also begs the question that if the Italian philosopher Vico’s theories on the cyclical nature of history hold true, and modern man is susceptible to a great fall, will there be a transcendent genius who is able to fix the dilemmas and tragedies that await the victims of the next great fall? 

Rock and Roll is Dead!

“Rock and Roll is dead!” is a line most of us have heard for most of our lives. From the anthemic screams of punk rockers to the classic rockers suggesting, “Today’s music ain’t got the same soul,” everyone has enjoyed repeating a version of this line. For most of our lives, however, this has been little more than snarky criticism of the current status quo. For some of us, this has been based on the idea that our favorite strain of rock is no longer prominent, that we don’t appreciate the new direction rock was headed in, or that we have simply aged out of it. Looking at it from a rational perspective, rock and roll has always been able to survive based on young individuals crafting creative derivatives of what came before, and those derivatives develop movements that lead to greater sales and continued power, for rock in the music industry. On both planes, it does appear that either rock music is in a severe and prolonged downtrend, or that it may, in fact, be dead in terms of it being a powerful force in the music industry.

“For generations, rock music was always there, and it always felt like it would come back, no matter what the current trend happened to be,” Eddie Van Halen told Chuck Klosterman in a 2015 interview. “For whatever reason, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming back this time.”

As Klosterman writes, in his book But What if We’re Wrong, Eddie Van Halen said this at sixty-years-old:

“So some might discount (Eddie Van Halen’s) sentiments as the pessimistic opinion of someone who’s given up on music. His view, however, is shared by rock musicians who were still chewing on pacifiers when Van Halen was already famous.”

Thirty-seven-year-old singer of the band Muse, Matt Bellamy, echoed Eddie’s statement saying:

“We live in a time where intelligent people –or creative, clever people– have actually chosen computers to make (sic) music. They’ve chosen (sic) to work in tech. There’s an exhaustion of intelligence which has moved out of the music industry and into other industries.”

Chuck Klosterman then adds:

“We’ve run out of teenagers with the desire (and potential) to become (the next) Eddie Van Halen. As far as the mass culture is concerned that time is over.”   

If the reader is as shocked as I was to read a high profile, classic hard rock performer, coupled with a more modern artist, and a rock enthusiast on par with Chuck Klosterman, discuss the end of an era in such a rational, and persuasive manner, you’re not alone. It does not appear to me that these individuals were intending to be provocative. They were suggesting that it now appears that those of us that proclaimed, “Rock and Roll will never die!” were wrong, and that historians may view rock and roll as nothing more than a prolonged, influential, and cultural trend. My interpretation of these comments is that there will always be some musicians who make rock music and albums, but the powerful force that once helped form the backbone of America might be over. That trend may have been such a prolonged staple that it’s been around longer than most of us have been alive. Yet, if we are able to remove the emotion we have vested in the art form and examine it from the perspective of creativity and album sales, it is more than likely that hundreds of years from now historians will view rock and roll as a trend that began in the mid-to-late fifties and ended somewhere around 2010.

The Creative Power 

The one aspect of Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles that an interested reader will learn about the man, more than any other aspect of his life, is how much depth went into Bob Dylan’s artistic creations. Dylan writes about the more obvious, influential artists that affected him, such as Woody Guthrie, but he also writes about the obscure musicians he encountered on his path, that affected him in ways large and small. He also writes about the manner in which reading literature informed his artistic persona, reading everyone from prominent poets and fiction writers, to the Ancient Greek philosophers, and he finally informs us of how other experiences in his life informed him. The reader will close the book with the idea that the young Dylan wasn’t seeking a road map to stardom so much as he was learning the art of craftsmanship.

On this subject of craft, as it pertains to the death of rock and roll, the bassist from Kiss, Gene Simmons, informed Esquire:

“The craft is gone, and that is what technology, in part, has brought us. What is the next Dark Side of the Moon? Now that the record industry barely exists, they wouldn’t have a chance to make something like that. There is a reason that, along with the usual top-40 juggernauts, some of the biggest touring bands are half old people, like me.”

On the subject of craft and being derivative, we could argue that Dark Side of the Moon was derivative. We could also argue that Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin were all derivative. We could argue that rock and roll, itself, derived from rhythm and blues, and that rhythm and blues derived their sound from the blues, jazz, and swing music. There is no sin in being derivative, in other words, as most artists derived something from another influence, but the question of how derivative an artist is has often haunted most artists that derived their craft from other, more obscure artists. The question most artists have had to ask, internally and otherwise, is how much personal innovation did they add to their influences? Perhaps more important to this discussion is a question of how much room was left in the zeitgeist for variation on the theme their influence created? To quote the cliché, a time will arrive in any art form, when a future artist is attempting to squeeze blood out of a turnip, and while the room for derivatives and variations on the broad theme of rock and roll seemed so vast at one time, every art form eventually runs into a wall.

One could say that the first wave of rock and roll that didn’t spend too much time worrying about being derivative was the Heavy Metal era of 80’s hair metal bands. One could also say that they didn’t have to search too deep, at that time, because the field still yielded such a bountiful harvest. All they had to do was provide a decent derivative of a theme some 70’s bands derived from some 60’s band that were derivatives of 50’s bands, and so on and so forth. There was still something so unique at the heart of what they were doing, in that space in time, that they could develop what amounted to a subtle variation of a theme and still be considered somewhat unique.

At some point in this chain of variations and strains, the wellspring dried up for 80’s hair metal bands, and they became a mockery of former artists, until rock and roll was in dire need a new template. At this point, right here, many proclaimed the death of rock and roll. They claimed that rock and roll was now more about hairspray, eyeliner, and MTV than actual music. Into that void, stepped Guns N’ Roses, Faith No More, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and others. They provided unique variations at the tail end of the 80’s and early 90’s. At various points in the timeline, a variation always stepped up to keep the beast alive, but hindsight informs us that rock and roll was, indeed, on life support at this time. Hindsight also informs us, that when the 90’s Seattle bands, and The Smashing Pumpkins, stepped to the fore, their derived variation on the theme was, in essence, a reset of the template that had been lost somewhere in the late 80’s, as they brought rock back to the early Kiss, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith records of the 70’s.

This begs the question, would Nirvana have been as huge as they were, if they had appeared on the scene around 1983-1984, or would that have been too early for them. Are musical waves little more than a question of timing? Did Nirvana hit the scene at a time when the desire to recapture whatever was lost in the late 80’s was widespread? The Nevermind album may have been so good that it would’ve sold in just about any rock era, but would Nevermind have outsold Quiet Riot’s Mental Health and Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, or would it have been too derivative of an era we just experienced. Would Nevermind have been the ten million copies shipped phenomenon it was if it hit the scene in 1984, or was it a valiant attempt to recapture what was lost in rock that we needed at the time?

Most of the musicians, in what rock critics called the grunge movement, had varied tastes, and some of their favorite artists were more obscure than the general public’s, but the basic formula for what would critics called grunge could be found in those four groups of musicians, from the 70’s, that had deep and varied influences. The grunge era, we could say, was the last innovative movement for nuanced rock.

Talk to just about any young person in America today, and they may list off some modern artists and groups that they listen to, but most of those rock connoisseurs will provide “classic rock” band as one of their favorite genres. When someone my age hears the term classic rock, they’re more prone to think of one of the 70’s bands mentioned earlier, but these young people are referring to bands that were brand new to me somewhere around yesterday, yesterday being twenty years ago.

I know I run the risk of being dismissed as an old fogy when I declare rock dead, or something along the lines of “Today’s music ain’t got the same soul”, but there is something that is missing. In fairness to modern artists, and in full recognition of my old codger perspective, I have to ask how the “next big thing” will pop out, right now, in 2016, and offer the world a perspective on rock that no one has ever considered before? Such a statement does undercut the creative brilliance that young minds have to offer, but to those of us who have listened to everyone from top of the line artists to some of the more obscure artists in recording history, it seems to me that every genre, subgenre, experimentation, and variation has been covered to this point.

Gene Simmons asked where the next Dark Side of the Moon is going to come from, I ask where the next Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is, and it may be a question that led those of another era to ask what artist is the modern day equivalent to The Carter Family? I never thought I’d be this guy, but most of the modern rock music sounds uninformed and lacking in the foundation that previous generations had. I know this is largely incorrect, but when I listen to the rock bands of the current era, I don’t hear that long, varied search for influence. I don’t hear artists hearkening back the rich and varied tradition old blues singers, folk musicians, and country artists learned from their family and friends in gospel songs at church, at campfires, and at night before going to bed. I don’t hear an informed artistic persona. Their music lacks some of the organic funk R&B musicians brought to the fold, and the intricate instrumentation that the 50’s and 60’s jazz musicians left for their successors to mine.

Some consider this entire argument moot, however, and they say that the nature of music and art in general, suggests that there will always be an innovative, up and coming star to develop variations and derivatives of former artists if there is money in it. Naysayers would echo their favorite artists and say it’s not about the money, and true art never should be. While that may be true, it is also true that when the money is removed, as the Gene Simmons quote below states, there may not be people in the upper reaches of the chain that are willing to develop that talent, when the whole model is thrown into chaos, and the structure of it is destroyed.

It’s About the Money. It’s Always About the Money.

“You’re (now considered) a sucker if you pay for music,” one of my friends informed me at what was, for me, the advent of file sharing. 

My friend did not say the words “now considered” but that was the import of his statement. I was no Luddite. I knew about the file sharing sites, such as Napster, but for me, Napster was a place to find obscure throwaways, bootlegged versions of the songs I loved, and cover songs, by my favorite artists. I learned of the Metallica lawsuit against Napster, and some talk of file sharing among the young, but I had no idea that the crossover to file sharing had already begun, for most music enthusiasts, until my friend dropped this line on me.

The line did not inform me of the new way of attaining music, as I already knew it was out there, but it informed me of the new mindset in regards to accessing music. After scouring these sites for my favorite songs, albums, and artists, (and finding them, waiting to be downloaded for free) one thing became crystal clear, this was going to change everything. I read of the music industry hauling young people into court after illegally downloading music, but my astute, file sharing friend said he believed that the music industry was desperate, and that they were trying to scare people. He correctly predicted that the music industry would stop trying to prosecute people and simply give in. He said that they should’ve done something long before this point (and this point was very early on in the age of file sharing) to cash in on the file sharing wave. He said that there were simply too many people, from his small corner of the world, downloading music for free, for the music industry to prosecute them all.

File sharing, say some, may have spelled the true death of rock and roll as a profitable, cultural force in America today. I write this as a qualifier for those that will suggest that the idea that a bunch of kids sitting in a garage to develop a new sound will never die. It may not, but reading through Gene Simmons’ interview in Esquire, a reader learns of the type of support that new musicians need from execs in the upper echelon of the music industry to help them progress from garage rockers to a cultural force in America, and that that part of the structure has been destroyed by file sharing. To belabor this point for just a moment, we would all prefer to believe that our favorite musicians have little regard for money, or corporate influence, but how much of the sound of an album was tweaked, finessed, and completed by industry money? Listen to insiders speak of a final product, and they’ll tell the reader that the album doesn’t sound anything like it might have without a high quality producer, and it doesn’t sound anything like it did before the corporate mixer came in and put in some finishing touches that those of us in the audience know nothing about.

Rock and roll’s appeal has always been a young person’s game, however, and that makes most of the derivative argument moot. Most young people live in the now, and young people have never cared that their favorite artist happened to be a hybrid between The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, at least not to the point that they wouldn’t buy their favorite artists’ albums. As far as they were concerned, their favorite band’s sound, and look, was fresh, original, and theirs.

“My sense is that file sharing started in predominantly white, middle- and upper-middle-class young people who were native-born, who felt they were entitled to have something for free, because that’s what they were used to,” Gene Simmons also said in the Esquire interview. “If you believe in capitalism — and I’m a firm believer in free-market capitalism — then that other model is chaos. It destroys the structure.”

Death of the Album

Scouring these file sharing sites, and creating personalized playlists, I also sensed a death of the album. As an album-oriented listener, I always thought one could arrive at the artistic persona of a musician in the deeper cuts of an album. My philosophy was written out by Sting, and his, “Anyone can write a hit, but it takes an artist to write an excellent album” quote. I was affected by the new file-sharing mindset almost immediately, as I began to consider it a waste of time to listen to the various Queen Jane Approximately cuts, when I could create a playlist filled with top shelf, Like a Rolling Stone cuts from various artists.

The idea of the self-directed, playlist mindset developed somewhere around the advent of the cassette tape, an era that predated me, but the full album managed to maintain most of its glory throughout that era. For most of my life, the power of a quality single led concertgoers to leap out of their seat and rush the stage. With all these new tools, however, a person no longer has to stand around for an hour waiting for the band to take the stage. They no longer have to sit through mind-numbing guitar solos, and witty banter from the lead singer to get to the one song they liked from that artist. They could now go to a site like YouTube to watch their favorite singer sing that quality single.

I still think that the lack of depth in most products current artists put out is a factor in the demise of rock as a force in the industry. I am persuaded that that is not the case by the idea that young people know as little about the history of their music as their favorite artists do, however, and what little they do know is superseded by how little they care about it.

I am also convinced that file sharing has had an effect, if not a devastating effect, on the structure from top to bottom. Another writer had an interesting take on this matter, stating that the file sharing mindset may have something to do with young people growing up watching their favorite artists display their wares on shows like MTV’s Cribs. Shows like these may have led young people to think that their favorite artist has enough money as it is, and the shows may have led the young people to download the music for free without guilt. Which, in turn, led them to believe anyone who plops down money for music is an absolute sucker.

“They’re not going to miss any meals if I deprive them of my $9.99,” they may say. That may be true in the case of this individual, but what happens when millions of people begin sharing this mindset? What happens is that when we begin removing the $9.99 bricks that formed the foundation of the industry, we destroy the industry, as we knew it. They will sign fewer rock artists, they will no longer hire all those little guys that finished the product, and they will no longer provide support or promotion to an album that would’ve garnered it before, because there’s little-to-no money in it for any of the players, on any level.

Whether it’s the lack of depth, or the idea that music no longer affords an artist enough money to make an honest living at it, thanks to file sharing, it does appear that the starving artist walking around with nothing more than a guitar strapped to his back has become an endangered animal in America today, and the consequences for that could run deep for a culture that has subsisted on the philosophical foundation of rock music for as long as most of us have been alive.

Rilalities IV: The Rilalities

6175ASTTEDLThe Rilality for Album of the year goes to… Sufjan Stevens Illinois.  I know it came out in 2005, but with every critic going bonkers over it back then, I decided I would hate it circa 2005-2006.  In 2013, I realized I was wrong.

Runner up: Secret Chiefs Book of Souls Folio A.  The most original album of the year by a mile.  Folio A, like all Secret Chiefs’ albums, has very few lyrics.  So, if you’re a lyrics guy, this album isn’t for you.  It does have some of the most complex arrangements I’ve heard on an album since… the last time Trey Spruance decided to put out a Chiefs’ album in 2004.

(For a longer review of this album, go to: https://rilaly.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=4204&action=edit

In the age of iTunes, it appears that either it’s difficult for some artists to make complete albums, or it’s become increasingly difficult for me to listen to them, because iTunes has spoiled me into making my own shuffle albums out of the artists’ best individual tunes.  ITunes has also opened my eyes to the filler that an artist loads his albums with, and I don’t listen to those individual tunes as often as I once did, just because they’re from “my guys”.

2013 was also a year where I moved past some of my guys, and once you’ve made the move past some of your guys, it’s difficult to go back.  I used to hate it when people told me that they’ve just moved past Led Zeppelin.  “They’re great and all, and I spent years listening to them, but I’m just done with them.”  How can one move past Led Zeppelin I wondered.  Then I did, and then I moved past Radiohead, Alice in Chains, Verve, and Soundgarden.  The latter three groups regrouped, and I tried to get back into them, but I realized that in some manner that’s hard to describe, I’ve moved on.  I moved on in a manner that if they came out with the most brilliant album they, or anyone else, could produce, I wouldn’t think it wasn’t as good as the body of work they produced back when they were my guys.  The groups I listen to now may not be better, in the truest sense of the word, but they’re different, and when you move past a group you need something different.

You-Are-NOt-So-SmartThe Rilality for Book of the Year goes to… You are Not so Smart by David McRaney.  Again, it came out in 2011, but I’m not a professional critic, and as such I’m not held to time constraints.

Runner Up: I Wear the Black, by Chuck Klosterman.  I disagreed with Klosterman as often as I agreed with him, and that’s exactly what everyone should want in a book.  Klosterman is not meek when offering his opinions, unless he is criticizing staples in our society… like Bruce Springsteen.

The Rilality for the book of the year, next year, will probably go to: Going Clear by Lawrence Wright.  The award winning writer of the terrorism tome The Looming Tower may have even topped that book with this one.  I’m about halfway through this exposé on the religion, called Scientology, and I am obsessed.  Wright is a ‘Just the facts ma’am’, Hemingway type of writer.  For those that enjoy writing more in the  Doris Kearns Goodwin mode, you may not enjoy this style of writing.  For those curious about this religion –that were too young when the actual revelations occurred– this book is an account that is proving to be invaluable to this ever-curious reader that enjoys the ‘just the fact ma’am’ Jack Webb approach.

There are very few fiction writers that shocked me with their modus operandi in 2013.  The last one to do so was Chuck Palahniuk.  He was shockingly good, but something shocking isn’t always good.  It may be that Palahniuk, and all other fiction writers have simply tripped my tripwire so often that I cannot be shocked by their prowess anymore, but I couldn’t find any piece of fiction shockingly well written in 2013.

breaking_bad_by_motionshowcase-d5l3atmThe Rilality for TV show of the year goes toBreaking Bad.  I would love to tell you the line that put the show over the top for me.  I refer to it as the line, because the more I digested the subtext of what Walter White just said, the more my jaw continued to drop.  Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and TV Guide focus on the moments of TV, but I focus on lines, and this was the best of the year in my humble opinion.  It was such an incredible line that I wondered if Vince Gilligan, and his writers, had been sitting on the line for the past few seasons.  I also wonder if Gilligan used the line in his pitch to the networks, as a way of summing up the series.  I would love to tell you what this line is, but I don’t want to ruin it for all those people just now watching the series on Netflix, or DVD. The line needs to be heard, chewed, and digested individually for maximum effect.  The line was so elemental to the series, that it separated Breaking Bad from all the gritty, new age style TV shows I have loved over the years, including, but not limited to, The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Justified.

Runner up: Justified.  Boyd Crowder may be one of the most original, and finely crafted, bad guys ever created for TV.  I know, I know, Crowder was created by Elmore Leonard for the short story Fire in the Hole.  I read that story, and I recognized the gestational elements of the Crowder character there, but Justified’s writers Graham Yost, Chris Provenzano, Fred Golan, and actor Walter Goggins have taken the Boyd Crowder character to a level I’m guessing Leonard had to find impressive.  (Leonard obviously didn’t see the same possibilities of the Crowder character that the show’s writers did, as Leonard killed the Crowder character off in that short story.)

The other characters—Marshall Raylan Givens, played by actor Timothy Olyphant, and Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen, played by Nick Searcy—are also great, and dynamic, and almost as impressive, but the deliniations between great movies and shows is always the bad guy, and there aren’t any better on TV today than Goggins’ Boyd Crowder.

american-hustle-posterThe Rilality for movie of the year goes to… American Hustle.  The movie wins based largely on the fact that I didn’t go to a lot of movies in 2013, and I wasn’t overly impressed with those I did.  Bradley Cooper turned in a good performance, but Christian Bale did something different.  It seems he does in just about every role he accepts, and that makes him the current, best actor in movies today.

Runner up: Blackfish.  I may be biased in this area, since I’ve loved killer whales, Orcas, for most of my life, but when I started doing research on the elements in this movie, I knew that the movie makers reached me on a level that most don’t.

I’ve watched too many movies to continue to enjoy the important movies that I’m supposed to like, and I no longer watch actor vehicles that are done to impress Oscar voters.  Most dramas seem to be as reductive in their problems as they do in their solutions.  Action movies have a way of leaving me with the idea that I’ve already seen this movie so many times before.  I see the formula from another action movie that influenced this movie, while I’m watching it. I spend the entire ninety minutes trying to shake off the idea that the original was better.  This may give the reader insight into my age.  It may also give readers some insight into what my fellow movie watchers, and TV show watchers, go through with me, but I have a problem shutting it off for just a little bit to enjoy most modern movies. Comedy, in general, is so derivative, and subjective that most movies now feel the need to go over the top to make their mark.  Over the top can be funny, of course, but it’s difficult to maintain that level for an entire movie, and most of them do not do this well.

This may not be the best “best of” list for those seeking the best ofs, and if you want to consider it the cynical “best of” have at it, but I don’t consider most entertainment vehicles “must have, must see, must read, and must hear” anymore, and I think that the marketing departments that promote their vehicles in this manner tedious.

Chuck Klosterman on who wears the black hat in our society

Chuck Klosterman’s new book I Wear the Black Hat is mostly a list of villains throughout pop culture and History.  The list, at times, is a little kitschy, and at times it’s a little serious, but whether you agree with him or not, Klosterman always has plenty of material to back up his claims.

In one of the passages of his book, Chuck Klosterman informs us that it’s no longer PC (Politically Correct) to call the PC movement PC.  He says that the very term PC is now nothing more than a “quaint distraction” that “no one takes too seriously anymore,” and “it feels like something that only matters to Charles Krauthammer.”  Klosterman says that the last time it was a “correct term to use to describe the linguistic issue in America was (roughly) between 1986 to 1995.”


It drives some of us “really, really crazy” when an individual tells us that a term, or phrase, that we use to describe a movement no longer properly describes that movement.  These people are prone to say, “You should stop using that term,” or something like, “That is so yesterday dude.”

‘Ok,’ I mentally respond, while reading this particular condemnation in the book I Wear the Black Hat (Or should I say African-American Hat). ‘What term, or phrase, would Mr. Klosterman prefer we use to describe the current incarnation of the PC movement?’ The answer, we find by dutifully reading on, is that we don’t replace it, unless you’re Charles Krauthammer.  It’s, apparently, just not a phrase that people should use anymore.  In other words, the cynical would respond, “it drives certain people (like Klosterman’s wife) really, really crazy” to try and defeat the idea that some people are trying inflict speech codes upon our language, so just drop it, and we can all get along a lot better.

If the import of Klosterman’s message on PC speech codes were that I’m not to be considered hip anymore when I use a term like PC, I’ll take that, because I’m admittedly about as far from hip as one person could possibly be.  If he’s telling us that the term PC is no longer an apt description of the attempts to control language, however, he’s going to have to provide us with a substitute.  I wouldn’t use that substitute, of course, but it would strengthen his argument to do so.

I was going to argue that the PC movement may not be as overt as it was between 1986 to 1995, but it is, we’re just more assimilated to it now.  Those of us that railed against PC speech codes in that era, as Klosterman later points out, simply lost the war.  The difference between the culture that existed between 1986 to 1995 and now, is that it’s simply less shocking to us now when someone tries to control how we speak.  It’s one of those sad but true facts that we’ve all learned to accept and a code we now have to lived by.

It used to be shocking to some of us when someone, be they a politician, or an obnoxious member of a particular group, would tell us that we weren’t speaking correctly, and it would elicit rebellion back then.  That rebellion was put forth by many, but in Klosterman’s opinion no one did it more often, or as loudly, as Andrew Dice Clay and 2 Live Crew.  Klosterman states that PC climate of that era provided an historical window in which an Andrew Dice Clay could become a megastar, and that “he would not have been a megastar in any other historical window—if (Dice Clay) had happened at a time when vulgarity somehow felt less important.”

Klosterman declares that that PC era was “painlessly oppressive” and those in that era experienced “low level anxiety” when they argued in public in which “Even casual conversation suddenly had the potential to get someone fired.”  He describes how sexism and racism were given birth, or at least re-birth, during this era, and that the “backlash was stupid and adversarial.”  In other words, if we are to read Klosterman correctly, we presumably should’ve all acquiesced to the PC crowd a lot sooner, so they could’ve won the war a lot quicker and saved us a whole bunch of adversarial exchanges.

I don’t know much about Klosterman’s life, and if he has experienced the hammer of the PC police personally, but those of us that have know that the PC police don’t just go away. They move onto the next thing, whatever that thing is.  To some of us, it is very important, and at the risk of inflating it beyond reason, vital to the the free speech clause that we continue to provide them the “stupid and adversarial” backlash that keeps them somewhat close to being in check.

In the final portion of this chapter, Klosterman does concede that the winners of this war, these advocates of speech-limitation, “Didn’t necessarily make a better argument, they just wore the culture down.  Almost everything that these advocates wanted in 1990, have been adopted by the world at large, in that we now err on the side of caution for the potentially offended.”  So he basically admits that the PC crowd is still on the march, but that it’s just not PC to call them PC anymore.

The Villians

The much ballyhooed (and selling point for the book) chapter on O.J. Simpson doesn’t live up to the hype.  The hype that the publishers used to try to move the book, was that Klosterman was going to tell us O.J.’s second biggest mistake.  The second biggest mistake O.J. made, in Klosterman’s opinion, is that O.J. didn’t go into hiding after the trial exonerated him of the brutal slaying of his wife and Ron Goldman (yawn).  Klosterman advises O.J., as O.J.’s adviser Alan Dershowitz advised O.J., that he should’ve kept a low profile, or move, or do anything but what he did by going out and living the O.J. lifestyle that O.J. knew pre-incarceration.  Klosterman, would’ve advised O.J. against writing that book, or going on talk shows to give his side.  A much more interesting chapter, as if it hasn’t been covered already, would’ve been to focus on our society’s reaction to O.J. post-verdict.  It would’ve been interesting to read Chuck’s analysis of the young kids (who never knew O.J. the running back, announcer, or Naked Gun star) asking for O.J.’s autograph, the manner in which he was fawned over in public, and he could’ve tied this into the culture’s glorification of bad guys dating back to Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Billy the Kid, and those that wore the black hats.

The most interesting chapter, in my opinion, other than the “Eagles” chapter that was covered in one of my previous blogs, is the chapter concerning how Muhammad Ali is a villain.  Klosterman takes on this icon’s current, glorified status, stating that Muhammad Ali ruined a man’s life (Joe Frazier) for the expressed purpose of getting in the man’s head to win a fight.

I must painfully admit that I have been on Muhammad Ali’s side for much of the history of the Ali/Frazier story.  I was too young to have firsthand knowledge of the fight, or the debate that followed, and much of what I’ve seen, heard, and read has been after the fact analysis.  I was also very young when the debate started springing up around me, so I took the star’s side.  When I later learned that that put me on the same side of this debate as TV personality Bryant Gumbel, I knew I was on the wrong side. I didn’t yet know the specifics of why I was wrong, but I knew that Gumbel was consistently and obnoxiously, on the wrong side of history.  Thanks to Gumbel’s obnoxious takes on the matter, I began to strive for more objectivity on the story.  The productions I watched from that point on, including the one put together by HBO, “The Thilla in Manilla”, convinced me that Ali was a bad guy, and a bully, that would stop at nothing to humiliate Frazier, until it reached what some have termed an historical level of betrayal.

The other illuminating fact Chuck unearths, that I must say I didn’t know, is that Ali met with the KKK to discuss their shared belief on the evils of interracial marriage.  One has to think that even the obnoxious Bryant Gumbel would not have been eager to agree with Ali on this point, as Gumbel’s mother, and his wife are white.  If you have ever watched Gumble interview a subject he sides with, however, you have to think this may have been a possibility.  Gumble is, if nothing else, consistently obnoxious. The likely outcome, if Ali brought this up in a Gumble interview, would’ve been a surreptitious edit.  It is possible that this obnoxious, succumbent to African-American stars may have found a surreptitious way of agreeing with Ali, and he may have found a way of calling those that opposed  an “(effing) idiot” for disagreeing with whatever  “the greatest” had to say on the matter.  Klosterman concludes this piece by asking how many icons, other than Ali, could’ve survived with their image intact after such a meeting with the KKK, and such a shared belief, as that.

Klosterman also states that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a villain, because he was once mean to a guy from Pearl Jam.  Klosterman says that the guys from Pearl Jam are nice guys, and they have a history of being appreciative of their fans, and Jabbar purportedly does not.  These facts, when put together, should lead the reader to believe that Jabbar is a villain.  Did Jabbar thump an autograph-seeking child in the forehead, did he push an old lady to the ground, or did he set Mother Teresa on fire after a particularly heated debate on the virtues of altruism?  No, he was mean to a guy from Pearl Jam.  Mean may even be a relative term in Chuck’s description of what happened.  I read dismissive more than mean, but apparently no one can be dismissive of guys in Pearl Jam, or they’ll write a song about them, and Klosterman will like that song so much that he’ll feel enough allegiance to call the one that dismissed them a villain on that basis alone.

Chevy Chase is also a villain in Klosterman’s view, and this is based on the fact that Chase doesn’t take his role in entertainment seriously enough.  Klosterman does lay out the fact that none of Chase’s co-stars in movies or on TV showed up for his roast, and that that pretty much means that those co-stars didn’t care for him.  Chuck revisits a fight scene between Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, where Bill Murray called Chevy a “medium talent”, to suggest that Chase was overrated and underachieving at the same time.  Chuck writes that the book “Live from New York, as oral history of Saturday Night Live” is littered with people taking pot shots at Chevy, and that the creator of the show “Community” called him a bad word, but Klosterman believes the nut of why Chevy is a bad guy exists in the fact that Chevy hates himself.  Klosterman writes that one of Chevy’s most famous lines: “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not” is not something he’s happy about.  Klosterman also writes that Chevy “never opted for the serious roles that so many comedians vie for throughout their careers.”

Now I agree with Marlon Brando that it doesn’t take a lot of talent to act in movies, but perhaps Chevy feared some sort of revelation of his “medium talent” in those roles.  From the rare glimpses we’ve seen of Chase’s obnoxiousness, it’s hard to believe he’s a good guy, and as Klosterman writes, we can take some of Chevy’s cohort’s criticism as jealousy, but to suggest that he’s a villain based on the fact that he didn’t take his career serious enough might be a bit of a stretch.

In the “Eagles chapter” that has little to do with the villain premise, except perhaps thematically, Klosterman writes that he doesn’t think certain bands, and singers, are bad guys, he takes a moment to suggest why Mr. Bungle is not as great as some people think.

Mr. Bungle “was way more interesting than it was” writes Chuck Klosterman.  Klosterman claims Mr. Bungle was a “self-indulgent side project”.  He calls it “my real world introduction to The Problem of Overrated Ideas”.  He says that Mike Patton, in particular, was “improvisational and gross.  Musically and otherwise: He (Patton) stated that he would eat huge portions of mashed potatoes and chase it with schnapps,” Patton told MTV News, “Then he would sneak into his local laundromat and vomit into washers and dryers.” The fact that Klosterman does not mention Mike Patton by name, only as the singer, suggests that there may be some personal animus that drives his review of the band, but I could be wrong. Klosterman also basically claims that Patton should’ve stuck with the more mainstream Faith No More.

First of all, a decent study of Mike Patton’s history would show Klosterman that not only was Faith No More Patton’s other band, but it was his side project (not the other way around).  At one point in his career, Patton did give Faith No More his full concentration, but it was mostly viewed as a promotional vehicle for Mr. Bungle.  As evidence of this, Faith No More’s first video “Epic” shows Patton in a Mr. Bungle T-Shirt.

All personal preferences and disagreements aside, it says a lot about Klosterman’s listening habits that they’re, at least in part, dictated by things said in interviews he finds distasteful. Klosterman writes that Patton’s improvisations are “gross musically”, and this leads the informed reader to believe that Klosterman has probably only listened to the first Mr. Bungle album.  I’ve listened to this self-titled debut ad nauseum, and I’ve basically reached a point where I’ve deleted all of the silly and gross improvisations from that album on my iPod, and I used to delete the same portions from the audio tapes I recorded the album onto.  What you’re left with, when you delete the silliness, is a great piece of work from a bunch of teenagers.  (As a side note, Mr. Bungle’s other two albums succeeded without such deletions.  Those albums were tight in their musical structure, and all the silliness lay behind them by this point.)  Perhaps, Klosterman should do more homework on a subject he apparently knows little to nothing about.

Are you telling me, Chuck, that Ozzy Osbourne and Motley Crue never did anything silly and gross (like biting the heads off bats), and they’re never been immature in interviews? How old were your peeps when they snorted a line of ants?  The guys in Mr. Bungle were teenagers when their self-titled, first album came out, and teenagers love bathroom humor and fart jokes, but the members of the group eventually grew up and produced two of the best, most consistent, and serious albums of music I’ve ever heard.

I’ve always thought that the best reviews were those that dissected a book in a negative manner, as opposed to those glowing, sound bite style reviews (“A Tour de Force”) that the reviewer writes, so that he might get his name on the cover of the book.  It may be just me, but I’ve always thought that negative reviews act as an EKG monitor for the heart of a book, and positive reviews usually act as a fawning mechanism for the star status of the author.  I also don’t care what a person’s personal review of the book is, if it’s based on the fact that they like Muhammad Ali, I want to know if it was a good book or not, and I think a thorough dissection of a book, can only be done in a negative manner.  If you do want my opinion, however, I Wear the Black (African American) Hat is an excellent, fun read that dissects our era (Chuck and I are about two years a part) in a manner, it appears, that only Chuck Klosterman can do this well.

The Music That Chuck Klosterman Kind of, Sort of, Used to Dislike

To promote Chuck Klosterman’s new book I Wear the Black HatEntertainment Weekly (EW) provided their readers a sample chapter. There is no title to this EW installment, but one would think EW, and Klosterman, would go with some form of a modern meme that attracts young people. “Music Chuck Hates,” or “I Hate the Eagles, by Chuck Klosterman,” or some title that would attract young people in the manner the Facebook page has with the title: “I ——- Love Science”.

KlostermanReading through this sample chapter, however, the reader begins to believe that these titles would not work, as Klosterman is not as passionate, or as emotional, about the music in this chapter as such a title would suggest. A better title might be: “The Music I used to hate, but I’ve grown, and I’m a lot more thoughtful now, and I’ve realized that the people making this music aren’t so bad. And I may run into these people, or need them for an interview, so I am at least going to be more cryptic with my critiques.” The book has a theme regarding villains, so Klosterman presumably dismisses various bands as villains to give himself a reason to discuss them in a book about villains. Even with that proviso, Klosterman should’ve exhibited a more commanding tone when discussing his likes and dislikes in music.

In the paragraphs provided, Klosterman discusses the band, the Eagles. Klosterman claims that he hated them as much as anyone else for most of his life, and he says that this was based on the fact that they were/are limousine liberals, but he says that his tastes changed in 2003, when he was forced to re-listen to one of the Eagles songs:

“I listened to “Take It Easy” and I thought about its lyrical content, and I came to a mostly positive — but highly uncomfortable — realization about who I was and how I thought about art.”

Take it easyYou gained a greater appreciation of art, or how you thought about art, from the lyrical content of a song by the Eagles? The Eagles? Lyrical content? Take it Easy? Chuck? What are you talking about? No one would say that the pop genre is without artistic merit. They’re out there, but they’re in the minority, and the Eagles are not in that minority. The Eagles didn’t even write Take it Easy, as Chuck Klosterman admits. Glenn Frey wrote one line of the song, and Jackson Browne wrote the rest of it.

In the midst of this article, there are some “Klostermans”. Klostermans, as I define them, involve Chuck Klosterman’s kitschy breakdown of the lyrics of a song as if they were profound literature, a writing tool he’s used so often in his career, and so well, that the act of doing so should be trademarked “a Klosterman”. For the most part, these breakdowns are hilarious, but when he does it with Take it Easy, it feels like a violation of the term. It almost feels as if he’s asking us to re-examine a song that we’ve all heard far too many times … in the bits and pieces we’ve heard on classic rock radio before we were able to change the channel. There are also moments in life when a person is not able to change the channel or in any other way skip a song, such as in a doctor’s waiting room, when it’s not in a person’s best interests to run screaming out of a room the moment after Take it Easy begins.

We don’t want to hear this song again, Chuck. We don’t care that a guy is having trouble juggling five women. No matter why or how. Let it die for criminys’ sakes. We enjoy it when Chuck analyzes old Billy Joel lyrics, that’s fun and kitschy, but the Eagles? Artistic? Chuck?

Throughout the course of the Eagles career, they’ve created safe, boring, liberal, touchy-feely music that our most simple-minded friends shush us over, and close their eyes, and have a spiritual moment, based on the fact that this particular song was playing on the radio during a seminal moment in their lives. For these people, however, music is largely background noise, until those songs reach the rarefied air of being on the radio so often that they can’t help but become monumental and a slice of Americana. This, in turn, leads the people that sang that song to believe that they are so monumental, and such a slice of Americana that they can wave a magic wand on stage and get audience members to live through their more important (their stress) lives.

The Eagles could be the greatest American band, if we base that scale on popularity, or sales, but suggesting that there is anything artistic about this simple-minded, clichéd, and ubiquitous music is a statement best left to the sycophantic staff of Rolling Stone magazine. Most of us cannot listen to an Eagles song, much less Take it Easy, without feeling a little dumber, more common, and less in touch with who we are as music aficionados, and it’s going to take more than a clever “Klosterman” to get me listening to it again.

On Bruce Springsteen, Klosterman writes:

“I just thought he was so fake, which is the most backward possible reason for hating Bruce Springsteen.

“Old people who read Newsweek believed Bruce was somehow different from everyone else making music, and his willingness to perpetuate that fallacy made me view his integrity as profoundly compromised. It seemed like the difference between acting in a play and lying in real life.

“Any time I meet someone who thinks Springsteen is overrated or artificial, I find myself thinking, this person is extra real. I immediately respect that person more. And yet I do sincerely believe Springsteen is (on balance) a great guy. I don’t hate him at all. So why am I still retroactively trolling him? It’s just something I can’t get over.”

When Klosterman states that hating Springsteen for being fake is, “the most backward possible reason for hating Bruce Springsteen”, this reader wonders if Klosterman is attempting to qualify the opinions that follow. Either that or Mr. Klosterman is attempting to dispel what he may believe to be a consensus on Mr. Springsteen. If that is the consensus, this reader didn’t find anything in the Springsteen section to dispel it. Klosterman does write that he believes Bruce is “(on balance) a great guy”, but isn’t that what fake people are … on balance? I have no idea if Bruce Springsteen is actually fake, and I don’t care enough to put as much thought into it as Chuck Klosterman has. If Springsteen is fake, an observer could say that he hits all of the bullet points. He seems like “a great guy (on balance)”. He gives us the formula he knows we want, to remain in our favor, then he goes on to live the life he wants to live, and no one calls him out for what could be hypocrisy. While it’s difficult to prove, or disprove, one’s authenticity, Chuck Klosterman writing, “I sincerely believe he is a great guy” doesn’t cut it for this reader. We readers don’t care what you think of him personally, Chuck, unless you can substantiate it in some manner.

Does it really matter if we think a musician is fake? Do we think Bob Dylan is fake? No one cares, least of all (it seems) Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen does care, or at least he appears to care. Bruce has built a musical empire around the idea that he’s real “extra real”. I co-opt that term from Klosterman, but Klosterman does not write the words “extra real” in the pejorative sense I did, and he does not attach the term to Bruce. Yet, we could attach the term “extra real” to the “generic-yet-kinetic” clothing Bruce Springsteen wears. Would we deem Springsteen authentic if he chose to sing his unionized, small town lyrics in a made-to-measure, custom-fitted Frank Sinatra suit with wide lapels? Springsteen is so big, because he’s managed (artificially?) to remain so small, and that’s what people love about him. Those of us who don’t think Bruce is “extra real”, think Bruce is overrated, and we see through the “great guy” image of the man singing about small town, unionized America, to the idea that once one strips away all the “extra real” layers of Bruce Springsteen, his music is not artistically complex or by any measure diverse. He just puts on “amazing” shows, and few break down how they are amazing.

Klosterman then examines the point of Springsteen being authentic in comparison to Mötley Crüe, when he writes:

“The difference was that Mötley Crüe did not pretend they were real (or at least not in a convincing enough manner). Vince Neil never led me to believe that any element about who he pretended to be was supposed to serve any purpose beyond “the act of being the singer in Mötley Crüe.””

Klosterman nails this point, but he backtracks it in an “aw shucks” manner that suggests he may have been too hard on Springsteen throughout his life writing that “Bruce is a great guy”, and that he “doesn’t hate him”, and that “it’s something he can’t get over”.

Anytime a person has beliefs they can’t get over, they probably have them because they know that there is a fundamental truth to them that they can’t get beyond now that they’re old and so many people are telling them that they’re wrong. I realize that, as Chuck climbs the ladder in corporate magazines, and newspapers, he’s entered a sphere of existence where he’s torn between the readers that put him where he is, and the editors that put a governor on his former “No one gets out of here alive” method of critique, but those of us who read this particular piece in EW were a little disappointed by the apparent need Chuck Klosterman felt to politically tight rope his way through genuine critique. Chuck Klosterman’s previous writings were what separated him from those rock journalists who were afraid to write anything negative about Springsteen, Clapton, Tom Petty, or any of the sacred cows of rock that rock journalists seem forbidden by their editors to write anything negative about. It could also be that I’ve exaggerated Klosterman’s previous writings in my own mind, and that he was never as daring as I considered him, but it seems to me that he was never this cautious either.

On Van Halen, Klosterman writes that he hated Van Halen (or as we called them “Van Hagar”) soon after David Lee Roth and Van Halen parted ways. Chuck then says that he had the same feelings for Mötley Crüe after they replaced Vince Neil.

“Within any group conflict, my loyalties inevitably rest with whichever person is most obviously wrong,” Chuck writes.

It’s a humorous assessment of Klosterman’s musical fandom, but I believe his loyalties are more superficial than that. Chuck and I were about thirteen and sixteen respectively, when the Van Halen split occurred, and neither of us knew much about music, but we knew their lead singers. I may have known the names of Nicki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, the Van Halens, and Michael Anthony, as I was a big fan, but David Lee Roth and Vince Neil were the bands as far as I was concerned. They were the front men, and they were the face of the band in public perception.

A true musician will inform a listener that the front men are the least vital components of the music, and the guitarist is the second least important when compared to the vital back beat of the bassist and the drummer, but in the land of public perception, it’s the exact opposite. Therefore, when the groups separated from these two front men, those of us in public perception land considered the band done. Chuck can try to lay groundwork that suggests that the loyalties of his teenage mind were more complex than that, but down deep, I think he knows that the music of these bands became karaoke after the groups replaced their charismatic lead singers. The bands became a group of guys trying to hold onto a franchise that they struggled so hard to create, and they wanted a few more years added to the legacy before they called it a day. The music of these bands lost their nihilism, their signature, and their “silly and fun arena rock” persona after their lead singers left. They became Pat Boone’s “In a Metal Mood”. They became a bunch of guys trying to play what the youngsters liked. They became a: “You guys gotta keep it together” paycheck their manager promised them after informing them how marketable the name of their band was, and how they would never achieve that kind of plateau again in any other incarnation.

The albums created, post carnage, Mötley Crüe and Van Hagar’s 5150 may have been the greatest albums anyone has ever created, but those of us in public perception land barely noticed, and more importantly didn’t care, when they came out. Those groups were over as far as we were concerned.

ACDCKlosterman does not cover the music of AC/DC, because this was a hate column, and he presumably never hated AC/DC, but their music was some of the most consequential music of our era, and it would be music that I would eventually come to hate.

I didn’t hate AC/DC at first, but I didn’t love them either. Their music was never “my” music in the manner music becomes “my music” to a teenager, but I did have some appreciation for what they did early on when the “cool kids” in my neighborhood introduced me to them. (I knew of their music to this point, in other words, but we had never been properly introduced.)

The album, Back in Black, was my formal introduction to AC/DC, and it blew me away. I did not know that other bands (bands other than Kiss) could make fearless music. The first song I heard was Back in Black, and from its intro on, I knew this was fearless music that my parents, most females, and chart makers would not appreciate. (I probably didn’t think of charts in the truest sense of the word, at that point, but I knew I wouldn’t hear AC/DC on my local, top 40-radio station.)

I also loved the album cover. It was black, nothing but black. I also loved the title, and the band’s name. As a Kiss fan, I thought that every band was required to have brilliant visuals on the cover. I found Back in Black’s lack of visuals brilliantly simplistic.

When I first heard Back in Black, I thought that I now had one other band that I could trust not to make a ballad. (I was still embittered over Kiss’s foray into ballads with the song Beth, but I had learned to forgive them by simply lifting the record player’s arm up over that misstep.) I thought I discovered the second greatest band in the land, in AC/DC, especially when this friend rolled out the other AC/DC album he owned: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. I heard that album’s title song, and the balls song, Big Balls, and I swooned in a pre-teen male form of a swoon, looking for a way to catalog his machismo.

AC/DC had a way of singing lyrics, a way that had my adolescent stamp of approval that fit the music and nothing more. There were no self-indulgent, symbolic lyrics. Their lyrics were simple and in your face that fit the music in a manner, I would later term arena rock. The problem with arena rock, and the reason I came to loathe AC/DC, is the lack of variety. As I stated earlier, I never wanted AC/DC, Kiss, or any of the bands I listened to, to go soft, but every album after Black in Black sounded almost exactly like Back in Black. I never felt the need to purchase another AC/DC album, and I came to loathe those who did.

As I wrote earlier, Chuck Klosterman should trademark his kitschy method of dissecting lyrics, as if they were profound literature. He does this so well, and so often, however, that one can’t help but think some part of Chuck Klosterman believes that his favorite lyrics form profound, artistic statements. I’ve always considered lyric writing one of the most overrated art forms. They appeal to us on a certain level, I would argue, because of the musical background that accompanies them. If one were able to remove the music from their mind, and read most lyrics on a blank page, I would argue, we would see that most lyrics do not have the literary merit necessary for the profound literature moniker.

Most lyrics involve double-entendres and cryptic messages regarding how the casual use of controlled substances should be considered kind of neato! I never understood why so many people felt compelled to tell others that they have ingested drugs, and I really had no overwhelming desire to do it, so the descriptions of these cryptic messages always bored me a little.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it when musicians attempt to speak the language of their demographic by mixing in the occasional curse word. I enjoy the general idea of messing with the mainstream, but I was unmoved when a teacher told me that John Lennon was communicating greater messages in his songs than I had realized in my casual listening experiences. I always thought Lennon (along with the rest of the rock community) was most likely a vacant individual who was trying to sound smarter than he really was by using clever lyrics. I’ve always thought lyrics should fit with the music, nothing more and nothing less. It should never be an arena for the college thesis that most lyricists never wrote, because they weren’t intelligent enough to write, but they were clever enough, or cleverly brilliant enough, to make you think they were within the convenient limits of a song.

REMOn R.E.M. Klosterman writes:

“I didn’t relate to the kind of person who related to R.E.M. and I didn’t like textured, nonheavy songs that made me feel like some dour weirdo was telling me I was living my life wrong. Over the next twenty years, R.E.M. would become one of my favorite bands of all time, which means a) the sixteen-year-old version of me would have hated the thirty-six-year-old version of me, and b) I probably was living my life wrong.”

Klosterman nails my feelings on R.E.M. almost word for word, except for that last line. The last line bothers me, because (I would later learn) that’s pretty much what the worldview of the songs of R.E.M. were all about. They were about telling the listener that they were living their life wrong. Those that question such an assessment need only read an interview with Michael Stipe. His answers contain the rantings of an obnoxious, self-involved narcissist. The reader will find that this narcissist does say narcissistic things in all the “right” narcissist ways however.

In one of these interviews, Stipe described Rod Stewart as “icky”. Not kidding he said: “Ick! Ick!!” Now, I’m not sure if Stipe knows Rod Stewart on a personal level, and his judgmental attitudes are based on personal experiences, but I’m guessing that this very personal condemnation does not adhere to what Stipe calls a beautiful refrain ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’. An observer, hearing this condemnation of Rod Stewart could find Stipe’s supposed adherence to this beautiful refrain a hollow claim.

Stipe also deems those who espouse opposing points of view unacceptable, evil, and presumably icky. He would probably also deem those that consider his rants to be “from an obnoxious, self-involved narcissist” icky. The fact that Stipe may not be as informed as he pretends to be, has never mattered to those interviewing him, however, because, again, all of his icky rants are icky in the ways the journalist has presumably considered non-icky.

If Stipe is going to judge another person, in a public forum, then we can judge his judgment, if we listen to his beautiful refrain. As with most venial sins of this nature, Stipe judges Stewart to leave the reader of the interview, the impression that he, by comparison, is a wonderful guy. He wants the reader to think he has the correct views on all the right subjects, and he lives by the “mean people suck” bumper sticker philosophy that ostensibly declares the driver to be a wonderful. I may be alone in this assessment, but I tend to find such social Darwinist thinking to be icky.

We, music fans, shouldn’t kill the messenger for the message, however, and Stipe and company (R.E.M.) did make some beautiful music. Klosterman should not condemn the music of the Eagles based solely on their politics; Rolling Stone should not condemn Ted Nugent for his views; and we should not condemn R.E.M. or Springsteen for their views. We should just listen to their music with the idea that most musicians don’t know what they’re talking about, but they cannot keep quiet in their quest for a “more consequential” title than that musician guy that prances about on stage. The one thing I have taken from all of the interviews I have read from rock musicians over the years, in my quest to learn what drives them, is that if I want to continue enjoying their music. I should probably just stop reading such interviews.