“The Punk Singer” – Review

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“Where’s Kathleen Hanna?”

That was my first thought when I read the articles about Nirvana’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction performance. Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic wisely chose some amazing performers to sing Cobain’s songs including Kim Gordon, Joan Jett and St. Vincent. (I’m not a fan of Lorde, and I was mad that all the headlines focused on her.)

No disrespect to Joan Jett – I love her and she’s great – but it would have been a nice touch to have Hanna on board singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” instead of Joan Jett.  After all she was not only friends with Cobain but also the inspiration behind “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  She famously spray-painted the words “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” in his apartment and the rest is history.

It seems only fitting that Hanna would be linked to perhaps the biggest musical revolution since the British Invasion, because at the same time that Nirvana was blasting in the stereos of kids everywhere, she was creating her own revolution with the Riot Grrrl movement. Its importance can’t be over-stated, but too often it gets left behind in the story of Rock History.  Ironically, it’s probably due to grunge’s over-arching cultural influence.

That story mostly gets rectified in the documentary about Hanna titled The Punk Singer. At the center, the movie is really about her. But it is more than that, it highlights a social change that was taking place. The groups that made up the Riot Grrrl movement crushed most pre-conceived notions about how women could and should sing about. If Cobain wrote songs that captured the social zeitgeist, these groups actually demanded change.

I’ve liked Bikini Kill for a while, but I didn’t know much about Hanna until I watched the film.  It was really wild to see footage from their early days and see how fearless of a performer Hanna actually was. Here was a woman singing about real issues that women deal with the wild abandon of Iggy Pop.  But she could also command too.  Demanding that the women in the audience move to the front and the guys move to the back, is one of the bravest and most amazing things I’ve ever seen a performer do.

It’s a shame that Hanna doesn’t get more credit or accolades. But I’m not sure that she would necessarily want it. She’s never been about fame, but rather just about the message and the art. Bravery is a a word that defines Hanna, from her unapologetic lyrics and attitude to her recent battles with Lyme disease.  The Punk Singer should be required viewing for any serious music fan.

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Outkast’s Legacy Is Secure Thankyouverymuch

 

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Is Outkast’s legacy secure now that they gave a lukewarm performance at Coachella this past weekend? I’d say that their legacy was pretty sure from the very moment they released Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik back in 1994 and changed the course of hip-hop. They practically invented an entire genre of their own, made it acceptable for the South to  have a voice in hip-hop. Without Outkast paving the way, there would be no Lil Jon, Ludacris or Lil Wayne.

With each subsequent release, Outkast continually expanded what a hip-hop group can do. ATLiens took the aesthetic of their debut even further drawing upon soul and gospel influences.  ”Extraterrestial” further pushes the boundaries with the absence of a drum-beat. It’s akin to “When Doves Cry” – stripping a genre of its foundation and signature sound and creating something new in the process.  Aquemini contains “Rosa Parks” which is still probably the only hip-hop song to contain a Harmonica breakdown.  Then of course there’s Stankonia which propelled the group to the mainstream.  That all came before SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below which solidified their place among musical royalty.

But of course you wouldn’t know that based on any headlines from their performance this past weekend at Coachella.  Social media cried foul at the group’s first “reunion” performance and almost every News Organization ran with the story. The crowd wasn’t into it!  (Oh no! A crowd that wasn’t their core audience is disinterested – shocker!) Andre 3000 turned his back on the audience! (The horror!) They didn’t open with a “hit”! (What the fuck?  ”B.O.B.” was a pretty huge song in 2000.  I remember it playing on virtually every single radio station, thanks.)

Unfortunately for Outkast, they probably should have seen this coming. Reunion shows can be tricky, especially at a place like Coachella where music is secondary to being seen there. Unlike say Bonnaroo or Lollapolooza, every year it seems that Coachella has turned into a gathering place for the rich and famous. Almost all of the headlines that weren’t dealing with the so-called backlash focused on which celebrities were in attendance. If Outkast had opened with “Hey Ya!” I’m willing to bet there would be an entirely different narrative to this whole thing.

From the videos I’ve seen  of the performance – Big Boi and Andre 3000 mostly nailed it.  It may have been a bit spotty in places – the setlist seemed to lag in the middle – but they managed to keep their lyrical dexterity in spot. Big Boi was especially tight.  I’d hardly call that embarrassing or a detriment to their legacy. (Let’s be honest - Idlewild is way more tarnishing to their legacy than any bad performance.)

Instead of griping about their performance, we should be celebrating the fact that one of the greatest hip-hop groups is together again. Hip-hop hasn’t been as imaginative, creative or weird without them.  Welcome back guys.

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11 Songs That Clock In Under 2 Minutes

 

“Mystery Dance” – Elvis Costello

A burst of punk energy mixed with ’50s rockabilly, “Mystery Dance” is one of the highlights off of Costello’s debut My Aim is True.  It’s also a great showcase for Costello’s biting lyrics which fly off his tongue at lightning speed.  In Costello’s world it’s often been written that the word dance is euphemism for sex.  And “Mystery Dance” is filled with sex. There’s Costello admitting that to his girl that “both us were willing, but didn’t know how to do it” in the second verse.  Later when he’s under the sheets looking at magazines he wonders, “what’s the use of looking when you don’t know what they mean.”

“Fell in Love with a Girl” – The White Stripes

A lofty claim, but I think that “Fell In Love With a Girl” is the closest that the 2000′s had to a song like “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.   Its biting guitar riff cut through everything else that was on the radio at the time, destroying everything in its path. Its wordless chorus is still infectious 13 years later.  Before the song was even over, you could tell that there was a change in the air and the White Stripes were on their way to start a musical revolution.

“Sister” – Prince

Dirty Mind is full of dirty songs, but “Sister” takes the cake with its tale of a teenager who sleeps with his sister. The subject matter would be dirty enough, but Prince naturally pushes the boundaries with his explicit lyrics about blow job and whips.  Its shock is enhanced by its length.  By the time you have a chance to really ask yourself if that’s what the song is really about, it’s over.

“Lukin” – Pearl Jam

This 1 minute song pretty much tells the entire story of Eddie Vedder’s stalker problem that occurred in the mid-’90s.  Much of No Code was inspired by Neil Young and finds Pearl Jam experimenting with all kinds of musical styles. But “Lukin” stands out in contrast to the rest of the album: its direct, fast and loud.  Pearl Jam play the song fairly often, usually at twice the speed of the recorded version making it nearly impossible for Vedder to scream out the lyrics.  On occasion, he’s been known to just yell, “Fuck it!” when he realizes he can’t finish the lyrics.

“There Goes My Gun” – The Pixies

I chose this over “Something Against You” because it’s a great showcase for the vocal harmonies between Black Francis (or Frank Black, whatever) and bassist Kim Deal.  When people talk about the Pixies, they usually refer to the noise that they make.  But “Here Comes My Gun” show another side to them that is rarely talked about: the use of space. The openness of the song allows for Black’s hallowing scream to take center stage. When I saw the Pixies on their Doolittle Tour in 2009, and “There Goes My Gun” was definitely one of the highlights.

“Here She Comes Now” – The Velvet Underground

Technically this song’s length is 2:03 but it fades out at 1:56, so I’m going to include it.  ”Here She Comes Now” is probably the prettiest song in the Velvet’s catalogue and acts as a bit of relief from the onslaught of noise that permeates the rest of White Light/White Heat.  It’s  album full of dirty sex and “Here She Comes Now” is the Velvet’s at their sexiest.

“White Riot” – The Clash

Which version of “White Riot” you like better is kind of superfluous. The version included on the US version of The Clash (with the siren at the beginning) is the most well-known while the original version is even more ragged. Either way, both versions of the song are a rallying cry and a punk manifesto.

“Ingrid Bergman” – Billy Bragg & Wilco (Woody Guthrie)

I’ve always wondered what this song would have sounded like if Guthrie had recorded it. The lyrics show a different side than the Guthrie most everyone knows. He’s not admiring  Ingrid Bergman for her acting skills. “You´d make any mountain quiver,” Billy Bragg slowly over his acoustic guitar. “You´d make my fire fly from the crater.”  Hey, even activists have a sexual appetite.

“Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” – The Vaccines

It’s very rare that a song comes along and the first time I hear it I think it’s a classic.  ”Wreckin’ Bar” is one of those songs.  It’s impossible not to get caught up its mix of punk energy and infectious hooks. The fact that’s it’s over so quickly only adds to the song’s charm: it leaves you wanting more. I first discovered the song during the credits during an episode of Girls. Thank Lena Dunham.

“Hit the Road Jack” – Ray Charles

“Hit the Road Jack” is probably one of the best examples of the vocal interplay between Ray Charles and the Raelettes.  When Charles pleads to let his girl him stay, vocalist Margie Hendricks rebuffs with him with the famous line: “don’t care if you do, cause it’s understood, you ain’t got no money, you just ain’t no good.”  For his part, Charles makes his signature “what you say?” line seem angry, hilarious and demanding all at once.

“Cretin Hop” – The Ramones

No list of short songs is complete without the Ramones. (Surprisingly, “Blietzkrieg Bop” is actually over 2 minutes long.)  Leave it to the Ramones take an insult and make it into something worth celebrating.  The song is signature Ramones: Johnny’s buzz-saw guitar, absurd lyrics and a mid-song count off from Joey.

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New Music: “Perfectly Flawed” – Marla Joy

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“You know I’m perfectly flawed,” Marla Joy sings in the chorus of her latest song, “Perfectly Flawed”.  That description fits Joy’s soulful singing.  Her voice cracks throughout the song, but it’s the passion behind the voice that captures your attention. In an era when many female singer seem intent on singing all the right notes, Joy counters that by giving a performance that may not be technically perfect, but one you can actually feel.

The song harkens back to the days of 70s R&B. Its a real treat to hear Joy ride the soulful groove of the song.  The band is wise enough to never overshadow Joy, giving her plenty of space to reach deep.

“Perfectly Flawed” is the title track off of Joy’s latest album which is due out in May.  Check out the song below.

http://marlajoy.com

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Was Kurt Cobain Really Anti-Commercial?

 

Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death.  I was on my way to my first camping trip with the Boy Scouts. Our Troop Master had the radio on in his car, when the DJ announced that Kurt Cobain was found dead of an apparent suicide.  I looked around at my fellow scouts – who were all older than me – and we exchanged looks of disbelief. “Well this puts a fucking damper on the whole weekend,” One kid said.  Normally our Troop Master disliked cursing, but this time didn’t say anything.  We were all shocked.

The news didn’t affect me like it did some of the others on the trip.  But I still understood the significance and could feel the change in the air. I had just started really listening to Nirvana months earlier, but was still too young to really grasp their influence. When the band broke in ’91, I was not even 10 yet.  I remember hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blasting in my older brother’s room and thinking it was a catchy song.

The catchiness of Cobain’s songs is what sticks with me the most about Nirvana. It’s not the “punk rock” attitude or Cobain’s artistic vision. All of Nirvana’s best songs are fucking earworms, just dressed up in distortion.  ”Smells Like Teen Spirit” wasn’t a hit because it changed the musical landscape (though that happened after the fact). It was a hit because you could sing along and its chorus is undeniable.  ”Lounge Act”, “In Bloom”, “Lithium” and “Heart Shaped Box” have truly great pop melodies that could rival any pop songwriter. No matter how much Cobain tried to suppress it, that melodic influence which he got from the Beatles was always there.  Clearly he wanted an audience, but couldn’t handle all the trappings that came with it.

Cobain’s struggles with fame are an old story. We’ve seen it in John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and others. Dylan completely turned his back on his folk audience and went electric. Once John Lennon truly discovered his muse, it indirectly led to the Beatles’ break-up and his solo albums are some of the most harrowing records ever put to wax.  As for Jimi Hendrix, he just followed his own cosmic path until his early death.

What makes Cobain different is that he actually did comprise his artistic vision and struggled with it. Nevermind is filled with slick production that was purposely palatable to the masses. Tired of fair-weather fans, Nirvana recorded In Utero, which was designed to be an uncompromising album that would whittle down the band’s fans to the core audience. The irony is of course, that the album still has plenty of catchy songs and contains some of their most loved songs. It’s no Plastic Ono Band, Metal Machine Music or Trans. Hell, even Yeezus is more uncompromising than In Utero.  (I used to count In Utero among those albums, but I’ve since changed my mind.)  Even more interesting is Pearl Jam’s complete disregard for videos as promotional tools but they were seen any being whiny, while Cobain was lauded for his anti-commercial stance.

This isn’t to say that I dislike Nirvana. I actually do. As an album full of pure songs, Nevermind is great, as is In Utero.  And it goes without saying Unplugged is a masterpiece. But I do get tired of the myth that Cobain was an uncompromising musical artist.  I don’t think that he was, but he was still gifted and deserves all the recognition now that he gets. It’s natural to struggle with those two conflicting feelings and that’s what makes him fascinating after all these years.  But let’s stop pretending that he was an uncompromising artist.

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Should Kiss Be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Maybe…?

 

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I’ve never liked Kiss. I’ve always thought they were a band more interested in branding themselves rather than being a band known for their songs. It’s kind of hard to take a group seriously when they have their own lunch boxes and action figures. It’s the same reason I don’t particularly care for the Monkees.  Excessive merchandising like that seems to go against the very fabric of rock and roll.  I also have a problem with a band that releases a live album that is mostly studio over-dubs.

As far as their make-up goes, other artists have done it better like the New York Dolls, Alice Cooper and David Bowie. And those guys actually had great songs to back up their masks and disguises.  ”Ziggy Stardust” vs. “Rock and Roll All Nite”?  You tell me which one is better.

So does Kiss belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? That’s a tough question. If we were strictly talking about the quality of songs, then I’d say no.  But then again, I would also say the same thing about Led Zeppelin.  And despite my loathe of Zeppelin, they have their place in the Hall.  It’s hard to argue against their impact.

And perhaps the same could be said about Kiss, just in a different manner.  Critics like Dave Marsh may hate them like I do (though his hatred is borderline obsessive to be honest), but it’s kind of hard to ignore their impact. For better or for worse, they practically invented the stadium rock concert as a “show”.  Without Kiss’ pyrotechnics and smoking guitars, bloated and theatrical tours would not exist. The shock tours by Marilyn Manson and even Gwar owe a huge debt to Kiss.  Even pop tours like the ones by Madonna, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga have Kiss’ influence.

As someone who was born in the early ’80s, it’s kind of hard to imagine how big Kiss actually was and their significance on musical culture. The entire ’80s hair metal phase was a direct descendent of Kiss – you can take whatever you want from that statement.  Many of my favorite musicians who were kids in the ’70s cite them as the reason they started playing music. To me, Kiss’ shtick seems worn and tired, but I’m sure if I was a kid in the ’70s I probably would have loved them.  After all, they were weird – but not too weird like Bowie or Lou Reed – and most importantly they sang about things kids could relate to.

Being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shouldn’t just be limited to what the critics like. If that were the case the Hall might just consist of artists like Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. I’ve tried to listen to both artists and just can’t do it. Having a rabid fan base shouldn’t keep you out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – you try telling that to the Beatles.

So despite my own personal grumblings, objectively speaking Kiss probably does in the Hall. I usually don’t agree with Gene Simmons on anything, but he does have a valid point that the group’s current line-up should be inducted. Ok, so the new guys didn’t play on Kiss’ most famous recordings, but if that’s the case it has to be rule that is all across the board. And it’s definitely not.  Current Red Hot Chili Pepper guitarist Josh Klinghoffer is in the Hall, despite being in the band for about 2 years by the time the band was inducted.  And the Chili Peppers certainly weren’t being inducted for I’m With You. Why should he get a free pass when Kiss’ current line-up is outright dismissed?  Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer have been playing with Kiss since the ’90s.

The Hall’s rebuttal is that Singer and Thayer are playing characters that were made famous by Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.  But if you’re going to induct Kiss’ as “characters” why even bother to have Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons show up?  Does the Hall plan on inducting the Starchild and the Demon?

So while, Stanley and Simmons have a right to complain about their current line-up being excluded, they’re entirely wrong about their decision not to play with Ace Frehley and Peter Kriss at their ceremony.  The two say that Frehley and Criss are unreliable.  That’s for the band to sort out. But they can’t have it both ways.  Frehley and Criss are part of the reason that Kiss is being inducted.  And in Frehley’s case, he’s probably the most respected musician on the entire lot.

As Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready wrote in a piece for Rolling Stone, “I wish they would do it.  It makes the fans happy.”  In Kiss’ case the fans are what got the band into Hall of Fame.  Throw them a bone, Stanley and Simmons.

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New Music: “God I Never Felt This Nice” – The Dirty Jacks

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The Dirty Jack’s “God I Never Felt This Nice” harkens back to the mid-’90s hey-day of alternative rock. With its sunny guitars, the mid-tempo song is the perfect song to blast in the evening that the weather is finally getting warmer.  It’s the kind of song you want to sing along to with the windows down with the wind breezing through your hair.

The song can found on the group’s second EP, which is due out this summer. Check out “God I Never Felt This Nice” below.

 

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New Music: “Take a Seat” – Mason Noise

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“Take a Seat” is the latest single from R&B artist Mason Noise.  The song is a sleek and sexy track, brought together by Mason’s smooth vocals.   “Take a Seat” is off of Mason’s forthcoming album also called Take a Seat.

Check out the video below:

For more info on Mason, check out his web-site here.

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Albums By Artist I Love, But Have No Interest In

To love a particular artist, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should consider that their entire catalogue is amazing.  Even the greatest artists have terrible albums or ones that just don’t move you.  Some of these listed are albums that are known to be terrible, others are just ones that have never quite caught my attention for whatever reason and have decided that they are not worth my time.

Elvis Costello – Armed Forces

 

I know that this supposed to be a classic Costello album, but there’s just something about it that I can’t quite get a grasp on. Maybe it’s the cold production that turns me off.  To me, the album seems stuck between the energy and anger of This Year’s Model and the go-for-broke eclecticism of Get Happy!!   It does however, contain one of the greatest opening lines in album – “Oh I just don’t know where to begin”.  I’m inclined to agree with you about Armed Forces on that one, Mr. Costello.

 

R.E.M. – Reveal

Yes, everyone knows that Around the Sun is a piece of shit.  Even the band, specifically Peter Buck.  But Reveal is also pretty terrible too. I understand where R.E.M. was trying to do, which was to make a Beach Boys-style pop record. But the songs don’t go anywhere and the harmonies aren’t quite up there with the best of the Beach Boys imitations. Ironically, they were better at this type of stuff when Bill Berry was still in the band and they weren’t trying to make a Beach Boys style album.  Up may have its faults, but at least it was interesting.

 

Outkast – Idlewild

Outkast are geniuses.  They’ve given the musical world so many great albums.  But Idlewild is not one of them.  From their beginnings right up through Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, their ability to mash styles and still be under the umbrella of hip-hop was a thing of beauty.  But Idlewild falls flat under its own ambitions: a hip-hop album with ’30s musical stylings.  Too often throughout the album, the listener is left wondering what the hell is going on rather than having their minds blown.  Outkast wisely disappeared after this album’s release ensuring that everyone remembered why they were great in the first place.

 

Bob Dylan – The Entire Christian Era

In the past few years, it seems there’s been a bit of revisionist history concerning Dylan’s ’80s albums. The consensus seems to be that they’re not that bad and that there are some good songs throughout the ’80s.  Hey, I admit to liking Empire Burlesque and Infidels and even Knocked Out Loaded has its merits (that being “Brownsville Girl” of course.)  But as far as the born-again era?  Dylan was the epitome of the counter-culture in the ’60s so who really wants to hear him singing about finding God and how those who sinned will be eternally damned?  Imagine if the Rolling Stones decided to have an album full of songs about the joys of domestic life or Rage Against the Machine put out an album that wasn’t political.  It’s the same thing.

 

U2 – No Line on the Horizon

The 360 Tour was great. U2 are always great as a live band.  But No Line on the Horizon is even worse than the misguided electro-tinged Pop.  With Horizon, U2 put out an album that wanted to please fans of their experimental side and fans of their soaring anthems.  A nice attempt that ultimately goes nowhere. “Get on Your Boots” is their most embarrassing song while “Magnificent” is half-baked re-write of “Beautiful Day”.  Say what you want about U2 but even at their worst, they’re never boring – except for this album.

Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak

 

Every once in a while, I think I should give this album another chance. And then I listen to it and I just can’t do it. West seems to think it’s a bit ahead of its time, and maybe that’s true. I tend to think it was ahead of its time even for him. The desolate and cold atmosphere was better served on last year’s Yeezus.  808s & Heartbreak finds West at a crossroad: an artist conflicted with his own image and where he aspires to be. It’s not exactly a terrible album, but it’s the only time I’ve ever been disappointed in a Kanye West release.

 

Pearl Jam – Riot Act

Pearl Jam’s 2003 Tour found the band hitting a stride. Musically they were at the top of their game, and Eddie Vedder gave some of his most passionate performances due to the beginnings of the War in Iraq.  Too bad Riot Act (the album they toured behind) is pretty much the worst of their releases.  Riot Act is the exact opposite of that tour: tired and bland.  There’s nothing majestic like “Nothing As It Seems” from 2000′s Binaural or glorious as “In Hiding” and “Given to Fly” from Yield.  The one sole rocker “Save You” sounds forced and its excessive use of expletives is downright embarrassing.

 

The Who – The Who By Numbers

For the sake of the argument let’s forget that Face Dances and It’s Hard never happened.  After the sprawling and epic Quadrophenia, The Who returned with the lackluster The Who By Numbers.  Almost all of The Who’s trademarks are gone: chaotic drums from KeithMoon, powerful vocals from Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend’s crunching power chords. Townshend wrote the album in the midst of a life crisis but unlike his solo album 1980′s Empty Glass, his anguish left him uninspired.

 

The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan

After the brilliant Elephant, The White Stripes released this mess. Get Behind Me Satan is what happens when an artist starts believing their own hype and then completely abandons the things that fans love about them. The album is unfocused and meandering.  The saving grace is “My Doorbell” but even that with its repetitive hook can get annoying after a while.

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Artists I Used To Be Obsessed With, But No Longer Listen To

 

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Blues Traveler

This an interesting one, considering I really don’t like jam-bands. But in high school, for whatever reason, I thought that Blues Traveler was one of the greatest bands around. Like most people, I bought Four based on the singles “Hook” and “Run Around”.  I quickly fell in love with that album, and bought their live album Live Fall From the Fall not too long after.

Live From the Fall consisted of several songs that stretched past the 10 minute mark. The band’s sweeping interplay blew my teenage mind. I loved the way guitarist Chan Kinchla’s bluesy guitar riffs interlocked with John Popper’s wild and manic harmonica playing. They could rock the house with a song like “NY Prophesie” or “Crash Burn” and bring it down with the slow-burn of the epic “Mountain Cry”.

My obsessions with Blues Traveler dissipated as quickly as it came. I have no memory of when I stopped liking them, but I quickly became bored with the same things that made me like the band in the first place. The 10-minute suites seemed tedious, tired and boring.

But if “Hook” comes on randomly at a bar I’ll still sing along to all the words in the bridge without missing a beat.

Led Zeppelin

Those who know me, know that I despise Led Zeppelin. But during my freshmen year of high school, like many teenagers I fell for their bluesy spell. They were unlike any other band I had heard. Jimmy Page’s crunching riffs combined with John Bonham’s pounding groove seemed like a gift from the musical heavens. Robert Plant oozed sex with his soaring vocals.  What wasn’t to like for a teenager?

I think it was the live versions of “Dazed and Confused” that turned me off to Led Zeppelin. Some people may have thought that when Jimmy Page broke out the violin bow, it was the epitome of sort of mystical musical power.  Not me.  I found the whole move to be pretentious and egotistical.  And that shit would last for a half hour!  Also, around the same time I discovered that much of the music on their first and second album was ripped off from the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon.

I don’t regret listening to Led Zeppelin, because they taught me what type of music I don’t  want to listen to.

System of a Down

Jesus, that was a weird period. I was really into System of a Down during my college years. Their unique brand of metal combined with Middle-Eastern flourishes really grabbed my attention.  They could be sophomoric and intelligent at the same time (as evident throughout much of Toxicity) which reflected much of the way I viewed life during college.

I liked them so much, that I even went to Ozzfest in 2002 just so I could see them live. And like jam-bands, I don’t particularly like metal.  They were pretty decent live, though I kept trying to convince myself even back then, that they were better than they actually were.  I kept that charade up for a few years until I came to the realization that their only truly good song was “Chop Suey!”

The Clash

I have mixed feelings about putting The Clash on this list, since they are a legitimately great band and I don’t despise them the way I do Led Zeppelin.  For years, I felt that they truly justified their calling card of “the only band that matters”.  Certainly, their self-titled album and London Calling are land-marks of punk.  And like The Beatles and The Stones they could take almost any style and make it their own.

But over the past few years, every time I listen to The Clash I just get an overwhelming feeling of “meh”.  They just don’t grab me.  It all sort of un-raveled when I read Chris Saleswic’s The Ballad of Joe Strummer.  The book didn’t hold back and it un-did the myth of “Saint Joe”.  I had no idea that Strummer was actually the son of a diplomat and born into a pretty privileged life.  Granted, revelations like these aren’t always deal breakers (see John Lennon), but with Strummer it seemed like not only a let down but a punch in the gut.

Live

Throwing Copper was the soundtrack of middle school years. I loved everything about it.  Those songs really spoke to me.  ”Shit Towne” was about my hometown!  ”Waitress” was social commentary at its best (complete with curse words!).  And I had no fucking idea (and still don’t) what “Pillar of Davidson” was about it, but it sounded philosophical and heavy.  They were like U2, but louder.

And of course, like almost everyone my love of Live ended when they released their follow-up Secret Samadhi.  Everyone knew that Ed Kowalczyk could be pretentious, but that album took it to a whole other level and the songs weren’t catchy or memorable.  There’s some justification that it really could be the worst follow-up album to a successful one ever recorded.

When they released The Distance to Here in 1999, it seemed like a return to form, but of course it wasn’t.  But hey at least that album gave us the phrase “rose garden of trust”.

 

 

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