Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, April 21, 2008

Peggy Lee agrees: You gotta have heart. Miles and miles and miles of heart.

Carl Wilson, in an argument with other rock bloggers (roggers? blockers?) about the dialectical relationship betwixt culture & society, brings up a quick-and-dirty description of the influence of the Nuge -- and if anybody would appreciate the quick and the dirty, it’s the Motor City Madman.

In considering the Nuge, it might be worth noting that he weren’t just macho imagery-persona writ large, he also dropped explicitly anti-gay diatribe along the way. Way way back, I think it was Michael Musto in the Village Voice who quoted the Nuge, something to the effect that, “There aren't any queers in Damn Yankees” (his band at the time), to which Musto replied, more or less, “He must not have been talking about the original Broadway cast, because honey, there were plenty of queers in that show.”

Meanwhile, we got Will and Grace, doing their complicated job of liberalizing the youth of North America regarding gay rights, producing the result that the young people of America are showing up with more liberal cultural attitudes than their parents.

I heard “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes” on the radio today, and I had to turn the station. Not because of the cultural appropriation (which is real and complicated and not simply a, um, black and white issue), but because I can't stand Simon's vocal timbre. When I was a teenager, my grandpa scornfully said about Simon & Garfunkel, one day when we were listening to them, "They sound like children." In Simon's voice I hear the voice of tired, resigned, somewhat whiny liberalism, which I also hear in most "adult contemporary" rock singers, from Norah Jones to Jack Johnson and beyond.

Any liberal who can stand up and not sound that way -- and also not sound scolding -- they're going to go a long way toward making themselves and their policies “more attractive and advantageous for people in various contexts to accept,” as Carl put it.

* * *

One of the funniest cultural moments in the last 15 years or so was when Robert Bly started channeling the Nuge at his Men's Movement confabs.

The Nuge (between-song patter on Double Live Gonzo, paraphrased from memory): “If there are any mama's boys in here they can just get the fuck right out of here.”

Bly (quoted in Harper's magazine at a men's movement conference, paraphrased from memory): “Any mama's boys in here can just get the fuck out of the temple.”

Bly might not have said “fuck,” but he did say “temple.” Raise that goblet of rock, bro.

* * *

More to say about all of this -- another time. Obviously, the role of rock in macho culture looms stratocastically. Which is to say, influence can be multivalent. But -- you gotta have hope. Mustn't sit around and mope.

* * * Late correction the next night: "
I can't stand Simon's vocal timbre" should have been, "Sometimes I can't stand Simon's vocal timbre." I love a lot of his music.

Dude, you're lumping Paul Simon in with Norah Jones and Jack Johnson? There's a little difference: Jones and Johnson are mediocrities, Simon's a genius. I think I know what you're driving at about the "whiny liberal" thing, but to be fair, Simon rarely writes political songs. He might sound like a whiny-liberal, timbre-wise, but he doesn't express whiny liberal sentiments in song. He's far too smart for sloganeering of any kind. He's done some whining about relationships in songs; but then whiny relationship songs comprise about 50% of the pop music canon.

Simon isn't one of my favorite musicians by a longshot, but I nevertheless would place him among the top 10 or so melodists AND lyricists of the 20th century. He's a sick poet. I'm frankly stunned to read you -- a guy who I know is super-attuned to songwriting, not to mentioned a habitual defender of the values of musical gentility against rock's macho posturing -- gratuitously dissing Rhymin' Simon. I think you need to hunker down with his solo albums a bit. In the meantime, explique-toi bien! What gives?
I heard "Loves Me Like a Rock" on the radio yesterday, and that's a dandy. He has a lot of dandy ones. I love *a lot* of S&G and quite a bit of the solo stuff -- "Still Crazy" is a fave album -- but sometimes his singing just gets on my nerves, especially later.

Rudy Vallee is genteel. The latter-day "liberal" sound -- and I'm not talking political songwriting, I'm talking a prominent strain of "adult contemporary" vocal timbre, adult contemporary being a genre associated with cultural and political liberalism, latte liberalism if you will -- sounds resignationist. Beleaguered. Now, I'm sympathetic with beleaguered! I understand its sources! I just happen to find it . . . emotionally defeatist. Sometimes I'm in the mood for it, but sometimes I gotta hit that dial. And my guess -- and it's only a guess -- is that Simon is one of the chief influences on that timbre or that approach to singing.

I'll have to think about my "Top 10" list. Simon might make mine for melodist or lyricist of the rock era, but not for the whole 20th century.

"Can't stand" was an overstatement -- I hadn't been sleeping enough!
Hmmmm...I guess I know what you're talking about. I actually associate the sound of AAA (Adult Album lternative) with self-satisfaction and musical conservatismrather than liberal political "resignation." But whatev. I would say that I think it's wrong to blame accomplished artists for the lesser lights they've influenced. Michael Bolton isn't Otis Redding's fault!
I don't "blame" Johnson & Jones on Simon, just note a family resemblence -- even if grandpa is waaay more adventurous (musically, lyrically) -- still! -- than the young 'uns.

Political liberalism -- mainstream division -- is musically conservative. Think NPR. Bill Clinton and Fleetwood Mac. (What's up with the Clintons picking outsourcing their theme songs to Brits and Canadians? Why have they not been called to the carpet for that?)

An aesthetic irony from the mid-'90s till recently and still somewhat today: Indie rock vocal timbres often overlap with adult contemporary.
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