I don’t really know why it sucks but you have to go into deep indie territory to find good stuff because the stuff these kids of today listen to…sucks! Went on a ski trip and got stuck in deep traffic this weekend. No problem we thought, as we whipped out the array of borrowed CDs from the San Francisco Library. Our goal was to try to grasp the new smattering of garage-friendly bands--a noble goal! Let’s do it we pledged. We’re going to follow the trends until we comprehend the trends.
First up were the Shins but they were twee and unmemorable. They have that one really nice song on the Garden State soundtrack (“New Slang”). But 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow just meanders along without ever going anywhere worth noting. Plus, I don’t know, I like men in bands to sound a little manly. The Shins are sooooo wimpy yet they don’t touch my sensitive girl emotions, so I just give up on the Shins. Tens of thousands of music fans could be wrong, you know.
Then it was on to Arcade Fire’s Funeral, which some have called a “stunningly brilliant debut album.” Keith said to me as we trickled along at 10 MPH in our hours-long traffic jam, “They sound like someone but I can’t place it.”
Within moments I knew. Echo and the Bunnymen, then the Talking Heads, Brian Eno, and then David Bowie. The references and influences were unmistakable, yet none of the songs stood out or approached anything as great as the original source material that this band obviously worships. And there were ballads where the vocals were all garbled so I got no sense of what was being conveyed. Isn’t that the point of a ballad? You write, compose and perform ballads to get your feelings across, but if you can’t make out the words, you might as well write a nice instrumental piece that we can listen to in the background as we do our algebra homework. It could have been the speakers in the SUV my dad had kindly loaned us. My dad, bless him, listens to his radio VERY LOUD. That does affect your speakers after a while. Maybe it garbles your Arcade Fire ballads. Isn’t Arcade Fire a stupid name?
And you know what’s even stupider? Straitjacket Fits. I hated that band name! At least they didn't spell it, “Fitz.”
After Arcade Fire I was pretty loopy. I demanded that Keith just play the new White Stripes, but tragically I had left the CD at home in our boombox. We were left with the expensively produced red, black and white photo insert in the jewel case. We pondered all the photos and lyrics. You know what you’re getting with the White Stripes. Even if Get Behind Me Satan is not as cohesive and rocking as 2003’s Elephant, and contains more piano plinking than is perhaps needed (or wanted), Jack White is a blues/rock guitar genius and his weird pinched wail invokes something mysterious and artful. I don’t find his lyrics very compelling but he overcomes that with his delivery. And he overcomes Meg’s constant thwacking too. How does he do it? What if he played with an amazing drummer and bassist? He might be the next Hendrix. Oh I can hope, can’t I? Anyway, he rocks and everyone knows it, so I’ll join the club. But we blew it and for some reason I’ve done that with other White Stripes CDs too. They’re never around when you need them I guess. Like the boyfriend who never quite opened up to all your wonderful potential lovin’--elusive!
What other shitty music did we have? Two Sleater Kinney CDs. Keith likes “You’re No Rock & Roll Fun” on All Hands on the Bad One.” He declared it, "Fonny."
And it is, but man, Sleater Kinney--it’s been 10 years and they still wail away with that dissonant jerky shrill thoughtful sound. They’re great musicians and they actually plot a course and everything but if I want to listen to Television, I’ll just listen to Television. Television did it long ago and then left the scene (or the scene left them). It might have been better for Sleater Kinney to follow suit, then split to pursue other courses in music, like popera (pop + opera) or a cartoon band like the Gorillaz or something else, vaguely gimmicky and different. It’s not their fault--it’s me, but life is shrill enough. And our other selection, The Woods does not sound effortless, let’s just put it that way.
Moving along snottily, we tried radio but that was really a bad scene. We got some modern rock Chico station ("The Point" it is called, many times over) that futzed into oblivion after Franz Ferdinand's "Do You Wanna?" (now that's a terrible song) as we slow-motioned down the Sierra Nevadas, and then something called “Jack FM” where the smooth, computerized (smootherized?) voice said “We play what we want, because we want to.” They wanted to play Loverboy’s “Turn Me Loose” and the lamest song on Rumours (“You Make Loving Fun”). I started scanning stations until my index finger cramped up. We heard Kelly Clarkson’s big hit “Because of U.” Wow--it reminds me of the soundtrack I cherish from Valley of the Dolls. The big send-up ending is so bombastic I can’t believe Kelly didn’t require hospitalization afterwards. It goes something like:
Because of U
I lock myself in to brood about the size of my thighs…
Because of U
No one can tell me that I’m good enough for a middle management position
Because of U
I tear my hair out in chunks to line the birdcage at night
Because of U
I snuffed some nutmeg and lost all sense of proportion in my suburban tract home…
Because of Uuuuuuuu
Because of Uuuuuu
Because of Uuu.
Or something like that. I might be embellishing a little. Go Kelly! Keep going over the top with your perfect pitch--nice combination. Keith did not agree with me. He may have gagged a little too.
Then one of many classic rock stations played Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold,” which always has me focusing on the possible millions of adolescents over the years who have gotten bong-load stoned for the duration of that song. Here’s to you pot heads! It’s the perfect stuck-in-traffic song: Got you in a stranglehold, baby. You best get outta the way!
And then he starts singing about crushing her face. What a total asshole! I’m glad everyone smokes pot before listening to that song, you anti-drug, gun-toting Republican, Nugent!
What other crap did we listen to? It’s all a blur. The Shangri-Las briefly lightened the load with “Leader of the Pack,” also a good traffic song, unless you plan on spinning out like the Leader did at the end. Who doesn’t enjoy a good motorcycle sound effect in their soap-operaish top-40 hit? Shangri-Las--always awesome. Creedence Clearwater’s cover of “I Put a Spell on You.” Had never heard that one before. Pretty good for a radio song. Then Sheryl Crow came on with her Rod Stewart cover of “The First Cut is the Deepest,” which we listened to in its entirety because of a Chuck Klosterman essay we had both liked about that song. About how the Rod Stewart version really made Chuck feel something about failed love and it touched him in a new and special way, and how that’s what artists writing and performing rock & roll is all about. And then he found out that Stewart was covering a song he hadn’t written, and perhaps did NOT feel himself. And that made Chuck confused about what rock & roll is all about. And we felt confused right alongside of Chuck. Especially because Sheryl Crow is one of those performers who has a perfect voice, so perfect that I zone out every time I hear it and have no rememberance of her songs whatsoever. And is that now what rock & roll is all about?
photo credit: Michael Jastremski, openphoto.net