Vulnerable

One of the many wise things my brother-in-law (Uncle Mike) said to me was this:

“The ideas people always end up getting fucked by the money people.”

The occasion of his utterance was many years ago, when the vulture venture capitalists were giving me the runaround with funding — in essence, they thought my business plan was great, as long as I changed the product, its marketing and its target market — and when I refused to change anything, they promised to release the funds… after six months’ further study.  Result (as Longtime Readers may remember):  a third of a million dollars’ savings lost, staff laid off, followed by ruin and bankruptcy.

The same is true not just of venture capital gnomes, though.  It is a fact of life in the music business, where creative people are happy just to get an opportunity to create music, make albums and perform at concerts for their fans;  while in the background the loathsome accountants and managers collect the money, demand more and more “product” from the artists, and try to justify their greed and rapacity by pleading that they “invest” in the artists and are therefore entitled to a return on their investment.

I recently watched the biopic of the late Amy Winehouse, the British jazz singer and ultimate Train Smash Woman, on Netflix.  I would urge everyone to watch it — if you can stomach it all the way through — to see exactly what I’m talking about in the previous paragraph.  All Amy had was boundless talent;  all she lacked  was maturity, commonsense, guidance, protection and security, and nobody ever helped her by giving her any of it.  Instead, her life was one long catalog of exploitation, enabling and vampire-like sucking of everything she had, with the predictable outcome. And she didn’t deserve any of it.  To say Amy was vulnerable would be guilty of gross understatement, and her world treated her like a sadist would kick a newborn puppy, just because the squeals sounded good.

Here’s my comment on the tragedy of Amy Winehouse:

Every single person involved in this vulnerable young woman’s sad life:  her “friends”, her producers, her record company’s executives, her “bodyguards”, the press reporters and paparazzi who hounded her every move, her husband, and most especially her father — every single one of them deserves to be  put into the stocks and beaten with heavy chains.  For hours.

Absentee Parents

Many years ago, my boss came into my office and said:

“Ever hear of a band called Whitesnake?”
“Sure;  plays hard rock, the lead singer is ex-Deep Purple’s David Coverdale, and so on.  Why?”
“My daughter won two tickets to a Whitesnake concert in some competition, but I can’t face going with her because it’ll be too loud.  Would you mind taking her?”
“Nope.  Gimme the tickets.”

So I took his 14-year-old daughter to the concert, which was okay as concerts go, and then discovered that — surprise, surprise! — the tickets included backstage passes and a chance to meet the band.  (I guess she’d forgotten to tell her dad about that little bonus.)

Anyway, all went well:  Coverdale and I chatted awhile about Deep Purple and such, she got all the autographs, and that was that.

I was reminded of that occasion when I was reading a series of articles about how David Bowie is supposed to have bonked a couple of underage groupies (among many others) back in his early years, and more recently too.

…and in similar vein, how Led Zeppelin did same with some “baby groupies”, also back in the 1970s:

No shit.

Listen to me tell it:  I played in a (vastly-less successful) rock band back in the 1970s, and even though we were never groupie-bait to the extent that the big guys were, there were plenty of opportunities to get up to (or more correctly, into ) mischief.

Which leads to my my main question:

WHERE WERE THESE GIRLS’ PARENTS?

How could they be so ignorant as to think that unaccompanied young girls were not going to get into trouble in the heady, loud and licentious atmosphere that was a rock concert?  How could they allow their adolescent daughters to go by themselves or (worse still) only accompanied by their giggly friends?  (For those still unclear on this aspect of parenting, let me explain:  without the presence of parents, one kid can get up to mischief;  two kids can get up to mischief-squared;  and multiple kids will — not can —  get into Hiroshima-scale trouble.)  As Jimmy Page memorably said: “Everyone knows what they come for.”   Groupies gonna groupie, as the modern idiom goes.

I’m not excusing the musicians for doing this stuff, but remember, most of these bands were (and still are) themselves only a few years older than the baby-groupies.  Asking young musicians to behave with decorum in such circumstances is an exercise doomed to failure — as is expecting young girls to behave with restraint when coming face-to-face with their sweaty heroes in the excitement after the concert.

Let me get even more explicit.  When a fresh-faced young girl presents herself to a whacked-out musician, don’t expect him to ask her for ID before he fucks her.  And he is going to fuck her.

It’s just stupid for people to clutch their pearls and accuse these now-septuagenarians of statutory rape committed half a century ago.  Leave them alone.

Young people are going to fuck up.  What’s needed is responsible adult supervision — just as I provided to my boss’s daughter on that occasion.  So if any of you are faced with a similar situation, either with yer kids or yer grandkids, act accordingly.  Somebody has to be the grownup, and it might as well be you.

Overrated

Over at the PJ site, Chris Queen  has a list of his 10 most overrated bands/musicians.

My take on his selections:

10. Imagine Dragons — never heard of them, nor a single one of their songs.
9. Nirvana — I liked Smells Like Teen Bullshit Spirit, but the rest was lame.  As was most Seattle grunge.
8. Maroon 5 — never heard of them, nor a single one of their songs.
7. Michael Jackson — agree.  Great performer, but most of his music was awful airweight pop. Compare MJ to a genuine musician of the time like Stevie Wonder…
6. Rolling Stones — world’s most successful garage band.  Jagger’s pouting and preening was gay back in the 1960s, and it’s just embarrassing now.
5. The Doors — I don’t think they’re overrated.  Jim Morrison, despite having a great voice, was just terrible:  immature, unreliable, self-centered.  But Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek were among the best musicians of the time, and for a three-piece band? Brilliant sound.
4. Bruce Springsteen — most overrated musician on the list.  Like The Doors, the other musicians (his E Street Band) are brilliant, however.
3. Florida Georgia Line — never heard of them, nor a single one of their songs.
2. Green Day — posturing punks. Never understood the appeal.  Ditto bands like R.E.M.
1. Creedence Clearwater Revival — I didn’t mind CCR, and I don’t think they’re overrated — certainly, they shouldn’t be at #1 on his Overrated Hate Parade.  Not when there are bands around like U2 and soloists like Frank Sinatra.

Unknown At This Address

PJMedia published a list of songs that turned 20 this year…

…and I can proudly announce that I’ve never heard of any but one, that being the Britney Spears thing (and even for that one, I sort of remember the video — Brit in a schoolgirl uniform! — but not the song).

The rest?  Wouldn’t recognize the songs (or their performers) if I tripped over them in the street.  To paraphrase the late great John Barrymore:  my memory is filled with beauty, wonder and loveliness — and you expect me to clutter it up with this shit?

The Other Schumann

I’ve always been a huge fan of Robert Schumann’s music.  I know all about his life story — the word “tragedy” comes to mind, and you can read all about it here — but while that knowledge provides some background, it doesn’t really matter because the music is beautiful beyond words.  In one of those extraordinary little coincidences which occasionally drive me crazy, when I discovered the linked article I just happened to be listening to Schubert’s Schumann’s First Symphony (“Spring”) in B-flat major, the second movement of which has one of the most most haunting melodies ever written (just after the 15.30-minute mark).  That the melody happens during a piece which celebrates the coming of the spring — traditionally a “happy” theme — is just one of the joys of listening to Schumann.

As for the “other” Schumann (his wife, virtuoso pianist Clara Wieck), the DM review of Judith Schernaik’s biography of Schumann pays eloquent praise to this extraordinary woman.  (The book itself has gone onto my Christmas list.)

Anyway, if  you want to enrich your life for a couple of hours on a chilly winter’s day or evening, you could do a LOT worse than listen to all four of Schumann’s symphonies, in order.  I’ve selected the performances of the Staatskapelle Dresden, conducted by the incomparable Wolfgang Sawallisch.

Then, if you feel the need for more Schumann (and well you might), help yourself to a few of his Etudes

No need to thank me;  it’s all part of the service.

The Problem With Lists

Whenever you set about making a list which has lofty goals — e.g. “Top 10 Songs That Defined The 60s“, you have to careful about the criteria.  On the aforementioned video, the listmaker used both record sales and influence on music as the primary characteristics for inclusion on the list.  Here’s the choice, as formulated:

10. Hit The Road Jack — Ray Charles (’61)
9. Mrs. Robinson — Simon & Garfunkel (’68)
8. You Really Got Me — Kinks (’64)
7. Respect — Aretha Franklin (’67)
6. Like A Rolling Stone — Bob Dylan (’65)
5. My Generation — The Who (’65)
4. Good Vibrations — Beach Boys (’66)
3. Satisfaction — Rolling Stones (’65)
2. All Along The Watchtower — Jimi Hendrix (’68)
1. I Wanna Hold Your Hand — Beatles (’63)

With honorable mentions of:

Stand By Me – Ben E. King (’61)
Be My Baby – Ronettes (’63)
Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye (’68)
Light My Fire – Doors (’67)
For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield (’67)

The problem with this list — and by the way, I don’t have any argument over the worth of the songs because they’re all excellent — is that I’m not sure how much the R&B numbers (e.g. Ray Charles and Aretha) influenced music, per se, because R&B hadn’t really changed much since the 1950s (e.g. The Platters) and it was only when James Brown’s funk and later, bebop came on the scene that the R&B genre started to change radically.  (The really big change to R&B had already happened, with Elvis using R&B to ginger up the early rock ‘n roll music and getting White people to listen to it.)

The biggest problem with the list, though, is the concatenation of “record sales / popularity” (which is an easy measure) and “influence” (which isn’t easy).  Using just sales, for instance, we’d have to include songs like Louis Armstrong’s Hello Dolly, Percy Faith’s Theme from ‘A Summer Place’ and the Four Seasons’ Big Girls Don’t Cry, all smash hits in the 1960s, but not influential songs by any measure.

Here’s an example of my confusion.  Simon & Garfunkel were simply folksingers (albeit brilliant ones), and even the brilliant Mrs. Robinson wasn’t that different from other songs of that genre, before or since.  Paul Simon would later be a major change agent in music, but S&G, not so much.

The two songs on the list which stand out as not only popular but also influencers are of course I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Good Vibrations, both of which changed the way other musicians started to compose and play.  The fact that they were also hugely popular merely emphasizes what giant songs they were.  Using that criterion, there would be a very strong case to put the 1967 Beatles’ A Day In The Life (the song and the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album) onto the list — because having already influenced modern rock music once in 1963, the Beatles went ahead and changed its direction again, in 1967.

Likewise, the inclusion of Satisfaction and My Generation makes sense because they weren’t much songs as they were generational counter-culture anthems and they too set the stage for others to follow.  (Despite my dislike of both bands, it’s quite likely that without The Who and the Stones there would have been no punk music, for example.  That’s “influence” for you.)

I also have my doubts about All Along The Watchtower because while it is quite easily one of my favorite rock songs of all time, all Hendrix did was make a Dylan song sound good (not a difficult task, by the way).  Jimi’s music was so different and so iconic that his would-be successors (e.g. Stevie Ray Vaughan) simply covered his songs.  Yes, Hendrix changed the way people played music, but I challenge anyone to point to a modern song of which you can say, “Aha!  That sounds like Hendrix!” (although I will allow that Lenny Kravitz has come awfully close on occasion, as did Prince).

So if you were to ask me to draw up my  list of 12 Songs Which Defined the 1960s, it would look like this, but ranked in no specific order:

  • Good Times Bad Times — Led Zeppelin (68) — OR — Whole Lotta Love (69) because Zep practically defined hard rock for future musicians.  Granted, they came right at the end of the 60s, but the point of the 1960s was that it set up the next decade’s music (and beyond).
  • I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Good Vibrations — no argument from me on those two;  the Beatles song established pop music and Good Vibrations was a forerunner for other neo-orchestral songs which followed, such as Bohemian Rhapsody.
  • A Day In The Life — for reasons as stated above.
  • Ditto Satisfaction and My Generation, which dirtied up the clean Beatle-esque songs of the 60s and reminded us that at its heart, rock ‘n roll isn’t pretty.  (By the way, if we use record sales as a criterion, Honky Tonk Woman — a much better song, in my opinion — outsold Satisfaction by far, but the latter is the more important song.)
  • Whiter Shade of Pale — Procol Harum (’67) turned rock progressive.
  • (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay — Otis Redding (’67) turned R&B into Soul.  Without Otis, artists such as Bill Withers, Percy Sledge, Joe Tex and maybe even Marvin Gaye might not have been as big as they were.
  • You Really Got Me — The Kinks (’65). Still heavy, even today.
  • Like A Rolling Stone — Bob Dylan (’65).  Hate his voice, love the music.
  • Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? — Chicago (’69).  Like Sergeant Pepper’s, you could pick just about any song off Chicago’s first album to put on this list.  (Jimi Hendrix’s comment to the band:  “Your horns are like a set of lungs and your guitarist’s better than me.”  ‘Nuff said.)
  • White Room — Cream (’68).  No list of musical influencers of the 1960s would be complete without Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.

Honorable mentions:

  • Space Oddity — David Bowie (’69) although his real influence would come in the next decade (a story for another time).
  • Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag — James Brown (’65)… now he changed R&B.  Without him, no Earth, Wind & Fire, for example.
  • River Deep, Mountain High — Hellooo Tina (’66)
  • Funk #48 — James Gang (’69).  Like many of the musicians in the above bands, Joe Walsh probably influenced more bands than he’d care to admit.  We’ll look at him in greater depth when I get round to doing this for the 1970s.

I should point out that I don’t necessarily like all the songs listed above, but I can’t deny their influence on the 1960s.

Your arguments and invective are, as always, welcome in Comments,