Thursday, September 14, 2006

For the Sake of Mind and Musical Expansion

Found this in an iTunes review of an Alice in Chains compilation today:

"To most, sadly, the 90s alternative movement has faded. To those who grew up during those years, it represents our youth and what we consider one of the last true musical revolutions. It will never die! When breaking music boundaries actually meant something. Alice in Chains is one of those great bands, along with Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Phish, and so many others who created their own sound for the sake of mind and musical expansion, unlike today's bands who lack and do not appreciate identity and originality."

You know, I always said I was going to move with the times and not get irretrievably stuck in a certain decade (PARTICULARLY not the 80s. Dear God, my hair...). But when it comes to music, lately I've been digging in my heels and staying in the 90s. Weird melodrama aside ("It will never die!"), I found myself nodding in agreement when I read the AiC review cited above. I hear you, my brother in grunge, mi amigo con queso.

Let me warn you, I hardly have the musical vocabulary or savvy of, say, a Rolling Stone magazine reviewer. Ergo, I'm not going to come out in this blog with an uber-hip, musically intelligent sentence like: "But where the music of those classic Bach-rockers had moments of pastoral clarity, the band favors unrelenting density, often through free-jazz clatter and Afro-Cuban percussion onslaughts." I just know what I like and what I don't, and I'm compelled to blog today about how I've developed this odd musical ennui lately that has me responding to just about every new band and artist I hear with a resounding MEH.

My poor brothers have heard me natter on about this ad nauseum in the last couple of years. (Jose isn't into music much at all--the last song he made me buy off of iTunes for him was :::shudder::: Five for Fighting's "100 Years." There you go, honey. Make me spend 99 cents on a sugar-shock-fest like that, and you will be blogged about.) But I think rock music needs to find that "new sound" again, the one that caricatured, over-the-top record producers on television were always waving their hands and ranting about on shows like Joanie Loves Chachi or The Monkees reruns on MTV back when I was a kid.

Seriously, have you ever heard a piece of music for the first time that just made you drop everything and move closer to the speakers? The one that's so different, yet so amazing, you're floored by what you're hearing? The artists who create that sound are the ones that have moved into legend territory: Elvis, Smokey Robinson, Donny Hathaway, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Beatles. According to Wikipedia, in 1966, former Animals' bassist and record producer Chas Chandler had this idea in his head that the folk tune "Hey Joe" would make a wicked rock song. Keith Richards' then-girlfriend introduced as-yet-undiscovered Jimi Hendrix to Chandler, who somehow must've heard about the producer's love for the song. Left-handed Hendrix got out his upside-down, restrung, right-handed Stratocaster and launched into his own version of "Hey Joe" at their first meeting. Chandler promptly spilled a drink on himself.

It's hard to describe the elusive "new sound," but everyone knows it when s/he hears it.

Despite not having soiled my clothing in any manner at the time, I still remember when I first heard Nirvana. After the New Wave movement had died, local radio stations in my college town could only blast treacly ballads by the likes of Richard Marx and Michael Bolton, mixed in with the last of the dying breed of hair metal bands (Skid Row, anyone?). A friend of mine and I had a Sunday morning radio show on campus, "Up for Church with Tracy and Rose" (Catholic university--what can I say?), on which we mainly played 60s and 70s music due mainly to my hatred of just about everything on Rick Dees' weekly top 40. (She'd sneak George Michael in the middle whenever I stepped outside the studio, which was always good for prompting a slew of angry, drunken phone calls. "Whasshh thisssss shhhhhhhhhhhh%$@?")

Anyway, someone--most likely from out of town where the radio stations weren't spinning all Guns N Roses, all the time--called in and asked us to play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. Once the caller assured me that no, she wasn't asking for a deodorant commercial, I promised we'd look for it, but told her I highly doubted that an "alternative rock album" was sandwiched anywhere among the likes of Wilson Phillips and Color Me Badd in our meager library. But lo and behold, some forward-thinking soul had either bought the album for the station, or Geffen Records had sent it to KSMR mistakenly thinking we were a hip, alternative college radio station instead of the jumbled, motley assortment of deejays with our own odd musical agendas, determined to rebel against the station manager's top-40 mandate. Ever dutiful to our eight listeners, we put it on ... and I remember dropping the Crosby, Stills, and Nash record I was holding and spinning around in my chair to stare at the turntable in shock (yes, they were actual vinyl records. Do I look old now?). Instead of being the last of a dying hair band era or a bubblegum pop "sensation," Nirvana was shockingly different. Edgy. The very essence of cool. I felt hip and deep and misunderstood just listening to the song.

I can imagine people having a similar experience at Woodstock when Jimi Hendrix played "the Star-Spangled Banner," or when Janis Joplin broke into "Ball and Chain" at the Monterey Pop Festival. Or even when the Talking Heads and Patti Smith moved the music world away from seventies rock into the New Wave era. (Apologies for not mentioning any hiphop artists, the evolution of which has seemed really gradual to me--I can't imagine someone spilling a drink on themselves after hearing Run DMC, but maybe it happened.)

All I know is I'm feeling the same way about today's music as I did back in early 1991, before three boys from Seattle caused such a sensation. (For my brother Tom, rabid member of the Jamily (Heh. He hates that term.), I must also acknowledge Pearl Jam as fellow progenitors of the Seattle grunge rock movement. And I can honestly say that I was just as blown away when Tommy played "Even Flow" for me from his dark basement hovel of a room at our parents' house as I was when I heard Nirvana.)

Of course, there are still musicians I admire today. I love Evanescence's I'm-nearly-suicidal, goth-rock sound. I think Mary J. Blige has the talent to be one of the most astonishing singers of our time--thank God she's off drugs. I admire the continued growth and timelessness of Sting's music (had to slip him in there). Kanye West is amazingly creative, creepy porn addiction aside. Justin Timberlake's first album was amazing, especially considering his musical roots as part of the Mickey Mouse Club and N'Sync. The talented but little-heard-of Alana Davis is shamefully underrated.

But on the whole? ZZZZZZzzzzzZZZZZZzzzzzz. I'm waiting for the next big musical thing to come and expunge the pretend-hip-hop and Pussycat Doll detritus from the charts with his or her bold sound and sweeping innovation. I'm waiting for everyone to jump on board and start imitating this NEW next big thing, instead of recycling the same old guitar rhythms and bass runs and tired lyrical sentiments. I'm waiting for the Pussycat Dolls to DIE DIE DIE! (Musicially, not for real.) And I'm waiting for 50 Cent and his ilk to realize that gross misogyny utterly negates true artistic talent. (I'll take you to the candy shop and hack it off, you nasty man. Go talk to your mama that way and see if she doesn't smack you upside the head.)

Elvis, if you're really not dead, it's time to create a shockingly good new musical sound and come back to us. Because we really, really need it.

What do you think of today's music? Anything good out there that I'm missing? Has the new sound come and I've just missed the boat? Am I turning into my father, who would always stare at the car radio whenever I was changing the station from his beloved NPR in the eighties and pitifully note, "It all sounds the same to me?"

If you want to read a really interesting (and hilarious) discussion of innovative Canadian musicians, Her Royal Highness the Queen-a Athena has been knocking out some wicked fun blogs lately on the subject over at the Scribbling Goddesses.

8 comments:

The Queen-a Athena said...

Oh my. I'm all ferklempt. I've been MENTIONED! In Tracy's blog! It's like - dang. I'm gonna get all sniffly, here.

(And if I sniffle enough, will you excuse me for barely even recognizing the names of most of those groups you mentioned? I mean, the closest I've come to listening to Nirvana is a Weird Al parody song. I am SO patheticly marching toward geezerhood.)

Sharron said...

Once again...I have almost wet myself reading your blog and annoyed my sister by giggling aloud while she tries to work. You make me wish I wrote FUNNY!

My fav music? Whatever I write to. Currently Evanescence, The Donnas (not truly innovative but fun and not top 40), Aerosmith and Linkin Park.

And what's the heck's with..mi amigo con queso... My friend with cheese??

Tracy Montoya said...

Chris, you goob, I'm pretty sure I've mentioned you a few times! : D

I don't think you're marching toward geezerhood since you're part of the Grassroots' cult following. I think that just makes you esoteric. Heh.

Tracy Montoya said...

Shut up, whore, your blog is hilarious. (*grin*)

A lot of people seem to love Linkin Park. Not feeling it yet, but maybe I'll change my mind later.

And mi amigo con queso.... Well, it's an obscure reference to a line that cracked me up in the movie She's All That. It's also my weird way of telling my brother in grunge on iTunes that he's a cheeseball ("It will never die!"), but I love him. I'm sure there's a more correct way to say it in Espanol, but I found this way amusing and I'm sticking to it!

MaryF said...

I'm with you about today's music. Even my 15 yr old son does!

And man, do I remember when Nirvana changed music. It was awesome.

Tracy Montoya said...

Tell your son I adore him, because he made me feel less old.

Yeah, Nirvana was awesome. Sigh. I wish something like that would come around again, but it's been so bleak for SO long.

jenleeland said...

I'm with you. I seem to be a little more open than my hubby who thinks the 90's were the only era that's mattered in the last 50 years. LOL.
I'm a big fan of Crossfade, Evanescence, Seether and (I know) Linkin Park. It's funny, the older I get, the harder I've gotten.
I used to be a big top 40 fan, but over the years, I vaccilate between totally mellow (my Manhattan Transfer moods are very weird) and totally angry music. It all started with Creed and Linkin Park and moved into Seether, and others.
My husband just rolls his eyes when I listen to AC/DC followed by Brad Paisley followed by Seether.
I just love it all.

Tracy Montoya said...

A lot of people I know like Linkin Park, Jen. Maybe I should give them another listen.

And I liked Creed, too, even though Scott Stapp is a maroon.

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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