Monday, May 26, 2014

The Worst Band In America

We’ve all seen them, the back window decal of Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, urinating on the car number of the NASCAR driver someone hates the most. When I first saw these, years ago, it always amazed me that it wasn’t enough to love Dale Earnhart. You had to equally celebrate your hatred for Jeff Gordon.

But this need to hate one side as much as you love another has taken hold in an ugly way in our culture. It comes out among music fans in a big way. Over the years, no topic I write about gets more people irrationally angry than when I write about music.

I’m a big music fan. I manage my own home digital database of over 20,000 tracks of music. Name the act, they’re probably there. And playlists. There’s a blues playlist with 700-800 songs on it, and playlists of Reggae, Soul, Folk, Western Swing, Country Blues, Jazz, Americana, Rockabilly, and on and on. Each playlist only plays songs I like, songs I put there by choice. There’s more than a decade of digitized hard work in that database. Thousands of albums. So I have opinions about music.

But scanning through an LA Weekly article titled, “The 20 Worst Bands of All Time,” I found myself dismayed by the condescending snark of critics actually listing bands they hate. Bands on the list inexplicably included The Eagles, LCD Soundsystem (c’mon, that’s not even a band, it’s a guy) Pearl Jam, The Black Eyed Peas . . .  well okay I get the hatred of the Black Eyed Peas. No, I’m kidding (kinda).

How about I list music critics I hate? You know, the ones who can’t play a musical instrument or write a song but have a lot of opinions about people who can? Naw. I won’t do that either.

When I was a kid, I loved The Monkees. They were a manufactured band with manufactured music made for Saturday morning TV - a unique item in that cartoon laden world, but as music went, they’re weren’t the real thing. But being an 8-year-old kid, I didn’t know that. In the black & white, vanilla Indiana of my upbringing, The Monkees looked pretty dam cool. I dreamed of having a car and an apartment just like theirs. I listened to their music and read the liner notes on their albums. There I found songwriting credits for Neil Diamond and Carol King and Gerry Goffin. I followed those liner note threads and still follow musical threads to this day.

Of course, The Monkees
Those liner notes led me from the waning days of Tin Pan Alley to lessor known music that was raw, real, and homemade, not made for Hollywood or the top 10, but just out of a musician’s desperate need to be heard and understood by someone . . . anyone.

I eventually became a guy with hundreds and hundreds of albums, hundreds of CDs, and now a guy carefully managing that ever-growing digital database of high-def music, all because I was once inspired by the Monkees. That’s a little fucked up, but how lots of people come to music. My playlists now include Dave Brubeck, Jimmie Rogers, Jimi Hendrix, Hank Williams, Count Basie, Joni Mitchell, Mozart, Robert Johnson, Fleet Foxes and Uncle Tupelo, to name just a few, all because I got inspired by the Monkeys. How can that be wrong?

So stop making fun of music you think is dumb. It’s inspiring somebody. I was once that guy, way too often, the one rolling my eyes at people not “smart enough” to like what I liked. What a horrible bore I was with my opinions about what music was best or worst.

There is no best or worst. There’s just what I like, what you like, and what others like.

Recently a petition signed by over 100,000 people was sent to the White House asking that Canadian, teen music sensation, Justin Bieber be deported. If America needed a list of over 100,000 of it’s residents with too damn much time on their hands, it’s just been conveniently compiled. People who like Justin Beiber MIGHT be dumb. But people who signed that petition are definitely dumb.

And Phil Collins, former drummer and eventual front man for the late-era version of the band Genesis, who sold 150 million records as a solo artist, has had entire web-sites dedicated to hating him. He actually quit music in part because of the relentless venom directed at him. I haven’t wanted to listen to his stuff for years, but I’ve got a life way too full to spend any of it hating on him. Besides, I have fond memories of Phil Collins. Remember hearing In The Air Tonight when I was about 20 and thinking it was cool as hell. Remember driving a rental car in England in ‘82 and having my roommate put Walkman headphones on my ears as I drove so I could hear Collins drumming with Scottish singer, John Martyn. Recall going to Bloomington with college friends to hear Collins in the early ‘80s – and one of my buddies on that trip ended up marrying one of the girls who went with us. Good memories.

That LA Weekly article listed the Dave Matthews Band as the worst band of all time. I’m almost embarrassed for the calculating, condescending guy who wrote that article.

I realize he was hired to inflame music readers. I’m guessing he’s the kind of critic who loved that Radiohead or Wilco album I couldn’t quite get into. The critic who said those were masterpieces. I love Radiohead and Wilco. So I kept listening and listening. Listened sober. Listened drunk. Listened high. Only to realize I just didn’t really get those albums, but was also left feeling maybe I’m not as smart as that critic. He must be tapped into the real deal. I’m just not cool enough to figure it out.

No. He likes what he likes. I like what I like.  And way too stupidly often if you’re wearing what’s out of style, you feel dumb. But you’re not dumb. You’re just wearing other clothes.

Dave & the boys
The Dave Matthews Band is not the worst band of all time. Not even remotely close. The worst band of all time is murdering perfectly good songs in a basement or a garage and they really do suck and we’ll never, ever hear about them because they really are that bad. But the Dave Matthews Band and the other 19 bands on that snarky, hateful list, are not the worst bands of all time. The list should have been titled: “The Bands I Resent Most Because They Get More Attention Then The Bands I Like More.” That’s what the list is all about, bands whose success seems unwarranted to people who prefer other talented, worthy, struggling acts who are less appreciated by the masses.

If you’ve got time to hate Dave Matthews, Justin Bieber, or Phil Collins, you’ve got way too much time on your hands. Instead of hating them, ignore them and turn your attention to music you love, and be happy that those acts are inspiring somebody who will someday share a musical love with you.

1 comment:

  1. This may be one of my favorite posts of all you've written.