Sunday, September 21, 2008

Intelligent Music Versus Big Dumb Rock: A Moral Dilemma

Since Suite has buried many of my articles deep in their archives, I'm reposting some of the more popular ones on SOHB. I was Suite101's rock music editor from 2000-2005.

Originally posted on
Feb. 5, 2005.

A few days ago, a friend and I were listening to Jonesy's Jukebox . Jonesy played a song by Abba to end his show. "You've got to be kidding me," my friend blurted in disbelief.

"It's a good song," I responded. "The type of music doesn't matter as long as the song's good." Good as in well-written,performed with some measure of conviction, and decently recorded. Example: "Hit Me Baby One More Time" is Britney's best original song. Most of her other songs are retreads. If you're riding in an elevator, you might hear 'Bridge Over Troubled Water" or "Feelings", both apropos for an "adult contemporary "playlist. "Bridge Over Troubled Water"is a great song. "Feelings" by Morris Albert is not.

Most of the friends and acquaintances I've made through music listen to what I would term intelligent music--punk, alt rock or alt-country, blues, old school funk/r and b, jazz or obscure oldies/glam rock. This is understandable. Those types of music tend to attract some pretty intense and smart listeners.

But I must confess on occasion, I leave the comfort zone of my intelligent companions and enter the world referred to as "dumb rock" by the literati. It's music not intended for the geeky, Kafka reading types. Although I've recently gained a few metal/hard rock friends, back in the day, I was on my own in pursuit of such music. When I wanted to go to a concert featuring a metal or hard rock act, I'd have to go alone. My friends would not even accept free dinner, drinks or bribes of any sort to view such abhorrent acts. Needing my live show fix, I attended solo. I felt like a space alien! Everybody was drunk or stoned, regardless of age. The guys were left over from a "Cops" episode and the few females in attendance were biker chick rejects. "You were expecting philosophy majors to like this crap?" was the usual response I got at work the next day. This dichotomy in taste always confused my music snob friends. "So the music is stupid and all the other people who were at the concert weren't too bright. So why do you like this stuff?"

Current Banter

Music Snob-"Wait a second You were in the audience for a live TV show-to see that bozo?"
Me-"C'mon, he's a nice guy. He's a show biz phony, but he's a nice guy!"

This made me think about the pinnacle of my musical schizophrenia in the late 80s/early 90s.You see, in my record collection I have all kinds of music. "Like A Prayer" by Madonna, "Dr. Feelgood", Love/ Hate, REM, Vixen, Danzig,the Chanting Monks, Tone Loc, etc. "You'll listen to anything!" my music friends would say. "You can't be trendy all the time. Sometimes you have to have fun," I'd retort.

When I interviewed bands in the early '90s my editors would assign me to girl singers, hybrid punk/pop groups and anybody English. While this was fine and dandy, when left to my own devices I'd interview the metal/hard rock singers I viewed as smart. Those perceived as man-sluts got concert and CD reviews. "Why don't you interview those guys?" my room-mate asked one day, pointing at a pic of a particularly fluffy hair band. "Look at them. They don't have anything to say," I replied, guilty of categorizing by genre as much as my pickier friends.

Typical banter at this time went something like:

Me-"I like the Cult."
Music Snob-"Well I like the Cure."
Music Snob-"Slut!"

Years later, when I decided to approach some of the bands/genres I had previously blacklisted, I received two non-sequitor e-mail responses to polite, businesslike interview requests, and for the first time in my semi-professional career, an interviewee didn't call as scheduled. A few days later I found out that the now fortysomething Dad was in rehab again. Guess sometimes my instincts are correct.

I still like all types of music, though. I suppose big dumb rock is like the candy sprinkles on the cake of my musical existence. It's nice but doesn't sustain me. The difference between "intelligent" music and big dumb rock is like the difference between a beer and cognac. They both get ya drunk-except the beer's cheaper and doesn't go down as smooth.