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My Jim Morrison & Bob Dylan Non-Fan Page

A few people have written me well-crafted, thoughtful e-mail commentaries about this page telling me that I'm a jerk and I have the musical taste of squash. Ah, well, there's no pleasing everyone. Wait 'til they see my page on Macintoshes. In situations like this, I always reflect and then ask myself: what would Batman do?

Apart from that, I suppose I could play fair and invite people to submit names of bands that they think I should blast instead. By this fall I should have my projected sections on the Captain and Tennille and Vanilla Ice complete.
 
Jim Morrison

If you didn't need more proof that the generation of the sixties was the most smug and self-absorbed ever to exist in western civilization, look at the cult of personality which has grown up around this pretentious poser whose major claim to legend status was dying, the smartest career move Morrison ever had.

When I was a boy, The Doors were still laying around record stores at the back with the locomotive sound-effect records, and only the most bizarre programming tastes would cause a radio DJ to inflict them on a public which could still remember from personal experience that about the only interesting thing about their concerts is that usually Morrison, once his acid-fuddled mind could dimly grasp that people were beginning to leave, would take his pants off. This would have the thankful effect of shortening the concert with his arrest inasmuch as it let Morrison feed his ego by showing the world how it wasn't ready for his art and his I'm-such-a-rebel posturing.

Now, a more cynical generation recognizes that much of what was recorded in the sixties was navel-gazing crap, and that Woodstock is about drunken partying in the buff rather than making some grand philosophical statement about peace and love to be repackaged later on late-night CD commercials. Perversely, however, time has given groups such as The Doors a respectability they never deserved. A normally otherwise intelligent friend of mine told me the other day that he had accidentally omitted visiting Morrison's grave when in Paris. It's a shame he wasted all that time on the Louvre.

How did these toneless boobs achieve this untouchable status? Let us peruse some of their music to discover what originality and musical statements they left as a mark on our collective consciousness.

Morrison sings, using two pitches:
You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a liar
If I was to say to you
Girl, we couldn't get much higher
Come on baby, light my fire
Try to set the night on........................................ (building anticipation)............. fire.

After Morrison's epic speech, which has all the vocal excitement of someone reading out an ingredient list for a box of pancake mix, the keyboardist spends the next six minutes on a meandering solo which sounds as though someone is bouncing pool balls off the organ keys. One is almost grateful when hearing Morrison's attempts at poetry sans music, even if the words are embarrasingly pretentious and have as much profundity as dollar-store greeting cards.

But, hey, it's The Doors, man; the Lizard King. And The Tea Party is The Doors of the 90's. Except that The Tea Party write complex music using unusual musical instruments with lyrics taken from classical mythology, whereas Morrison sings "Break on through to the other side" forty-six times in one song, backed by a guitar hook which sounds like every 80's beer commercial ever made. No wonder The Tea Party hates the comparison.
 
Bob Dylan

Why? Why? Why?  Why did this man become a star? What sort of cosmic burp led both Bob Dylan and Sarah Palin to become famous on the absolutely most slender of qualifications?  What do all the famous musicians who laud him see in him? What on God's green earth am I missing? Am I the only one who doesn't get it? Let us review Mr. Dylan's claim to being, as I'm told, one of the most important cultural and musical influences of the twentieth century.

Voice: The sound of a dying vacuum cleaner morphed with Fozzie Bear with a throat cold.
Music: Three guitar chords combined with the same painfully toneless harmonica solo in each song.
Lyrics: Bad beat poetry littered with hopelessly dated expressions, all discussing a social situation relevant to those who lived in a certain social class in a certain American suburb in a certain period of the 60's (about eight people). Come on... is 'the times are a-changin' really such a profound lyric?

So what we have is the music of someone with warbling, irritating voice playing repetitive music with hack lyrics about issues no one below fifty cares about. Sounds like the voice of a generation to me. This wouldn't be so bad if Dylan was like Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits or some other folk artist who has a small, loyal audience who doesn't force them on everybody else. There's a few Dylan songs that aren't bad if I could have them a la carte. But no: it's Dylan, man; no one gets to criticize him because his lyrics are poetry.

Horsefeathers. There are many musicians who write thought-provoking lyrics or paint visually complex scenes with words, or connect aurally interesting phrases: Paul Simon; The Moody Blues; Genesis; Pearl Jam; REM; Coldplay; U2 (as pompous as U2 is). There are many others. So who are these people who worship someone who sounds like a German shepherd with stomach gas?

Hint: the same people who insist that a hundred-dollar bottle of imported wine tastes better than the ten-dollar house wine you think is perfectly fine. The same people who lounge around in coffee bars wearing kerchiefs and discussing third world politics and bragging about the hostel they stayed in on Khao San Road in Bangkok that mom and dad sent them money to stay in. If you tell them your misgivings about the entire Bob Dylan iconography, they give you the 'You-obviously-just-don't-understand' look and recite some homily about Dylan being the intellectual voice of the sixties because, well, because he's Dylan, that's all. Man, most religious fundamentalists aren't as intolerant of dissent as some of these 60s-wannabes are about His Dylanesse.

Sorry; I'm a doctoral student in English Literature, and I'm not going to be told I'm too ignorant to get his deeper meaning. Most of us are too intimidated to say that the emperor has no clothes. I'm going to be the heretic: maybe Bob Dylan was one of the first to incorporate politics into a folk-rock fusion. That doesn't make the music vital or even slightly pleasurable now. I know friends who actually saw the man in concert in '97. The concert was apparently Dylan stumbling through his set, and slurring his words into an even more raspy, toneless mess than usual. My friends say he was stone drunk. How could they tell?

Other Bands That Irritate Me

Okay, there are many. But I'm restricting myself to bands that I critically don't think are good or are impossibly overrated, and I'm omitting the bands that I just don't like. For example, to me Aerosmith sounds like glass in a blender, but I respect the band and people who like them. It's just not for me. I loathe most hip-hop, but I realize I'm not the demographic it's made for. So here are some bands that I think need to be called out for a reason.

Bon Jovi

Alright, some of you are telling me: this is too easy a target. But I'm not so sure lately; whenever there's a dry spell in the music industry, we get a nostalgia wave attempting to immortalize otherwise embarassingly forgettable music. This particular group is starting to enjoy respectability as one of the classic 80s rock acts, and I can hardly wait for In Sync to be lauded in 2020 as a classic 00's boy band. It almost makes me hope I'm not around to see them play 'unplugged' concerts to politely-clapping seated audiences and have commentators write windy theses about how their lyrics were the formative voice of that generation.

I'm not sure anyone can ever claim any sort of high seriousness about Bon Jovi lyrics, because after some 20 years I'm still waiting for Bon Jovi to actually write some of their own lyrics instead of ripping them off Hallmark cards. Listen to any Bon Jovi song, and discover that they are merely a long list of tired cliches strung together into teen-pleasing sequences: "Shot through the heart" (1), and "you're to blame" (2), "you give love a bad name" (3)... and we're still in the first verse. Even the album title would reflect the poetic depth of a road sign if it weren't a road sign: "Slippery When Wet". It doesn't get better with later albums, containing such innovative and original titles such as "I will love you always.. baby" (sample: "See, I've always been a fighter, but without you I give up"— say, isn't that from King Lear?).

The most maddening aspect of the band is their continued success from riding one cliche bandwagon after another. When Cinderella and Poison recovered from their syphilis treatments and went back to their old jobs as auto mechanics and Burger King supervisors, Bon Jovi had already realized that the party was over for bubblemetal, that over-packaged, over-hair-sprayed, safe, non-threatening version of heavy metal designed by record company committees for 15-year old girls. Seeing that country nostalgia was the latest big thing, the band began mining the rich cliche hoard of cowboy imagery with--gag--"Shot down in a blaze of glory". I'm not sure what's worse: Dylan & Morrison's faux-art lyrics, or the formulaic vacuity of "I'm a gambler and a lover" backed up by computer samples of spurs jingling. Now that they're 'classic rock', I'm just waiting for them to release a hip-hop remix.

Pink Floyd

Yes, they're great. Yes, they're progressive rock originators and they write intelligent music for adults. But I've heard bleeding Another Brick in the Wall 426,315 times since 1979. May I please listen to something else for a while without bending down in homage to them every fifteen minutes whenever I have the radio on?

Red Hot Chili Peppers

There are bands like Rush which I think are great but just need to call it a day. After a while they have nothing new to say, and it's saddening to see bands you love cheapening their past reputations by refusing to retire gracefully. RHCP might have done this after their first album or so. They seem to have only two songs in their repertoire— the sad, bluesy, ballad song (Under the Bridge) and the fast, upbeat, funky song (Aeroplane). Every album since then seems to have only these two songs with different lyrics. I gave up a decade ago trying to distinguish them. I try not to say anything about RHCP at parties because for undergraduates they're like what Dylan is for graduate students. They're awesome, everyone wants to see them in concert, and if you don't like them there's something wrong with you, and you're square and old. Alright, I'm square and old.

Any Rock Classic Over Six Minutes Long

Layla by Eric Clapton is a great tune, and the way Clapton puts the burn and hurt into his voice in the original is far more real than the easygoing, lounge-singing, Columbian coffee is now being served in the Empress Room, acoustic Unplugged version. But at least the 1992 version is short. The 70s original finishes the last verse and then repeats the whiny, pitchless, cat-screeching solo riff for.. what is it?.. five minutes? And it's not a Cream solo which might go somewhere.. it's the same damn riff over and over!

I like classic rock, but one of the things I hate about the period is the contractual obligation every band must have had to produce one signature song that goes on for nine minutes. And I hate all of them. Layla. American Pie. Hotel California. Light my Fire. Hey Jude. Stairway to Heaven. Jack and Diane. Even Free Bird can be irritating. They would all be great songs if, when they begin to play on the radio, you didn't have this sinking feeling that you're going to be stuck listening to it for a quarter of an hour. Why couldn't these guys put away their ego and edit down the endless guitar solo or anthemic chorus, and save it for the live show when the vocalist wants to go offstage and have a smoke? 80s bands also had some secret rule that they had to record one soaring power-ballad each, but at least Every rose has its thorn is over in four minutes.

It's not just the seventies. What kind of sadist wrote My Heart will Go On, anyway? Is it not bad enough that we had to hear this saccharine schmaltz on the radio while the theatres were all milking the movie; it needs to have nineteen verses? Footloose is a moronic, infantile song, and I hated it the first time I heard it in '83—"Jack, get back, come on before we crack"—but again, at least Kenny Loggins deserves a kindlier plane of hell for making his songs short. Equally, Billy Joel's execrable We Didn't Start the Fire (Attention! A list is not a song!) is awful but over in three verses. But whoever wrote Meatloaf's I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That), and after twelve treacly, overproduced minutes never once says what he won't do deserves to be infernal roommates with Pol Pot.

Afterword

My goodness, did I write all this? Okay, I feel better now that I have had my rant. Usually I'm a pretty easy-going fellow. What triggered this diatribe was a lounge I went to where the bartender played the aforementioned Mr. Dylan all night until my friends and I had such headaches that we left. The fellow was probably studying modern American folklore or something similar. I suppose I should go easy on him; he may not get a better job for a long time. And if groups of people continue to leave his workplace like that, he may not even keep the one he has. Maybe I'm not the only one.
 

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