Friday, November 15, 2013

Beth’s Music Moment: It’s the end, the end of the Seventies

Beth's music moment6[4]I am finally caught up with all my online class lectures! It’s amazing how far behind I got with that week in New Orleans and my subsequent difficulty in adjusting back to normal life. Good thing, because I start a new class on antibiotics next week!

Today I finished up Week 3’s lectures in History of Rock Part Two, and I loved it so much that I got a little verklempt. It was about punk and new wave in the late ‘70s. That was MY time. It brought back so many great memories of Shane and I (and our friend Steve) discovering all this great music and being so caught up in this movement that was so far removed from what most people at our high school were listening to. They were into Kenny Rogers and Air Supply, and we were blowing pictures off the walls with “Death or Glory”! (Yes, that really happened, and we still crack up over it!)

We seemed to have a knack (Ha! Knack...get it?) for learning about groups before they hit it big here. I recall loving Tom Petty when I heard “Breakdown,” and had a couple of early albums before they hit it with “Damn the Torpedoes.” I had the early Cheap Trick albums before “At Budokan.” We always joked that we should be A&R people! For whatever reason, these small town kids were plugged into the broader music scene and so into finding new music. It was really a heady time in music, and there was so much happening and so much great music. That continued for Shane and I through much of the ‘80s as we loved telling each other about new bands, and it continues to this day as we turn each other on to music we think each other would like. We’re music buddies, so we’re usually in tune on that. Haaaa, I made a pun! In tune.

It was also interesting to me to hear the professor’s confirmation that yes, punk really did originate in New York City. I’ve maintained that since forever, but there are those that feel that it originated in London. No...its roots were in the US, with bands like the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, and the New York Dolls. There was an underground scene going on in New York, and Malcolm McLaren heard about it and created his own version of it with the Sex Pistols. Then it started getting attention because of the Pistols’ bad behavior, and it came back to the US and came up from the underground. The record companies defanged it quite a bit, because they weren’t going to risk their money on unreliable and volatile acts like the Pistols, who broke up very quickly. But what an influence they had! They were like a punk rocket, flaming out quickly but leaving a huge sonic boom in its wake.

Another interesting thing was that this period marked the end of what the prof has dubbed the “hippie aesthetic.” That is the idea that music should be serious and of substance, that the musicians should be seen as professionals and virtuosos in their craft, and that the songwriters, the songs, and the music should be “authentic.” Two very different musical styles set this idea on its head at the same time, for very different reasons. Disco was all about “let’s dance,” and it really didn’t matter who the artist was...all that mattered was getting out and shakin’ what your mama gave you. Punk said “fuck the virtuosity,” and you got kids who could barely play making records and up on the stage. Very much a DIY mentality. There were of course exceptions to that, but that was a pretty pervasive attitude. Definitely a garage band attitude. I had never thought of it in those terms, but that seems dead on to me.

I was also fascinated by the idea that this was a time when bands and artists were looking back to the roots of music and using irony in their approach. The best examples of that are Debbie Harry purposefully taking on a Marilyn Monroe look, and Elvis Costello and his Buddy Holly specs. Rock and roll was old enough by then that it could look back and plumb iconic looks and sounds from the beginning of rock and roll. A lot of us were old enough to understand the cultural references and to “get it.” It was a perfect time and perfect music for people of my and Shane’s age to plug into that.

I enjoyed this week’s lectures so much. I try not to get swamped in nostalgia and I still love finding great new music—and for anyone who says that there isn’t any good music these days, well, you just aren’t looking hard enough, because there is a lot of great stuff out it out!—but it was a lot of fun to revisit one of the most influential times in my musical development, and look at things a little deeper and in the context of the time.

Rock on, Citizens! You know I will!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A flood of memories

Disco sucks
Oh dear, almost a week since an entry?! Okay, I have excuses:
  1. I was sick for one day this week.
  2. I’m still behind on my online course lectures and have been scrambling to catch up.
  3. I’ve got something in the works that will be cool and fun, and I’ve been preoccupied with that.
  4. Umm...Sheeba ate my blog entry.
Three of those are true.

As I was watching my course videos today, one of the History of Rock videos made me laugh out loud and took me right back to the late ‘70s when I was in high school. It was about the rise of disco, and the visceral reaction that so many rock fans had to it. I was one of those rock fans, and so was was our friend Steve.

We HATED disco. I still remember Shane and Steve taking a copy of "Saturday Night Fever" outside and flinging the LPs like frisbees up onto the garage roof. The prof talked about the big anti-disco rally at Comiskey Park in which a Chicago DJ blew up a bunch of disco albums in the middle of the field, and that resulted in the Chicago riot police being called out to control the crowd. You can’t make this shit up. Since we grew up so close to Chicago, we got WGN (this was pre-cable and satellite, remember!), and it was a big deal around here even before it was picked up by the national news. I remember it all very well!

He talked about the possible reasons for why us rock people hated disco:
  1. Reaction against promiscuity. They don't talk about sex, drugs, and rock and roll for nothin'. Sex is kind of a huge part of rock and roll, in my opinion, so we wouldn't reject disco because of that. Besides, you know...horny teenagers!
  2. Homophobia. Again, no. Most of us hearing disco on the radio had no idea that it had its roots in gay culture. And I've never been homophobic, even when I'd never really thought about that much. None of my business, anyway!
  3. Racism. Nope. Although I was accused a while back by a black friend of possibly being racist because I didn't like disco. She had said other such things in the past, and that was the last straw. That's still a joke between me and Shane...if I ever say anything even remotely anti-disco (I disputed Donna Summer's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for example), Shane says, "You racist!" The Ohio Players rocked, and their funky music was cool. I loved the Spinners and the Supremes and Stevie Wonder, and racism had nothing to do with my dislike of disco!
  4. Lack of musicianship and seriousness; mass-production. THAT'S the one! Having grown up on rock music on FM radio, hearing this drum machine bullshit on AM radio was just putrid to me. I liked guitarists and singers and drummers and songwriters who really poured their heart into performing and writing. Disco just seemed like cookie-cutter pop crap to me, with no real substance behind it. But I've always been a sucker for good lyrics and good musicians. Disco was the antithesis to "good music" to me. It wasn’t "real music."
I was writing to someone about this today, and I said that I've mellowed since then, and I even like a lot of current electronic dance music, but it still strikes me as having a harder edge than disco did. It was such a weird time, with progressive rock, mainstream pop, disco, and punk all converging. I still remember the Dark Days when "You Light Up My Life" (sappy mainstream pop rather than disco) was #1 for how many fucking weeks? I'd listen to Casey Kasem every week, and he'd get to #1 and say, "And for the leventy-leventh week in a row, it's Debby Boone at the top with..." and I'd go "UGH!" and turn off the radio. Haha!

The allegations against some about the dislike of promiscuity, possible homophobia, and possible racism may be true, but that was never the case with me and Shane, or any of the rest of my circle who hated disco. It was just a matter of loving music, and musicians, and their talent for writing songs and playing their music. We didn’t see a whole lot of that in disco, and that was why we were the ones proclaiming, "Disco sucks!"

Hey, two lists in this entry. The listmaker in me is happy.

Rock on, Citizens!