Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Music to Your Ears

A couple of years ago, I received a free ticket to see Robert Randolph and the Family Band at Stubbs in Austin, and I was told they were the next big thing with the hipsters and university crowd, so I figured “why not.”

Here’s why not. A Lone Star was $6. It was 102 and humid in that Texas in August Navajo sweat lodge kind of way. The place was packed with kids who had exchanged deodorant for cigarettes and tattoo ink and stingy brim fedoras. The band played what sounded like the same song for two hours, and it wasn’t a very good song, mostly a jumble of funky guitar riffs and jangly piano chords and relentless drum solos to hide the fact that no one had bothered to write a recognizable melody. To their credit, each member of the band was capable of facial contortions that would shame a Maori warrior, and when the EMS personnel revived you from your heat stroke, you might have noticed that the kids bouncing up and down seemed to be having a hell of a good time. Of course, they were stoned.

I wasn’t. I spent the evening glancing longingly at the Marriott towering in the background two or three blocks away, knowing that it has a quiet, air-conditioned penthouse lounge that serves a killer dry and dirty Bombay Sapphire martini in an iced glass, and that there was a good chance that someone with a decent voice and a high school education was at that moment singing Johnny Mercer or Cole Porter.

Even though I didn’t pay a dime for the ticket and hadn't been forced me to go, I bitched and whined and pontificated about that evening at Stubbs for a month, which was nothing new inasmuch as I’ve been bitching and whining and pontificating for years — decades, actually — about the American Idolization of modern music, about how craftsmanship and talent has been replaced by the ability to download chords from the Internet and string together words that rhyme with "another trucker." Twenty years ago, New York journalist Pete Hamill deemed rap “puerile doggerel,” and columnist Dave Barry stated the obvious: a turntable isn’t a musical instrument. It’s an appliance.

Oh, and Billy Joel summed up the lot of today's wannabe rockers: “Can’t write? Can’t sing? Can’t play? You’re Our Man!”


So, I’m in good company, even if friends like Dick Holland — who is 10 years my senior and as white as Ozzie Nelson and who professes to enjoy and appreciate hip-hop, the lying bastard — and my wife and kids and unfortunate souls stuck sitting next to me on airplanes think I’m a codger and a crank and wish I’d shut the hell up or change the subject.

Well, folks. You got your wish. The wife and kids have put me on notice: enough is enough. You don't like Lil Wayne? Too bad. Can't stand 50 Cent and Fergie and Lady GaGa and Kenny Chesney? Deal with it. You miss Sinatra and John Lennon and Ray Charles? Tough luck. They're dead.

They’ve heard me rant and snicker and prattle on about Justin Timberlake and Chris Daughtry and Celtic Women and damn near everything in between, and they’re sick of it, and therefore, from this point on, unless you’re a complete stranger stuck sitting next to me on a long plane flight, you’ll never hear me say this again, no matter how many glasses of wine or whatever else I, we or they are pouring: Eminem sucks. Dave Matthews does too.