Sunday, March 16, 2008

Post-Yang Thought: Post-Classic Rock

The virtuosic violinist with the classic-rock repertoire I mentioned yesterday also does “Separate Ways” by Journey, which is, I must say, the only Journey song I like — and predictably, it’s their fastest and most dire-sounding one, since that’s how we alternative rock fans normally roll when not listening to Journey (similarly, as noted in my entry on Bono and Buckley this month, “Eleanor Rigby” is one of the relatively few Beatles songs I like).

True, my tastes are white-trash in plenty of ways, but that doesn’t extend to much tolerance for Journey, power ballads, or Bon Jovi, whose songs seem to me as if they were written to sound like someone singing off-key and unmelodically in karaoke.  Is there any pleasant-sounding way (I just mean melodically, not lyrically) to sing “Shot to the heart and you’re to blame” or “just like every cowboy sings a sad, sad song” — though “Blaze of Glory” is almost OK, in part because it sounds more like an authentic dire cowboy and less like a guy with big hair and a goddam “steel horse.”  Even Aerosmith should have stopped around 1982 — with the possible exception of the oddly Irving Berlin-like “Ragdoll” and, again, the dire “Janie’s Got a Gun.”

But I like Heart and am not ashamed to say so.  We all know “Barracuda” and “Magic Man” are worthy of Zeppelin, and (DJs take note) I think “How Can I Refuse?” doesn’t get enough airplay — falling as it did between the cracks of their “classic rock” period and their “80s pop” period but in many ways combining the best of both phases (“Where do we take it now [guitar]/ Now that we’ve caught fire [guitar]/ [Plaintive] Will something greater grow/ [Ominous] Out of this desire/ [Shrieky] Should have dropped my guard!/ [Sad] At the risk of being used,” etc.).

Indeed, a lot of the best 80s songs, I fear, get forgotten because they don’t quite fit into the classic rock, New Wave, or 80s-pop niches that turn into Rhino collections and the like, kicking just a bit too much ass to be pop or New Wave but falling too late in history to get an automatic classic-rock-status free pass: “Back Where I Started” by Box of Frogs, “Voices” by Russ Ballard, “Beat of a Heart” by Patty Smyth, “Little by Little” by Robert Plant, “Castles in Spain” by Armory Show, the Blasters, the Alarm, etc., etc.  I don’t know that we’re hearing the lesser Big Country songs as often as we should (not even “Fields of Fire,” which was in the Top 40), and I was pained to discover at work last year (where there is only one other Gen Xer, technically, and he listens to jazz) that no one on the staff (of those assembled at the time) remembered Big Country besides me.  This tragic cultural amnesia can even lead to one misremembering one’s own tastes (“Wait a second — I wasn’t just an effete Duran Duran-listener…I…I once rocked…”).

Thankfully, the wondrous online station, while not aiming to solve this precise problem, has the good taste to intersperse its alternative rock and blues hits with “I Wanna Rock” by Twisted Sister and a few other things that show they understand what must be preserved.

But to return to our Journey: I have rarely felt more alienated from my fellow Upper East Side yuppies than one time when my visiting friend Paul Taylor and I witnessed a bar full of them suddenly trying to dance (???) to Journey’s non-rhythmic “Just a smalltown girl…smell of wine and cheap perfume” song (of which I don’t even know the name).  Even I am not white enough to perceive how that can be boogied to without physical/aesthetic calamity.  No crane collapsed onto the establishment, but it wasn’t a pretty scene.  At least there was no REO Speedwagon, though.


dave said...

Seperate Ways must have a mind blowing back story. They went their seperate ways, yet she knows he’ll still love her. He’s comforting her and assuring her she’ll find someone else. What could possibly have happened???

By the way, the song you refer to is “Don’t stop believing.” It’s about people going on, what else, a Journey, just like seperate ways, faithfully, lights, wheel in the sky, and half their other songs. That’s called committment to a theme.

Christopher said...

And “Don’t Stop Believing” was recently the number one song on Itunes thanks to the “Sopranos” using it in the last scene of the last episode. I believe that the video for “Separate Ways” was one of those that MTV ceremoniously retired some years ago for its amazing awfulness (video, not song) in the same special that saw Vanilla Ice go crazy and smash the set with a baseball bat just before “Ice, Ice, Baby” was retired as well.

Word to your mother.

dave said...

So you’re saying MTV and the video went their “seperate ways”? Does it get any more trancendent than that?

Ali Kokmen said...

Ya know, I’m going to have to defend Aerosmith here. I was at their NYC concert in November 2001, when the city was on edge not only from the September 11 attacks but also from American Airlines 587 crash in Queens (that might have happened the same day as the concert, actually; can’t quite remember.)

MSG was full, but the audeince’s energy wasn’t anywhere near what you’d expect from a rock crowd. I recall that the opening act, whoever it was, berated the crowd saying, basically, “Get Over It!”–not exactly the message to resonate with New Yorkers at the time. But when Steven Tyler took the stage and proclaimed his desire for New York simply, if only for one night, to “Rock Our Asses Off!”–well, it was a much appreciated catharsis. A rock-and-roll tonic, if you will.

I’ll also admit that that concert was when I finally began to appreciate their song “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”–which, once you can divorce it from the Armageddon movie it was made for, and from the kinda icky couple therein whose romance it underscored (Ben Afleck and Liv Tyler), and, indeed from typical moony romantic relationship balladeering, it’s quite a good song…