As if Michael Jackson — and Phil Spector, with whom we began this “Month of Rock” — weren’t troubling enough figures, morally, there were also the reports this week that not far from where I live the Oscar-winning songwriter behind “You Light Up My Life,” now seventy-one, may have raped some eleven women after luring them to his place with promises of a music career (all three of these guys have a haunted, emaciated look that causes one to instinctively back away as if from a Ringwraith, though I hate to convict them on that basis alone).
You know, my mother always thought there was something horribly wrong with “You Light Up My Life.” Who sings about shining joy in such a dreary-sounding fashion? Rightly seeing as part of a much larger problem of wimpy, soft 1970s non-rock, Mom christened such numbers “shit-rock” and, like Dad, waxed (ha!) nostalgic for the 50s and 60s. In retrospect, they were right and of course influenced me greatly in this as in so many other things.
My negative reaction to the overly-mellow radio fare of my earliest years probably helped ensure a lifelong allegiance to fairly energetic or dramatic rock, including a lot of postpunk stuff (leading to resentment of anyone like Sting, much as I admire the Police, who insists on turning driving, powerful songs into lazy calypso variations or whatever.
Occasionally, though, tempering big scary songs can yield interesting results. I only recently heard for the first time the live version of “Monkey Gone to Heaven” from Pixies at the BBC, which has Frank Black doing much more clear and mellow vocals than usual, somewhere between Lou Reed and the poem part of “Nights in White Satin” — with the funniest moment being when, instead of saying “Rock me, Joe!” as in the original, he says, in a very mellow fashion (and using the guitar player’s full real name), “Rock me…Joseph…Alberto…Santiago.” (And while praising the Pixies, I should also note the very Pixies-like or at least Breeders- or Amps-like band the Oohlas, and their song “Rupert Krikor Chang,” for those interested — and should note that in the unlikely event I start a Pixies cover band, I think I will call it the Proxies.)
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not all about the noise. Even my friend Jake Harrison, whose tastes tend toward the rougher and punkier than mine recognizes the pop brilliance of, for example, the Vapors, recently urging me to get their album New Clear Day. I failed to find it in my initial short search (done the old-fashioned way, at stores, just for the heck of it, though I’m sure I could get it easily online) but did hear “Waiting for the Weekend” from it, which was good — and reminds me a bit of what I have come, with maturity, to regard as the best Robert Palmer song, “Johnny and Mary,” undeniably a case of a mellow number being better than the artist’s bigger, more dinosaur-stomping ones.
In the end, though, despite endless debates about objectivity and subjectivity in aesthetic reactions, I suppose the in-between truth of the matter is that you notice objective differences between texts or songs more depending on which things you’re deeply invested in attention-wise and emotion-wise, a basic psychological insight that few people — even ones aware of the pattern — seem to take to its logical conclusion: maybe other people’s investment in other nuances and other things is just as intelligent as your own (like that Onion piece about sci-fi and sports fans mutually pitying each other).
This goes double for most political and religious thinking, but we’ll leave that until after the “Month of Rock.”