Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ugly Singers, Beautiful Music (and Merely Odd-Looking Byrne and Eno)


Looking back on it all now that she’s come in second and emotionally collapsed, was the reason for all the hubbub over Britain’s Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle mainly that we’d forgotten the ugly can sing? (Meatloaf, anyone?)

I contend that a lot of rockers pre-Britney-or-so were unapologetically heinous, and that everyone in media has gotten so good-looking in the past couple decades we’ve buried the traumatic memories of old. Watch some 80s videos and you’ll be amazed how many already-aging paunchy males with bad hair you see, in particular — but I also contend the female singer from the Waitresses, for instance, just wouldn’t fly today. (The tragically obese but sexy-voiced lead singer of Romeo Void is a separate issue, since even back in the day many of us knew she just wasn’t going to cut it in the MTV era, though we were rooting for her.)

Even some of the singers from the 80s who still seem hot when you watch their videos suffer, of course, from the broader 80s problem of hair and makeup that are ludicrously unsubtle by today’s standards, as though everyone back then was a Lithuanian prostitute who had just recently acquired enough money to experiment with cosmetics — not that I’m faulting anyone for being poor or exploring new territory.

Around the time of the Britney/Latino/Disney/boy band explosion of the late 90s, though, we quickly came to accept that rockers are supposed to look very good (and shortly thereafter that even indie/alternative bands like the Strokes should lean toward Menudo-hood in their prepackagedness — soon we’ll expect them to be genetically-engineered, not that I’m knocking that idea).


On another England note, I have only just learned that one musician who worked with avant-garde modernist composer John Cage when he was young was: John Cale, who was heavily influenced by Cage’s use of “drone” tones, apparently (and went on to co-found Velvet Underground). That makes me feel a bit less guilty about occasionally getting their names mixed up.

The Lou Reed/John Cale partnership is also a reminder that alternative rock was a U.S./UK partnership from the get-go — without which we wouldn’t have things, four and a half decades later, like tomorrow’s free concert in Prospect Park in Brooklyn by David Byrne performing songs he co-created with Brian Eno. I’m sure it will be a mob scene, in a good way. A free Byrne concert in Brooklyn is like Elvis performing for free in Memphis (home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks, needless to say).

1 comment:

Todd Seavey said...

CORRECTION: An alert reader notes that although Cale worked with Cage, the “drone” influence came from La Monte Young.