Wednesday, May 13, 2009
American Idol and American music
As much as I was distraught by eight years of Bush/Cheney, my sanity was soothed by the certainty that one day it had to end.
The American people would return to their senses, a bold new leader would arise, the future would brighten.
But the same cannot be said for a scourge that will continue to devastate the nation. It poisons our youth, desecrates our culture and threatens to leave a vast wasteland in its vapid wake.
Of course, I’m talking about American Idol.
I wish I could say the popular show is setting music back 25 years, but that would be too much to ask. Musically speaking, the past is the present.
I tremble for my cool when I hear I myself saying, consarnit, music just isn’t what it used to be. But back when I went to college in the paunchy part of the 1980s, they were playing great, current music from the 1980s. Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, U2, Journey and Tom Petty were all making vital contributions.
Today, I go back to those same Athens, Ohio, bars and hear many of those same songs. I look at my gray-haired and balding buddies and lament the only thing that ever changes is us.
We’d have torn the bar apart in an Ouzo-fueled rage if in 1985, we’d have gone into the bar and been subjected to nothing but 1965 ditties by the likes of Perry Como and Bobby Vinton.
But it’s the future of music for which I cringe.
American Idol sets the trends in gaudy fashion, pouty posing and fractured commentary. Paula Abdul recently confessed to a 12-year pill addiction, but hastened to add she was never high on Idol.
Really? That’s what she’s like when she’s lucid? If I were a show producer, I’d order her to refill her Vicoden prescription.
Musically is where it does the most damage. There are some clearly talented singers on the show, but ever since the success of Kelly Clarkson, all the girls and most of the boys have tried to sound exactly like Kelly Clarkson.
I think the show lost all credibility the year someone no one remembers beat out the great Sanjaya Malakar. Now, that guy was entertaining. As soon as I can find a big poster from the night he sang ‘You Really Got Me,’ by the Kinks with his hair piled up in that ridiculous faux-hawk, I’m putting it on the wall in front of the desk in my office.
The sweet-smiling Indian kid will always be my American Idol.
As for the judging, 75 percent of it is drivel. I sputtered in outrage after some long-gone top 10er sang, “Make You Feel My Love,” and Randy and Kara both gushed it was a moving interpretation of a great Garth Brooks song.
“What the . . .,” I exploded. “That’s a Bob Dylan song from his classic 1997 album, ‘Time Out of Mind.’ Brooks sang it, but it’ll never be a Garth Brooks song. How do these so-called experts not know that? And the guy made an awful hash of it. Here, let me show you how it’s supposed to be done . . .”
I dashed to the kitchen and grabbed a ladle for a microphone and stood up on the hearth and began what I thought was a poignant rendition of the soulful song. That’s when my 8-year-old seared me with a glare and a Cockney echo: “What . . . the . . . bloody . . . hell . . . was . . . that?”
She does a wicked Simon Cowell. He’s the only reason I let her even watch the show. He’s brilliant. After all the oral fluff from Randy, Paula and dippy fifth wheel Kara, some bracing insight from Simon is a catharsis of honest interpretation.
I wish it were just him judging. In fact, I don’t think the perennial ratings winner is a large enough platform for him. I’d like to see President Obama appoint him to fill the Souter vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. And then turn the high court into a modern equivalent of “The Gong Show.”
Maybe someday they’ll rule on the case of who murdered all the music back in 1989, consarnit!
Here are some uniquely ‘80s songs you can still hear in places like The Junction and Pawpurrs on Court Street in Athens, Ohio.
• “Voices Carry,” ‘til Tuesday
• “Shakin’,” Eddie Money
• “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” Georgia Satellites
• “Luka,” Suzanne Vega
• “Angel is a Centerfold,” J. Geils Band
• “Twilight Zone,” Golden Earring
• “Who Can It Be Now?,” Men at Work
• “Come on Eileen,” Dexey’s Midnight Runners
• “Love is Like a Rock,” Donnie Iris
• “The Breakup Song,” The Greg Kihn Band
• “Take On Me,” a-ha
Feel free to add to the list. Please, nothing by Paula Abdul.