Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cool/uncool music judged by ... me!

Our oldest daughter is getting to an age when peer pressure starts to sink its insidious claws into 9-year-old psyches.

I urge her at every turn to resist it. She should never follow the crowd. She should be independent.

“Being cool isn’t cool,” I advise.

Of course, this is an outrageous whopper. Being cool might be the most important element on anyone’s spiritual resume.

It’s always been essential to my existence. I put being cool above being right, being successful and certainly above earning tawdry wages.

So far, it’s all going according to plan. I’m never right, I never succeed and I don’t earn any money.

As the Fonz would say, “Ehhh!!!”

After years of educational brainwashing, Josie is starting to experiment in an area where cool detectors are their most reliable.

I’m talking about the realm of music. More than even eclectic literature, one gaze over anyone’s music collection will instantly demolish or cement the collector’s cool.

Josie’s lately enthralled with the music on Radio Disney. She seeks my approval for songs she think might resonate with a 47-year-old man.

“I hate to be cruel,” I say with vicious cruelty, “but no one should be permitted to make any music until their bodies are mature enough to have at least one body part that requires shaving.”

She gets defensive and says, surely, I listened to something similar when I was a kid. It’s music by kids for kids.

I wish I could hold my fire, but asserting my cool is more important to me than being a responsible parent.

“Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!”

She runs sobbing from the room and I’m left alone to bask in the glow of my own cool.

Check it out:

The first album I purchased with my own paper route money was Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” the still-influential 1973 masterpiece I bought when I was 10. It still stands up even if the comically rotund Sir Elton barely does anymore.

The first concert I ever attended was in 1979. The headliner was the eternally cool Tom Petty. Even better (and more cool) was the opener was the great Joe Ely.

Anyone with a functioning car radio know’s what happened to Petty. He is one of America’s greatest rockers and maybe the coolest.

Ely is more obscure and that makes him even more cool. Besides opening for Petty, he’s opened for The Clash, The Kinks, The Stones and Bruce Springsteen, with whom he remains good buddies. Springsteen’s sung backup vocals for Ely several times, including on the searing “All Just to Get to You” from 1994’s classic, “Letter to Laredo.”

I’ve seen Ely more than a dozen times since and met him on several occasions.

I always tell him the story about how I saw him open for Petty: “I was in ninth grade! You were great! You were so cool! I had your picture on my wall! I’m your biggest fan!”

He always reacts the same way. He stares slack-jawed at me through his dark shades, nods once and walks away, which I learned years ago is the way cool people like him acknowledge other cool people like me.

So my cool bona fides are secure. My collection is filled with Mark Knopfler, Van Morrison, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Srpingsteen, James McMurtry, Dixie Chicks, Todd Snider and Bob Dylan (every time I mention Dylan, a little bell goes off in Bob Levin’s head out in Berkeley, California. Hi Bob!).

I’ve written about cool music so many times I don’t need to go through it all again, at least not until tomorrow.

So today I’m going to take the risky -- but cool! -- step of telling you about what’s not in my 7,857-song collection. There are some notable omissions, some I defend others I cannot.

• ZZ Top -- I feature them on my homepage. They are truly cool. I can’t explain why I don’t have at least one ZZ Top song. But I do know this much: ZZ Top in Russian is pronounced “Zed Zed Top.”

• Hanks I, II, III -- These guys combined have made hundreds of classic songs. Yet I only possess a few Hank Williams songs: “Born to Boogie” “There’s a Tear in my Beer” and, of course, “Family Tradition.” I really should get engaged with Hank III. His stuff’s great.

• AC/DC -- Never felt a burning need to embrace these great rockers. If I do, I can usually find them on XM satellite radio, to which I subscribe. Times are tough, but I’ll burn furniture for fuel before I cancel my satellite radio.

• The Eagles -- Love the peaceful, easy feeling I get from their songs. Great band. Great solo stuff, too. I love when “Lyin’ Eyes” “Sad Cafe” or “New Kid in Town” comes on the radio and they do so with enough regularity that I don’t need to clutter up my iPod with them.

• Steely Dan -- Just a few songs from these enigmatic geniuses: “My Old School,” “FM,” and “Hey Nineteen.” I keep them on a wonderful 166-song playlist of assorted singles and one-hit wonders.

• Pink Floyd -- I’m a grown man. If I want to feel comfortably numb there are recreational ways I can so without these tedious pseudo-rockers.

• Grateful Dead -- As with the Allmans and Phish, I’m not a jam band guy. Never have been. Never will. But I do like “Hell in a Bucket” and “Touch of Gray.”

• Rod Stewart -- He’s the voice behind so many great songs solo and with The Faces, but I can’t forgive him for the cheap money grab he’s made with this American Songbook nonsense. I deleted more than three dozen of his songs for his dastardly rock ‘n’ roll betrayal. I hope someday Keith Richards sees him in a pub and just beats the living crap out of him -- and wouldn’t that be a great pay-per-view!

• The Doors -- Most overrated band in rock ‘n’ roll history. The Doors I always love to slam.

• Led Zeppelin -- I have the Stones. I don’t need these guys.

• Willie Nelson/Waylon Jennings/Merle Haggard -- These men are giants and an hour spent listening to really great country music is like an hour spent reading the Bible while Billy Graham stands nearby and plays the fiddle. But Alan Jackson and George Strait and my go-to guys when I’m up for traditional country, as I often am. Plus, I have lots of Johnny Cash.

• Townes Van Zandt -- The ultimate troubadour to all of my troubadour heroes. His adoring acolytes include Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Todd Snider, Ely and Lucinda Williams. Yet, I just can’t get into him. Maybe I know his soulful raggedness ends tragically with an alcoholic death at the age of 52, 44 years to the day after the death of Hank Williams. Lately I’ve been enthralled with Ray Wylie Hubbard who seems like a modern update who’s kept all his demons at bay. Hubbard’s “Conversation with the Devil” is a classic.

• Jimi Hendrix -- I keep thinking I ought to immerse myself in this genius, but I just can’t pull the trigger.

• Yes -- Uh, no.

My daughters would do well if their future playlists were loaded with music from the giants I’ve mentioned yet have for years ignored.

That is if they care about cool, something I counsel really shouldn’t matter.

Alas, for their old man, it’s too late. I got cool that just won’t quit.

Tomorrow I’ll list my 25 top played songs from my iTunes library. I’m doing it for purely altruistic reasons.

That way you can be cool, too!


Emma said...

Thanks for the upcoming top 25 list - I wouldn't want to miss the chance to 'pretend cool'. In the meantime, I'll stick to my celtic music with maybe a little Coors thrown in....

And as a side note - you're right; as you get older you realize it is way cooler to be part of the more interesting group who is out there trying/doing things rather than just sitting and basking in their self-admiring coolness.

Thanks for a fun post.

Anonymous said...

It's good to see that you've wandered off the path of the standard oldies rock stations. Joe Ely and Ray Wylie Hubbard are great artists to start with if you want to spend some time in Texas. But have you tuned in to Ely's compatriots, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock? Have you tried Guy Clark? Have you ever taken a bayou side trip to listen to a little Sonny Landreth? All very cool.

Chris Rodell said...

Saw the Coors open for the Stones about 10 years ago, Emma. Very appealing. I'll have the catch up with them.

And thank you, Anon., for the referrals. I should have mentioned my love for The Flatlanders, very cool. I can't say I'm enthralled with Gilmore and Hancock solo, but maybe I haven't given them enough of a chance. Sonny Landreth I've never heard of. Thanks for the recommendation!

One of my favorite things to do is sit all day in a great bar with friends, sip beers, and take turns keeping a really great jukebox humming all day long.

Wish the three of us could have a day like that.


Jack shit shit said...

I love the group America and my favorite song is Horse With No Name.
How about you?

Chris Rodell said...

This reminds me of Athens conversation. I remember hearing something said in a dark bar, not sure if I'd heard it correctly, and waking up the next morning not sure if I'd dreamed it or not.

Of course, that describes my entire four years at OU.

Anonymous said...