Thursday, July 9, 2009

Domo Arigato Mr. Dennis-O


If there is any consensus to this blogathon thus far, from reading all the posts submitted, it is that Ed Wood was not the worst director of all time. No one who made films as entertaining and quickly paced could be completely awful. His films are filled with errors, mistakes and accidents. But the movies themselves are simply low-budget sci-fi/horror no better or worse than most else offered up in the fifties. The main thing is that Ed didn't do retakes to correct errors. If someone walked into a wall or the shadow of the microphone was seen or someone clearly forgot their line, Ed didn't reshoot it. This resulted in the effect that his movies are like watching feature length blooper reels. And that makes them very entertaining. So the consensus seems to be that the spirit of Ed Wood is one where the artist is sincerely making the effort to construct a worthwhile piece of entertainment but because of a lack of self-awareness to his own shortcomings the finished piece is entertaining but for all the wrong reasons.

If we trace the spirit of Ed Wood to other mediums where will it lead us? Who is the Ed Wood of other artistic expressions? Weepingsam at The Listening Ear has nominated Dr. John Button in the literature department. I would like to nominate Dennis DeYoung in the music department. Dennis DeYoung for the uninitiated is the founder and former lead songwriter singer/keyboardist for the rock group Styx.

In the seventies I had a fondness for the brazenly bombastic pyrotechnics of Styx. This was a band that knew not the meaning of subtlety. A refrain did not exist that could not be screeched. Witness their first hit, penned by DeYoung of course, Lady. It starts with a lone piano, some soft fanning on the drums, a line or two on a quiet guitar, all perfectly suitable to a ballad of love. And then comes the refrain - LaaaaaaaadEEEEE!!!! Let the screeching begin! It never mattered where a song started, by the time it got to the refrain caterwauling was the order of the day. Babe, The Best of Times, Come Sail Away, Show Me the Way, Don't Let it End - They all start out quiet and finish up shrill. The Rock and Roll Record Guide, a compilation of reviews from rock critics that has seen four editions since the late seventies, once famously said of Styx, referring to DeYoung's songwriting and Tommy Shaw's falsetto singing, that they could take any song, any melody, and "render it virtually unlistenable."

But none of this would put DeYoung on top as the Ed Wood of Rock with so many other contenders out there. No, no. It takes something really special to do that and I think we all know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about Mr. Roboto.

Mr. Roboto is a song on the Styx album Kilroy was Here in which DeYoung envisioned a rock opera where the future sees a police state of moralists who have outlawed rock and roll. One rocker, Kilroy, disguises himself as a robot and brings rock and roll back. Uh huh. So, this idea seemed perfectly reasonable to Dennis and not cheesy at all. And then Dennis wrote a song specifically about Kilroy's plot and Mr. Roboto was born.

Now if you have ever had the pleasure of watching VH1's Behind the Music episode on Styx you will immediately recognize from their interviews that co-leader Tommy Shaw and guitarist James "JY" Young were as confused by this concept as anyone. Tommy and JY immediately smelled the overpowering scent of Limburger but could not convince Dennis otherwise. At a benefit concert in Texas featuring hard rock bands Dennis decided to have Styx perform Mr. Roboto complete with the five minute dramatic stage reading that he had written for he and Tommy to perform. Tommy and JY pleaded with him. "Just let us play Renegade and be done with it." Dennis wouldn't budge. They did the piece, were roundly booed and the seeds of dissent that would eventually lead to Tommy and JY kicking Dennis out of the group he had founded were planted.

And Dennis never saw it coming. He was too damn sincere. And likable in his sincerity. I like Dennis DeYoung and I'm not afraid to say it. In fact, if there is anyone in that VH1 special you come away with sympathy for it's him. Sincerity is quickly becoming a lost art form and Dennis DeYoung is one of the last folks in rock to possess it.

Watch that VH1 show if you have the time. DeYoung is Ed Wood through and through. And that's why his songs will always have entertainment value because he wasn't going for camp with Babe or Mr. Roboto. He was going for gold and even if he didn't achieve it he didn't know he didn't achieve it. And that's got Wood written all over it. All Hail Dennis DeYoung! May the Spirit of Ed Wood live in him forever.

89 comments:

bill r. said...

There are a lot of very sincere yet not very good musicians out there, and they come in for a lot of scorn. I think the sincere ones, whether you like them or not, don't deserve the shit they take.

I feel like I should have more to say on the topic, given how serious I sound in the first paragraph, but I don't.

Greg said...

Well, I think there is sincere bad and sincere good. Sincere bad to me often times falls on some of the more praised artists who get caught up in how "great" they are. Sincere good is Dennis DeYoung who gets mocked constantly for his writing style but like a critic in the documentary says, and I'm paraphrasing, 90 percent of their hits were written by him so he was definitely entertaining the masses.

Now as to those sincere "great" artists I'm just going to keep my mouth closed lest I start an all out fight amongst folks around these parts.

bill r. said...

Now as to those sincere "great" artists I'm just going to keep my mouth closed lest I start an all out fight amongst folks around these parts.

Oh come on! Let's keep things lively! No one has to get personal, but there's nothing wrong with debate and disagreement. I just had a long-ass debate with Campaspe on Glenn Kenny's site yesterday, and I'm pretty sure she doesn't hate me now.

Greg said...

I just had a long-ass debate with Campaspe on Glenn Kenny's site yesterday, and I'm pretty sure she doesn't hate me now.

Oh I bet she does. I bet she absolutely hates you, you rotten stinking bastard. Anyway, the thing is, I don't think the artists I would mention are bad in any way and I love a lot of their music but sometimes the, uh, self important lyrics and attitudes of a Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, John Lennon and so on kind of bug me. I realized and know musically they're are all excellent and love the majority of their work but Dylan gives you the feel sometimes that he is being as arcane as possible to properly portray "Dylan" to the fanbase. Lennon songs I like but find too self-conscious would include "Imagine" and "Happy X-mas War is Over". I like them but they feel like Lennon trying to portray the image that has been created. And Paul Simon's "Sounds of Silence" is just dripping with self-importance.

All of this is my own humble opinion and frankly, I like Dylan, Lennon and Simon a lot more than DeYoung. I'm just saying they're "sincerity" seemed a little too knowing to really be sincere.

If you know what I mean.

Greg said...

By the way, my friendly co-workers are taking me to lunch since the organization gave me the boot so I'll be away for a couple of hours.

bill r. said...

I can see what you mean about Simon and Lennon, but not so much Dylan. I don't know, I just feel like Dylan's his own planet (to paraphrase Tom Waits on the subject) who has survived and transcended so man fans and critics' attempt to transform him into a secular Jesus that I think he has to, to whatever degree is still possible, be pretty down to earth.

Which doesn't mean his lyrics aren't sometimes completely inscrutable, but he's better at being inscrutable than most people.

Enjoy your lunch.

Greg said...

Tom Waits is unassailable.

I'm going to lunch now.

Ed Howard said...

Man, I thought I hated Styx until I saw the episode of the always entertaining spy/comedy show Chuck that used Mr. Roboto to score an epic battle sequence. Great, funny stuff. Granted, I still kinda hate Styx, but now at least that atrocity of a song has some positive associations for me.

As for Dylan, I know a lot of people accuse him of trying too hard, trying to be arcane in order to maintain his image, but I don't think that's the case. I think he's pretty sincere about just doing what he wants and not worrying about what anyone thinks -- as evidenced by his detour into Christian music, alienating his fans during the 80s, or his weird travelling vaudeville shows during the Desire era. He's always been interested in constructing various identities for himself, but I don't see that as a self-important pose; it's more a part of who he is an artist, always changing and morphing (at least for the first few decades of his career; I can't say he's been as interesting, except sporadically, since the 80s or so).

I do agree with you about Lennon, at least about some of his work. I never did like "Imagine." I think his best work is the stuff he did not long after leaving the Beatles, all those rough, ragged, experimental albums with Yoko, and his half of the Plastic Ono Band project (Yoko's half is great too, of course, but doesn't feature Lennon).

And as long as we're nominating artists to be the Ed Wood of other media, I'd suggest Rory Hayes as the Ed Wood of comics. Hayes was something of an outsider artist, an awkward and strange guy who wrote and drew really crude stories about a teddy bear who kept stumbling into creepy horror stories. His art is rough in the extreme, and his stories are minimal and often disturbing. But he has such a genuinely unique sensibility that his work is never less than entertaining, even when it's also unsettling or embarrassing or frankly horrifying.

Ryan Kelly said...

Yeah, Bill, after reading that paragraph I was ready for a real polemic. I said to myself "Oh, man, Bill has something to say! It's going down". Bu no, you let me down. Again.

Ryan Kelly said...

Anyway, I think Dylan had some rough spots in his career but he's really rebounded. Has anyone heard his latest album? Great stuff. All his albums since 97's Time Out of Mind (personal favorite of his--- but it's also the only one I feel a significant personal attachment to) have been stellar. And, like Ed, I think Lennon's best solo work came with his album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. I think his half of Double Fantasy is really good, too. Too bad he never got to evolve that sensibility.

Krauthammer said...

Oh C'mon Guys, we all know that the Ed Wood of music is The Shaggs.

Krauthammer said...

Oh, and Dylan has never appealed to me nearly as much as I think he's supposed to, and John Lennon's best stuff is certainly not on Imagine if only because there is one guy at every get together who plays Imagine on the piano in order to sound deep and seriously, fuck that guy.

Greg said...

Ed, the album Plastic Ono is all John. Yoko performs on it but it's all him, and all great. I have absolutely no qualms with that album, it's a masterpiece. Now Double Fantasy is half John and half Yoko and I'm not too wild about either side on that one.

I'm not familiar with Rory Hayes but I trust your expertise in nominating him.

As for Dylan, I have several of his sixties and seventies albums but admit I haven't listened to his highly praised more recent stuff. I'm still an old schooler with Dylan, preferring Highway 61 Revisted and Blood on the Tracks.

Greg said...

Oh crap, and I forgot about Mr. Roboto in your comment. As to hating Styx, like I said in the post, they and DeYoung in particular are like Ed Wood where I feel guilty hating them because, hey, it's not like they're giving Randy Newman a run for his money or anything. They're so completely banal, and yet seemingly and totally unaware of their banality, especially DeYoung, that it makes them kind of likeable, like a favorite pet or something.

Greg said...

Ryan, as previously stated I love the Plastic Ono album. I haven't listened to the later Dylan but I suppose it wouldn't kill me. I just don't know where to start. What would recommend among his more recent work?

Ryan Kelly said...

Greg, I think Ed was referring to the fact that when John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band album came out she released an album also called Plastic Ono Band. And yes, it's a great album, and Imagine (the album) plays like a tarted up version of it, and the title track is, as Krauthammer says, the most overplayed thing in history.

I would say you should check out Dylan's newer stuff starting with Time out of Mind. I wouldn't argue it's 'better' but it's certainly as good, and I just prefer it because it's something that I feel belongs to me. I feel like part of the Highway 61 Revisited and Blood on the Tracks was in being there, if that makes any sense. Honestly, when I think about the younger Dylan, the only thing I can think of is the little prick from Don't Look Back. What an asshole.

Ryan Kelly said...

Whoops, I meant to say "part of the power of Higway 61 Revisited and Blood on the Tracks...". Unfurrow your eyebrow this minute!

Greg said...

if only because there is one guy at every get together who plays Imagine on the piano in order to sound deep and seriously, fuck that guy.

Krauthammer, in college there was this guy with an acoustic guitar, I can't remember his name, who always played stuff like The Boxer for girls at parties. God, I fucking hated him and would openly make fun of him and loudly sing the refrain "lye la lye" over his singing and man would that get him mad. Which just made it all that much funnier.

Ed Howard said...

John and Yoko both released albums called Plastic Ono Band, at the same time, with very similar cover photos, and with most of the same personnel. That's what I was referring to there. Yoko's album of that name obviously isn't to everyone's taste, but to me it's a brilliant avant-rock landmark. I guess the conceptual nature of the 2 Plastic Ono Band albums has been forgotten by now, and people mostly just remember "Working Class Hero" and the other stuff on Lennon's album.

I do like later Dylan, too, though I haven't heard his two most recent albums. Time Out Of Mind is a really great album, a set of haunted campfire ballads drenched in this really thick production. It's very cool. I also like Love and Theft, though that one is primarily notable for having "Mississippi," surely one of Dylan's best songs, and one I never get tired of listening to.

Ryan Kelly said...

And another early Dylan I really love wasn't a studio album at all, it's his "Royal Albert Hall" concert. It's as huge a work as any of his proper studio albums.

Ed Howard said...

I don't believe you!

Ryan Kelly said...

Ed, Modern Times is definitely as good as Love and Theft, and the album he released this year Together Through Life is probably as strong an album as Time out of Mind. If you like the other two I'd say you really should listen to them. Dylan's still got it, unlike say, Neil Young, whose latest albums sent me running for the hills.

Greg said...

Ryan, on Imagine, the album, I like a lot of the songs but don't like the presentation. For instance, "I don't wanna be a soldier" is got a good percussive drive but it's so Phil Spector Wall of Sound saturated and Loooong that I don't know if I have ever made it through the song without skipping to another before it ends. That's the thing with Imagine for me: It feels like Lennon thinking this is what he's supposed to be doing as the conscience of the Beatles and not that raw stripped down Plastic Ono stuff. BTW, speaking of Plastic Ono, I love the song "Remember". What a great damn song.

Greg said...

Ed, I see my mix up now, sorry.

Ryan, I haven't listened to any Neil Young recently either but he was such a great songwriter I can't imagine it's that bad. Unless his voice has somehow gotten worse or something. Which is entirely possible but if the music's good...

Ed Howard said...

I'll have to check out the last 2 Dylan albums, Ryan. I'm a huge fan, though mostly of the 60s and 70s stuff.

The last good Neil Young album was probably 2000's Silver & Gold, a decent low-key disc in the vein of Harvest. Everything else I've heard since then has been bloated and awful, pretty much unlistenable. But then Young's *always* been defined by his inconsistency. It's like what Pauline Kael famously said about Robert Altman: every other film is great; I can't wait for his next one. Young's undoubtedly in a slump now, and probably his most prolonged one ever, but maybe someday he'll still come up with another On the Beach.

Ryan Kelly said...

Yeah, I agree, the way the albums produced doesn't work. Spector did a great job with All Things Must Pass and he's the only reason Let it Be isn't the shittiest album in history, but Imagine doesn't really flow right. The only song I absolutely love is "Oh, Yoko!". I like what you say about Lennon feeling like that's what he has to do instead of what he wants to. He didn't really do good pop music again 'til 1980 and his half off Double Fantasy.

No, Neil Young amazingly enough sounds exactly the same. His previous album before this new horrendous one, Chrome Dreams Vol. 2, was actually pretty good. But his new one was an assault on my ear drums. And does anyone remember his album of protest songs? What a joke.

Greg said...

The only song I absolutely love is "Oh, Yoko!".

That's the best song on the album, easily.

Ed, it's so odd for someone who hasn't bothered to listen to Young for years to hear his work described as bloated because I always associate him with low maintenance guitar chord simplicity, like "My, My, Hey, Hey."

Ed Howard said...

I love classic Young stuff. On the Beach is among my favorite albums ever, and he's got a lot of other classics. But his recent stuff is... I don't know... maybe bloated isn't quite the right word. Sluggish? Turgid? Kinda like big, lumbering dinosaur rock, with really awkward melodies and horrible lyrics. Just very inept, which is not what you'd expect from a guy once renowned, and rightfully so, as a brilliant songwriter.

bill r. said...

"Mississippi" is a great song. Time Out of Mind is a great album, "Not Dark Yet" being my own personal favorite song from that one, and one of Dylan's greatest song ever, in my opinion.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (right now, right here!) but the pantheon of modern American music (as I see it, anyway) consists of:

Tom Waits
Warren Zevon
Bob Dylan
Johnny Cash
Randy Newman
Shane MacGowan (American Music Pantheon, Irish division)

My problem is that I'm largely stuck in a musical rut. I don't buy much music, new or otherwise, except from Itunes (or i-Tunes or I Tunes, or whatever), but I like actual albums. I just don't buy them anymore. Recently, I did splurge on a compilation of songs by The Fall, Innervisions by Stevie Wonder, because I'm largely ignorant of the songs of his that aren't overplayed, Straight to Hell by Hank Williams III and Sub Rosa by the Pixies. But I've barely listened to any of them, because if I don't click with a song, I get bored really fast. Which isn't to say I hate the music, but that I'm a little nervous to find out that I've wasted my money.

And I have listened to a little bit of all of them, and I don't dislike them, but I still haven't put any real time into them. I just go back to listening to the dozens of songs I recently downloaded to my wife's ipod that I steal from her on weekends.

Greg said...

Bill, that's a good pantheon you have there. Early Stevie Wonder is really great I think and Innervisions is a good one.

...to my wife's ipod that I steal from her on weekends.

That should be "i-steal from her". I get all my music from i-tunes now as far as actual burn to cd stuff but my wife and I do always pick up lp's at the second hand store for the turntable we have too. Most are scratched and the quality is not that good but they're great to have aesthetically and they cost a dollar.

Ed Howard said...

Bill, The Fall's Hex Enduction Hour is one of the great post-punk albums and the Pixies' Surfer Rosa (I'm guessing that's what you meant?) is another classic, well worth spending quite a lot of time with. The Pixies are pretty much the foundational band for so much of the rock music that's come along since then -- they're the most original and influential band of the last few decades.

I'll admit, though, I've also kind of fallen out of touch with new music of late. I'll still buy an occasional disc of experimental/noise music, but rarely listen to any new rock. There was a time a few years back when I was really excited by a handful of current indie rock bands -- back before the Dismemberment Plan broke up -- but lately I'm mostly content sticking to things I already know and love.

bill r. said...

Greg - We had a turntable, but we got rid of it. My wife does have some albums, but she never listened to them. I feel like we should have kept it, but it was probably for the best.

Ed - Oops. Yes, Surfer Rosa (Robert Aickman has a book called Sub Rosa that I really want, so that's why...oh, never mind). I've had Doolittle for years, but I haven't listened to it in...well, about that long, except for "Wave of Mutilation".

I used to be so much more adventurous with music than I am now. I don't know...lyrically, I think most music is trash, certainly modern music, but I actually don't feel that guilty about my ignorance in that area. However, if I told you guys some of the classic stuff I was largely or completely ignorant of, you'd all blanch.

Ryan Kelly said...

Is anyone else struck by how humorous it is to have one of the net's most eloquent writers refer to something as "lumbering dinosaur cock" (as apt a description as it is)? But yes, Ed hits the nail on the head--- a lot of his newer stuff is just poorly put together. And yes, I agree his early stuff and On the Beach is great... would it be totally lame to suggest After the Goldrush as a favorite? I could also listen to Rust Never Sleeps/Live Rust until the end of time.

Glad to hear Bill loves Time out of Mind too. And yes, "Not Dark Yet" is a great song, but I struggle to pick a favorite with that album. For such a long album, it's really tight.

And Greg I too love getting vinyls. With some of the vinyls I've purchased, it's like hearing the album for the first time. If you really wanted to you could get a USB record player and upload them to your hard-drive, because MP3s tend to squish all your sound-waves together... but that's a leave of audiophilia that, truthfully, I don't aspire to. I can be that much of a purist with movies, but I don't have the energy to do it with anything else.

bill r. said...

Is anyone else struck by how humorous it is to have one of the net's most eloquent writers refer to something as "lumbering dinosaur cock...

I didn't call anyone a "lumbering dinosaur cock".

Greg said...

"lumbering dinosaur cock" .

Actually he wrote "lumbering dinosaur rock" but yours is an amazing name for a band or a blog, take your pick.

Ryan Kelly said...

Oh dear, this is the kind of trouble that having 20/100 vision will get you in to. But yes, I think it would be a great name for a band--- perhaps on a double-bill with Anal Sphincter? I feel like, if we called a blog Lumbering Dinosaur Cock, people would be disappointed when we didn't provide it and then sue us for false advertising. And do you wanna get sued, Greg? I sure don't.

And, I'm sorry to make you feel left out, Bill. You know you're my favorite.

Krauthammer said...

would it be totally lame to suggest After the Goldrush as a favorite?

Not to me, but that's what got me into his stuff, and it's hard to get over your first love, if you know what I mean.

I just got a new Doc Watson album on vinyl, it's real good.

Ryan Kelly said...

it's hard to get over your first love

We seem to be on the same wave-length with respect to this. This does not bode well for you, Krauthammer.

Ed Howard said...

Bill, if you want lyrically and sonically adventurous/intelligent modern rock, I'd recommend The Fire Show's final album, Saint the Fire Show. There's nothing else quite like it. They never got nearly enough attention; I have a feeling it's one of those albums someone's gonna discover a few decades from now and suddenly everyone's gonna be swooning over this amazing forgotten band.

Ryan, you had me scrambling back to my comment to see if I actually wrote that. Now I kinda wish I did.

And do people look down on After the Gold Rush or something? What's wrong with that album? I dig it, especially the great "Southern Man."

Greg said...

I'm surprised to hear as many here have vinyl. I think it's great. For one thing, there's so much more room for cover art.

Krauthammer said...

A lot of the cover art which looks bland on CD covers looks great on a record cover. Vinyl sales have actually gone up this past year, so there's a growing movement for them.

Ed Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed Howard said...

I LOVE vinyl. I have way more CDs, of course, but I have a respectable amount of records, especially a pretty huge collection of noise 7"s. It's just a great format: aesthetically they look amazing, and I also have a real fondness for the experience of listening to them. Listening to records forces you to pay attention and engage with the music in a way that CDs and MP3s don't. Just the fact of having to turn over the record puts the emphasis on the experience of an album as a whole thing, while digital media that don't require this intervention can fade more easily into background music.

Don't get me wrong, I like my iPod too, and listen to it in my car all the time. My turntable just doesn't work as well in the car.

Fox said...

He was going for gold and even if he didn't achieve it he didn't know he didn't achieve it....

He achieved gold with me! ... well, when I was seven years old that is. I thought the song was awesome. I bought the 45 at the mall. It was one of my first.

Because this was obviously my first exposure to STYX, I just thought the band sounded and looked like this all the time. In fact, I think I thought they dressed up as robots when I saw the video. And maybe I was confused by Kilroy the whole time. Was that the singer? The robot? Someone else? I didn't care. I just thought the song was amazing.

Greg said...

Krauthammer, Ed - Vinyl not only looks great but as you say, it forces you to engage more in the music. To listen to a song again you have to get up, pick up the arm and put it back not just hit a repeat button on a remote. I used to put albums on my wall for art.

Greg said...

Fox, that's a great story. I can totally see a seven year old being enthralled with Mr. Roboto. Unfortunately, Dennis was hoping 25 year olds would be enthralled too and I don't think they were.

bill r. said...

Ed, I will look into that, but I used to be adventurous with music across the board. I'd buy classical, jazz, opera (once or twice...well, once), I bought Trout Mask Replica based solely on having read about it (and I don't like it, but I do like other Beefheart stuff), new stuff, old stuff...

The problem, if that's what it is, might just be that I found what I liked most (as best represented by the artists mentioned above, but not by them exclusively -- I do like lots of people) and wasn't finding the same satisfaction in artists who worked in different musical forms, so I stopped bothering.

I guess. Maybe. Probably not.

Fox said...

And do people look down on After the Gold Rush or something? What's wrong with that album? I dig it, especially the great "Southern Man."...

Dude?!? What? Who's looking down on that album? Cuz it's freaking amazing. "Tell Me Why", "After The Gold Rush", "Birds", "I Believe In You"!!!

Krauthammer said...

It's probably less looked down on than so great that it's too obvious.

Ed Howard said...

I dunno, Fox, Ryan implied people would jump on him for saying that album was his favorite Neil Young. I think it's fantastic myself.

Bill, I think pretty much everyone who's into music goes through what you describe, where they search around for a lot of different stuff before settling into what they like. What I've always liked about music (and other arts too) is pushing myself, trying to find new things, exploring new areas. But of course after listening to everything and anything for years, I reached a point where I wasn't really finding anything that gave me the same thrill of hearing, say, Dylan's "Desolation Row" for the first time, or Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, or Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison, or being exposed to noise through Merzbow, or seeing Otomo Yoshihide live, or whatever else. So my interest in following music so obsessively has cooled off a bit. Lately, I've been listening to a lot of free jazz, and got some of that thrill hearing a lot of Albert Ayler and Noah Howard (no relation).

Fox said...

Krauthammer, Ed - Vinyl not only looks great but as you say, it forces you to engage more in the music. To listen to a song again you have to get up, pick up the arm and put it back not just hit a repeat button on a remote. I used to put albums on my wall for art....

To add to that, I think it also nudges you into paying attention to lyrics more often. (I'm gonna sound old here and say that it seems that young kids these days don't care about lyrics.)

Now, I'm not a lyrics snob, I don't think great songs need to have great lyrics, but as we all know, they can extremely enhance a good/great song to an even higher level.

Krauthammer said...

Kind of on the opposite track, I've been exposed to new music this year in a way that's never really happened to me before. A lot of genres that I previously had little to no interest in (country, heavy metal, classical, jazz, noise) are now in pretty heavy rotation in my ipod.

bill r. said...

Lyrics are very important to me. VERY important.

Not all the time, because I like a lot of what would now be classifed as "Oldies", and you didn't get a lot of immortal poetry from those songs, but generally speaking if the lyrics are sub-par in some way, my enjoyment of the song will be very limited.

Fox said...

Ed-

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea seems to have had that where-were-you-when-you-heard-it impact on most people I meet who adore it like you and I do.

I find that that reaction usually hits when they hear "The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 2". I played that song at a wedding reception and the dance floor went wild. I'm kinda getting chills now thinking about it, and yeah ok, that's kinda gay, but screw you guys!!!

Fox said...

Not all the time, because I like a lot of what would now be classifed as "Oldies", and you didn't get a lot of immortal poetry from those songs, but generally speaking if the lyrics are sub-par in some way, my enjoyment of the song will be very limited....

Bill-

I can respect that. My father is the same way. One of the first things he will mention about a song he loves are the lyrics.

It's just that a lot of dance music & radio pop doesn't really "say" anything, but I really dig the song.

Ed Howard said...

Fox, I think you're probably right. When I first got the album, it was literally the only thing I listened to for about the next week straight -- and I'm someone who seldom listens to an album even twice in a row usually. I kept putting the first two songs on repeat again and again too. It really gives me chills everytime I hear it, there's something so sublime and eerie and strange about that album. And I love the idea of that song at a wedding reception (part 1 would perhaps have been less appropriate, but way funnier).

I'll also admit, I can name very, very artists where I actually care about the lyrics. Neutral Milk Hotel is one, and Dylan obviously, and a few others here and there: the Mountain Goats, the previously mentioned Fire Show, Dismemberment Plan, some others I'm forgetting right now I'm sure. I like lyrics that suggest a story, that create an evocative image or narrative. Mostly, though, I'm way more interested in sounds, in mood and texture and the "feel" of the music. Really awful lyrics can be distracting, but most of the time I don't pay much attention to the words. Maybe I'm just one of those "kids these days."

bill r. said...

Fox, that's fine. I'm probably in the minority, at least in my rabid focus on lyrics, so I don't actually begrudge anyone's inclination in the other directions. I suppose the "music" part is pretty important.

Recently, I've had Zevon's song "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" in heavy rotation, and one verse goes:

Leroy said there's something you should know
Not everybody has a place to go
And home is just a place to hang your head
And dream up things to do in Denver when you're dead
...

Of all of Zevon's brilliant lines, this may seem like an odd one to focus on, but the way he changes "hat" to "head", and completely inverts the meaning of the old cliche', just strikes me as utterly brilliant, and very precise, aristry.

And I guess I'll have to pick up In the Aeroplane Over the Sea soon.

Anybody here listen to the Decembrists?

Fox said...

Ed-

No, you're definitely not "one of those kids these days", b/c you have an appreciation for "the album" which I'm finding must young people (meaning younger than I) don't really care for as much as just individual songs.

The good thing is, I think there's been a lot of good full albums to have come out this year, so the artists still feel the need to stay true to that art form.

I don't know. Maybe the young ones being into "just songs" isn't so different than when I was buying 45s and cassette singles as a kid.

Krauthammer said...

Lyrics used to be the first thing I noticed when I listened to a song, but now it's more like the third or forth. When I finally looked up the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, I was suprised that it started with

"Los ticka toe rest. Might likea sender doe ree. Your make a doll a ray day sender bright like a penelty."

So I guess lyrics aren't really my focus. But on some albums, like Willie Nelson's Phases and Stages, they're absolutely vital stuff.

Fox said...

Bill-

Do you think you gravitate towards lyrics because you're such an avid reader? I mean, many of the songwriters you mention are some of our most literate (ie Zevon, Randy Newman, Shane McGowan... actually I don't know if McGowan is considered to be that b/c I've heard very little of him or The Pogues).

As for The Decemberists, I'm not a fan myself because I don't like Colin Meloy.

bill r. said...

Fox -

Do you think you gravitate towards lyrics because you're such an avid reader? I mean, many of the songwriters you mention are some of our most literate (ie Zevon, Randy Newman, Shane McGowan... actually I don't know if McGowan is considered to be that b/c I've heard very little of him or The Pogues)...

Maybe. That probably has something to do with it, but I think there are a lot of avid readers who are more into the "music" part of songs than the lyrics, so it just depends on what you like about the artform, I guess.

MacGowan is considered quite the literate songwriter, which is amazing considering that he's been half-dead for about twenty years.

I've only listened to a little of The Decembrists, but a couple of years ago, around Halloween, I was in a shitty mood on the way home from work. There's this great local NPR music show where I live called "Out of the Box", and he was playing Halloween music that night. The Decembrists' album The Crane Wife had just come out, and he played "The Shankill Butchers", and I perked right up. I got the album shortly thereafter. There are other songs on it I like, but boy do I love "The Shankill Butchers".

Another Zevon line I feel like quoting, from the song "For My Next Trick I'll Need a Volunteer":

I can saw a woman in two
But you won't wanna look
In the box when I'm through
...

Kevin J. Olson said...

Bill:

I live about 30 minutes from Portland, OR -- one of the more popular hipster meccas of the country (tons of bands come here to record) -- and I can honestly say that there isn't a coffee house you step foot in where you aren't listening to the new Decembrists album. Maybe I'm too close to all of this indie music (it's all that gets played around here), or maybe it's my metal/punk/hardcore tendencies from high school not allowing me to grow up and listen to better music (another artist that is always played around here that gives me a horrible case of the yawns is Bon Iver), but the new Decembrists album is pretty poor.

I'm more of an experimental/prog/nerd/math rock guy, so I grow weary of the indie rock that is everywhere here in the Northwest (especially the watered down versions of once great bands like Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie). But I started to really like The Decemberists stuff back when they released "Her Majesty The Decemberists", but ever since the move to Capitol I feel like they have gotten worse with each album. (I know I know...it's cliche to talk about how a band isn't what they used to be once they've signed to a major label, and I usually don't subscribe to that theory, but in this case I think it's kinda true.)

This conversation has been interesting as my interest was immediately piqued by my love of Styx. I love bands that don't care what people think, bands who make big music and make it for themselves. There's a new band out there that many of you may not know about called The Dear Hunter (not to be confused with another band called Deerhunter). They have a six album narrative that they are releasing (they just released part three) and sure it's a tad pretentious (most concept albums are) and it's big and bold and cheesy -- but that's what I love about it. This is music that is not meant to be "radio friendly" or "coffee shop friendly", not because they are loud (which they really aren't) or profane (which they definitely aren't), but because like Led Zeppelin they refuse to fit songs into a formula that can be played over four minutes.

Whoa -- that was a rant...sorry about that. Music brings out the worst in me sometimes.

re: finding new bands. I've always looked at the bands or musicians that I've enjoyed and I see who they are touring with. This is usually a good indicator of who the musician or band likes, and then it just snowballs. Frequenting bands sites also helps as they will give insights into up and coming bands or whatever else they're listening to. I'm not young anymore, and I don't go to shows all that often, but when I was in high school that was the best, and most sure-fire way, to find out about a new band: go to a show and arrive in time to watch the opening acts.

Of course I could be in the minority here as my experiences stem from the dirty, sweaty, dank clubs where punk, metal, and hardcore bands frequented, and where the odds were pretty good that all of the bands enjoyed touring together because they were hand picked by the headlining act...not by a faceless exec at a huge record company.

Anyway -- this whole comment is filled with random stuff and non sequiturs...I guess that's what music does to me. I'd be interested in knowing what are some of the best albums you guys have listened to recently?

Ed Howard said...

Krauthammer - The Melvins are awesome. And once you get into stuff like that, lyrics do start to seem somewhat secondary. I mean one of my favorite bands is the Boredoms, whose lyrics, when they have any, are mostly a pastiche of semi-random English and Japanese words along with utter jibberish.

Bill, I've only heard a bit of the Decemberists myself. They're not bad. I think it's safe to say if you like them you'd like Neutral Milk Hotel, which if I'm feeling charitable I'd say was their main influence -- the not so charitable way of saying it is that they're ripping off In the Aeroplane...

Greg said...

Just popping in to say that Zevon and Newman are not only two of the best lyricists in American music but two of the most underappreciated by the mainstream. Most people don't even know any Zevon outside of Werewolves of London and Excitable Boy and anymore, not even those songs. Most people under 30 don't know any Newman except the Pixar stuff.

bill r. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bill r. said...

I feel like people are tamping down their true feelings about The Decembrists in order to spare my feelings. No need! I just wanted to give a shout-out to "The Shankill Butchers" more than anything else, because I always love a good creepy song. Any other recommendations in that arena would be most welcome.

Greg -

Just popping in to say that Zevon and Newman are not only two of the best lyricists in American music but two of the most underappreciated by the mainstream. Most people don't even know any Zevon outside of Werewolves of London and Excitable Boy and anymore, not even those songs...

Very true, and very sad. At his best, which was often, Zevon was just monstrously good. He could nail a lyric like pretty much nobody else. His stuff is sad, exciting, strange and hilarious. And so well-crafted, too. I mean, really well-crafted.

Most people under 30 don't know any Newman except the Pixar stuff...

Also true, and also sad, but, to be fair, a lot of that stuff is pretty excellent. "I Will Go Sailing No More" and "When Somebody Loved Me" are absolutely heartbreaking, and then you think, "Hey wait, these are about toys!", but then you realize that's why they're heartbreaking. I mean, who else can do that?

Krauthammer said...

Ed - I love The Boredoms as well and when you add in foreign bands it adds a whole new dimension. Not that foreign bands don't have great lyricists or anything, but more often than not I don't really have any access to translations above babelfish levels. And you're taking away my Boris and Serge Gainsberg from my cold dead hands.

bill r. said...

Kevin -

When you say "listened to recently", do you mean new music, or just in general? If you mean in general...well, I don't want to flog the same names anymore, other than to say that, you know, the Johnny Cash American series is as good as music gets. But you guys probably already know that.

Ed Howard said...

I feel like people are tamping down their true feelings about The Decembrists in order to spare my feelings.

Not me: they're OK, nothing I love very much but the stuff I've heard is decent. On the other hand I don't think I've actually heard the song you keep mentioning.

I'd be interested in knowing what are some of the best albums you guys have listened to recently?

I'll bite. Like I've suggested here, I haven't been listening to much new stuff lately, but I have been listening to a lot that's new *to me*. So a few of the best things I've been listening to a lot lately:

Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet - The Breadwinner (This one actually IS new. It's creepy, haunted house tape loop music, like listening in as a pair of ghosts wander around over creaking floorboards, creating a textured, moody collage.)

Albert Ayler - Holy Ghost (I always loved Ayler's wailing sax on his album Spirits Rejoice, but this big box of live material from throughout his career has really energized me about his music - jazz as a New Orleans funeral band, spiritual and affecting.)

I also discovered the fantastic MP3 blog Killed By Death Records, which showcases super-obscure old punk 7"s from around the world, focusing on the US, British and Scandanavian punk scenes of the late 70s. Some GREAT stuff there, and I've discovered a few songs that have been in near-constant rotation for some time now, especially Jim Basnight's bouncy, irresistible "Live in the Sun."

Kevin J. Olson said...

This is what I love about music -- the variety that is showcased here.

Bill -- I mean new music like within the past year or so.

I've really been into a northwest band called Portugal. The Man lately. Great classic sounding rock that is pretty no-nonsense. Their new album comes out in a couple weeks and I highly recommend their album from last year Censored Colors.

In regards to lyrics, I think they tend to be a tad overvalued when discussing what makes music great. The great postmodern-pop band Sigur Ros is proof of that. However, a really good lyricist can elevate the most banal of music. Bright Eyes is a really good example of that (although, he has floundered with some recent releases, his seminal Indie classic "Lifted" is a brilliant example of great lyrics and unconventional music arrangements). So, I guess I could go wither way. I see Dylan as someone who, musically, wasn't all that interesting until his brilliant Highway 61 Revisited where he implemented The Band as his backup musicians. Once Dylan went electric people cried out that he lost his way, but I think that's when he started getting really interesting.

Perhaps I only think that because I wasn't alive during the protest music days of Dylan, Baez, Guthrie, and Donovan? I don't know...but lyrics can make an artist an artist, but it doesn't necessarily make them a great musician.

Krauthammer said...

Kevin: I'll bite too.

The Mae Shi - Heartbeeps
I've kinda been in love with The Mae Shi for a while now, but I only got this EP a little while ago and it really blew me away. They've shifted from a noise rock band into an indie rock band by now, and while I like their new incarnation this really reveals a different wonderful path they could have taken.

Cherubs - Heroin Man More noise rock type stuff, but a lot heavier and really oppressive at times. But in a good way. It was written after a friend of the band overdosed, and while I can't make out any of the lyrics, the despair is as clear as anything.

George Jones - The Grand Tour Really soulful old-school honky-tonk. There are a lot of people who make the case that George Jones was the greatest country vocalist of all time, and while I wouldn't go that far, the title track alone makes a strong case.

Dinosaur Jr. - You're Living All Over Me This is the last album I bought, and man, it was definitely worth it. Sludgy stuff influenced by Neil Young circa Rust May Sleep It's really an experience that's hard to convey here in a comment.

Krauthammer said...

of course I meant Neil Young circa Rust Never Sleeps, duh.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Krauthammer:

Your recommendations intrigue me. I'll be checking these out shortly.

I love Dinosaur Jr., too.

Marlyn said...

Styx nix hix pix.

Greg said...

The famous Variety headline after DeYoung and Shaw dissed Coal Miner's Daughter during their Cornerstone tour.

Arbogast said...

I'm more of an experimental/prog/nerd/math rock guy

Sweet pick-up line!

Kevin J. Olson said...

Indeed! Judd Apatow has helped us nerds out in a big way.

Here in the Pacific Northwest I get more compliments on my Rush shirt than guffaws. I like it here.

Neil Sarver said...

I bought Trout Mask Replica based solely on having read about it (and I don't like it, but I do like other Beefheart stuff)...

Holy crap! I am not alone!

Peter Nellhaus said...

That album cover for Kilroy was Here is probably the ugliest I've seen from a major record label.

Marilyn said...

Trout Mask Replica is a great album. Love those Beefheartian rhythms.

Greg said...

Peter, I'm with you. I've always thought it looked like a bad polaroid somebody took in their basement with a couple of plastic masks and a concert poster. It's freakin' atrocious.

Marilyn, Neil, Bill - Trout Mask Replica is legendary so I think we all expected much more (I know I did) upon first hearing it and it couldn't live up to the hype but after more listenings and years where the original hype was forgotten I like it much more now.

Ed Howard said...

I'm with Marilyn, Trout Mask Replica is brilliant - so much carefully controlled chaos. I've always especially loved the chanted intonations of "Well," though the cumulative effect of the whole album is much greater than any individual song.

bill r. said...

If you guys say so. I'm with Neil, obviously. And I'll take Clear Spot/The Spotlight Kid any day...and even that one in small doses. The best thing Beefheart ever did, for my money, is "Hard Workin' Man" from Blue Collar.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Better than their albums is seeing Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band live, which I did on several occasions. First time was when they opened for a band a couple of you might have heard of called The Doors.

Ed Howard said...

Bill, if you haven't heard it already, Beefheart's Safe As Milk might be more up your alley -- much more direct & bluesy than a lot of his other stuff.

bill r. said...

much more direct & bluesy than a lot of his other stuff

That might have been my problem with Trout Mask Replica, for which neither Beefheart or myself can be blamed. I was going through a serious blues phase at the time, you see, and every mention of Beefheart that I came across seemed to be playing up his bluesiness, and his vocal similarites to Howlin' Wolf. So, you know, I thought, "Well, hell!" and bought the album. But Trout Mask Replica isn't exactly John Lee Hooker, is it?

Greg said...

First time was when they opened for a band a couple of you might have heard of called The Doors.

Is that the group with Val Kilmer on lead vocals?

Brian said...

Dylan, Geldof, Lou Reed, Tom Waits (who?)...all wankers, every one of 'em. John Lennon? Needed Paul McCartney to keep him in check and off the ego benders. Pink Floyd? Overrated. Everyone is still jizzing over "The Wall" while the "Kilroy" story made more sense and a better live show.

Top 10 hits by Styx:

Lady
Come Sail Away
Babe
The Best of Times
Too Much Time On My Hands
Mr. Roboto
Don't Let It End
Show Me The Way

7 of the 8 were written and sung by Dennis DeYoung. So it would seem to me that James Young and Tommy Shaw funded their 401k before kicking Dennis to the street.

Greg said...

Brian, that's the feeling I got watching that VH-1 special. The feeling of, "Who the hell are these guys to kick out the founder AND the guy who made them a success?!!" Notice they haven't had a single bankable hit without Mr. DeYoung.