Friday, October 19, 2007

Weekend Listomania (The Kenosha Kid Will Just Kill Me Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental manservant Hop-Sing and I are off to Kansas for a weekend barbecue with retiring former presidential hopeful Sam Brownback. Poor Sam is understandably off his feed, so we thought we'd raise his spirits with non-stop hookers and blow a reminder that he is, in fact, a god, if not God himself. So posting by moi will be necessarily sporadic for a while.

But in my absence, here's a fun project for you all to contemplate:

Most Pernicious Influence!!!!
You know -- an individual performer, a style, a genre, a song, a movement, or even a critic(!) that you believe has been, on balance, a complete disaster for pop/rock. Something or someone that really gets your goat, in other words. [insert obligatory Mickey Kaus joke here]

For me, this doesn't even require a minutes thought.

Yes, it's David Bowie in a walk!!!!!!!

Why Bowie?

1. He's a horrific singer whose pompous, affectless, butt-ugly quasi-operatic baritone crooning has never communicated a single honest emotion, and whose example has inspired countless equally awful self-important groaners for decades. For birthing Spandau Ballet alone, Bowie deserves oprobrium from all who walk upright.

2. He popularized the notion that constantly "reinventing yourself" -- which less pretentiously and more accurately used to be called "being trendy" -- is not only a good thing in and of itself but also The Mark of the True Artist. Bowie thus gave Madonna and half the bad bands in the world a pass to be insufferable poseur irritants for decades, and there's no end in sight (The Killers, anyone?).

Okay -- and your choice would be??????

[And don't forget to go downstairs and give ¡El Gato Negro! some love. It's for a good cause!]


Anonymous said...



Michael Jackson?

George Lucas?

Anonymous said...

The band that made pop-country in the 90s possible. The Eagles.

Anonymous said...

The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's - The seed that blossomed into countless smelly, narcissistic triffids, Prince's Around the World in a Day being perhaps foremost, along with many a prog-rock gem, such as Jon Anderson's hilariously awful Olias of Sunhillow. (And no, I don't include Satanic Majesties in this, an album I happen to like.)

NYMary said...

Oh, God.

Don't kill me, but Dylan. 10% of what he inspired was genius, 90% insufferable crap.

And a personal pet peeve: the Red Hot Chili Peppers--for making metal-based funk rap the law of the land, and making me have to listen to Incubus and all the other muddy mushmouth metalheads which are all you hear on the radio now.

Anonymous said...

Well, jeez, if you're going to say Dylan, then I'd have to say the Beatles ... but I can't (except for Sgt. Pepper, which I hated right out of the gate).

So I'm going with Madonna. She spawned more manipulative, self-indulgent, hypersexualized cockteasers than this planet should have been forced to bear ...

Anonymous said...

I love Green Day, but the deluge of crappy punk-pop bands they spawned will never be forgiven.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the aforementioned Bowie, Nirvana, RHCP and Madonna, I nominate Nine Inch Nails.

NYMary, yeah, much of Dylan is crap, but that's not the stuff that was influential, so I wouldn't count it. I mean, when was the last time a musician named Down In The Groove as their favorite Dylan album?

NYMary said...

Oh, I didn't mean to say Dylan was crap. But some of his mimics are awful.

And I fully concur on the Eagles.

TMink said...

Hmmm, some good names mentioned, I can get behind Madonna (heh, nice slip that)but concerning Bob, the Fab, and even the much maligned Bowie I would have to disagree.

How about Black Sabbath and The Monkees? Now I enjoy both bands, probably in equal measure, but oh my goodness look what they hath wrought. (shudders)

How morose would rock be without Black Sabbath, and how many insipid boy bands would have been in existance without the less fab four?

So who can we blame the Spice Girls type groups on? The Supremes?


Anonymous said...

I don't know Green Day, but I always thought they were imitating REM, who I also don't really know. So, if you asked me who bears more guilt for self-important, shoe-gazing, oft-times-talentless posers, I'd say REM.

And I also don't know Sonic Youth (but I did seem them once), so I don't know if they're responsible for it or not, but I have very little need for masturbatory guitar feedback crap.

Actually, now that I put it that way... I rented the Monterey Pop Festival DVD this weekend, and perhaps it was because I was drugless, but I was embarrassed for both the Who and Jimi Hendrix, all that feedback, guitar smashing & burning. As my almost 5yo said, "The music? That's good, that's rock-n-roll. The guitar smashing? Not good." So I guess the Who and Jimi can take the blame for a lot of the hacks out there, too.

Anonymous said...


much ooze here

Mike Curb

Huge figure in the business who spent his career trying to destroy anything that mattered.

He was and remains the Zelig of Shit.

Anonymous said...

steve, you can't blame Bowie for the 'reinventing yourself' meme in rock -- Dylan was doing that to great fanfare when Bowie was still a flowerpowerDonovanwannabe.

But worst influence in pop music ever has to be Madonna. Hands down, no argument:

1 - For creating an atmosphere where being a "marketing genius" was an acceptable substitute for, y'know, being a musician. Or loving music. Or even caring about music. Or even know what music WAS.

2 - For taking the conspicuous consumption of disco and dumping it into pop & rock music and making it cool.

3 - For convincing generations of young women that being a whore is cool and empowering; and convincing a generation of young men that what women really want is to be whores, and to treat them accordingly.

3 - For setting the stage for whole generations of "performers" who cheerfully admit they're frauds, but then insist on being taken seriously, because admitting they're frauds means they're seriously post-modern. Or post-ironic. Or post-something.

Ugh. Don't get me started....

Anonymous said...

But worst influence in pop music ever has to be Madonna.

At the very least, she's the answer to the Spice Girls question ...

The Kenosha Kid said...

What a wanker Professor Simels is. While I agree that Bowie has inspired a raftload of often mediocre imitators, I don't hold it against him - he had a run of ten or so years (roughly 70 - 80) when he released a body of work that stands up against anyone's. In 1977 alone he released Low, Heroes, and produced and co-wrote Iggy Pop's Lust for Life. The fact that Spandau Ballet (and Duran Duran, and The Fixx etc) chose to dress like him does not detract for me.

And oh yeah, you're a wanker.

Cleveland Bob said...

While Madonna is a good pick I never thought of her as a musician so she's irrelevant to me on that scale.

My nod goes to the Grateful Dead. They've spawned dozens of "jam band" weirdos that don't make anything I could or would ever listen to.

And if there a Masters class in cognitive dissonance, it's primary pupil is the right wing Deadhead. I have met several of these zombies and they're truly bizarre.

Witness the insufferable Ms Mann Coulter as evidence. She's a HUGE Dead fan.

Oh, and the Eagles do suck mightily.

Anonymous said...

Kenosha Kid --

I'm not a big Bowie fan (I like his producing credits more than his music, though he has a handful of great songs) but I still remember the amazingly touching version of Paul Simon's "America" he did, alone with a harmonium, on the first post-9/11 tribute concert.

"never communicated a single honest emotion", my ass, Mr. Simels.

Anonymous said...

That last anonymous was me.

Miss Otis Regrets...

Anonymous said...

It may be the technology itself that I blame, but somewhere along there people stopped singing, pushed the microphone deep into their faces, and decided the ensuing burps and mumbles were a compelling evocation of abashed intensity. This begs the question: why write lyrics if you're not going to deliver them? Say what you will about Dylan's singing, he has never had to print the lyrics on the inside of his albums.

It's hard to say who begat this mush mouth - Suzanne Vega? Bruce Springsteen? Kurt Cobain? - but it's had a devastating effect on the young singers I hear and teach every day. The fact is nobody knows how to breathe anymore, and nobody (except country singers) understands that an audience will take your lyrics more seriously if you actually try to make them understood, that emotion comes from the physical effort of sustaining the notes, and that evoking emotion is WHAT PERFORMERS ARE SUPPOSED TO DO, GODDAMMMIT!

People here will object, but I think the punk thing is the villain here, the idea that you were inauthentic if you could actually play. Interestingly enough, I found a similar complaint from an English classical-music critic of a hundred years ago. According to Donald Francis Tovey, English concert performers did not compare well to their European counterparts because they were in general more interested in showing how inspired they were than in actually playing the music. Sound familiar?

PS. I agree with everything said about Bowie and Madonna. And as for the Low-era work, well, if you make albums steadily for forty years some of them are bound to be good.

Anonymous said...

Good essay for a lot of reasons; the author talks about how he did not want to review this boxed set by the G Dead he’d gotten in the mail on 9-11, since he didn’t want to listen to what he assumed would be a fluffy, all is freedom and happiness and floating around brand of “politics.” But he listened and was reminded they had a dichotomous and morally complex worldview when they were at their height.

I would guess most of the roadies would have been "zombies," to use your vernacular, CB.

A while back I mentioned the doc “Festival Express” and the presence of genuine zombies, those being the violent protesters across Canada driven to revolutionary rage by the fact that tickets to a concert featuring the Band, Delaney and Bonnie, Janis Joplin, the G Dead among others, were not free. Bob Weir of the Dead at one point, hearing of police being injured somewhere (paraphrasing accurately): “Man, what the fuck is the point of that? They’re just trying to do their job.”

That was and remains a conservative sentiment, as is the frank obvious perception that protesting non-free tickets was really stupid. But as I said, those types were the ones left over in radical left politics when everybody else went away.

Anonymous said...

As to the question at hand, I completely agree on the theme "anyone responsible for the notion that marketing success especially if accompanied by constant makeovers, regardless of substance, is any kind of art."

Madonna for sure; I have to agree that Bowie has done some pretty cool if not altogether emotionally convincing stuff.

Listing great musicians because they spawned terrible imitators seems a little point-missing. It would be like harboring anger at Debussy because the current state of classical music is so terrible. Good stuff will spawn imitators, most of them terrible.

How about Frank Zappa? He was one of the first out of the box with the notion that emotional commitment and depth, especially from hippies/young white people, is automatically stupid.

Anonymous said...

From "Chronicles," the Bob Dylan autobiography, which is great in a way that supports many readings:

One guy who kept reappearing in the news was Caryl Chessman, a notorious rapist whom they called the Red-Light Bandit. He was on death row in California after being tried and convicted of raping young women. He had a creative way of doing it - strapped a flashing red light to the top of his automobile and then pulled the girls over to the side of the road, ordering them out, hauling them into the woods, robbing and raping them. He'd been on death row for quite a while making appeal after appeal, but his last appeal had been final and he was scheduled to go into the gas chamber. Chessman had become a cause célèbre and luminaries had taken up his plight. Norman Mailer, Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, Robert Frost, even Eleanor Roosevelt were calling for his life to be spared. An anti-death penalty group had asked Len (Chandler, a friend) to write a song about Chessman.

"How do you write a song about a pariah who rapes young women, what would be the angle?" he asked me me as if his imagination was actually on fire.

"I don't know, Len, I guess you'd have to build it slowly... maybe start with the red lights."

Len never did write that song, but I think someone else did. One thing about Chandler was that he was fearless...

Anonymous said...

Clevo Bob,

If you think a right wing Deadhead is a ridiculous concept, you're gonna *love* this!

Anonymous said...

You guys know about this site?

(you’ll thank me at some level)

TJWood said...

Regardless of your opinion of Bowie, you've got to appreciate any critique that invokes the word "oprobrium".

My vote will go to Pearl Jam and early 90s grunge/alt-rock in general. By 1995, it was all watered down to the point where bands that were no less mainstream than Hootie and the Blowfish (actually, including the Blowfish themselves in certain circles) managed to generate a certain level of credibility by invoking earnest spirituality, childhood rage, and angst in their lyrics. I do like things here and there from Pearl Jam and early 90s grunge, and maybe even a track or two from bands I likely don't need to namecheck in this post--nothing I can recall from Hootie, though. But this got old as quickly as bad psychedelia.

Slig said...

Definitely agree on Green Day. I would add Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and Sarah McLachlan ("Into the Fire" was a genius pop song but just after that Fumbling Toward Ecstasy unleashed a plague of singer-songwriters I could have done without).

Slig said...

I'm fairly neutral on Bowie, since the only stuff of his I really like is on Let's Dance, which most Bowie fans I know consider lightweight.

I'd be curious to know Steve's thoughts on Bryan Ferry, who often gets mentioned in the same aesthetic vein as Bowie and also influenced a lot of bands that (apparently) a lot of folks like to hate.

BTW, anyone dissing the Fixx and Duran Duran mystifies me as a musician. Play and write songs as well either one of those bands and then get back to me about how bad they were...

(Spandau Ballet you can have.)

(Yes, my blog has recent posts lauding ABBA, Def Leppard, Rick Springfield, and Journey. Pre-emptive KMDWA to any snooty hipsters who think they can lecture me on what constitutes good pop...)

Anonymous said...

I realized there's one more: Led Zeppelin. I have been trying over the years to "appreciate" them, but every time I listen to them for more than five minutes I wind up asking myself why I am hitting myself over the head with the musical equivalent of a cast iron frying pan.

Okay, so Jimmy Page is an accomplished guitarist, and Plant can sing really loud and hold long notes. But the insufferable egomania and excessiveness that permeates their songs has spawned numerous obnoxious bands that mistake self-indulgent flailing and ponderous, interminable solos for inventiveness and musicianship.

Feral said...

Not sure who deserves the credit/blame, but I curse from here to eternity the prototype for the Hair Bands.

Anonymous said...

And another one more: The Doors. Thanks a lot for "his brain is squirming like a toad," jackasses.

Anonymous said...

Please include me on the list of closet Duran Duran fans.

Anonymous said...

Eddie Vedder, for encouraging mumbling as an art form.

steve simels said...

May I just go on record as saying that these are the best comments ever posted here?

Your guys rawk! Even that wanker the Kenosha Kid, who's got his head up David Bowie's ass.

BTW -- I think the case for Madonna as the worst ever is very convincing here. I think in retrospect, I should have picked her rather than Dave.

steve simels said...

Bob Weir of the Dead at one point, hearing of police being injured somewhere (paraphrasing accurately): “Man, what the fuck is the point of that? They’re just trying to do their job.”

That was and remains a conservative sentiment,

He was paraphrasing Lenny Bruce's famous line:

"Gestapo? Shmuck, I'm the mailman."

If Lenny was a conservative, I'm U Thant.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, Mary & Kid! Nice virtual digs you got here!

For malign influence in pop music, I nominate Radiohead, the most overrated band of the past decade, for originating the trend of rock bands who are too fucking lazy to write actual lyrics (or even inspired nonsense ala Robert Pollard) but instead just sing whatever drivel pops into their head while they're standing in front of the mike: "The panic / the vomit / God loves his children yeah" and similar crap...

Anonymous said...

s -

"If Lenny was a conservative, I'm U Thant."

Very funny. U Thant, fantastic.

steve simels said...

It's a line from "That Thing You Do."

Anonymous said...

Since no one else has chosen a critic, let me nominate Steve's old pal the late Lester Bangs. I, of course, adore Mr. Bangs' body of work - but he's "inspired" more sloppy and self-indulgent writing than any other rock writer evah... (Including - too often - my own, in my Asshole Rock Criric Youth...)
Lester casts a mighty long shadow - Don't Try This At Home, kids!
-Bill Buckner

Anonymous said...

Given that "pernicious" means destructive, I suppose you could harp on anyone whose style was so successful that record companies inundate us with imitations.

The Beatles, for example, who certainly preceded David Bowie with the "re-invent your image" game, came along and the 60's became awash with sound-alikes

REM had the same effect. In the period of the late 80's, early 90's, when I would go fishing for interesting music by getting compilation CD's of bands hoping to make it big, I was dumbfounded by all the suspended chords, variations on a theme from "Don't Go Back To Rockville."

I certainly can grew tired of the mumbling angst that pervaded music after Nirvana/Pearl Jam were promoted as the next big thing.

Of course, this list comes close to the ultimate critic's list: "People Whose Commercial Success Annoys Us." However, the real devil in the works here is ultimately record companies, the ever-present effect of market research on our culture.

I leave you with a bit from the Dead Kennedy's "MTV Get Off The Air":

Graph-paper brained accountants
Instead of music fans
Call all the shots at giant record companies now
The lowest common denominator rules

Anonymous said...

Wow...nobody mentioned Neil Young. I'm a fan, certainly, but he's done the 'reinventing' as much as Bowie and Todd R. And as with both of those auterus, some of it was brilliant, some utterly disposable.

Speaking of Todd R., this morning I pulled out my vinyl copy of Joe Jackson's "Blaze of Glory" and was reminded of what (relative) tripe Todd's "2nd Wind" really is.

And this from someone who basically does believe that Todd is Godd.

Ken Houghton said...

Dead L-rd, no one has gotten to the most pre-fab of all pre-fab bands yet.

The Sex Pistols. No question. Caroline Spector lays the case out, concisely, here, in the second half of post either piece of which would have made a lesser blogger's reputation.

TMink said...

I have been thinking about the Bowie comment: ""never communicated a single honest emotion", my ass, Mr. Simels."

I think the original comment Steve made is accurate, and it shows Bowie to be one of the first really modern artists. (I mean modern in terms of post 1960s.)There was a time where the kids switched from earnest, heart felt emotion to an over-reliance on irony and sideways emotional obfuscation. Bowie predates that. None of his emotions are earnest because they are all pretend, part of an obvious character.

Now it works for some people, Alex Chilton comes to mind, but Bowie is the first person that I can remember that really made a living off NOT sharing his emotions musically. He is the opposite of the earnest singer, songwriter. The anti-James Taylor if you will. Or maybe anti-Joni Mitchell is more appropriate.

Hope this makes some sense, it was more difficult to express than to think!


Anonymous said...

The most pernicious influence on rock music? How about Bruce? Not everything-- Rosalita stands the test of time. Fire was a fine song also. But, work ethic and mainstream media should not a rock star make. Time and Newsweek as arbiters of taste? Just what did he bring to the table that countless blues artists didn't bring before? Who do you blame him for Mr. Cougar Melon?