Thursday, February 25, 2010

Plain Oatmeal Opinions

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote in an article for Rolling Stone that shlock was difficult to intelligibly define, but 'I know it when I hear it.' (Admittedly, I may not have this 100% correct, but it is now committed to the internet archives and therefore potentially as accurate as any other 'historical document.')

Main Figurehead knows shlock. It's in the arrangements of Peter Gabriel's latest, Nelson Riddle's (and, presumably, Gordon Jenkins's) work with Frank Sinatra (and, presumably, Nat King Cole), and Phil Spector's over-dubbing work on 'Let it Be.'

The self-same Mr. Fig then devoted an entire blog post to extolling the boundless virtues of Yes's 'Tales from Topographic Oceans,' an album that many consider the poster-child for mid-70s cultural claptrap. I was a huge Yes fan, but they lost me right there, right then. Heck, even one of the band's members, Rick Wakeman, couldn't tolerate it. (But he was a meat-eater and therefore given to irrational judgments on a wide range of issues.)

I've had 'shlock' percolating on my back-burner for two weeks. The kitchen has lost its homey Rachael Ray ambience and now reeks of something remotely sulphuric. So here: try some.

First of all, I couldn't pick shlock out of a lineup if it bitch-slapped me while wearing a laminated name-tag. F'rinstance...I can draw a straight line from Roy Orbison to Chris Isaak to Raul Malo to Andrea Bocelli, and ain't no one gonna tell me Roy's operettas lack artistic merit. I had a military / farmer dad with whom I did battle throughout much of the 70s, but I still love his favorites like Henry Mancini and Julie London. (My residual 'dad protest' is hating the SF 49ers, by the way). I believe 'Strangers in the Night' is one of the greatest 45s ever waxed.

I get it, though. Strong opinions are what make music blogs (and cable news shows and so much of our daily discourse) go. We gotta pick a side and bloviate lest we come off all grey and mealy. But honestly, what's a girl to do?:

The more music I hear, the less I find to dismiss as inferior. I find that most negatives I ascribe are simply contrarian. Such as...The Avett Brothers: Lauded by critics, slobbered over by otherwise dignified friends...yet I find the vocals unlistenable. Or present day Top 40: boring, all signs of life focus-grouped away. Or American Idol: Give me chickens cackling in a barn.

Yet these moments of bravado are fleeting, for I know the truth: the music I dislike was intended for other ears. My overt opining is simply transparent provocation. So while I would like to grab a pitchfork the next time a beloved indie band is thrashed for signing a major-label contract and hopping a hot rail to Shlockville, my id will keep my tongue in my head. For I know that this particular argument has been fatuous from its inception.

Oh, and Tales from Topographic Oceans? I haven't heard it for 35 years, but I am now compelled to try it with new ears. For I do believe this about music and the test of time: if you can listen to a favorite album from your youth decades later and hear musical merit even when stripped of nostalgia value, then maybe you really are hearing a masterpiece.


More mash, anyone? While I tend to deduct points for tempo alterations to make the pieces fit, this one is an exception that makes the rule:

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