Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pop Music/YouTube Digression--(Mostly) 60s Edition

Seeing as my other posts of this nature have been so popular.

My relationship to good music is analogous to that which people with eating issues have to food. As these know they should and even desperately want to eat something chic and elegant and healthy but find themselves as often as not stuffing their faces at McDonald's, I know I ought to be studying the opus of Robert Johnson, or Wagner, but usually end up rocking out to Gilbert O'Sullivan. It's also not like any of the songs or groups I write about need publicity or critical attention either; I am merely trying to establish some idea of my own existence in terms of reference to them.

I will try to make some links to the videos as a matter of courtesy to anyone who might be curious to see them. As everyone must have learned by now, all manner of uncool people prowl the web looking for someone to direct them somewhere else.

Positive and negative energy have been recurring themes on the site lately, and exuding lots of the former was the main catapult of the early career of the Beatles. What was its source? To me that is one of the least-satisfactorily accounted for mysteries of the whole era. They had a tremendous knack for generating trends and beating everyone else in the mainstream to the punch on what was going to be cool, and then pulling up and moving on just at the right instant to some other slightly unusual thing while their hordes of followers a step behind kept growing their body hair, doing drugs, having rampant and completely undisciplined sex, practicing Indian philosophy, etc, until the magic was gone and everything became disgusting, or a joke, or they died, or what have you. I suppose you could say, that they maintained a certain degree of moderation, at least in comparison to the general tenor of their time. They never became really physically repulsive, or violent, or nihilistic on the one hand, or wimpy and snivelling on the other, all of which seem to have been especially marked tendencies of the era. It is also interesting to note that most of the dynamic energy was generated by the collective activity of the group rather than the individual personalities of its members.

Incidentally, I was struck by the similar Stonehenge-like setting of this video to that of the one above. I don't know what it signifies.

Let me try again to link to this opening montage that struck me as having something quintessential about the period in it, which I remarked on at length in a previous post.

I remembered this song from my childhood but hadn't heard in about 30 years. My parents used to leave the radio on beside my bed all night when I was quite small and when this came on it would be a great comfort to me, especially if it followed one of the many somewhat scary hits of the time ("We Will Rock You" by Queen I remember being especially disconcerted by in the darkness of night). This singer is a very sensitive-looking fellow. Indeed, he looks a little like me, except for the hair--I do have hair, just not that hair. By the way, what happened to all the guys like the host of the TV show in this video? The western world was crawling with them in the early 70s and most of them must be still alive.

I don't know what to say about this. One has an image of what such a person, at such an age, and additionally in this instance, in such a time and place, could be like that quite runs away with everything else.

Moving ahead a little in time, this is just a work of pure art that I had never seen the video of until last week. Ireland, of course, just since about 1990 has famously become a regular prosperous country full of responsible people who hold down full time jobs (in cubicles, no less), make real estate deals, holiday in Spain and generally eschew alcoholism as an acceptable lifestyle even for artistic people. I admit I am not as thrilled about these developments as I know I should be. I remember back in the 80s when the Pogues achieved a modest popularity among suburban white boys in the U.S., the Village Voice or one of those other sneering Citypaper-type publications wrote an article ridiculing this American fan base for romanticizing a lifestyle it couldn't survive in for a half-hour, the assumption being that poverty, or at least near-poverty, combined with the threat of IRA terrorism, would reduce a middle class American kid to pants-wetting within thirty minutes. This was not an atypical attitude. Ireland not much more than 20 years ago was widely regarded as being a country where the way of life would be too tough and the political strife too dangerous for the typical soft American to be able to endure. Does it not all seem rather quaint now?

One day, while listening to some no-talent singer preening on the radio, I asked my wife, who is intuitively fairly knowledgeable about such things, who was the last white American male pop singer who had anything resembling an actual good voice. I nominated Andy Williams, whose prime was well before I was born. She said that the guy from the Stray Cats had a good voice. I can't tell. I have always liked the group, though. For one thing, they are one of the few pop music acts to make it that seems to have come from the kind of place and the kind of cultural milieu in which I have lived most of my life (I think they are from upstate New York). There are little tics and details in their songs and videos that strike that faint note of familiarity that just is never there with say, California or southern groups. Even the chicks in their videos have something vaguely New Englandy/upstate N.Y./Penna about them. While we're on the subject the "Real Square Cat circa 1974" actually looks a little like me (and is about as popular with the ladies at dances).

Not to drag the Smiths in here when all was going so well, but this is a really good video someone made of "Hand In Glove" using footage from the 1961 kitchen-sink classic "A Taste of Honey".

Oh, and this. Yes, it was from the movie Ghost World, it is not my secret cool thing (I have no secret cool things) but it is really engrossing nonetheless.

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