Hating rock bands

I’m a loyal reader of Salon.com–like their politics, like their movie reviewer, like some of their articles, including the ones that I passionately disagree with.  Yesterday, they posted a splendid example of the latter: their music critic’s take-down of the Eagles.

His name is Stephen Duesner, and his arguments basically add up to these three points: 1) the Eagles suck, 2) Chuck Klosterman is wrong for suggesting that they don’t suck, because they do, and 3) the only reason deluded posers think they don’t suck is that they sell a lot of records, which is irrelevant because they suck.

He calls them ‘loathsome.’  He cites The Big Lebowski (the epitome of movie coolness), and lines by The Dude, the character played by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, (the coolest character in that movie, or, you know, in any movie ever), as evidence of the total uncoolness of the Eagles.  He points to the historic enmity between Eagles’ fans and fans of Creedence Clearwater Revival, as proof that Eagles’ fans were infinitely less cool than CCR fans, as evidenced by The Dude’s professed preferences.  I mean, seriously.  You have to choose: CCR or Eagles–choose wrong and there’s clearly something wrong with you.  And, hint, choosing the Eagles would be. . . . can you guess. . . .

But look at the unspoken assumptions underlying these ‘arguments.’  Despite their popularity, the Eagles are bad, and rooting for them is bad, because they’re ‘inauthentic.’  Compared to CCR, they’re a band that doesn’t know who or what they are, musically or lyrically. They don’t stand for anything.  CCR, by golly, that’s a band that’s authentic!  Listen to one of their hits: hard driving drums, bass, lead guitar and John Fogerty’s raspy tenor.  And they were politically engaged, they stood for something.  Compare these two songs: CCR’s 1969 hit ‘Fortunate Son’, and the Eagles ’72 hit ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling.‘  Intense vs. mellow.  Anti-Vietnam vs. pleasant little love song.  Driving guitar, vs. relaxed and lengthy guitar solos.  Vocal solo vs. vocal harmony, even.  There’s kind of a country feeling to both songs, actually–country rock.  But it just makes CCR sound more relevant.  The Eagles just come across as privileged and Hollywood.  Non-angsty.  CCR sounds like a band that’s fighting with their last breath of air to end Vietnam.  Even after they broke up, the Eagles kept doing it: Don Henley wrote ‘Dirty Laundry’, which could be read as a song attacking the voyeurism implicit in journalism, but could also be seen as a song about how mean the news media could be to celebrities. The Eagles sound like sell-outs. Hollywood limousine liberals.

Those objections are all essentially moral, aren’t they?  The Eagles are morally inferior to CCR.  Their fans, therefore, are morally inferior to CCR fans. If you like the Eagles, you’re comfortable, lazy, politically unengaged, complacent.  You’re the ‘kind of person’ that likes ‘that kind of music.’  How gauche of you.  How safe and bland and white bread your tastes.

Look at the Eagles greatest single hit: ‘Hotel California.‘  Duesner says that song reveals them as ““self-absorbed Hollywood liberals,” “uncaring womanizers,” and “cokeheads of the worst kind.” Uh, really?  I would suggest that it’s a song with lyrics both enigmatic and revelatory, suggestive and mysterious, a song that relies on its words more than most rock songs do, and that sets those words brilliantly.  One of the things I like about it is that I don’t know immediately, on listening, what it means, and that’s a good thing.

Sorry, but I like CCR a lot and I like the Eagles a lot, and I don’t think that makes me a bad person. When I was in high school, the same debate raged over Zep v. the Who.  If you liked Led Zeppelin you couldn’t like The Who, and vice-versa.  Well, they were my two favorite bands.  I agreed with the partisans of both.  Another recent Salon article argued for a re-appraisal of Rush, speaking of a band you’re supposed to hate if you’re cool.  And Yes, a band you’re pretty much required to despise, if you want to retain your self-respect.  Well, Yes is one of my favorite bands, a band I remember with great fondness seeing in concert in 1973.  Along with Gentle Giant–my favorite band ever.  And Jethro Tull (sneer!).  And I’m also nuts about Bob Dylan and the Band and Arcade Fire.  And Willie Nelson and Waylan Jennings and David Alan Coe.  And the Bee Gees (and who cares if disco sucks).  And AC/DC. And Motley Crue.  And Neil Young.  And, heck, I don’t care, any band that makes interesting music that makes want to listen to it again.  Any band.  Journey and Genesis and Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman.  I think it’s possible, perfectly possible, to really like, I mean, sincerely and personally like both the Screaming Trees and Karen Carpenter’s voice and the Carpenters’ music.  Bread, and the Sex Pistols.  Aimee Mann and Taylor Hicks. Musical Theatre music and Grand Opera, and hard-core jazz.  Frank Sinatra and Tom Waites.  Bing Crosby and Joe Cocker.  I like She and He.  And the Roches. And I like Grace Potter; like her a lot.

Here’s what I think: Jesus said we shouldn’t judge people because he thought we shouldn’t judge people.  And judging the moral worth of our brothers and sisters in the world because of different musical preferences is unjust and inappropriate.

I think there’s no such thing as in-authentic music.  I think there are just musicians, trying to tell their stories and share their tunes.

I think that a band that sells a whole lot of music isn’t morally inferior to bands that sell fewer records.  I think that selling a whole lot of songs suggests a band that lots of people want to listen to.  And that’s okay.  I also think there are lots of bands doing fantastic music that no-one’s heard of, and therefore that don’t sell a lot.  I like bands like that too, bands that don’t get great marketing, maybe with a sound that’s a little off-beat.

I think that there’s no such thing as musicians selling-out.  I think people are just trying to be heard, and creating the best music they’re capable of.  And fighting to survive in a brutally tough industry.

I think it’s wonderful when young people find the music that speaks to them.  I think old people (like me) tend to recoil with horror at the terrible crap those darn kids like.  How dare they?  I think we should shut up.  The “get off my lawn” crowd doesn’t have a horse in this race.

I also don’t think there’s such a thing as immoral music.  I think all music, really, is pretty wonderful, even though there are some kinds of music that I don’t personally care for.

I also don’t think there’s any such thing as music that ‘sucks.’  I think that’s a juvenile way to express what’s basically a difference in taste.  I think that declaring The Dude, a fictional character in maybe the eighth best Coen brothers movie, the ultimate arbiter of coolness or suckiness is just silly.  Even though I also like that movie.

And I like this song.  And don’t apologize for liking it. Or, frankly, anything else I like.




3 thoughts on “Hating rock bands

  1. juliathepoet

    I am totally with you on this. There is lots of music I don’t personally prefer, that people I love enjoy. Some things I find wonderful are not appreciated by others. My current “new favorite” is a Portland band, The Doubleclicks. They have recently become fairly well known for a video about reasons we need feminism that is put together with one of their songs, but as Nerd Girl Rock is a genre I have fallen in love with. Here is my favorite, at this moment: http://youtu.be/mPxkz0tFs4I

  2. Bill

    Very interesting post!

    The kids and I were having a conversation on Saturday whilst driving about the relative merits of live music (or recordings thereof) and studio recordings. My son made the assertion that live music is better because it is unique, and it captures the energy and emotional dynamic that exists between a band and the crowd. My daughter made the assertion that studio music is preferable because they can tweak the music so that it is lyrically perfect.

    My stance was to agree with both. I’m a dad; I get to do that. I like the idea that musicians can engineer their performances so that you get the ultimate version of their art – all of their nuances and tweaks are carefully done so that the listener gets the absolute height of perfection. But it is sanitized and lacks a certain level of humanity. Conversely, live performances – or recordings of live performances – can be more raw, more passionate, and more intimate. Sure, the singer’s pitch is flat (GRRRR!) or they flubbed the guitar solo (that’s not what I heard on the ALBUM!!!).

    And how can you choose between the Who and Led Zepplin?!? Baba O’Reilly and Stairway?!? Magic Bus and Pinball Wizard and Whole Lotta Love and Houses of the Holy?!? Sorry. Can’t be done.

    Now, it’s an open question who’s a better guitar player – Page or Townshend…


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