My reputation as someone who isn’t shy about his opinions, especially about music, is well known amongst my friends. My dismissal of so much music and passionate discourse on what I don’t like and why have earned me the moniker “Hater Jack,” often shortened to simply “Hater.”
Initially, the name came about because of my absolute loathing of the Los Angeles Lakers, a deep hatred I have a difficult time explaining. I have no allegiance to any particular NBA team. I just want to see the Lakers lose and so I’m a fan of anyone playing against them. The odd part is I really have no clue as to why it even matters to me. In the least. All I know is it drives me insane to watch a Lakers basketball game.
But I digress.
The Hater tag’s stuck. So much so that when I got my Dodge Magnum pimped out, dropped on 22” custom rims and blacked out windows, my friends wanted to get me vanity plates that read “H8R JACK”
Back to music.
I don’t like most music. I find it pretty boring and pedestrian. The vast majority of what I hear, and this has been going on for a couple of decades now, is hardly innovative, totally referential – meaning I can clearly hear the influences and there’s nothing new being done with them and most is little more than vaguely interesting.
It may be well-produced, commercially successful and loved by millions. And that’s fine. But there’s one thing it isn’t.
The single most over-used word in the English language. So much so that it has lost all meaning for me. I have always been reluctant to use it, simply because by definition, the word means “considerably above the average.” Now we can quibble all day about to what degree above average average it takes to be “considerably above” but I’m going with the idea that it basically means , a shit load more.
It drives me insane to see that word used in print or hear it when attached to an artist or piece of music.
Everything is not great. Matter of fact, very little is great. Or even remotely close to it. People may like it. People may love it. It may be the biggest selling record, book, movie, gadget of all time, but that doesn’t make it great. Just makes it a commercial success just like a McDonald’s hamburger.
I have a pretty simple rule. If you use the word “great” in referring to Beethoven, Mozart and Bach, you can’t use it in referring to Richard Marks, Bon Jovi or The Eagles.
Frank Sinatra, Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Great
Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and Michael Bolton. Not great.
The Beatles. Unquestionably.
U2. Not so much.
Madonna? Give me a fucking break. I’ve seen and heard the word “genius” in the same sentence with her name for years and it drives me crazy. Just ask the music business lawyer who spouted similar nonsense sitting across the table from me at a Beverly Hills bbq one afternoon awhile back. Madonna a genius? That is such bullshit. She is not a genius. Not a MUSICAL one. On her first record she sounds like Minnie fucking Mouse. Well-crafted songs & state of the art production? Of course. That doesn’t take genius, just deep pockets. Oh, but wait, she’s a marketing genius? Maybe, but even that’s a huge stretch. I’m pretty sure using sex as a means to gain attention and commercial success was around before Ms Ciccione.
This lawyer kept insisting her genius was in her brilliant ability to “re-invent herself.” More PR machine crap.
David Bowie re-invents himself. Bowie pushes musical boundaries, experimenting in new directions constantly. Madonna changes costumes. Was she hot? Hell yes. Did she empower girls? I don’t know. Maybe. A topic for another blog. An entertainer and great live performer? Marginal at best and totally forgettable. She can’t sing and she can’t dance. I saw Cher on her “Farewell Tour” and her Madge-ness didn’t even come close to approaching the level of high quality entertainment and electrifying performance of Cher’s show, which was considerably above the average.
Yes. I’ll say it. Cher’s show was great.
So who died and made me king?
But on my planet, the truth is, everything is not equal. Talent, like luck, beauty and greatness is not distributed equally. Some things are simply and demonstrably better. More inventive. Original. And capable of standing the test of time. There were dozens of composers writing music in the days of Mozart but we – along with the historians and critics – pretty much agree the man was a genius, exceptional and was light years ahead of his contemporaries. Just ask Salieri!!
Wynton Marsalis, as talented as he may be, is not Miles Davis. It’s just a fact. Not that he has to be. I’m just not about to give him a seat at the table along with the truly great, innovative artists.
What’s it matter if it’s not great, does that mean it’s not worth listening to?
Not at all.
Just, please, don’t tell me it’s great or genius. Not if you expect to eat your catered Beverly Hills bbq without a super-sized side of heated debate!
I know lots of this has to with the business of music, building hype and filling space in magazines and blogs and selling tickets and marketing. Certainly, no one’s going to shell out big bank for tickets at the EnormoDome to see artists who aren’t “great.” And most folks can just go and enjoy it.
I love, and I mean love, a lot of music. Just not much since 1983. I have been cursed with an inability to listen and simply enjoy music. I wish I could sometimes. But I cannot just put it on and think, “oh that’s cool” and let it become sonic wallpaper. I’m getting better at it but it’s rough. Most of what I hear sounds like something I’ve heard before, only not as good. Not as original. Not as innovative. And certainly not as deep.
There’s a depth I seek in art of all kinds, that allows me to immerse myself in it, partially in a drive to understand exactly WHAT it is that makes something truly great. Why are Beatles songs so much better than any other pop band? Why is Sinatra’s phrasing so incredible? How is that Joni Mitchell creates such vivid imagery with her lyrics? What makes Dylan’s unique choice of words and the rhythm of his sentence structure combine to be so emotionally powerful?
When I can listen to the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album and still, after 35 years, be stunned at the beauty and innovation and hear something new in it because of the depth of the artistry, why would I want to spend time listening to the out of tune vocals of Fleet Foxes? As interesting as they may be?
Literature is the same for me. Dan Brown may sell millions of books. It may be entertaining. Interesting even. But it is not writing on the same level as, just to name a few, Mark Helprin, Don DeLillo, Joan Didion or Denis Johnson. And I’d rather read “Winters Tale” or “Underworld” or “Already Dead” for the tenth time than bother with “The Da Vinci Code.”
Will I read the occasional thriller or detective novel. Sure.
I’ll eat McDonalds once in awhile.
But I know a real burger when I see one.