After the reveal of cherguevarra’s recent Mystery Date, Mr. Royale and I got to riffing about the name Michael. Let’s cut to the chase here: Is there an uncooler rock (first) name than Michael?
Michael Bolton. Michael Buble. Michael Feinstein. Michael McDonald. And some of you would add Michael Stipe. Honestly, are there any rockin’ Michaels? Or is there another first name that better signifies earnest schmaltzy music?
For those few cool or semi-hip Michaels out there, why did they go by Michael rather than the arguably cooler Mike, Mick, or (even) Mickey?
Lastly, if we agree on Michael, what would be his female counterpart? Tiffany?
It might be argued that our readers are not be the best audience to answer this question, but let’s say you were at a party and walked into a room populated by the 6 members of The Association appearing in the following clip. Which guy would you target to converse with, as the band member most likely—relatively speaking—to be the coolest member of the band? From left to right:
“The Cabinet Member”
“The Guy Not Cool Enough to Be Playing a Vox Teardrop Guitar”
“The Singer With the Crooked Mouth Who Looks Like He Should Be Playing One of the Goons in Straw Dogs“
“The Shorter Singer Who Likely Instituted the Band’s Dress Code”
“The Bass Player Who Looks Like the Canadian Member of The Rascals”
Billy Idol and the Beastie Boys: standing at a dividing line of "cool."
While seeking a ridiculous image of a Beastie Boys tribute band in hopes of impressing my friends in an especially thrilling and silly thread, I came across this photo, which is even more ridiculous. I believe the uncredited photographer captured a passing of the “cool” torch, of sorts.
Last week the family and I were in the car for a short trip out for dinner. I switched on the local Classic Rock station and “Waiting on a Friend” came on the radio.
“This song isn’t up to your high standards, is it?” my wife asked with a mocking glance from the passenger’s seat.
“Actually, I like this song,” I said, leaving out the fact that for a good 15 years I did not allow myself to like it. “It’s ‘Start Me Up’ that is the last straw for me and the Stones.”
With each passing year I really do like “Waiting on a Friend.” I like the video even better. I value friendship above just about everything else. It’s really nice how patient Mick is waiting for Keef to show up and take a walk. In contrast, the guy sitting at the cafe window at the 1:33 mark looks so sad, doesn’t he? He clearly doesn’t have a great old friend like Keef who’s running just a few minutes late. I’ll stop now before I tear up at the site of Mick and Keef eventually meeting up with Ronnie at the bar, where they swig beer; sashay to the music; lean into each other; and practice multiple means of self-stimulation by running hands through messy hair, playing with a scarf, and taking deep drags off a cigarette.
With each passing year I like “Start Me Up” less. I didn’t like it the day I first heard it, when it was released. I don’t like it even one bit today. It’s the musical equivalent of Mick’s stupid football pants. It’s a real ass-kisser of a song by a band that made its bones kicking ass. It’s Mick run wild with his penchant for 17-year-old Brazilian models. It’s musical Viagra, before there even was such a pill. It’s Keef doing that stupid knee bend while pulling off one of his patented “no-hands” 5-string guitar moves. It’s the sound of all the wrong people suddenly getting excited over a band that meant a lot to me.
I didn’t tell my wife any of this stuff that was running through my sick brain, but I did tell her this: “Did I ever tell you about the time sophomore year when I turned down second-row seats for that Stones tour in Chicago?”
“Huh?” My wife has good taste and is a snob in her own right. She knows that Stones were beginning to head downhill at that time, but she doesn’t read deep meanings into “Under My Thumb” and the groove of “Beast of Burden.” She can enjoy “Start Me Up” for what it probably is: a fun dance song.
“Yeah, a guy in our frat’s dad was some kind of union head,” I explained. “He got us an entire row of seats, the second row, front and center. I was offered a ticket for $20. I was already certain the band sucked. I turned it down.”
“You need to turn yourself into Rock Town Hall for one of those Rock Crimes,” my wife exclaimed. “You’re sick! If you don’t turn yourself in I’m going to log on and out you. Turn yourself in and see if they find you guilty!”
So here I am, Too Cool for School, circa 1982. Was I justified in turning down that second-row ticket—maybe even visionary—or am I guilty of having been Too Cool for School?
Among those of us who lived through the New Wave era, that is, the minor boom of fun, late-’70s power pop/punk rock bands, not, as VH1 retro programmers, Entertainment Weekly writers, and youthful bloggers might have you believe, early synth-pop bands from 1983-1985, did you take great pains to examine where these bands fell along the fine line of “cool?” I did. Let me explain.
Despite what 98% of my fellow students would have said regarding my tastes in music circa 1979, I knew it was cool that I liked punk and new wave bands. I wasn’t cool—don’t think I was deluded into thinking such a thing—but my tastes were cool. That being said, it took only a few weeks of delving into this new music scene to realize that I, as a young rock nerd, had to uphold certain standards of excellence within this genre. Leaving out the punks, almost all of whom were cool, with possible reservations over the suspiciously phony Stiff Little Fingers, judging the coolness of artists loosely categorized/marketed as “new wave” was open to much interpretation. Elvis Costello, Rockpile, and Graham Parker were way cool. Blondie, despite what really cool cats in the New York punk scene had been whispering, were cool. The Police, when they first appeared on the scene, were pretty cool, even if the writing was on the peroxide bottle that they might have bigger fish to fry than empowering awkward teenage boys with a sense of cool. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Cheap Trick clearly were so cool that we tried to drag him into our New Wave Army, whether they wanted to serve on the front lines for us or not. The Cars would surely pull their lesser new wave cohorts into the mainstream, no?
Few movies have ever bugged me as much as Dances With Wolves. I actually took the plunge and spent what felt like 6 hours in a movie theater watching that thing when it came out. I was never a Kevin Costner “hater.” I was never his biggest fan either, but I gave the man his due for No Way Out and Bull Durham. Beside miserably squirming through most of Field of Dreams, I had no ax to grind with the guy at that time in his career. For whatever reservations (no pun intended) I might have had, the story seemed like it might appeal to the broad side of me that loves Little Big Man. My wife and I decided to give it a shot on the big screen.
Man, did that movie blow! And its universal acclaim over the coming months with critics and Motion Picture Academy voters really drove us nuts. It was hard to ever like Costner again, and I disliked that movie so much that it helped me feel the pain “people of color” in America and probably worldwide have felt as Hollywood movie after Hollywood movie presents the plight of their people through the eyes of a Saintly, Heroic White Person. (And what was with Mary McDonnell doing in that movie with workout tape–era Jane Fonda‘s hairdo?)
Most recently The Blind Side was the Hollywood film to bolster this notion. Note, in the linked review, that despite the fact that the story contained probably a good deal of truth that most likely Costner’s crime again me and Native Americans has sensitized critics to new levels. You say you didn’t see The Blind Side or Dangerous Minds or Freedom Writers? I didn’t either, but although I liked Mississippi Burning, I felt a little uncomfortable by the strong presence of Saintly, Heroic White People. There are a lot of other movies that play out this way, and despite the fact that I like my share of them, I am always a little embarrassed for what I imagine moviegoesrs of minority groups may be feeling. I console myself with the fact that I’m a big fan of Ice Cube‘s Barbershop movies and that amazing, little indie movie made by and about a group of Native American friends in contemporary society, Smoke Signals.
Unlike the Hollywood movie industry, however, African Americans have played a strong leading role in music since nearly the beginning of the recording age. Any American of any race born in the 19th century forward has little excuse not to know and love at least some music by African American artists. So why have I come across so many intelligent, educated, music-loving white people who rave about Dusty Springfield‘s 1969 album, Dusty in Memphis, as if it’s a watermark in soul music?
Check out this typical rock press take on the album. Despite the fact that the writer makes it clear that Dusty wasn’t all that happy with the record or being in Memphis, singing in the same vocal booth in which true Memphis greats sweat and slobbered and playing with arguably one of the music industry’s greatest backing bands, he and a legion of modern-day fans of the album clutch onto the myth.
Far from rescuing Springfield’s career, Dusty in Memphis froze it in time, and she would not have another Top 40 hit for more than two decades. But for this album’s army of fans, who’ve picked it up in second-hand stores or in a variety of re-released formats, Dusty in Memphis is not only a popcultural milestone but a timeless emotional reference point.
I have no desire to argue the merits of the album itself. I think it’s merely OK. If I’d bought it in a used bin for 50 cents when I was an idealistic kid I would have held onto it and gotten some mild enjoyment out of it, but beside “Son of a Preacher Man,” which for my money is on par with a similar, fun, semi-corny country-soul tale like Bobbi Gentry‘s “Ode to Billie Joe” or R.B. Greaves‘ “Take a Letter Maria,” I guess I lack the pop sensibility and emotional capacity to identify either the milestone or the reference point this writer notes.
The album’s OK. Dusty Springfield was OK. Her first hit, “I Only Want to Be With You,” is outstanding! Sadly, as I learned as a completely misguided, horny teenage boy, the assumed “super-cute” musical equivalent of a young Julie Christie behind “I Only Want to Be With You,” as I bet many American boys and young men wished all cute-sounding Daughters of the British Invasion would look at that time, was nothing special. She was not even as mildly cute Petula Clark, for instance. Nice bouffant, I guess, but that’s not what I was hoping to find. Bummer. Oh, if only the English had done like the French and matched their Swingin’ Sixties cutiepies up in a recording studio with dirty, old pervs. I’d buy some half-assed Julie Christie single. But that was and is neither here nor there. Continue reading »