Jul 192011

Et tu, Eddie?

Has any rocker ever made music of merit wearing a sleeveless shirt? Not while making music bare-chested or wearing a tank top, not bare-chested under a vest, but specifically making music while wearing a sleeveless shirt.

If you’ve clicked these opening links you’ll see that U2 drummer Larry Mullen has been known to wear the sleeveless shirt. I’ll grant that an argument can be made that U2 made some music of merit while Mullen donned such a gun-bearing fashion atrocity, but he’s a drummer. In past style pieces on Rock Town Hall, drummers have gotten a pass for all sorts of questionable fashion choices, including performing in barefeet and wearing shorts. We make some allowances for rock’s driving forces based on matters of comfort. For the purposes of this survey, we’ll give sleeveless drummers a pass. Beside, I want no part of George Hurley.

Granted, as a guy who’s never expressed his vanity through his forearms (as if I could), the whole sleeveless shirt thing mystifies me. It’s to be expected that the poster boy of Rock Town Hall’s Unfulfilled Fashion Ideas series, Alan Vega, would go sleeveless, but the style would spread to some of the coolest of the cool. How much comfort does a man need to be a rock legend? How much do we really need to know about him? Sure, sometimes even the President of the United States has to stand naked, but did Bob Dylan really need to play sleeveless?

Sleeveless shirt, leather pants, two pairs of shorts...Jerry wins this battle of Best Stage Look!

I don’t know when the sleeveless shirt craze took over, but do a search on a number of rock artists with the date “1985” following their name and I’d bet you can come up with as many shots of them sleeveless as I just did with Dylan. (BTW, I didn’t realize he was into the Bare-Chested Vest Look as early as the mid-’70s, for that Renaldo and Clare movie.) You don’t believe me? Try these:

Strummer, for all his late-period Clash fashion faux pas shouldn’t surprise me, but seeing him in sleeveless shirts still hurts. Make it stop already!

Even a search on Rock Town Hall’s patron saint of mediocrity, “Bob Seger 1985,” turns up this. I pray that’s a bare-chested hippie vest shot and not what it seems.

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Dec 142010

What inspirational singer who came to prominence in the 1980s is missing from this Pearl Jam/U2 celebration of the Free World, as envisioned by The Godfather of Grunge? I’m thinking the inclusion of Michael Stipe would serve as the perfect bridge between Bono and Eddie Vedder.

Don’t let your answer to this question be the only use of this All-Star Jam space. Add your own verse; the more electric guitars strumming along the better!

Dec 132010

I will go on record here and now and say that I really like this song, when U2 does it. I know it isn’t cool to like U2 and I’m not a big U2 fan at all and yes Bono frequently bugs blah, blah, blah. But I do like this song, when U2 does it. That’s the nice thing I can say about this performance.

What nice things can you say?

Sep 212010

“Saint John Lennon,” by Raphael Labro (courtesy of http://raphaellabro.com/).

Here’s a helpful new addition to the RTH Glossary, originally courtesy of Townsman pudman13, if short-term memory serves.

Based on the critical Teflon of its namesake, John, the Lennon Pass describes the point when an artist is granted a critical “lifetime pass” for accumulated subpar works based on the emotional/spiritual/humanitarian connection rock fans have with said artist’s landmark works and cultural influence. The Lennon Pass may be thought of as a form of rock ‘n roll sainthood.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with an artist getting the Lennon Pass. Even music fans who do not particularly care for said artist may admit that the pass is merited. The Clash – and Joe Strummer in particular – are a band frequently cited for getting the Lennon Pass. If she hadn’t done so with the surprising success of Easter, High Punk Priestess Patti Smith solidified her Lennon Pass when she returned from her 40 days and nights in Michigan, having established a family with Fred “Sonic” Smith only to lose him to cancer shortly thereafter.

Perceived martyrdom or any form of death, however, is not a requirement for the Lennon Pass – and I don’t mean to make light of these losses. Despite being a curmudgeonly, overweight artist who’s put out little of real interest in more than 30 years, Van Morrison holds the Pass. Bruce Springsteen is another frequently cited recipient; however, some non-believers go out of their way to question His worthiness. Heck, some rock nerds even go out of their way to tear down the works of Lennon himself.

In extreme circumstances the Pass, once granted, can be revoked. Lou Reed is an example of this, having finally had his Lennon Pass revoked after a career-full of failed attempts at spiting the Lennon Pass Committe when he started parading around with that new tai chi addiction.

Simply being an acknowledged Great Artist and/or wildly popular does not ensure the granting of the Pass. The Rolling Stones, for instance, lost all hope of receiving the pass once Mick Jagger crossed all lines of good taste by appearing on stage in football pants and Capezio slippers and then participating in the so-called “Rock Crime of the Century,” Ja-Bo. Despite their best efforts in the studio and across Third World nations, U2 have been unable to acquire the Lennon Pass.

Feb 182010

I just saw It Might Get Loud, the documentary featuring Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White discussing their musical influences, approach to, and general love of the guitar.

The only Jack White-related product that I own is the Loretta Lynne album and the only U2 album I have is the live album from the early ’80s (and it’s not mine so I’m not sure how it ended up in mixed in with my records). But even though I have only a casual interest in most of their music, I liked the movie and I found all three guys to be fairly engaging, although Jack White comes off as a bit affected. The Edge, on the other hand, seems like he’s in the running for “nicest, most down to earth mega star.” Anyway, some questions came to mind:

1. How would you rank these guys in order of your personal preference?

2. How would you rank these guys in order of their influence?

3. If you could replace one with another guitar player, who would it be (keeping in mind that your new guy must be in a high-profile band, must have a distinct style, and that style must be different from the other two remaining guys).

4. Is there any artist that you dislike so much that you won’t watch a documentary about them?

5. Will you watch the upcoming Doors documentary narrated by Johnny Depp? If so, will you mute/fast forward through the Ray Manzarek parts?

6. Does anyone have any idea how I ended up with that U2 album and several copies of Back in Black in my album collection and somehow managed to lose most of my Who and Led Zeppelin albums? I suspect that alcohol may have played a role.

Mar 052009

A few years ago after, the night after the Grammys or some such awards show, my Mom came over for dinner and struck up a conversation about U2, who had been a featured performer. “What do you think of that band?” she asked me, “Aren’t they really popular?”

My Mom is pretty hip and never hesitant to form and share an opinion. I told her what I thought of them, which wouldn’t surprise you, then she gave me her analysis.
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Dec 192008

Recently we pondered the musical foundation of Classic Pink Floyd. I learned some useful information, such as the influence of Miles DavisKind of Blue on Rick Wright‘s keyboard stylings and the fact that “Run Like Hell” was a pisstake on disco. All that I learned helped strengthen my confidence in my recent realization that Classic Pink Floyd, beginning at the time the band found its true voice on Dark Side of the Moon, had more in common with The Who and U2 than I’d ever considered, something I will hereby term Popeye Rock.

“I am what I am.”

I believe the case can be made that most rock bands that connect with the public to some degree develop their sound from an established musical foundation, or traditions. In some cases the influences run deep and are easy to spot. In other cases, as is especially true in the playlists and sales charts of any given genre, the traditions may run as deep as last week’s playlists and charts. In short, rock ‘n roll musicians usually structure their individual talents around an identifiable sound. The craftwork rock musicians typically put into their music involves applying the “fabric” of their instruments to an existing “frame”: stylistic conventions dictating beat, melody, verse-chorus-middle eighth structure, etc. The Beatles are credited with blowing open the vault of rock’s available frames, but it was always the frame that dictated the course of the music.

This was the uninterrupted history of early rock ‘n roll until The Who came along. They may have introduced the Popeye Rock approach that, while still not the norm, has become a viable path toward making rock ‘n roll, especially following the massive popularity and influence of both Pink Floyd and U2.
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