Monitor Down

The music blog that doesn’t want to hear itself

Archive for February 2009

Every Song is About Heroin

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Post intro: I pulled this from my published article on CinemaBlend, just because I wanted something to put here now — not in a week when I have the time to write something new. Don’t worry, I got permission from myself…

Back to the post:

DohertyIt’s almost second nature for musicians to write about drugs. Especially when you’re dealing with rock, where the idea is to do what everybody tells you not to do, and make it look like it’s cool. (This is probably where spandex came from.)

The catch is that musicians aren’t supposed to openly write about drugs (except in the case of rap, where it’s encouraged). They find metaphors, and usually those metaphors are about as complex as John Wayne’s dialogue. Everyone knows about the La’s “There She Goes,” i.e. the girl-as-heroin metaphor; or the Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” whose blatant “shoot, shoot” euphemisms all but sell the stuff. The chemical factor in David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” was even spelled out clearly in “Ashes to Ashes” (with the line “We all know Major Tom’s a Junkie”), in case the kids missed the classic “floating above the earth” metaphor.

With songs like “Hotel California,” “Under the Bridge,” “Golden Brown” and “Comfortably Numb” all containing their crystal-clear to slightly hazy euphemisms, the list of artists who have poetically flouted their bad habits before the mainstream media is eons long.

But what about the more cleverly disguised songs? You won’t convince me that the only heroin songs out there are the obvious ones. It’s almost guaranteed that somewhere, some good-guy songwriter is kicking back, having pulled off such a well-disguised smack anthem that no one even noticed it. My mission is to uncover some of these sneaky writers. They deserve, at the very least, to be recognized for their ingenuity, and praised for fooling everyone.

The Osmonds, “Goin’ Home” – This song is a prize winner. Show me a “track star” who’s got a long road ahead of him, who has to fight to make it “home” if it takes him the rest of his life, and I’ll show you a desperately hooked junkie. “I’m a space man from a different world,” the song says, reeling dangerously close to Bowie’s more evocative metaphor. “I’ve been gone so long that I’m feeling like a useless man.” The song’s energetic charge is enough to create a deceptive shroud of positivity, but if you really think about it, this is as strung out as Trainspotting.

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When Acoustic Covers Amount to Masturbation

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Post intro: Another one pulled from CB. Hey, something needs to go here.

The post:

snideAs Einstein once said, the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.

In other words, if no one can figure out where your inspiration came from, then whatever masterpieces you’ve created are attributed directly to you, making you a creative genius.

Musically speaking, a band can take full advantage of this axiom, if they’re clever enough to weave together a collage of influences to create a sonic concoction to which no one can point and say “hey, that sounds just like that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club song.” If you can do that, then sweet, you’ve created an original piece of work.

Or this axiom can be the sword your unimaginative ass falls on after you plunk your way through some mainstream guitar ballad everybody has already heard, turning down-tuned F7 chords into open Es and ad-libbing from Internet-sourced lyrics before pressing it onto 40,000 silver discs and littering the sidewalks of Hollywood with hopeful, paper-wrapped debris.

When it comes to acoustic covers, it’s a tough call which side you’re going to fall on. It seems to come down to whether your aim is to discover a new aspect to someone else’s song that no one might have noticed yet, striving to capture it with only your burning, tortured soul, a minimal of instrumentation and countless nearly perfect takes. Or…whether your aim is to realize your teenage fantasy about banging out your favorite band’s song on a plastic-backed Ovation, hoping the girl you were crushing on in high school has a radio in her cold, lonely trailer park home and suddenly notices you after all these years, and finally contacts you through your Myspace account. On which you’ve had said song posted in hopeful anticipation for the last eight months.

Thus, there are good acoustic covers and bad ones. The line is thin, it doesn’t take much to cross it, and once you have, you’re either a creative genius or Bright Eyes.

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Some Music Fans May be Shallow

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Post intro: You know.

Back to the post:

STP at the Hollywood Bowl

STP at the Hollywood Bowl

This is partially intended as an addendum to the recent rant on bland retro-popheads, titled “When did the World Get So Unoriginal?” by esteemed [former] CinemaBlend music editor Mack Rawden. I’m wholeheartedly agreeing with his main thesis (albeit without judgment against J.K. Rowling, because I freaking like Harry Potter). Bu I’m adding one significant point.

And naturally, we will get to it via a quick story.

There I was, with my beautiful girlfriend, watching the Stone Temple Pilots’ June show at the Hollywood Bowl. We’re both into them, even the albums no one really likes (No. 4 and Shangri-La Dee Da). So we had at least a handful of songs we were waiting to hear.

About 10 minutes into the set, the obligatory wave of fashionably late bros and sorority chicks showed up. This element was expected, since due to some cosmic theorem they make up about 85% of the band’s following. But I was completely bewildered, and even disappointed, when during the ¾-set arrival of “Plush,” a group of sorority girls nearby suddenly got all antsy, huddling together in a secret conversation until one of them finally turned to the people next to them and said, “Oh my god, what’s this song called?” At first I thought I was hearing things. But then it happened again, during “Interstate Love Song.” My jaw was floored.

I get it: some people’s memories of these songs are a little dimmed by lite beer and accessory distraction (I might have heard someone singing the lyrics, “Driving on a Sunday afternoon / I swerve my Bug between the lines…”). But someone just spent $50 on tickets, fought traffic and crammed into a packed bleacher row without knowing the name of two of the band’s 16-year-old major radio hit singles. It seemed like a big monkey wrench just got tossed into the logical fandom gears somewhere. What was wrong here?

Then it occurred to me that the world’s sea of music fans might be a lot shallower than I had previously thought. Do some people pretend to be into bands? Do some even pretend to be into music? I decided this needs to be explored further.

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