Monday, May 06, 2013

Well, I Put The Quarter Right In That Can, But All They Played Was Disco, Man

You need to understand right off that I don't like Bird Dog over at Maggie's Farm.

What a wan word "like" would be for me to use, so I can't. I love Bird Dog. He's my brother fum anotha motha. We're friends. We get to tell the truth to one another. You can't tell the truth to strangers.

He's a fan of my boys' musical efforts. He links to their videos, and offers a word or two of encouragement for them. But he gets ideas. As anyone that lived in the Soviet Union from 1917 until 1981, or anyone at a prog rock concert with a drum solo pending, ideas can be a dangerous thing. You've got to look at ideas a lot before you settle on them. Paw them over. Pick them up and put them down and go back to them. Ideas you treasure without reflection are risky. They can be popped like a bubble in the bath simply by the introduction of competing ideas. That's why people with opinions I don't agree with are so closed-minded. They can't bear to hear the truth.

I risk ruining Bird Dog's day. Our friendship might be on the line, right here, right now. I can't help myself. He wants my sons to play Sultans of Swing, by Dire Straits, to perhaps prove their musical chops, their mettle, and mayhaps delight the Intertunnel with their precocious abilities. He wonders if they might be up to the task? Could they do it? Take up the Stratocaster cudgels? What a monumental, notable, and noble undertaking that would be!

I don't know how to break it to him any other way, so I'll just blurt it out: Sultans of Swing sucks. Hoover-quality suck. Outer Space with a pinhole in your capsule suck. Weapons-grade suck. Donkey balls. It's -- not good. But there is no way Bird Dog has ever heard that said. Sultans of Swing is one of those hoary old standards like Stairway to Heaven or Green Grass and High Tides or Freebird or Bohemian Rhapsody. The devotees of such tedious anthems never even consider that their love for them should admit the alloy of time and place, and consider that others who weren't listening to it on their eight track with a girl in a tube top in the front seat of a bitchin' Camaro when it first came out might not share their high opinion of it. It's Pauline Kael rock. No one I know doesn't like it.

It was my business for a long time to tell people that approached the bandstand that their favorite song was of absolutely no interest to everyone else in the room, and we weren't going to play it. It's a delicate thing to tell people that the song that contains both the name of their illegitimate children and their pit bulls, and whose album cover is featured on both a tattoo on their chest and painted on the side of their van, isn't very entertaining. Such information upsets people, like going to the monkey house at the zoo and throwing your poo at the apes. Those monkeys stop in their tracks and stare at you, I'm telling you.

Don't ask me how I know that.

But I know music. I didn't even have to ask my son to know what he'd say to the suggestion. I did ask, though, and he gave me a look of surprise and fear and disgust, one that said without words, "Dad, why are you flinging poo at me?" To a kid two decades into this century, Dire Straits is like a Stallone movie starring Richard Simmons. If Eric Clapton was a hairdresser, that's what he'd sound like. 

Now, back when I was luxuriant of hair and bereft of fixed opinions about music, teachers tried to sell me some of theirs. I distinctly remember eighth grade. It was the first year I spent in public school. None of the other students could read or write or add or subtract, and thought the Ottoman Empire was a furniture store. They were fertile ground for any sort of bosh. Me, I was skeptical. My older brother was a musician with very good taste, and I got used to hearing good music, well played.

I had a music class. They call such classes "music appreciation," because in their hearts the faculty knows they're incapable of teaching children to play musical instruments or sing and dance, so they sort of shrug and tell the parents, "We meant to do that," and baste the students with their ill-founded opinions instead. I remember Mr. Sacco like it was yesterday.

He affected a style approximating Englebert Humperdinck, gone to seed. He had Civil War sideburns and high-water bell-bottom pants with garish socks and round-heeled shoes that looked like they were  designed by some unholy agglomeration of Florsheim and Cardinal Richelieu. We slumped in our chairs, while he waved one --just one-- 45 record in the air, intoning,"This is the greatest record ever made," and meant it. He put it on, and played it over, and over, and over again. He'd stop it now and then at odd intervals by yanking the needle up to pontificate on some minor point of interest he found in the noise, a signpost to the entrance of entertainment nirvana that only men like him, attuned to such things, could discern, and then he'd slam it back down and the sound would wash over us again from the tinny speaker in the ancient record player he used.

He did this for weeks on end. He played that record for us a hundred times, maybe more, and never once looked at any face in the small crowd arrayed around him for a glimmer of approbation. It was the greatest song ever written, and that was that. There was no gainsaying it, and no opportunity to gainsay it, either. He'd wave his arms in the air like a conductor with palsy and hum along, and sing tunelessly along with it, and generally stop just incrementally short of soiling the front of his polyester pants with the whole thing every time he heard it. He never played another record that I can recall, and the only test I can remember simply asked a series of arcane permutations of the same question: Why this recording was the ne plus ultra of organized noise.

The song was Crimson and Clover, by Tommy James and the Shondells.

And so I must ask the question. It has been troubling me this morning. I must blurt it out, and exorcise it. Bird Dog, why do you want my son to play Crimson and Clover? You don't even have sideburns. 


Matthew Walker said...

"Sultans of Swing" and "Crimson and Clover" are both pretty damn great, though I agree you can overplay them. There's a YouTube vid with just the isolated drum track from "Sultans", and THAT is pretty damn great. You know those drummers who hit the kick with exactly the same force every time? They make a wasteland and call it consistency (or maybe those are really machines programmed by fools). Knopfhphler didn't hire him none of those. Good stuff, it sings.

Knopfler's not the greatest soloist ever, though. Great touch, wonderful control of dynamics and phrasing, but he can't think past two bars, and he has a bad tic where he fades at the end of every phrase. Like Emo Ellipses, but as music.

Next you'll be telling us you don't want to hear "Teenage Wasteland" again.

vanderleun said...

Sucks? SUCKS?!!

Oh reilllly now? Sucks does it?

Listen up you wampetteered foosball fondling maroooon with three thumbs glued to your stumps!

Listen up you writhing pegboy of the swamps, you irish colleen, you leeeeeeetle gurl.

Listen up:

There's a reason one gazillion people show up to hear Straits and it isn't your trumpet playing band!

Strong letter follows.

vanderleun said...

Teenage Wasteland? Well, that's a point.

leelu said...

...what Vanderleun said.

And a school year's worth of "Crimson and Clover" being pounded down on you over and over *does* explain a lot.

And for Mark Knopfler? He's got a daytime job, he's doin' all right.

Thud said...

I don't have a dog in this fight...yippee!

vanderleun said...

Confuqueis say, "Those who have no dog in fight feel teeth in ass."

vanderleun said...

To return to our DireStraits hymnal,

Please open you books to

again and skip forward to instant 6:50

thou shalt go full screen

thou shalt crank thy speakers

If thou hast unto thyself a bong thou shalt take a big hit.

Thou shalt hit play and hang all the way to the end.

Write when your brain comes back to the planet of its birth.

Thus let it be written. Thus let it be done.

Thus doth I, THE LORD THY GOD OF EFFING ROCK, decree it.

dadofhomeschoolers said...

Um, Jeez.
I thought it was kinda ok the way "Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy" was ok at three in the morning and you were two sheets to the wind. It was something to fill time on those long straight roads in the middle of the night on the way back to college.

T.K. Tortch said...

But - but - Crimson And Clover is the Greatest Song Ever Waxed.

If it wasn't Joan Jett wouldn't have covered it, of course.

vanderleun said...

Joan Jett cover = Case Closed.

Cambias said...

By God, sir, it's a grand thing to see someone who is willing to say when he doesn't like something.

Mal said...

Crimson and Clover?
I guess I'm one of the ones beside you on that "Sultans of Swing" thing Mr. Cottage. Never could figure out the allure; and I say that as a guitar player of the genus Peditum Senex. Be that as it may, I confess that I do like to hear "Brothers in Arms" once in a while.
As far as requests go, I got nuthin' other than the wish to be able to watch the fellers' musical peregrinations continue. Thanks for sharing folks - it sure takes me back!

SippicanCottage said...

Hmmm. Hi Matt- Thanks for reading and commenting.

I really can't say if I'd want to hear Teenage Wasteland "again," because I've never listened to it all the way through, and I can't listen to it "again" until I do.

Hi Gerard- I don't like Gerard either. I don't love him, neither. I adore him.

But there's no reason to be crabby towards Thud. I mean, it's not Thud's fault that Sultans of Swing isn't very good.

Gerard's just in the "denial" portion of his twelve-step journey to enlightenment on Sultans of Swing. Eventually he'll come around to my way of thinking: Sultans of Swing is just Freebird for people who'd rather watch My Dinner with Andre instead of NASCAR on TV.

Hi Dad of- I'm with you. It's harmless. I don't even mind it. It's just not important.

Hi TK Tortch- Thanks for reading and commenting.

I've played Crimson and Clover in public for money. I'll say that for it.

Hi Cambias- Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hi Mal- Thanks for reading and commenting. We'll have a video of the boys' performance last week at a local venue available for viewing this week. They killed.

shoreacres said...

Well, I got here late to the party, but I've been listening to the version of SOS Gerard linked. And listening. And listening. It may be bad music, but it makes me happy. What can I say? I like "Walk of Life", too.

Looking forward to the performance video. I rarely have use for the word "exponential", but the rate of your kids' musical growth demands it.

Casey Klahn said...

I have just enough Chimay in me to get a huge laugh out this. I finished a woodworking project today, and someone told me to celebrate. Okay. The irony is obvious.

I agree that Sultans sucks. It is mannerist in the worst possible way.

Oh, what do I know about music, anyway? This year I posted my fealty to Nadia Boulanger and Don McLean.

That's all I have.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I suppose one may have been imprisoned in a soviet gulag, or not yet adjudicated competent to exit a US asylum, perhaps a missionary in darkest africa,unborn, or simply comatose when Dire Straits released their seminal album and title track Sultans of Swing.

It was a complete collapse of the existing musical world - zeppelin not worthy to carry DS's used toilet paper - and a capture of what is the word - Zeitgeist? - stick with the studio version - on par with the stones/ccr/animals/little feat

what is not to like?

i have confidence that your progeny may be able to master this work.

why don't you?

Leslie said...

This is all very distressing, as I love Mark Knopfler, and practically swoon over Romeo and Juliette.
I had a 6th grade choir teacher who made us sing Cat Stevens songs. Almost exclusively. Weird.

Anonymous said...

Sultans is prob my least fave DS song. But Romeo and Juliet, Latest Trick, Brothers in Arms... amazing. Knopfler is the only guy I can think of who's approximated Atkin's style and really earned a spot playing with him.
Crimson on the other hand- well I've hated that song with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns for 40 g-damn years.
Never heard baba o'riley all the way thru- hhhrrrrrm that can't be good.
What are the kids gonna do for a bass player for their gig?
The Kids Are Alright. Man I need to make you a mixtape.

Anonymous said...

Mr Sippican, music fell from the heights with a loud thud (apologies to Thud) in 1972-73. The greatness was sparse in the decades to come, with only a few glimmers in the darkness. Dire Straits was one of the very few bright spots, and Mark Knopfler's legacy is secure. Sultans of Swing is but a single song, hardly the best they had to offer, but it was a wake up call saying "this too shall pass" in an era when mainstream music became horrid.

p kerit said...

I had to go watch that video to remember the "Sultans" The singer has a mouth full of mush.
I liked Crimson and Clover when I was 13 years old but the best stuff was Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Moody Blues, etc

Deborah said...

By 1970, I had stopped listening to rock and roll, and switched to country/western. By 1977, I was listening to opera only. By 1980, I was listening to opera and contemporary Christian music. In the early 90s, I added jazz to the opera and Christian mix. Now I listen almost exclusively to jazz. So I missed any rock and roll (Dire who?) that occurred after 1970---to my son's shock and dismay.

But this, this---Jay McShann---makes my heart soar:

The horrifying part is that I nearly missed Raul Malo (and the Mavericks), but I am catching up :)

To be fair, I did go listen to Dire Straits and Sultan ... and I have to take Sipp's side in this tempest.

Anonymous said...

Being from the Bunny Berigan-Ziggy Elman-Buddy Rich-Jo Stafford-Gene Krupa-Artie Shaw... generation, I haven't a clue about any of this. Thank goodness for bootleg .mp3s. (Yes, I am that old.)

Cachinnosus said...

I feel your pain. Having played in a band during the Freebird/Stairway to Heaven era, I know that visceral response you suffer.
I am still requiring ongoing electroshock treatments for a gig we once did at a bowling alley-- a party for Swedish exchange students with a stand-in guitarist who did serious and irreparable damage to Reelin' in the Years. My thought at the time was: thank God they don't even live in this country.
Now, Maggot Brain by Funkadelic-- there's a capitol song for the boys to play!

Sam L. said...

I like Sultans, but prefer Walk Of Life. Never thought much of them until Douglas Adams praised them in one of the Hitchhiker books. And I heard The Kingsmen live back in the early '60s at the beginning of a fall semester.

In the early '90s I was in a bank with a radio tuned to an elevator music station--sounded vaguely familiar. Took a while to pick up Stairway To Heaven out of it. (And did you know the theme song for Gilligan's Island can be sung to SoH? Heard that on Dr. Demento in the late '80s.

Annnnnyway, playing SoS is better than having to play Inna-Da-Gadda-Da-Vida. YMMV.

I'll go with letting the boys pick what they want to play.

Anonymous said...

Lot of mud around here! Would you consider just asking your sons to listen to Dire Straits? and then Abba? and after that maybe some Grateful Dead? Because "the sound" of Unorganized Hancock definitely leans that way.

Thud said...

Gerald...perhaps you mean arse? as being English I don't have an ass,donkey or anything remotely equine.

Anonymous said...

Ok, but Nick Lowe is the only rock star who wver figured out how to be an old man without making a complete ass of himself.

Anonymous said...

Would Bach approve of Monk? Would Miles be a fan of Hank? It's hard to quantify what it is that makes music good, but my guess is that even if it's as cheesy as a Rebecca Black "Friday", if it puts smiles on more than a few faces, it's done it's job. And in the case of Sultans of Swing, who knew an innocent little ditty would come to define Mark Knopfler for the droves of talented musicians with careers that never went anywhere who criticize the successes of others from their backyard ivory towers.

Sam L. said...

Hey! What Anon @ 352PM said: Let them learn ABBA and AVI over in NH will start linking and sending people their way. (No ABBA costumes, though; Child Protective Services be on ya in a FLASH!)

Anonymous said...

I'm really not understanding what your point is. What, musically, is wrong with SoS or Crimson and Clover? Or is is just that a bunch of plebes you don't like happen to like the songs?

This is like a Roger Ebert movie review. (Worst reviewer in memory.) "This movie was terrible and I didn't like it." Well who gives two cupcakes what you think Roger, your job is to tell us _why_ it was bad!

Not that your job is blogging Mr. Cottage, but if you're going to review songs could you please give us some kind of analysis? Convince me that these songs are bad. What am I missing?

vanderleun said...

You are missing the fact that you have exactly zero right to command convincing from another. Agree, disagree, okay,.. but do your own grunting and heavy lifting.

Thud said...

Anon, I don't think you quite understand how things work here...we like each other! please try harder.

Leslie said...

I like you, Thud. This is a nice place.