Monday, November 09, 2015
Three Old Men Having Fun
Back towards the tail end of my stint as a working musician, my friends and I had a name for our band, strictly for internal use: Four Old Men Having Fun. I was in my early forties at the time. We understood that what we were doing was ultimately a young person's game, even though we were still doing it. Unlike many of our contemporaries, we didn't have any ego problem that would interfere with acknowledging the growing absurdity of it. It seemed plenty absurd to me before we got old, so for me the transition was seamless.
Music wasn't our real profession, though. Don't get me wrong. We performed a lot and got checks with more than one zero on them. That was the whole point of it. We had regular occupations and played music at night and on the weekends to make some extra money. When we were younger we met lots of pretty girls and when we got older we used the money we earned to buy formula for the babies we had with the girls.
I have no complaints. I simply stopped doing it. It was easy for me to stop because I was stopping being what I wasn't. It's not so easy for people who are musicians whether the sun's up or not. They are what they is, as they say. They don't want to stop being musicians because then they stop being people. A few prominent people in the arts, who don't want to keep slugging it out in a fickle industry, open wineries or some such enterprise when they want to live my life in reverse, but most are still trying to sing Hope I Die Before I Get Old right up until they're screwing down the lid.
I find that most of the interesting songwriters in pop music are basically scholars. Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and people like Donald Fagen are bookworms for music. They perform their own stuff, but they would probably be just as happy if they were like Jimmy Webb or Rogers and Hammerstein or a million other guys that sat in a walkup office with a piano and a pile of foolscap and wrote music all day. I'm pretty sure that Fagen and Becker actually tried their hand at being Brill Building-type drones before the music business decided that it was simply cheaper and easier to have all the bands write their own stuff. Man, the Beatles ruined everything.
I found it amusing to watch the Three Old Men Having Fun resurrecting the Isley Brothers Who's That Lady. Pop music doesn't cure cancer or anything, but you can always find interesting things in it if you look around. Donald Fagen isn't about to seine the Seventies looking for material and come up with The Candy Man. He has better taste than that. Who's That Lady was a great piece of pop when it first came out. It's been mostly overlooked in the recycled music industry, so it was both a surprise and familiar for the audience of geezers. That's the secret to good covers.
I found all sorts of things interesting in that video: Bog Gas is performing with the wreckage of Steely Dan now? Fascinating. After all these years, Michael McDonald still doesn't know the difference between a cardioid and an omnidirectional microphone? He pulls his head away from the microphone too abruptly at the end of phrases. In about ten more years, are you going to be able to tell the difference between Donald Fagen and Stephen Hawking without nametags? I used to think the Gibson SG was the worst guitar ever made, but now that I've seen Jon Herrington play one, is it possible that it's worse than the worst guitar ever made? It makes him play badly, at least for him.
I'm moderately surprised that was a performance at the Metropolitan Opera. It's not that goofy an idea, I suppose. Mean Joe Greene (Giuseppe Verdi) was a pop artist, and opera was the equivalent of the top forty on AM radio back in the day. Sometimes only the passage of time gives things cultural weight. But man, if you asked me in 1974 if the Isleys would be covered in the Metropolitan Opera House by Bog Gas and Steely Dan, I would have said that's impossible. And tried to buy tickets.