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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Kill More Of Your Idols

Back in JANUARY, I summarized the first half of the book Kill Your Idols, edited by Jim DeRogatis and Carmel Carrillo, about classic albums that were overpraised. I promised the rest the following month. Well, the book then disappeared in my home office, until my wife tidied up (mostly HER stuff, I might add), and I found it again.

Patti Smith, Horses. Arista, 1975. By Melanie Haupt.
The writer's point: I really want to like it, but I just can't get down with it.
My point: Actually, I tend to agree. I bought this, on LP, and listened to it several times, trying to "get" it, but I don't.

Bob Marley and the Wailers, Exodus. Island, 1977. By Dave Chamberlain
The writer's point: overly commercial, not his best effort, lacks fire.
My point: I don't know the other albums well enough to say, but I enjoy it on its own merits.

Fleetwood Mac, Rumours. Reprise, 1977. By Jim Walsh.
The writer's point: Actually, I don't know WHAT the point is. Mostly, how he wants to get a gun so he can kill the members of the band, I think.
My point: I own it on vinyl. There are a few songs on here I actually like (Go Your Own Way) - I know people who would disagree - but I am surprised that it became the utter phenomenon it did.

Paul McCartney - Ram
Paul McCartney, Ram. Capitol, 1971. By Tom Phalen.
The writer's point: bombastic, over-produced weak songs.
My point: OK, it's definitely a goofy album, and even at the time of its release, it took some heat, so I'm surprised it's even included in the book. That said, I enjoyed it well enough, and don't care that Paul swiped stuff from his previous band.

John Lennon/Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy. Geffen, 1980. By Allison Stewart.
The writer's point: The album is impossible to separate from the events of December 8, 1980. Lennon's contributions were moving, if slightly cloying. But Ono's atonality interrupts even that.
My point: Yes, 12/8/80 is all over it. I liked that John was (finally) comfortable in his skin. And I sorta like Kiss Kiss Kiss. But truth to tell, I haven't listened to it in so long, that except for the Makin' Whoopie swipe I'm Your Angel, I can't even REMEMBER the Yoko songs.

The Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks...Here's the Sex Pistols. Warner Brothers, 1977. By Jim Testa.
The writer's point: Except for Anarchy in the U.K. and God Save the Queen, he's got the feeling that he's been cheated.
My point: Agree. I find the rest all but unlistenable.

Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables. Alternative Tentacles, 1980. By Marco Leavitt (of Albany, NY).
The writer's point: Hard to take because they take themselves so seriously, even when they're trying to be humorous.
My point: Actually, I've never heard of this album.

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run. Columbia, 1975. By David Sprague.
The writer's point: The Newsweek/Time hype of this bloated album with characters devolved from his previous releases was muscled by the pre-release of every song to a rock station in Cleveland.
My point: O.K., it isn't the messianic departure the hype suggested, and maybe is a bit overproduced in that Phil Spector way, but still enjoyable.

Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A. Columbia, 1984. By Rob O'Connor.
The writer's point: Springsteen is corny, mundane, and conventional. He doesn't recognize rock and roll as the rebellious forbidden fruit, and obviously never had a real job in his life. He intentionally misled people into misreading the title song, ripped off the other songs from other artists, and generally panders to his audience. The album sounds like mud.
My point: I was never hot on Dancing in the Dark, but that aside, I think this is an interesting, diverse piece of Americana.

Various Artists, My Greatest Exes. By Carmel Carrillo.
The writer's point: Since I'm the co-editor of this book, I can write an indulgent chapter about music my ex-girlfriends like and dis them (the songs, and, by extension, the ex-girlfriends).
My point: Not worthy of comment.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Imperial Bedroom. Columbia, 1982, By Michael Corcoran.
The writer's point: It's trying to be Sgt. Pepper or at least Pet Sounds. Instead the album is bloated and pretentious.
My point: I was totally distracted by this sentence:
I was there when they unlocked the front door at Strawberry Records in Albany, New York, the day Imperial Bedroom came out. I KNEW this guy! He used to write for a variety of publications, some of which he put out himself, that he would drop off at FantaCo, the comic book store I worked at in that time period. Knew his then-girlfriend, too, who was MUCH younger. AND I used to buy albums at Strawberry's, and at Just A Song, which was virtually in the same space before that.
As for the album, I just didn't play it all that often. There were three or four great songs that stood out, but the rest, not so much.

U2, The Joshua Tree. Island, 1987. By Eric Waggoner and Bob Mehr.
The writers' point: U2 hemorrhaged sincerity to produce "one of the most relentlessly banal albums in the pantheon of the greats."
My point: As early as 1988, I had this album on my 20 desert albums. When I told that to someone, he thought it was too soon to tell. Fair enough; it's still on my 20-30 desert albums.

Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Def Jam/Columbia, 1988. By Arsenio Orteza.
The writer's point: Shrill noise similar to "Chinese water torture" with a 20-year-old message. And racist to boot.
My point: I have never owned this album, so feel unqualified to comment.

Nirvana, Nevermind. Geffen, 1991. By Anders Smith Lindell.
The writer's point: It "made punk safe for the shopping mall." The overdone soft/loud schtick wore out its welcome.
My point: This is first album that made me feel old. I thought the lyrics to Smells Like Teen Spirit were laughable or a parody, though I appreciated it musically. Upon more plays, I appreciated it more, though it DOES have too much of that soft/loud schtick.

The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Virgin, 1995. By Rick Reger.
The writer's point: It was "designed to create the impression of 'significance' where, in fact, none existed. The scope of the album isn't its strength, it's its "fatal flaw".
My point: I've never owned it, so can't speak well enough of it.

Radiohead, OK Computer. Capitol, 1997. By David Menconi.
The writer's point: Completely boring and unmoving, though marketed well.
My point: I bought it. I listened to it thrice. I don't get it, either, though the last time, I heard it in 2- or 3-song chunks and it was (surprisingly) better.

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Nonesuch, 2003. By Allison Augustyn.
The writer's point: Tranquilizing, with a few catchy songs
My point: This was on my "to buy" list -I have other Wilco, which I like - but I haven't yet.

That's it, except for About the Contributors, which is a lot of fun, actually, because at least half of them have one or more albums on their Top Ten albums that someone else has royally panned.



Thom said...

I think it's still way to early to tell with the Joshua Tree. I mean, a scant 19 or 20 years to dtermine if it's a classic? Need more time.

(Okay...I still like it)

Tom the Dog said...

I'm still reading your ost, but I want to make a few points before I forget:

--I don't disagree with you on Rumours. It's great stuff, that's why it's so popular, and that writer is beginning to sound like a crank. (On second reading of your post, I see that each essay is supposed to be by a different writer. Still: a crank.)

--That Dead Kennedys album is pretty damn good, I think.

--The writers are just talking crazy when they get to Springsteen. Two brilliant albums. And Bruce never misled anyone on "Born in the U.S.A."; in fact, when Ronald Reagan asked to use the song in his reelection campaign, Bruce refused, saying he didn't think Reagan had actually listened to his music (which was true). He also denied Lee Iacocca's request to use the song for Chrysler.

--The writer is spouting pure ignorance when it comes to Public Enemy.

--But I kind of agree on Nirvana. And the Smashing Pumpkins album, which could've been brilliant as one disc, but was bloated at two.

--And I've said many times before, I don't get the love for Radiohead AT ALL. Not one little bit. They're the cure for insomnia, in my eyes.

--I also want to get that Wilco album. I feel like they're a band I should like, but haven't really given enough of a chance.

David Menconi said...

hey there -- I happened onto your blog item about the book; and I
thought you might enjoy the bit below, an introductory spiel I worked
up to do at bookstore readings when "KYI" came out.


David Menconi/Raleigh (NC) News & Observer

Some of you may know a guy named Jon Wurster, drummer for the local band Superchunk. When he’s not playing drums, one of Jon’s hobbies is to concoct incredibly elaborate phone pranks involving bizarre alter egos. His most inspired prank was to assume the identity of Ronald Thomas Clontle, the world’s most clueless rock critic and the author of a fictitious book “Rock, Rot & Rule” — in which he categorized the
merits of different bands without offering any reasons as to why they
rocked, rotted or ruled.
In a radio interview that many listeners of a New Jersey radio station somehow took seriously, Jon called his non-existent book “the ultimate
argument settler” — a phrase he claimed he was going to copyright.
Well, you can think of “Kill Your Idols” as the exact opposite: “the
ultimate argument starter.” In fact, one of my co-contributors gave a copy of “Kill Your Idols to a friend in a band to take on the road.
After it got passed around the touring van, it reportedly caused heated arguments and even fist fights. And let me tell you, I just could not be more thrilled to be part of something like that.
Although I must confess that it’s odd to talk up a book I don’t especially agree with. Of the 34 essays here, I’d say one-third of them are pretty good or even excellent; one third are unconvincing; and one-third of them are just stupendously wrong-headed. But then again,
disagreeing — sometimes VIOLENTLY disagreeing — seems to be the point
here. Even the book’s editor is on-record saying he doesn’t agree with
most of what’s in here.
That would be Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times, who is something of a bomb-thrower in rock-critic circles. Jim had a brief, ill-fated tenure at Rolling Stone magazine in the mid-90s, and has been trying to get over it ever since. As part of that, Jim hatched “Kill Your Idols” as an answer to the institutional mindset at Rolling Stone, which is
always publishing boomer-centric lists of the greatest albums, singles, concerts and brain farts of all time. DeRogatis describes this book as the evil twin of “Stranded,” a 1979 essay collection in which critics wrote lovingly of the one record they would take to a desert island if
they were allowed to take only one. “Kill Your Idols” is more like a description of the record that would make you kill yourself if you were forced to listen to it one more time.
Now I’m not going to stand up here and try to pass this off as an act of subversion or bravery. But I will say that “Kill Your Idols” is defiantly contrarian, and parts of it are even refreshing. As with
“Lawrence of Arabia” or James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” a lot of the works dubbed “greatest evers” are seen, read and listened to a lot less than they’re simply revered, primarily due to received wisdom.
“Kill Your Idols” runs deliberately counter to the rock & roll canon, which means that it’s simply not possible for anyone to endorse all of it. For example, all 35 contributors submitted a personal “desert island top-10” of favorite records, presumably to give readers a reference point on each critic’s tastes. I’m fortunate in that nothing on my top-10 got trashed in the book. But two of my fellow contributors
had Radiohead’s “OK Computer” in their top-10s. So I guess you could say I rained on their parade with my contribution, an unflattering dissection of “OK Computer.”
But hey, fair’s fair. Twenty years ago, I began my music-critic career surrounded by aging hippies mooning about The Sixties. Now I find myself surrounded by young hipsters mooning about “OK Computer,” a record that has always mystified me. But that album’s place is already set in stone, presumably. After I turned in my essay for “Kill Your
Idols,” Rolling Stone magazine ran yet another list — “50 Moments That
Changed The History of Rock & Roll,” a countdown that included
Radiohead going into the studio to record “OK Computer” in the fall of
If that’s the official story, then I say let’s just keep it unofficial.