Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Classic Rock Can Kiss My Ass

I'm not really one of those people that freaks out about my age. I don't think I act like I'm forty-one. I sure don't dress like I'm forty-one. Sometimes, I don't look forty-one. It doesn't bother me, aside from the normal concerns about my health now that I have crossed the threshhold into my 40s.

But every once in a while, I feel my age in an overly-dramatic way that only a born performer can. Today's culprit was the Grateful Dead and their song, "Touch of Gray." This one really got to me because I was, what, fifteen or sixteen when the song came out? You know, that time of life when you are bulletproof and rocket-powered, and the whole concept of fortyfive and fiftysomething guys singing about a touch of gray is just side-splitting.

And then YOU become a fortysomething, and guess what? The Stones are celebrating their 50th freaking anniversary next year. And you've got gray in your hair, and the kids still can't read at seventeen, and oh, lordy, I'm a cliche. I'm pretty sure this is how bourbon was invented,  but don't quote me on that.

I've got to take a break from classic rock anyway. Overexposure to Roger Daltrey trying to act in the 1980s has conditioned me to not like The Who, and overexposure to real life in general has conditioned me to never again listen to Pink Floyd for any reason, ever again. So, I've always got to be ready to flip from Classic Rock over to another, similarly programmed station on my XM radio, whenever one of the above offending bands comes on. Which happens about once an hour, give or take. Sometimes one station is playing The Who and the other station is playing Pink Floyd. This is what's known in baseball terminology as a 'pickle.' Usually I just turn the radio off and hum Nirvana for three minutes.

I've got other problems with Classic Rock (and what they now include as Classic Rock), and most of them are lyrical. As much as I love the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger needs a translator. Seriously. I've been listening to the Stones for years and I still can't figure out half the crap he says. It's like he speaks literal heiroglyphics. I've tried slowing him down and speeding him up. Backwards, he sounds exactly the same. It's a conundrum. And the potential to mis-hear what his says is infinite.

But that's his style, and kinda like Bob Dylan, if you're going to be a fan of that stuff, you just shrug and grin and bear it. Cathy's always asking me what that line is, and I have to say to her, "Honestly, honey, I think he says 'all that sickness, I can suck a duck.' And please don't ask me what that means. I don't think even Mick knows."

Sometimes the lyrics are just baffling. Clearly stated, but practically nonsensical. Jimi Hendrix is a great example. Inarguably one of the most influential guitarists of all time, and much of his stuff still holds up. But where did he come up with his songs? Mind you, they weren't all Jim Morrison weird. That is to say, he wasn't trying to be an obfuscating poet. Sometimes, little things just popped in there. Case in point: "Fire."

Great song, right? Fast, cool, covered more than once, always a great guitar solo, but just before that solo, he drops a lyric on us. Now, this whole time, the song has been about a guy, trying to convince a girl to let him stand next to her fire (and let's just go ahead and assume THAT'S a metaphor for sex, unlike so many other rock songs from the sixties). Just before the solo, he says, and I quote, "Aw, move over Rover...and let Jimi take over...yeah, you know what I'm talkin' about..."

Um, no, I don't. All of a sudden, there's a family dog in the picture? Was rover the one trying to get next to the fire this whole time? And did Hendrix just cock-block the dog? I don't know! I've never been able to figure it out. Come on! And then right after the solo, the girl tries to give (presumably Hendrix) some money! I love the song, but by the end of it, I'm just in a lather, trying to make sense of it all.

I'm ready to take some of the blame for myself. Sometimes in my weird little brain I'll just get it wrong, or have a different association. To this day, whenever I'm singing Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London," and we both get to the part about the 'hairy headed gent who ran amok in Kent..." and then shortly thereafter, "You'd better stay away from him, he'll rip your lungs out, Jim. Huh. I'd like to meet his tailor," I've got to stop myself from singing "I'd like to meet Liz Taylor," which is what I thought the song said for years. And what a non-sequitor that would have been. One second, we're talking about a well-dressed werewolf, and the next minute, Zevon's breaking the fourth wall to talk about Liz Taylor. It made no sense. Of course, I figured that one out on my own.

Not so with Manfred Mann. Ooh, God, that song. You know the one. The Springsteen cover. The one hit that everyone knows. I'm talking about "Blinded by the Light..." go on, finish the lyric. You know what comes next. "Wrapped up like a douche, another ruler in the night." Har-de-har-har-har. Of course, that's not the lyric. Manfred Mann, in his infinite wisdom, changed "Cut loose like a deuce" to "revved up like a deuce." I know, it still doesn't make any sense.

You have to know that a Deuce is a not-too-common nickname for a 1932 Ford--basically, a hot rod roadster. "Cut loose like a Deuce" now sounds like a drag race, or maybe even a joy ride. In the context of the song Bruce sung, it makes perfect sense. As for Manfred Mann...

Don't tell me that he clearly says "Deuce" in his version, because he doesn't. His over-produced, echo-y vocals are crystal clear until that one word, and then all of a sudden, he's got reverb on his voice, which gives it that CSHHHHHH sound that we have all sung a thousand times, even as we knew "that can't be right--douche? Really?" I've since heard the original Springsteen version, and you know what? It's infinitely superior in every way. For one thing, Springsteen isn't trying to sound like the Electric Light Orchestra. For another, his lyrics are audible and contextually correct. So, to sume up: Manfred Mann can go jump up a rope.

In my twenties, I started listening to the great American standards. Lyrically, they can't be beat. But best of all, I could hear everything clearly. Now, I'm over forty and while I don't feel old, I have the musical tastes of a 94 year old male. Seth MacFarlane, a guy whose television shows I don't watch, just released an album of standards, sung in vintage Rat-Pack-channelling style, and he really pulls it off, too. Now I tool around town in my Vibe and belt out "I've Got You Under My Skin" and sometimes, I wear a jaunty hat. I'm literally an inch away from wearing black dress socks with the garters to hold them up, along with Bermuda shorts and a floppy shirt.
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