Music And People, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Soundtrack Of "Wicked"

My high school years were not spent dissecting frogs, or making out with Debbie Fongiulagazzo in the bleachers, or agonizing over calculus homework. They were spent fighting. Not fist-fighting, but loud and brutal arguments with a bunch of girlfriend-less guys over who was the better drummer, John Bonham or Neil Peart. "Your mother wears combat boots" was not a reason for a beatdown. "Ritchie Blackmore sucks," on the other hand, could get your ass-kicked by certain guys on Nostrand Avenue with one eyebrow and a less than stellar vocabulary.

Thinking back to a few years earlier, I could remember sitting in my friend's bedroom, barely 13, listening to "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John, and for a reason I really didn't understand then, Olivia Newton-John's "Let Me Be There" album. I loved Elton, but my friend loved Elton AND Olivia. I didn't want to punch him. I just wanted an answer to the question, "Why?" Back then, it made little sense to me musically. When I tried bringing records like Queen's "Sheer Heart Attack," "The Slider" by T-Rex, or "Mott" by Mott The Hoople into the mix, the most positive reaction I got from my neighborhood friends was, "Homo!" Tough crowd, we were.

More than 30 years later, I still find myself questioning why someone would like A but not B, or A, B and C, but not D. I stopped getting violent over it, but I still tend to overthink and overtalk it. Yes, there have been reviews on these pages where I was less than kind to an artist. (See my Shelby Lynne review HERE) Or take Radiohead, for example. I have been over Radiohead for 10 years or so, now. Not because I think they stink. They most certainly do not. I just feel like they've abandoned a very accessible songwriting formula for a more experimental, and to my ears, difficult listening experience. (Difficult, not demanding.) 30 years ago, these comments would have found me on the opposite end of a spit-filled tirade from one of my dearest friends. I still have a tremendous amount of respect for Radiohead, one of the greatest bands to emerge in the last 50 years.

Something else I've been thinking about happened a few months back, when it was announced that Bon Jovi was booked for the second weekend of theNew Orleans Jazz Festival. The bile that was spewed in the official Jazz Fest Chat Room was nothing less than obnoxious. Responsible adults screaming "FOUL!" Really angry words about the injustice of the booking. I still don't get it. Just like I don't get why people often use "Living On A Prayer" as a punchline. A multi-million seller, with a perfect chorus and a great riff is nothing to shake a stick at, and certainly not something to get angry about. Don't like Bon Jovi? Don't go see him perform and don't buy his records. (You know you like "Livin' On A Prayer.")

Here are just a few of the comments pulled off the Jazz Fest forum regarding Bon Jovi:

"Laughable. Maybe a reunited Poison will be available next year. And people were thinking Bruce or Neil, LOL."

(I'm pretty sure Bon Jovi has sold more records in the last 20 years than Neil Young. Although Neil has probably released about a million records. But that's not my point.)

"Nothing says New Orleans Jazz and Heritage like Bon Jovi."

(And Spoon, Wilco, Drive By Truckers, Emmylou Harris, James Taylor, Joe Cocker, and Jimmy Buffett all scream Lower Ninth? Where are the snide comments about JT rocking the Crescent City with "Her Town, Too?")

"Who cares about this 80s has been/never was. They need to get better talent than this if they think that people will spend their hard earned $$$ during an economic depression."

(Has been? Anybody listen to the last 32 Joe Cocker albums? He's covering himself. And did anyone specifically NOT go the Fest because of Bon Jovi's late addition? Just dumb.)

"What an absolute disappointment this announcement is particularly after the rumors of Springsteen, Neil Young, Fleetwood, Clapton, etc..."

(Amazing to think Fleetwood Mac circa 2009 and no Christine McVie is somehow "cooler" than Bon Jovi. And has anyone heard the last 32 Eric Clapton albums?)

All of this brings me to Burning Wood, the blog where I get a bit more personal with my musical musings, and some loyal readers who have been offended by some recent posts about Queen, Bruce Springsteen and The White Stripes. I am apparently "abandoning my roots." Really? What are my roots? It's music, isn't it? It may not be your music, but it's someone's. Even a good ol' boy like Steve Earle has The Beatles, Johnny Cash AND Nirvana on his iPod. (I'm guessing) You can certainly hear the influence of all three in his music.

I still know too many people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s who wouldn't be caught dead listening to Abba, even though Benny & Bjorn have created some of the best pop music this century. And if they do like "Fernando," it is usually expressed in the form of an apology, something like, "I am really sorry, but I like "Fernando." Why are you apologizing? What is it that still keeps confident adults insecure about their music likes and dislikes?

One more thing, apropos of something, I am not a Deadhead. I find Bob Weir's singing voice to be no better than Mike Huckabee's. But with a lifetime of goading from some really persistent friends, I now respect the Dead more than ever, and listen to certain Dead records more often than not. I found an amazingly soulful voice in Jerry Garcia, not to mention a fantastic guitar player. All it took was some patience, and the respect for my friends' taste in music.

I can say the same for hundreds of artists that many wouldn't be caught dead listening to. Sure, these people will mock the artists without ever hearing a note, but that's the American way, isn't it? I have recently found some appreciation for things that seemed completely out of reach some years ago; the original cast recording of Wicked, for example. Some really beautiful stuff there. And I am NOT sorry.

Man cannot live on bread, or Steve Earle alone.

In closing:

Ritchie Blackmore does not stink.
John Bonham is better than Neil Peart.
I still don't really care for Olivia Newton-John, but I really love "You're The One That I Want."
Bon Jovi is ok by me.
I love Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, and Queen.

The White Stripes...not so much.