Priest Picks #17: Top 10 "Pet Peeves" Edition
Welcome to week #17 of Priest Picks. This week I switch gears for a few moments to introduce a regular diversion I’m going to call “Pickled Priest Pet Peeves.” Whenever ten things stack up that I need to get off my chest, I’m going to preempt my usual list of musical finds in order to relieve some of the built-up pressure accumulating in my brain. Here is the first installment.
1. ARE YOU A MUSIC LISTENER OR MUSIC SUPPORTER?
If you are not paying fair value for music, you are a music listener, not a music supporter. And don’t tell me you support music if all you do is pay $15 dollars to a streaming service every month—that doesn’t count. Yes, it’s better than nothing, but don’t delude yourself that you’re doing your part to support the artists you love. It’s a fact that other than the top 1%, few musicians see any significant streaming income. Sure there’s touring—that’s a viable option for supplying income in the current business model—but touring has always been a thing. It’s not like it was invented to offset the reduction in record sales. And what happens if touring is no longer an option? Say a pandemic hits. What then? What happens if an artist gets injured or has a health problem and can't tour? Answer: they don't make enough to survive. Both revenue sources go hand-in-hand to form a total income from which an artist can live on and be free to make new music, thereby perpetuating the creative cycle. The pandemic has hit a lot of musicians hard this year because touring is everything for many in this new paradigm. So they need your support now more than ever. And I don’t buy the senseless argument that “This is how it’s works now, so artists need to adapt.” Yes, I’m all for changing with the times, but just because some cheap workaround exists doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to shirk your obligation to fund the artistic community. The same goes for books. Just because libraries exist doesn’t mean you should stop purchasing the books you read. You’re basically biting the hand that feeds you just because someone issued you a library card. Don’t get me wrong; I think there is great value in having both streaming and libraries. It allows everyone the chance to try new things, expand their horizons, and both can support a lifelong relationship with music and books. But when you love or admire some artist or writer, you should support them as much as you can. I’m not saying everyone has to be perfect all the time—I’m certainly not—but I encourage you to ask yourself, "Am I doing my part?" The only real excuse is financial. If your financial situation restricts you from contributing, I get it. I've been there. But when and if things change for you, that will be your time to contribute. With this pandemic, I could be out of a job tomorrow just like millions of others. But too many people with the ability to support the arts are conveniently walking out on their responsibilities and leaving artists to figure out how to live, thrive, and survive. So don’t be a listener. Be a supporter.
2. CAN WE STOP CITING GRAMMY WINS WHEN WE INTRODUCE A MUSICIAN ALREADY?
How anyone treats a Grammy Award as a serious judge of artistic merit is beyond me. Yes, it’ll help your sales if you win, which is good for the winners, but do they care to get it right? Not by a long shot. It's usually a game of catch-up for the Grammys as they desperately scramble to become relevant. I’d say they pick something remotely accurate about 25% of the time, which is about the success rate you’d get if you let a chicken peck out the winners with its beak. The list of atrocities committed by the Grammys over the years is so mindboggling it’s a wonder people even put up with them anymore. (I’ve done an analysis of the award for Best Album of the Year, which I will post soon, but suffice it to say, their track record is laughable.) To make matters worse, the credibility of the Grammy trophy is constantly getting reinforced as a significant accomplishment when talk show hosts and journalists reference Grammy wins when discussing, or introducing, any artist who has ever been given one of the lame trophies. You’ve all heard it so many times it’s probably become passé by now, “Ladies and gentlemen, our next guest is a three-time Grammy winning musician…blah, blah, blah? But once you win one, for any reason, you become a Grammy winning artist forever. I wish they had to announce the context of those Grammy wins. If they did, you’d likely cringe at the miscarriage of justice inflicted on other worthy artists who were either snubbed or ignored completely. Here’s a sample of a more realistic and honest introduction:
Our next guest is an eight-time Grammy Award winner. However, seven of them were given to him in 1999 for a far from great record called Supernatural, which made for a heart-warming human interest story, especially after the Grammys inexplicably snubbed his incredible body of work for the 30 years prior. Two of the awards were for virtually dead categories for Pop Instrumental Performance and Rock Instrumental Performance, so those barely even count. His big awards were for “Smooth” which got a lot of attention because Rob Thomas of the loathsome Matchbox20 (remember them?) made a guest appearance and he was super popular at the time. The rest of his Grammys that year were add-ons because voters are lazy, especially when they got word that this was going to be Santana’s big make-up year, so they just voted a straight ticket whenever they saw his name listed. Plus, for Record of the Year, he beat out a mediocre Backstreet Boys album, the Dixie Chicks, TLC, and some Diana Krall record nobody remembers. So five out of the seven awards weren’t even that big of a deal really. Oh, and his eighth Grammy came three years later when he refused to push himself creatively and instead relied on the same formula for success yet again in hopes of another big payday. Nobody even remembered the song he won for three weeks after the ceremony. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Carlos Santana who won more Grammys in one year than the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin won in their entire career!
Apologies to Santana, who is a wonderful artist with a storied career, for being my guinea pig here, but you see the point. You may ask why this bothers me so much. Maybe it’s because I hate when something so flawed becomes the definitive arbiter (in the eyes of the general public) of great music and by default defines which artists meant the most to a certain year or generation. Of course, many don’t need awards shows to tell them what we should or should not listen to, but since people love them, why not strive for one that actually does its job properly and completely. It's a joke.
3. THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME: BLOW IT UP!
I’m going to state the obvious here, but the Rock and Roll HOF has lost its way. It has become the museum version of Rolling Stone magazine, which is not surprising considering Jann Wenner was on the board for a long time and has never had a clue what rock ‘n’ roll was anyway—he was just a social climbing business man. We need to get some new blood in control now to right some serious wrongs and guide the place back to credibility. While there’s no reversing the damage done by the induction of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bon Jovi, it’s also not too late to fix it. (See new post coming this year: The Pickled Priest Fixes the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.) I’ll leave the rant there for now and simply substitute my thoughts with the lyrics from a rant from Ron House of the great Columbus, Ohio band, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments (genius), titled “RnR Hall of Fame” (from their excellent 1995 album, Bait and Switch). It uses some extremes to make its point, but you’ll get the gist of his argument quickly (since it’s only a minute long!):
Bombs away on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Even if I got indicted I'd probably feel the same I don't wanna see Eric Clapton's stuffed baby I don't want to see the shotgun of Kurt Cobain Bombs away, bombs away Cleveland's cool, Cleveland's cool I don't want to see the liver of David Crosby I don't want to see the drugs I couldn't take I don't want to see the collector scum pay Blow it up, blow it up, blow it up Blow it up before Johnny Rotten gets in Blow it up before Paul Westerberg sits in Blow it up before Steve Albini makes a speech Blow it up, blow it up!
4. PITCHFORK HAS NO SENSE OF HUMOR
As I mentioned in Priest Picks #16, I recently spent some quality time watching the new documentary about Creem Magazine. If that documentary reinforced one thing for me it’s that most of the major sources of rock and roll criticism today have lost their senses of humor. I suppose that’s what happens when you monetize anything —everyone starts taking themselves too seriously and suddenly the focus turns to cultural relevance and social influence and pivots away from keeping things in the proper fucking perspective. And no website is more self-important, image conscious, and excruciatingly boring than Pitchfork. I’m not saying they don’t have
value—they do. I will give most albums they anoint with Best New Music status at least a listen or two. And their writing is reliably strong across the board if a little too everything for my taste. But it doesn’t mean they still don’t have a tight-ass approach to their music coverage in general. So what happened to holding rock ‘n’ roll accountable for itself? What happened to irreverence? What happened to sarcasm? Perhaps it’s society in general they are mirroring. In that case, it’s more needed than ever before. I for one think music journalism should lighten up a little bit and get back to telling it like it is. To paraphrase Lester Bangs. “Do [rock and roll] a favor and be honest and unmerciful.” What we do need right now is the return of Chunklet magazine whose sole purpose was to be irreverent and unmerciful. They spared no one, not even themselves, which was hilariously highlighted in their article “Who cares if [music] magazines are folding? All of them are horrible.”
5. COLORED VINYL IS FADING AS A CONCEPT
There was a time when colored vinyl was still a pretty novel concept. At the beginning of the new vinyl revolution, colored vinyl was still a relative novelty. It wasn’t that common and when it was used it often made some logical sense. An Al Green album on green vinyl makes sense. The Go-Gos Beauty and the Beat on pink vinyl made sense. Klaus Nomi’s debut on “cabaret smoke” vinyl is just the right match of product and presentation. De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising on clear vinyl with neon paint splatters? Artistic and musical alchemy of the highest order—it’s simply beautiful to behold on your turntable. But somewhere along the line everyone realized the value of limited edition colored versions as a marketing strategy. I don’t blame them—it’s smart business. People love something exclusive and collectible and if it’s good for the artists, I’m all for it. But at some point, anything cool starts getting old and overused. For every album that is perfectly paired with a well-thought-out color (especially if it corresponds to some aspect of the album title, a song, the artist’s name, etc.) there’s ten just pressed on randomly colored vinyl for the sake of a limited run. I still enjoy a good color match (VMP’s pressing of Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters on rich, aubergine vinyl), but I’m getting less and less jazzed as the concept becomes business as usual. Once again, we’ve beaten a good thing almost to death.
6. PICKLED PRIEST TO BROADWAY: DROP DEAD
I am one rock ‘n’ roll musical away from going on a rampage right down Broadway (when they re-open, that is). Broadway, like the motion picture industry, seems to have lost a lot of creativity over the years. These days, it’s all remakes, TV conversions, Disney spinoffs, stage versions of movies, and other bullshit. If it’s remotely popular make it a musical. That seems to be the business plan. Obviously, I’m wildly oversimplifying—there are original moments of creative brilliance too, but there is no denying big budgets are frequently getting allocated to proven entertainment commodities. I hate musicals in general so I really don’t care what they do to get their jollies, but when rock and roll gets involved it makes my blood boil. I’m mad not only because they exist but also because artists play along. Artists that are among the most successful in music history and don’t need the money. Some offenses are greater than others. A Queen musical I can understand, I guess. They were
theatrical by nature so it seems a logical complement to the band’s aesthetic. The same goes for the Who’s Tommy—it was written as a rock opera so let’s see how it works on the stage. That said, High Fidelity the musical nearly killed my will to live. Thank god it closed without fanfare. But then the trend got rolling big time and is showing no signs of stopping. Soon we had Movin’ Out based on the music of Billy Joel, which cocked the shotgun. And then Green Day’s American Idiot blew my figurative head clean off my body. Just as I got it reattached came Head Over Heels based on the music of the Go-Gos. And now Jagged Little Pill the musical and god knows what’s going to be trotted out next. How far are we away from Miss Misery: the Elliott Smith Musical or Smells Like Teen Spirit the Musical? Of all the things in this world that scream rock and roll, musicals are at the bottom of that list.
7. NICK CAVE TEA TOWELS?
I’m all for artists selling their wares in creative ways—we used to have stickers, patches, t-shirts, hats, and programs and that was about it. Maybe a bandana. But it’s much bigger business now and the aging populace of rock ‘n’ roll fans has money to burn so we’ve graduated to coffee mugs and tote bags and onesies for your baby (Nick Cave's say ‘Bad Seed’ on them which is kind of cool). Many bands are just short of an NPR subscriber drive these days and I submit that nothing says rock music like tote bags and coffee cups. How fucking rebellious. Nick Cave has always been reasonably innovative when it comes to merchandise. His “Nick Cave” plush dolls are inexplicable but demented in a good way (see photo). But he almost angered me with a Ghosteen umbrella and I cannot,
despite my love of all things Nick, get with the Nick Cave ‘Tea Towels’ on his website under any circumstances. From the guy who brought you this line, “I’ll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get one fat boy’s asshole” comes the Nick Cave tea towel! How fucking ironic I guess. And I do hope you use it for dabbing the saucer of a spilled tea cup, too—and NOTHING ELSE! We’re getting a little too creative for our own good. Remember people: this is rock ‘n’ roll, not a god damn wedding registry.
8. CAMPAIGN SONG ABUSE
We need a law enacted immediately that stops candidates and politicians from co-opting artist’s songs for campaign stops, commercials, and whatnot without their approval. End your recess early and get it done! The law should include serious penalties for any and all violations. For your first offense, you must use the Barney theme for 90 days whenever your candidate arrives at the facility where they are speaking or visiting. Second offense, the artist whose music you adopted gets to pick your campaign slogan until election day. Clearly the current method of preventing unwanted appropriation isn’t working. We see it cycle through the news constantly. Politician uses song, artist disavows any affiliation with politician, artist demands they cease and desist, politician doesn’t really acknowledge the complaint, and there’s never a public resolution. We’re to the point now that artists are suing the violators (Neil Young involved, of course). But let’s just put the law on the book right now so it never happens again. From now on, if there’s not a personally signed contract with the artist’s signature, the song can’t be used. End of fucking story.
9. RECORD STORE DAY POACHERS
If you haven’t been in a record store all year until Record Store Day, you don’t deserve to reap the spoils from the event. Leave the day for people who really care about keeping record stores vital. If you are truly one of those newbies who is genuinely curious about record stores and come with pure intentions, perhaps drawn in by the hubbub, that’s fine. Welcome aboard—we need everyone we can get. But if I don’t see your ass in a record store prior to next year, you’re banned. Even worse, if you are there simply to buy up the stock and “flip” the records (for yourself or for someone else) on eBay the next day, you should be shot dead on sight. I admit, you do a service to those of us who don’t like the crowds or didn’t get what they wanted, but you’re still, deep down, scum-sucking parasites.
10."THE 10 SPOT"
SEQUEL SONGS & “JESSIE’S GIRL 2” BY COHEED AND CAMBRIA
I was tickled pink that someone wrote a sequel to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” recently (see Priest Picks #5 for details). It seemed like an idea whose time had come. I thought it was clever and I wrote about it as such. Recently, New York prog rockers Coheed and Cambria released “Jessie’s Girl 2,” a sequel to Rick Springfield’s #1 hit from 1981 (and even had the courtesy to include a cameo from Rick himself). It’s better in concept than execution, however, but does put forth some sinister little life lessons for anyone coveting another guy’s girlfriend. In the sequel, Rick gets Jessie’s girl and with a surprising amount of support from Jessie, no less. A major red flag that goes unnoticed. It turns out that “Jessie’s Girl” is “out of her mind” and Jessie knew exactly what he was doing all along. Rick eventually tries to get away from her, too, and even changes his phone number to 867-5305 (in the business we call this “pushing it”). She, like any reputable stalker, finds him and they eventually settle down and have kids (he has no choice in the matter apparently). From that point on all he fantasizes about is losing Jessie’s girl. Oh, the sweet irony of it all! Now he spends his day fantasizing about what his life would’ve been “Had I left that monster in the 80s.” Pretty amusing for a few minutes, but sadly the song could’ve been so much better. Perhaps Rick can just re-write it himself for a future record.
Side Note: The presence of “sequel” songs shouldn’t be a big surprise, I suppose. We’ve always had them in one form or another. The “answer song” (i.e. the Temptations released “My Girl,” Mary Wells released “My Guy”) concept has been around forever—it was almost a form of flattery in a way. Often, it was the same song from a different perspective. There have been some pretty good ones, too. See below for a few of our personal favorites.
Pickled Priest’s Six Favorite Answer Songs of All-Time
Bobby Marchan’s “There’s Something on My Mind” answered by the Teen Queens’ “There’s Nothing On My Mind.”
The Silhouettes’ “Get a Job” answered by both “I Got a Job” by the Miracles and “I Got Fired” by the Mistakes.
Neil Young’s “Southern Man,” answered by Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” answered by Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
Eddy Arnold’s “I Really Don’t Want to Know” answered by Skeeter Davis’s “I Really Want You to Know.”
Lloyd Cole’s “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken” answered by Camera Obscura’s “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken.”
That’s all for this week. I am only scratching the surface with this list, so I may be back sooner than you think! See you next week with more music picks.