01 July 2006 by Published in: General musings 9 comments

Time for a good rant. I haven’t had one for a while. Warning to those of you who are only interested in the Civil War–you’re going to hate this post. It’s a rant about something else that’s always been important in my life–music–and has absolutely NOTHING to do with the Civil War. So, proceed at your own peril.

I was born in the spring of 1961, meaning that I am 45 years old, although there was a time not that long ago (or so it seems) when the thought of being 45 was akin to being old as the hills. For the most part, I try not to act my age; I try to live my life by the title of one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs, “Growing Older But Not Up.”

One place where I am, apparently, an old fuddy-duddy is with music. Simply stated, I think that the vast majority of the new music being made today is beneath contempt. Calling most of this stuff garbage is an insult to rubbish (am I the only one who doesn’t get Green Day at all?). While there are notable exceptions (new Scottish singer K. T. Tunstall being one very notable exception), most of what’s out these days is trash. I had a discussion with a friend not long ago wherein we lamented the fact that it’s apparently not difficult to make it in the music biz today even if you don’t have a lot of musical talent. Britney Spears, for one, comes to mind when I say that.

I am a product of the 1970’s (I graduated from high school in 1979). Most of my favorite bands have been around since then. Many of my favorite bands fall within the category of progressive rock. Prog rock bands had genuine talent as musicians, and many of them were classically trained. See Kansas, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Traffic, and the other great prog bands if you need a few examples of what I mean here. My wife’s office assistant, who is all of 19, has never even heard of most of these bands.

Today was one of those rarest of days here in Central Ohio: a summer day with not a cloud in the sky, not too hot, and no humidity to speak of. So, on the spur of the moment and just for the hell of it, I decided to check and see whether I could tickets to a double bill concert here tonight: Huey Lewis and the News and Chicago. To my great surprise, I was able to get two tickets at face value in the 18th row center. Off we went to the show.

I guess I must be showing my age. I can only think of one other instance where I saw more gray hair and more receding hairlines at a concert than tonight, and that’s when we went to see Simon & Garfunkel on their reunion tour a couple of years ago. Fortunately, I still have nearly all of my hair (although it has receded a bit), but I do have PLENTY of gray. So much so, in fact, that it shocks me every time I get my hair cut and I see the volume of it.

I always really liked Huey when he was at the height of his fame in the 1980’s. I saw him live twice in 1982 and 1983, and always thought he put on a great show. He didn’t disappoint tonight. Although the band behind him has changed, they still sound great, and the crowd was really into it. He may be in his mid-50’s now, but he can still rock, and still play a mean blues harmonica. Huey had quite a run of hits in the ’80’s, and they still sound good. They did all but three of his really big hits: “Hip to be Square” (the biggest of all), “Jacob’s Ladder” (actually written by Huey’s friend Bruce Hornsby), and “Walking on a Thin Line”.

Chicago was fabulous. They’ve always been a favorite of mine. This is their 39th year as a band, and there are still five original members. They recently released Chicago XXX. Ponder that for a moment….

Each one of them is a consummate professional and a virtuoso musician. The three horn players are all remarkable musicians. They opened the show by playing the entire “Ballet for a Girl From Buchanan”, which made up an entire side of Chicago II. Everyone of my generation knows “Colour My World,” which was guitarist Terry Kath’s signature song. Kath shot himself in 1977, and it nearly killed off the band. When they did it tonight, it had Huey Lewis on lead vocal, and he nailed it. It was pretty remarkable. When they did “I’m a Man,” both bands performed it together–both Huey and the News and Chicago.

Chicago did all of their hits, all of them comfortable and familiar. Their second album, Chicago II, which came out in 1969 and was a double album, is generally considered to be one of the top twenty rock albums, and certainly one of the most influential. Songs from it include: “Make Me Smile”, “Colour My World”, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”, and, of course, Chicago’s signature song, “Twenty-Five or Six to Four.” They did all of these tonight, closing out with “Twenty-Five or Six to Four” as the final encore. They only did one of those sappy songs that sold so many records in the 1980’s, instead focusing on the first five albums and also on their newest record.

The five remaining original members are all in their sixties now, and these old boys can still play and they can still rock. Although the current bass player doesn’t quite have the magnificent soaring voice of Peter Cetera, he’s a tremendous musician and is able to sing Cetera’s songs quite competently indeed.

On one hand, I felt quite old tonight, although there were certainly plenty of folks in attendance tonight much older than me. On the other hand, I was completely in my element, singing along (quite badly, I might add) and knowing all the words to almost every song by heart. Most of all, I was totally digging the idea that I was getting to hear great music played live by consummate musicians. Huey Lewis put it quite well at one point tonight when he said “In an America that seems to enjoy watching amateurs ice skate, try competitive sports, and most of all sing, these guys [Chicago] are real pros.” He was, of course, right on the money. The great tragedy is that the current generation has never really experienced that. They’re content with mediocrity. We never were.

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Comments

  1. Sat 01st Jul 2006 at 5:32 pm

    Amen to that!

  2. Tom
    Sat 01st Jul 2006 at 5:50 pm

    Ahh but my children are “enjoying” the hits of yesteryear thanks to satellite radio. They get to listen to the 80’s and Alternative station on every car ride. Every now and then I will be nice and listen to Radio Disney, until I can’t handle the junk anymore.

  3. Lanny
    Sat 01st Jul 2006 at 9:42 pm

    Dear General, Sir,
    Let us not knock mediocrity for only a mediocre person is always at his best. Sadly, I have found that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. We are now at the age when the birthday candles on our cakes make light of our age–the last time I tried to blow mine out, I needed a fire extinguisher, or at least that was what the local fire marshall told me. I figure, however, that if I live to be one hundred years old I have a good chance to live forever as very few people die after reaching 100. Keep smiling and don’t look back because whatever is back there may be gaining on you.
    Best wishes always,
    Lanny

  4. Sat 01st Jul 2006 at 10:46 pm

    Some of the things your saying, folks were saying that same thing about music of 60’s, 70’s, ect. Ironic isnt it. Mark

  5. Sat 01st Jul 2006 at 11:19 pm

    Mark,

    It is indeed ironic, which is why it occurred to me that my age was showing….. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Eric

  6. Sun 02nd Jul 2006 at 5:42 am

    I think the problem is that as the time changes it becomes just slightly more difficult to maneuver in certain environments with the kind of comfort that was enjoyed in youth. I feel this whenever I walk into a music store. Most of the bands are unfamiliar, so it is easy to gravitate towards the old stand-bys. That said, there is plenty of excellent music out there that easily competes with the stuff I listened to in the late 70’s and 80’s. One of the benefits of teaching is that my students make sample CD’s for me and this keeps me up to date.

  7. Valerie Protopapas
    Mon 03rd Jul 2006 at 6:56 am

    Tsk, tsk! At 65 (May 30th), I can tell you that the music that YOU describe as ‘great’ was looked at in the same way by my generation as you look at the current ‘music’. And MY parents looked at the R&R of my 1950s adolescence with the same head-shaking disbelief.

    Actually, there has been good – and bad – music in just about EVERY generation, but I must say that the advent of ‘rap’ so-called music as well as ‘acid rock’ and all of that genre that is nothing more than violent, discordant sound put to a primitive, mind numbing beat and often topped off with obscene ‘lyrics’, certainly lowered the level of popular music just as the atonal experiments of ‘classical’ composers did nothing to advance that musical genre in the 20th Century. It’s all just noise and with the ‘popular’ stuff, designed, I believe, to LOWER the sensibilities culture, not raise them.

    Interestingly enough, a local high school radio station plays almost nothing but jazz, big band and many pleasant popular tunes that once graced such television shows as Perry Como and Your Hit Parade! When one hears the words and music of such giants as Cole Porter and the Gershwins, what passes as ‘music’ today – in all but a VERY few cases – should hang its collective head in shame.

    Yes, I enjoyed Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Everly Brothers and even the folk song craze of the 1960s. And, although I don’t know anything about the artists, I still enjoy such songs as House of the Rising Sun and American Pie among others, but I can’t think of ANY of the current ‘music’ that I can stand to hear at all. When it is played as ‘background’ filler in some stores, I find myself wanting to go to the kitchen wares department and selecting some fine, long, SHARP knives! Music to kill by, for and with it seems to me is exactly what this ‘entertainment’ is.

    I don’t know whether today’s popular ‘music’ is a reflection of a violent culture or one of the reasons that the culture is so violent, but it certainly does not ‘feed the soul’ in the way that music is SUPPOSED to do including, yes, even little ditties like ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ or ‘Sea of Love’ once did. At least they were ‘fun’ and not rhapsodies of rage and conduits to carnage.

    V. P.

  8. Paul Taylor
    Wed 05th Jul 2006 at 9:16 pm

    Eric,

    At last! Something we can (laughingly) disagree about! I’m only two years older than you so we grew up in essentially the same musical world. While I loved the early seventies British prog. bands, i.e. Bowie, Traffic, King Crimson, Genesis (with Gabriel – NOT w/o!) I absolutely hated Kansas, Journey, Styx, and all the other stuff that was derisively referred to back in the mid-seventies as “corporate rock.”

    Then came punk. I absolutely loved it — The Clash, Sex Pistols, Jam, Damned, Ramones, Buzzcocks —- 3 chords & 2 minutes of pure energy and teen angst. (BTW, if you loved this type of stuff, then you’ll love Green Day — a retro band if there ever was one. If not, well, you won’t)

    How old is old? A month or so back I was in a coffee shop and saw two pre-teen girls wearing Clash t-shirts. ๐Ÿ™ I felt O-L-D, but hey, at least I knew what that band was all about…

    Speaking of which, check out: http://www.myspace.com/cowboymouth and click on the “Joe Strummer” link. Sums it up for us middle-agers. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Paul

  9. Sun 05th Nov 2006 at 10:47 pm

    Sorry Eric, but I like Green Day . . .

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