Lit and Crit
A Guide to America's Worst Decade
Pg 3 by Kevin Salveson
Bottom line: sometimes a voice grips you and so it seems another piano ballad is ok, you're in a forgiving mood. Other times, on instinct, you decline the offer: "Oh, not another one with chorused 12 string arpeggios and lyrics about broken hearts. Someone please en-deafen me before the big drum part of the song kicks in."
t's on a case by case basis, and sometimes the artists distinguish themselves and sometimes they don't quite get tangled up in your ear-hair. It's personal, of course, but in the end I've listened to so much music over my lifetime that now I have a mental catalogue of literally millions of tunes. Someone has to sort them out and rank them, so that you don't have to.
So that you can get to baking with the flour from the wheat, not the chaff that produced that horrible flatbread from last time. It's a public service I provide.
And of course, sometimes the music or artists themselves walked a fine line between commercialism and the authentic, or managed to fuse the two for a while before the unstable retort ignited in their faces.
Take someone like Phil Collins, for example. While he ultimately wound up getting wrapped in cellophane and sold as a doll version of himself, a packaged product who gave way to the industry's demand he dish out more blandness in the end, before that... he was legit. In fact, he might just be the Elton John of the 1980s. He excelled at writing glossy dumb pop but he also dominated the industry by starting fairly organically in a prog rock band, becoming a great professional drummer, and by going on to sincerely bear his soul with his early solo albums to great effect and acclaim. So it's a real crapshoot, the 80s, sometimes even with the same artist.
The problem is that a lot of the hits of the 80s, the stuff that KEARTH insists on playing now, is on rotation because the algo based webcrawlers scanned the Billboard charts from that era and regurgitate and reinforce the popularity of a certain few songs. Songs that we have now all come to loathe.
So it's the worst stuff all over again, and you've heard it way too many times already on top of it.
Anything by Bon Jovi for example. That stuff is unlistenable today except as nostalgia based kitsch because it was too polished and empty to begin with, too professional, too unoriginal. Too drenched in big stadium posturing. Too dumb in the lyric department. Bon Jovi titled one of his albums, "Slippery When Wet" for the sake of all that's holy. Roadway signs and sex, who doesn't get a giggle? Ha ha, that lanes-merging sign looks like a penis. Hey baby, let's merge lanes! (Wink, then swing your mic around like a cheerleader flag captain and do a kick).
Well, what gives you a sensible chuckle when you're a hormone driven fourteen year old makes you a little ashamed of your desperate and base neediness when you get to about double that age.
So the 80s rock, sure, in their own little pathetic way. But they just don't hold their own vs. other decades that saw more authentic approaches to music and art.
Simple, it's a fact: The 80s sucked overall. It felt like the music I hated in 80s lacked anything truly human, in a way It's still hard for me to say who was worse, the androgyno-bots with Weimar kohl around the eyes playing synthesizers that sounded like cheap toys to swingless preprogrammed drums, or the hair metalers. Well, either way, both overused the gated reverb snare sound that Phil Collins taught them all. No wonder that music is so easily identifiable as rock and roll from the era, and slightly more cheesy because of it.
But I think I'm going to have to go with the hairspray hawkers as the worse of the two. Their style was a regressive pose, a ripoff of the more interesting glam rock of the early 70s, calorie lite candy, and often a cartoon version of hyper-sexuality which was insulting to anyone with taste or class. That was both its cultural charm for some as well as its Achilles heel.
Representing a nauseating kind of feel-good teen misogyny, they took everything that was good in rock and boiled it out, leaving behind only the thick film of desiccated semen smudged on a coke-mirror.
At least the synthy kids were progressive and trying new things, not calcifying around their boners and ribbing each other too hard to make sure we got the joke. Too bad they often were trying to hard, looking for love in all the wrong makeup. In contrast, Prince was sexy and abused the language too, but he was beguiling and mysterious and spiritual about it at the same time.
Sadly, most legacy 70s rockers who had resisted the disco temptation tried to change styles to greet the new empty headed rock era but failed (ELO and Xanadu, for example, or Pat Benatar's decline) because they couldn't keep up with how fast it turned plastic and crass.
Simply put, the first generation of American males raised on a steady diet of rock's feathered hair, leather pants, and sexual licentiousness since childhood would prove to tolerate much lower standards for their frat party soundtracks than the men of yesteryear.
Sure, it always seems like the music of our childhood's formative years (for me, the 60s and 70s) is better than the im-memorable crap they have churned out since, and maybe that's part of my current viewpoint. Or maybe it is truly the case that rock and roll as a musical form obviously began in the 30s with the advent of modern recording and the blues, bloomed in the 50s with the explosion of the teenaged consumer, and matured by the 70s. It was innovative and eventually swallowed all of popular music itself. It took in all other forms and squeezed them out the other side a little worse for wear, sure, but with much of the nutrition captured.
After that, by the 80s... All the food around the house had been eaten, and the worst artists then turned to cannibalism. There was nowhere for most genres to go but within their own navels or up their own assholes, like an Ouroboros. Aside from the hip-hop revolution, there simply hasn't been any new musical forms under the sun since.
We have to admit that even the good stuff of today borrows heavily from the innovators. Piano confessionals have been done. John Adams style synth hypnotism has been done. Keyboard patches that just emulate orchestral sounds, obviously a throwback despite the circuit boards. Pop will eat itself, like that one band said. And while the originators are not always the best, the re-runs are often obviously inferior (just like Adorno realized, photostatic copies typically lack the charm and aura of the originals) unless there is something truly captivating about the performer's ability to channel and re-contextualize the canon's tones in fresh or surprising ways.
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