Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Element of Danger

What is that strange quality that a band or artist has to have to put them in the 'pay attention until they or I die' category?

The remastered Replacements albums have gotten me to a fan I categorize music in several ways, ways that are often convoluted and contradictory.

Tom Waits is a good example. He's a genius in my mind but I've also completely stopped paying attention to him. His quirkiness has gone too far for me to stay engaged. There was a period of several years in the '90's when I might have proclaimed him to be my favorite artist.

Elvis Costello, same thing. His prolific nature has made following him something of a chore, like a homework assignment that you are actually interested in but don't give 100% on because you might care about the history of Belarus but there's that party on Saturday...

Bjork at one time held a sacred spot in my Hall of Fame. Whenever I hear her voice now I get the urge to be nasty to old handicapped ladies. Enough with the quirk. Enough with the 'we recorded this on an iceberg using didgeridoo, theremin, a saw, 243 kazoos played by the entire prison population of a small suburb of Reykjavik, and a deaf Barbershop quartet'. Seriously. I have HAD IT WITH BJORK.

How do some people not fall into the scorn pit of my derision? I don't know. I almost turned on Paul Westerberg after 'Eventually' came out. I left a concert of his well before it was over. I didn't buy the first Grandpaboy EP. I flirted with moving on. I'm actually ashamed of that now. It wasn't him, it was me. I was the one who was flawed and wrong, not him or his music.

There are very few artists who are safe. The Beatles, Paul Westerberg/The Replacements, Bob Dylan, Eminem, Ray Charles, Rufus Wainwright, Sonic Youth, Prince (although he can be EMBARRASSING so often), etc. etc.

My good friend Justin was in Vienna recently on a UN trip. He had a bit of free time and went to see U2 3D. He called me on his cell phone from across the pond to leave me a message that essentially said, "Why doesn't U2 do it for me? Larry, The Edge, Adam, Bono, and I'm just like, (imagine a disinterested shrug accompanied by the sound) EH."

This message started me thinking and led to this post. To my mind, what keeps U2 from grabbing my attention/love and hurtling it into obsessive favorite status, is that they are essentially GOOD. They don't scare me. And that illusory quality is important in rock music, yes, but also in any art. There should always be the sense that the everyday equilibrium is threatened.

To me, U2 are literally preaching to the converted. When they try to be sexy and rock-star-ish I get a little embarrassed for them. When they get topical and political I agree wholeheartedly but I can get that from parsing the New York Times. In fact, the only thing about U2 that fully engages me is, oddly enough, their religious music. Perhaps because I'm not an overtly religious man this seems like the most dangerous stuff in their canon.

My favorite song of theirs is called 'Wake Up Dead Man' off their widely panned 'Pop' album. It is basically a call to Jesus to come back and finish what he started.

See? Now that scares me.


siobhan said...

i think i will be laughing about your vision of a bjork recording for a couple days.

Brendan O'Malley said...

The scary thing is it's probably not far from the truth.