1979 was a good year to be an entering freshman and music lover.* I thought as much at the time and now I think it can be said so objectively. The Police, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, U2, Squeeze, B-52s, Joe Jackson, REM, Pretenders, English Beat were all breaking new. Petty, Thorogood, Stones, Aerosmith had gas left in the tank for the old guard. Springsteen in his prime. Michael Jackson’s best album came out that year. Prince’s first. I soaked it in.
So when I see music tweets in my timeline referencing artists I don’t know or, worse, don’t understand, there may not be a better way to recognize my elderly-ness.
Especially since I always thought of myself as a guy who wouldn’t stay locked into a music time warp. I mean I moved on from my favorite bands in high school (Aerosmith, Todd Rundgren, Yes) to new wave, got into blues when I moved to Chicago. (Literally threw money at Son Seals around two or three AM at Kingston Mines and followed it up with rib tips from Leons on Clark around 4… but I digress.) Like, “Hey I’m listening to English Beat and my high school buddies are still on Nugent.”
I thought I was with it.
Flash forward to the 90s and I’m still trying to stay current but finding it harder. Sublime, Beck, Nirvana, I got. Beyond that, I didn’t get it and also slowly stopped trying. “Just tee up the Natalie Merchant, wifey, k, thx.” Pearl Jam was a major divide. Didn’t (and still don’t) get it… although Eddie Vedder’s music from Into the Wild was much appreciated. Black Keys is pretty much the only current band I get unless you count OCMS.
So I posed a question to my younger friends on twitter yesterday:
Naturally, since then I’ve had a chance to think about it and the list is now longer. And so, in the words of one of our geniuses: How did I get here?
I’m not sure you could raise a more subjective topic with a more subjective metric. Not for the last time, I’ll state the obvious: this is just one man’s take using gut feel measure.
For me, genius means quasi-God-like. Other-worldly. Hmm.. I’m not defining this very well; let’s go with examples. There were many great artists in the Renaissance, only one Da Vinci. Many great
Baroque Classical Era composers, but Mozart and Beethoven stand apart. Max Planck was a gifted physicist; Einstein was Einstein.
It’s probably the worst way to think of it, but to me, the genius gets applied where there’s universal consensus. Thus Lennon and Marley. And since it’s my post, there’s going to be a bias based on whether I loved their music (e.g., no Jimi Hendrix.) and also whether or not I know their music (e.g., no Miles Davis).
Circling back to the subject. Here’s one guy’s relative genius rating of the music from his generation. (Original list in black font; additions in blue.)
John Lennon, Bob Marley, Prince, David Byrne, Earl Scruggs**, Brian Wilson, Neil Young. Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury, James Taylor.
Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello, Al Green, Elton John, Jimmy Page, Van Morrison, Sting,
Freddie Mercury (moved up), James Taylor (moved up), Bono, Mark Mothersbaugh. Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, David Bowie (grudging, see below), David Gilmour, Lowell George, Cat Stevens, Mick Jones, Pete Townshend.
Question: who in this group is best candidate to move into top tier?
Jim Morrison, Christine McVie, Jerry Garcia,
Billy Joel (moved down), Angus Young, Ronnie Van Zant, Bruce Springsteen, Carly Simon, Donald Fagan, Rod Stewart, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Townshend (moved up), Paul Rodgers, Ted Nugent (moved down), George Clinton. Mark Knopfler, Marvin Gaye, Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty, Joe Strummer, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding.
Joe Perry, Chryssie Hynde, Madonna, Ted Nugent, Ray Davies, (fine Bup, and because consensus matters) Billy Joel, Phil Collins, Joe Jackson, Bob Seger, Robert Palmer, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne.
Chop that up any way you want. It’s opinion; it’s for fun. And it’s guaranteed to require editing. I’m actually curious to see who I’m forgotting or who gets moved. So I’ll keep this original set in black, any edits will be in some other color.
What about now?
But getting back to my original question: who are this generation’s geniuses? When I say ‘this generation’ let’s use 1990 as a break point. E.g., Kurt Cobain would be easy to fit into one of the categories above, but he’s not really my generation.
And the real, broader question is: is music now less rich, or am I just getting old? (Or both?)
I’m prepared for the answer and I can only tell you youngsters that you never think age is going to tell on you or get you or change you… but eventually it gets you. So this is, I guess, a cry for help… the alternative is that your music sucks. History tells us that that’s not true; it’s more probably the listener who’s just not tuned in.
I should like to be tuned in.
That being said, my off-the-top-of-the-head ‘new geniuses’ registered only Cobain and Nowell. Nowell was panned by my twitter. I was reminded of Beck and agree. Thom Yorke and Dave Grohl seemed to have a consensuses building. A case was made for Jeff Tweedy.
I mean seriously: I wouldn’t even know Black Keys if it weren’t for you all. Never heard of OCMS until Art Brosef linked to Wagon Wheel in the context of the Kent-Akron game. D.U., Tupac, Kanye, JayZ… please. I know nothing there.
So help a brother out. What am I missing?
And corollary: who’s in your top six?
The Bowie question.
Probably the most conflicted call for me is David Bowie. I know many of the gents on the list sold-out for money or popularity or fashion. (Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Springsteen. Then there’s the whole Traveling Wilburys question.) But the first YouTube below really really is as egregious a rip-off as there is and I will guess that Martha Reeves didn’t get anything from it.
Yet the second YouTube below shows that his works translates to any form or language beautifully. (Seu Jorge, Life on Mars; I would nominate Seu Jorge for consideration in the ‘new’ group on the strength of his Bowie covers alone.) So I’ll throw him in there… but just know he needs to account for himself.
* One example of what was going on, early October 1980 album releases:
- Zenyatta Mondatta, Police
- Dirty Mind, Prince
- Remain in Light, Talking Heads
- The River, Springsteen
- Making Movies, Dire Straits
That’s a pretty strong two weeks.
** Scruggs isn’t really my generation but he was active throughout… so I’ll throw him in.