For a few years, whenever I would hear about a blockbuster-selling band from the '70s, I wondered how big they were in the general listener's mind in those days. I could look at Billboard chart positions and they could tell me something, but nothing more than rankings. Asking someone who views music as background stuff and someone who views music as an active thing are going to generate vastly different responses. In the case of the latter, asking someone who was really taken with punk rock during this time, chances were very good that I would hear grumbles and moans about a band like Chicago, Fleetwod Mac or Journey. Well, thanks to my blogging friend Jeff, I'm finally getting some explanations that aren't masked by sighs and eye-rolling.
This week, Jeff posted The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chicago Part 1. A few weeks ago, he posted The Complete Idiot's Guide to Journey. Both guides were written by readers of his site and both did great jobs in describing what they liked and disliked about their albums. Instead of vomiting out bad times and vibes while these bands ruled the airwaves, both writers vividly described their fandom in sincere ways. There were no shrugs or low-speaking endorsements of guilty pleasure-dom. These were written by longtime fans, but not in cheerleading or mud-slinging ways. Reading these guides were a very nice change of pace and spawned sighs of relief on my end.
In reading a number of books and articles by some of my favorite contemporary music critics, most paint all '70s/'80s Top 40 music as wretched bile. I'll agree with some of their opinions, but not all of them. They have their ways of painting a very unbalanced look at the past and this tends to feel like the final word. For example, a 19-year-old who found more favor with the New York Dolls than James Taylor in 1976 is probably going to still speak highly of the Dolls today. Painting the music of James Taylor, John Denver, Fleetwood Mac and Chicago into the corner of the enemy, I'm not going to get a very balanced view. So I think about what I'm doing now with modern popular bands and have to catch myself. Since taste in music is so cyclical and its significance is always being revised for the modern day, I want to keep a clear mind on matters.
I am very guilty about talking about the sociological aspects of popular and underground music, but I cannot stress enough that this is all just music at the end of the day. I may never find any merits in the music of Hawthorne Heights or Fall Out Boy, but I try and understand that there are people who do. I'm not going to fault a 15-year-old for liking Panic! At the Disco's music, but I will scoff at the sight of this person trying to be cool by dressing up like a mall punk. I will scoff at this person for wearing lots of eyeliner and designer "vintage" clothes. I will be befuddled by this person screaming whenever someone like Adam Lazzara or Chris Carrabba screams off-key. Of course these sights cloud the enjoyment of music, but strip all of that stuff away while you listen in your car or in your house and still, it's just music.
I don't mean to make light of music in itself, but discussing the general sociological significance can become a boring pissing contest after a while. Sure, I'll moan and groan with my friends about a moronic statement made by a member of Panic! At the Disco, but I'm not about to say their music is irrelevant for everyone. We might not find any merits in this music, but that doesn't mean it's meaningless in general.
If Jeff is still doing his Idiot's Guides in ten or fifteen years and hosts ones for Fall Out Boy and Hawthorne Heights, I'll probably not download the songs hosted in them. I will be curious as to what the writer says about the music's impact on him or her. Just like the people who loved the Dictators and hated Pink Floyd in the '70s who couldn't understand Rancid or face to face in the '90s, I have to remember where I, along with everyone else, came into the picture. We're not born with a sharp wit and eye for what's good and not good, so we gotta start somewhere.