Saturday, October 7, 2017

Aerosmith are rich, clever bastards with their minds in the gutter


Image result for adding machineTruthfully, I used to like Aerosmith quite a bit and still get an adrenaline rush when I hear their best tunes. Guitar-centric rock was my preference in the Sports Arena days, but where other bands of the era now bore me and dated themselves badly, AS were pretty much the best at catchy riffs, savage, terse guitar solos and absurdly clever double -signifying lyrics. These fellas were sex crazed old coots before they left their teens, and it’s an achievement, if a dubious one, that they managed to make their smutty word play the source for inappropriate snickers and wretchedly awful treatment of women for so many years.



The combination of riff -craft and professed cocksmanship was made to order for any frustrated 20-year-old genius yearning to abandon his book learnin' and take up the microphone, center stage, instead.  As you know, my tastes have gravitated, gratefully, towards mainstream jazz and blues over the last thirty five years--classic Miles, Coltrane, Mel Lewis, Wayne Shorter, Joe Pass, lots of Blue Note, Atlantic, ECM, Pacific Jazz, Verve, Impulse, Fantasy record releases--and rock and roll no longer interests me in large measure. But I still get a charge when a good AS is played--I rather like Tyler's rusty- can- opener screaming and I believe Joe Perry is one heck of a good chunk-chording guitarist. It helps, I guess, that these guys never got far from some rhythm and blues roots, even if those roots come from the Stones and not Motown or Stax. This may be damning with faint praise, but they were a brilliant expression of a young glandular confusion. 

What makes this art is this band's skill at sounding like they never learned anything fifty feet past the school yard and no much else beyond the age of 25. As we age and suffer the sprains  , creaks and cancer symptoms, inherited and self-inflicted,  our past gets more gloriously delinquent more we talk about it and we find ourselves gravitating to those acts of yore who seemed to maintain a genuine scowl and foul attitude.  Nearly any rock band based on rebellion and extreme bouts of immaturity just seems ridiculous after awhile--Peter Townsend is lucky enough to have had more ambition in his songwriting with Tommy and Who's Next to have lived down the  dubious distinction of having written the lyric that exclaimed that he would rather die before he got old.  Aerosmith, in turn, still sounds good and rocking as often as not simply because they have mastered their formula. The sound a generation of us newly minted seniors occasionally pined for  remains the audio clue to an idea of integrity and idealism; what is disheartening, if only for a moment, is that this band's skill at sounding 21 and collectively wasted is a matter of professionalism and not an impulse to smash The State. Rock and roll is all about professionalism , which is to say that some  of the alienated and consequently alienating species trying to make their way in the world subsisting on the seeming authenticity of their anger, ire and anxiety has to make sure that they take care of their talent, respect their audiences expectations even as they try to make the curdled masses learn something new, and to makes sure that what they are writing about /singing about/yammering about is framed in choice riffs and frenzied back beat. 

It is always about professionalism; the MC5 used to have manager John Sinclair, story goes, turn off the power in middle of one of their teen club gigs in Detroit to make it seem that the Man was trying to shut down their revolutionary oooopha. The 5 would get the crowd into a frenzy,making noise on the dark stage until the crowd was in a sufficient ranting lather. At that point Sinclair would switch the power back on and the band would continue, praising the crowd for sticking it to the Pigs. This was pure show business, not actual revolutionary fervor inspired by acne scars and blue balls; I would dare say that it had its own bizarre integetity, and was legitimate on terms we are too embarrassed to discuss. In a way, one needs to admire bands like the Stones or Aerosmith for remembering what it was that excited them when they were younger , and what kept their fan base loyal .   it's not a matter of rock and roll ceasing to be an authentic trumpet of the troubled young soul once it became a brand; rather, rock and roll has always been a brand once white producers, record company owners and music publishers got a hold of it early on and geared a greatly tamed version of it to a wide and profitable audience of white teenagers. In any event, whether most of the music being made by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and others was a weaker version of what was done originally by Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters et al is beside the point. It coalesced, all the same, into a style that perfectly framed an attitude of restlessness among mostly middle class white teenagers who were excited by the sheer exotica, daring and the sense of the verboten the music radiated. 

It got named, it got classified, the conventions of its style were defined, and over time , through both record company hype and the endless stream of Consciousness that most white rock critics produced, rock and roll became a brand. It was always a brand once it was removed from the the black communities and poor Southern white districts from which it originated. I have no doubt that the artist's intention , in the intervening years, was to produce a revolution in the conscious of their time with the music they wrote and performed, but the decision to be a musician was a career choice at the most rudimentary level, a means to make a living or, better yet , to get rich. It is that rare to non-existent musician who prefers to remain true to whatever vaporous sense of integrity and poor. Even Chuck Berry, in my opinion the most important singer-songwriter musician to work in rock and roll--Berry, I believe , created the template with which all other rock and rollers made their careers in music--has described his songwriting style as geared for young white audiences. Berry was a man raised on the music of Ellington and Louie Jardin, strictly old school stuff, and who considered himself a contemporary of Muddy Waters, but he was also an An entrepreneur as well as an artist. He was a working artist who rethought his brand and created a new one; he created something wholly new, a combination of rhythm and blues, country guitar phrasing and narratives that wittily, cleverly , indelibly spoke to a collective experience that had not been previously served. Critics and historians have been correct in callings this music Revolutionary, in that it changed the course of music , but it was also a Career change. 

All this, though, does not make what the power of Berry's music--or the music of Dylan, Beatles , Stones, MC5, Bruce or The High Fiving White Guys --false , dishonest, sans value altogether. What I concern myself with is how well the musicians are writing, playing, singing on their albums, with whether they are inspired , being fair to middling', or seem out of ideas, out of breath; it is a useless and vain activity to judge musicians, or whole genres of music by how well they/it align themselves with a metaphysical standard of genuine , real, vital art making. That standard is unknowable and those putting themselves of pretending they know what it is are improvising at best. This is not a coherent way to enjoy music.      All entrepeneurs are risk takers, for that matters, so that remains a distinction without a difference. What matters are the products--sorry, even art pieces, visual, musical, dramatic, poetic, are "product" in the strictest sense of the word--from the artists successful in what they set out to do. 

The results are subjective, of course, but art is nothing else than means to provoke a response, gentle or strongly and all grades in between, and critics are useful in that they can make the discussion of artistic efforts interesting. The only criticism that interests are responses from reviewers that are more than consumer guides--criticism , on its own terms in within its limits, can be as brilliant and enthralling as the art itself. And like the art itself , it can also be dull, boring, stupid, pedestrian. The quality of the critics vary; their function in relation to art, however, is valid. It is a legitimate enterprise. Otherwise we'd be treating artists like they were priests. 

God forbid.                    

10 comments:

  1. Jeremiad deSpleen8:27 AM PDT

    To take your final point and work backwards – there may have been a point where bands like Aerosmith stood for something remotely resembling smashing The State, but that point was surely long gone when they released their first album in 1973. That year was a collective bummer all around in American cultural terms, so it’s fitting that a band that processed the Rolling Stones’ legitimately creative spirit into pure faux-testosteronic product should have debut as a national recording act that year. Aerosmtih were always cold and crass and the fact that they were good at it just made things worse – these were guys recycling already old ideas into hard rock cupcakes for pizza-faced 10th graders to gobble up. Looking back, it all collectively leaves a bad smell, almost as sad and embarrassing as a talented musician like Eddie Van Halen harnessing his fingers to the vulgar and mindless throat of David Lee Roth to achieve big hit records. There is no shame in making loud and snotty records as a 18 year old and then moving on – God bless the Castaways and the Count Five. But collectively we have suffered as a culture from the lingering lasciviousness of stale hormone-drenched party anthems and the echoes of horny punks exchanging sniggers on the patio. It is no accident that Aerosmith turned to soulless hacks like Diane Warren for material in the ‘80s or that Tyler signed on to the sterility factory that is American Idol a few years ago. It’s all dirty underwear mass-produced with the stains added, not for love or lust but for filthy lucre.

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  2. Rock and roll is all about professionalism , which is to say that some oen of the alienated and consequently alienating species trying to make their way in the world subsisting on the seeming authenticity of their anger, ire and anxiety has to make sure that they take care of their talent, respect their audiences expectations even as they try to make the curdled masses learn something new, and to makes sure that what they are writing about /singing about/yammering about is framed in choice riffs and frenzied backbeat. It is always about professionalism; the MC5 used to have manager John Sinclair, story goes, turn off the power in middle of one of their teen club gigs in Detroit to make it seem that the Man was trying to shut down their revolutionary oooopha. The 5 would get the crowd into a frenzy,making noise on the dark stage until the crowd was in a sufficient ranting lather. At that point Sinclair would switch the power back on and the band would continue, praising the crowd for sticking it to the Pigs. This was pure show business, not actual revolutionary fervor inspired by acne scars and blue balls; I would dare say that it had its own bizarre integetity, and was legitimate on terms we are too embarrassed to discuss. In a way, one needs to admire bands like the Stones or Aerosmith for remembering what it was that excited them when they were younger , and what kept their fan base loyal .

    ReplyDelete
  3. Jeremiad deSpleen11:02 AM PDT

    Please count me out from this admiration society if it involves buying into the fetish-flogging mentality of the chronic rock ‘n’ roll consumer. The idea of continuing to be loyal to a particular rock ‘n’ roll BRAND (as Gene Simmons so eloquently put it years ago) as one would keep buying Tide or Altoids or Metamucil year after decade is so vastly different from what the rock genre once promised to be as to be the stuff of tragedy (or very cruel humor). Putting on “Walk This Way” or the first side of A Night in the Ruts as a form of aural Viagra is very sorry gruel indeed.

    Whatever “integrity” bands like Aerosmith possess is the integrity of the factory owner who dumps toxic waste into the river regularly for 45 years and then throws a picnic for the townspeople with fireworks and free weenie every 4th of July. He keeps grinding it out and making his money and reaming over the populace. There’s real dedication in that!

    In the 1960s, it seemed obvious to just about anyone under 50 that big band-style jazz was no longer a living, vital art form. All those muted trumpet , crisp trombones and ring-a-ding singers slunk off to Las Vegas and Miami Beach to hide while a more creative form of music evolved. It appears that rock music – at least in its most conventional, recognizable forms – is at the stage that big-band jazz was 40-plus years ago, except that it refuses to admit its senility and go away. The professionals keep it alive, pumped up with sonic steroids and massive exposure. It cannot defy The State because it IS the State. Rock is the Soviet Union under Brezhnev and Andropov. Aeorsmith are just a bunch of apparatchiks.

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  4. It's not up to me to count you in or out of anything; that is your affair . All I would say is that it's not a matter of rock and roll ceasing to be an authentic trumpet of the troubled young soul once it became a brand; rather, rock and roll has always been a brand once white producers, record company owners and music publishers got a hold of it early on and geared a greatly tamed version of it to a wide and profitable audience of white teenagers. In any event, whether most of the music being made by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and others was a weaker version of what was done originally by Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters et al is besides the point. It coalesced , all the same, into a style that perfectly framed an attitude of restlessness among mostly middle class white teenagers who were excited by the sheer exotica, daring and the sense of the verboten the music radiated. It got named, it got classified, the conventions of its style were defined, and over time , through both record company hype and the endless stream of Consciousness that most white rock critics produced, rock and roll became a brand. It was always a brand once it was removed from the the black communities and poor Southern white districts from which it originated. I have no doubt that the artist's intention , in the intervening years, was to produce a revolution in the concious of their time with the music they wrote and performed, but the decision to be a musician was a career choice at the most rudimentary level, a means to make a living or, better yet , to get rich. It is that rare to non-existent musician who prefers to remain true to whatever vaporous sense of integrety and poor. Even Chuck Berry, in my opinion the most important singer-songwriter musician to work in rock and roll--Berry, I believe , created the template with which all other rock and rollers made their careers in muisic--has described his songwriting style as geared for young white audiences. Berry was a man raised on the music of Ellington and Louie Jardin, strictly old school stuff, and who considered himself a contemporary of Muddy Waters, but he was also an An entrepreneur as well as an artist. He was a working artist who rethought his brand and created a new one; he created something wholly new, a combination of rhythm and blues, country guitar phrasing and narratives that wittily, cleverly , indelibly spoke to a collective experience that had not been previously served. Critics and historians have been correct in callings this music Revolutionary, in that it changed the course of music , but it was also a Career change. All this, though, does not make what the power of Berry's music--or the music of Dylan, Beatles , Stones, MC5, Bruce or The High Fiving White Guys --false , dishonest, sans value altogether. What I concern myself with is how well the musicians are writing, playing, singing on their albums, with whether they are inspired , being fair to middlin', or seem out of ideas, out of breath; it is a useless and vain activity to judge musicians, or whole genres of music by how well they/it align themselves with a metaphysical standard of genuine , real, vital art making. That standard is unknowable and those putting themselves of pretending they know what it is are improvising at best. This is not a coherent way to enjoy music. One is assuming that one does, or at one time did, enjoy music.

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  5. Jeremiad deSpleen3:08 PM PDT

    You make some good points here, but your final statement about the uselessness of judging a musician’s activity according to standards of “genuine, real, vital art making” raises the question if ANY criticism is valid for ANY art form, popular of otherwise. Vanity, all is Vanity, saith Solomon, and criticism is vain on its face. My concern here is not with metaphysics, but with simple craftsmanship and the honest relationship with an audience, which I do not think is wholly unknowable.
    Chuck Berry was an entrepreneur as well as an artist, yes, but he also was a risk-taker, a man who dared the color line and ventured out of the safety of a comfortable niche in the black entertainment world. There is no risk evident in the work of a band like Aerosmith. It seems reasonable to allow a group of well-seasoned celebrities to crank out by-rote tunes and get paid for it. But it is also fair game to say that by the standards of the genre they supposedly work in – rock ‘n’ roll – their work is lazy, lame and pumped up by technology. There are certain aesthetic principles to any art, even the lowly ones. Bands like Aerosmith embody the decadence, the dry rot of rock music, which first set in over 40 years ago and has only accelerated except for a few moments of renewed vigor.
    It has gone out of fashion to talk about the cultural effects of any form of entertainment, be it bubblegum rock, computer games or snuff films. Once the Beatles and the Stones displaced the Rat Pack from the top of the pop heap, no one has really bothered to challenge the notion that rock music is a harmless presence in American life. Rap music raised some serious doubts due to its rampant misogyny and nihilism, but that debate fades away at least a decade ago. I think it’s time to start resuming this conversation. We have gone from honest rebellion and frank sexual expression to the outspewings of a music industry that specializes in low-grade porn and gratuitous aural violence. It hovers like a stench over the culture of the civilized world; apparently it cannot be dissipated. It not only undermines the norms of decency; it cheapens and debases rebellion against those norms. This may be “metaphysics” to you, but we in the West would have a much richer cultural conversation if we came to grips with such issues.

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  6. All entrepeneurs are risk takers, for that matters, so that remains a distinction without a difference. What matters are the products--sorry, even art pieces, visual, musical, dramatic, poetic, are "product" in the strictest sense of the word--from the artists succesful in what they set out to do. The results are subjective, of course, but art is nothing else than means to provoke a response, gentle or strongly and all grades in between, and critics are useful in that they can make the discussion of artistic efforts interesting. The only criticism that interests are responses from reviewers that are more than consumer guides--criticism , on its own terms in within its limits, can be as brilliant and enthralling as the art itself. And like the art itself , it can also be dull, boring, stupid, pedestrian. The quality of the critics vary; their function in relation to art, however, is valid. It is a legitimate enterprise. Otherwise we'd be treating artists like they were priests. God forbid.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Jeremiad deSpleen4:22 PM PDT

    Starting and maintaining a rock band is a relatively low-risk operation, especially if you are fortunate to score a hit that can serve as a template for squeezing out the same coprolitic nuggets year after year. The risks of creating honest art and real expression are much more profound than the rather banal decision to devote a few year in your 20s to playing bars and wooing record companies. I’m afraid that some types of art are more product-like than others. A Pop-Tart and a Picasso are both products in a sense, but contain very different levels of nutrition (sorry for the metaphysics here). I do wonder if Aerosmith and their ilk give a good gahoot what the response to their “art” is other than the ka-chinnng factor. I might add that we ought to treat artists as priests – the question is what god to they serve and how faithful are they to it.

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  8. "Starting and maintaining a rock band is a...low risk operation..."
    You have never started a band, have you?

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  9. Jeremiad deSpleen5:56 PM PDT

    The hardest part is keeping track of the roach clips.

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  10. Roach CLips were third bill to Peanut Butter Conspiracy and the Voogie Blanzers June 3rd, 1967 at the Gapped Tooth Galoot, Deluth

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Say something clear and smart.Lets have a discussion.