It’s not enough for modern pop music to be autotuned, brain-dead in lyrics, and necessarily accompanied by flashy videos. No, now it’s got to be full of sex as well, for sex is the best way to attract attention, especially if you’re an attractive woman like Ariana Grande. Every celebrity, it seems, is doffing their clothes, but that will attract attention for only so long.
But Grande’s voice, which is pretty spectacular, apparently isn’t enough to carry this song. Here, in her latest “hit”, “34 + 35“, she has to flaunt her body and, most annoyingly, beg for copulation, oral sex, and other goodies. The autotuning, f-bombs, fancy video (the first one has a bit about its making at the end), and concentration on sexual acts has moved this one all the way to the top of the pop charts. Will this song last? Will it ever be an “oldie”, played on radio stations in 2070? Don’t bet on it! The listeners of this song, the young folks, must subsist on a diet of cotton candy rather than meat.
Some Wikipedia notes:
On October 30, 2020, the song was released by Republic Records as the second single from the album. The song’s title and chorus reference the 69 sex position, while the rest of its lyrics feature several sexual puns, double entendres, and sex jokes. A remix of the song featuring American rappers Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion was released on January 15, 2021. The remix is included on the deluxe edition of Positions which is scheduled for release on February 19, 2021.
“34+35” debuted at number eight on the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming Grande’s 18th top ten single. It later rose to number two following the release of the remix. It also debuted at number five on the Billboard Global 200, becoming Grande’s second top ten single on the chart, before reaching a peak of number two. Additionally, “34+35” peaked within the top ten in Australia, Canada, Guatemala, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom, giving Grande her 19th top ten single in the UK.
Here’s the remix:
Now I have to admit that the videos are well produced, but the idea that this could be a hit makes me feel sorry for today’s kids. Do they ever encounter music that’s dense enough to make them ponder?
Below is Billboard’s Top 10 from exactly 50 years ago. And I ain’t gonna lie, there’s a few real clunkers on there, including #1 and #2; and #3 might strike some people as bubblegum country music (I happen to like it). But there are some classics here, too, including My Sweet Lord, Your Song, and If I Were Your Woman. I suppose Grande’s music all falls in the Osmonds/Dawn category: insubstantial fluff that won’t stand the test of time.
Yes, I know I’m being a curmudgeon. And some readers will undoubtedly tell me I’m listening to the wrong groups—that Group X is as good as the Beatles! (Protip: it never is.) But I repeat my claim that rock and pop music are on the downhill slide. This categories of music exists not because it yields popular works of art like “A Day in the Life” or “God Only Knows,” but because the kids need something to listen to to mark the seasons of their young lives.
The Billboard Top 10 from the Hot 100: Week of Feb 13, 1971.
Yep, it’s time for another edition of the Curmudgeon Gazette: a list of words and phrases that rankle me. As usual, most of them come from HuffPost, and, as usual, people will tell me that some of these phrases are fine. “Language evolves,” say the Excusers. Great, but I still don’t like these phrases.
On this cold but sunny Chicago afternoon, I have three for you. (Click on screenshots to see article.)
1.) “I’m all about X.” This one really burns my onions (see the subtitle below). First of all, nobody is all about anything—every human is multifaceted and has multiple interests and concerns. The phrase is simply gross exaggeration, and could easily be replaced by phrases (as in the sub-headline below) like, “This month, we focus on. . . ” or some equivalent.
You will never hear this phrase pass my lips.
2.) “All the feels”. I’m pretty sure that I’ve used this one before, but I keep seeing it, and it never ceases to irritate me, as in the HuffPost article below:
The word is “FEELINGS”, chowderheads! And even that is hyperbole. No movie moments give you the totality of human emotions, which run the gamut from despair to horror to complacency, to anxiety, to elation—and many more. Can’t these peabrains just say “13 Emotional Movie Moments”? My “feel” when I read headlines like this one is disgust.
3.) “The thing is. . . is that. . ” Now this one baffles me. Why can you just say “The thing is X” instead of “The thing is. . . is X”? For example, “The thing is, is that he’s been a real jerk to me for a long time” can be replaced by “The thing is that he’s been a real jerk for me for a long time.” Better yet, deep-six “the thing is” part, which adds little, or replace it with “The important thing is.”
Here’s a discussion from the website Language Rules:
From that site:
It may be much more clear to see when sentences are rearranged. One of the above examples [JAC: the grammatically correct sentence”How correct this is is clear to see”] can be arranged as follows:
How correct this is is clear to see.
It is clear to see how correct this is.
In this instance, we can immediately tell that “how correct this is” in this case is a complete noun phrase able to stand on its own. When we try to reconstruct an example of an incorrect sentence using “The thing is is…” in exactly the same way, we get this:
The thing is is that this is incorrect.
It is that this is incorrect the thing is.
Most folks should be able to tell that the second sentence is totally jacked, which immediately tells us that the first sentence, merely a rearrangement of the words, must be incorrect as well, even though it sounds slightly better.
You know the drill: it’s time to be petulant and put your bête noire phrases below.
I’ve deliberately made the title provocative, and I don’t believe it 100%. Further, I know this is a personal view not shared by many others. But it’s come to me lately, when reading the Norton Anthology of Poetry that I keep by my bedside, that the poems that speak to me, that move me, are nearly always ones that have rhymes. Now they don’t have to have a rigid ABABCDCD. . . GG structure of a Shakespearian sonnet, nor does every line have to rhyme, but nearly every poem that I love has some rhyme, internal or not.
I suppose I feel this way because poetry, as distinct from a lot of prose (but not all) is supposed to be musical, and part of that musicality is rhyme, which adds a pleasing musical tenor to the work. The same goes for assonance and alliteration, which I guess haven’t yet gone out of style like rhyme has. For if there’s one trait that characterizes truly modern poetry, it’s a lack of rhyme, or even rhythm. (Yes, I know some current poets still use rhyme, but it’s not frequent.)
When I realized this the other day, I tried to think of more modern poets I like who didn’t use rhyme. I already remembered that Yeats and T. S. Eliot used it, though the latter more sparingly in works like “The Waste Land”. (The last stanza of “Ben Bulben”, by Yeats, also has no rhymes save for the implied rhymes of there/near and spot/cut; but the rest of the poem does.)
Dylan Thomas also used rhyme most of the time, though in some of his poems, like the lovely “Fern Hill”, the lack of rhyme is compensated by a surfeit of alliteration and the sheer musicality of the words themselves (Richard Burton’s recitation is much better than Thomas’s own).
There are exceptions. I like Seamus Heaney, but his rhymes are few. So are they in Wallace Stevens, one of my favorite modern poets, but they are there nonetheless. Although “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is rhymeless, another favorite, “Peter Quince at the Clavier” has sporadic rhymes that buttress the work. Ezra Pound used rhyme early in his career, but it’s absent in my favorite of his works, his translations of Old English and Japanese poems, including the gorgeous “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”. His Cantos, which start off well but go downhill, are sans rhyme.
Still, a poem I discovered in the last few years, and one that, to me, ranks amongst the great works of our era—Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy“—is full of rhyme, mostly with the “oo” sound. And that rhyme is part of the reason it’s such a good poem.
What leaves me cold are rhymeless and music-less poems—the kind you see in The New Yorker, and which seem to comprise much of modern poetry. I can’t say that that kind of poetry is bad, because of course taste is subjective, but it doesn’t engage me. Nor will I aver that poetry has declined as an art form (though I maintain that both jazz and classical music have). But I will say that when I go back to read poetry, I tend to land somewhere between Shakespeare and Plath—avoiding at all costs Walt Whitman, Bill Clinton be damned.
Dare I say that the poetry of our era is concerned less with music than with thought? (Remember, I’m not an English teacher here, just a reader.)
To complete today’s pair of splenetic rants, I’ll simply list what I’ve added, over the years, to my list of the Worst Rock Songs of All Time. (Well, some don’t qualify as “rock”, but they were all played on popular radio.) I’ll link each song to the original recording. .
You know what to do: add to the list!
Green Berets (Sgt. Barry Sadler). What can I say? I’m a conscientious objector.
I’ve Never Been to Me (Charlene) Don’t miss this one! Seriously! She’s been undressed by kings but is unfulfilled without a husband and baby. n.b. lyric: “I’ve been to Nice/and the Isle of Greece”. There is no “isle of Greece”!
Octopus’s Garden (The Beatles) I know some people are gonna say this one’s good. . .
Old Rivers (Walter Brennan) This kind of grows on you, but it’s still a dreadful song.
Take the Money and Run (Steve Miller) This takes the prize for the worst rhymes in any song (e.g., “They headed down to, ooh, old El Paso/That’s where they ran into a great big hassle” or “Hoo-hoo-hoo, billy Mack is a detective down in Texas/You know he knows just exactly what the facts is”.) They don’t write songs like that any more—thank God.
Muskrat Love (The Captain and Tennille) Anthropomorphic muskrats fall in love (“Muzzle to muzzle, now anything goes.”) This song has a decent tune, and I always had a thing for Tennille, but the words are cringeworthy (n.b. to Toni: muskrats don’t eat bacon or cheese!)
The Name Game (Shirley Ellis). This was a huge hit, and many of my contemporaries can still do the name thing.
Drops of Jupiter (Train) For pretentious songs since 2000, this takes the cake. (“She checks out Mozart while she does tai bo”)
This law sounds good in principle, but seems impossible to use as a way of detecting racism in potential hires. The law and its problems are described in a long and poorly-written article in the Washington Post; I’ll have more to say about the writing later.
Click on the screenshot to read:
Here’s the skinny, and I’ve condensed an article whose published version is at least three times longer than it need be:
An ambitious new law in California taking aim at potential biases of prospective officers has raised questions and concerns among police officers and experts who fear that if implemented inadequately, the law could undermine its own mission to change policing and the culture of law enforcement.
The law, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Sept. 30, will expand the present screening requirements by mandating all law enforcement agencies conduct mental evaluations of peace officer candidates to identify both implicit and explicit biases against race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation to exclude unfit recruits.
Experts, police unions and lawmakers agree on the value of identifying whether those who aspire to become officers carry considerable degrees of biases, yet it is the lack of clarity on what tools and measures will be used to look for implicit biases that is raising concerns and prompting questions.
“If police departments start to reject applicants because they have implicit biases there will be no one left to hire,” said Lorie Fridell, professor of criminology at the University of South Florida and founder of the Fair and Impartial Policing program, one of the most popular implicit-bias awareness trainings in the country.
That’s one problem with the implicit bias test: it shows that nearly everyone has implicit bias (the article mentions that 88% of whites and 48% of blacks have an implicit bias for white people (when I took the test, it showed I was “race neutral”: the optimal outcome). Not only that, but the IAT (Implicit Association Test) has been widely criticized on many grounds, not the least that it doesn’t seem to translate into measurable behavior, which is the reason you measure it. You can see The Replicability Index‘s useful summary of all the analyses by clicking on the screenshot below:
From the article’s conclusions:
An unbiased assessment of the evidence shows no compelling evidence that the race IAT is a valid measure of implicit racial bias; and without a valid measure of implicit racial bias it is impossible to make scientific statements about implicit racial bias. I think the general public deserves to know this. Unfortunately, there is no need for scientific evidence that prejudice and discrimination still exists. Ideally, psychologists will spend more effort in developing valid measures of racism that can provide trustworthy information about variation across individuals, geographic regions, groups, and time. Many people believe that psychologists are already doing it, but this review of the literature shows that this is not the case. It is high time to actually do what the general public expects from us.
(See also this article from the British Psychological Society’s “Research Digest.”) Based on the widespread criticism of these tests, it’s simply not valid to claim that everyone has implicit bias.
Now perhaps explicit bias is easier to assess, but it is of course subject to manipulation. If you want to be a police officer, and know you’re being tested for explicit bias as the law stipulates, then you can pretty easily make yourself look non-racist even if you are. Of course police should (and hopefully do) perform background checks, looking at your record in previous jobs, doing mental health screening and so on, but if your record is clean, and you’re an out-and-out bigot, you might not be detected. I also think that the IAT, which pronounced me “not a racist”, can probably be gamed as well (I did answer honestly, or so I think!), but that test is pretty much worthless. California is in for a long and frustrating period of hiring.
Now onto the writing quality of the article. It’s long, tedious, and the prose is convoluted and abysmal. There are also some errors. I’ll give a few examples:
The law comes amid a moment of social upheaval where police departments across the country are facing scrutiny. . . .
WRONG. A moment is a period of time, and so it should be “when police departments” rather than “where police departments”. This is a common mistake, but an editor should have caught it.
None of the experts interviewed by The Washington Post claimed to know of law enforcement agencies that screen for unconscious biases — those that people are unwilling or unable to identify — as a hiring standard.
This is awkward. Although the antecedent to “those that people are unwilling or unable to identify” should be “unconscious biases”, it could also be “law enforcement agencies that screen for unconscious biases.” The awkward sentence could easily be fixed to “None of the experts interviewed claimed to know of law enforcement agencies that hire using screenings for unconscious biases—those biases that people are unwilling or unable to identify.”
. . . . he is skeptical of taking implicit bias evaluations like IATs, as benchmarks of deep-seeded beliefs that would lead to discrimination.
These screenings vary agency to agency and often include review of social media postings for sexist or racist comments, interviews with acquaintances, past employers, family members and thorough mental evaluations.
That’s another awkward sentence implying that the review of social media posts includes “thorough mental evaluations”. This could have been solved by putting “thorough mental evaluations” before “review of social media postings.”
A shared concern among scholars is on the use of tools such as implicit association tests (IATs) — sometimes used in bias training — as a hiring tool or screening device due to the unreliability of its findings.
The bit after the second hyphen is confusing and hard to read. It would be easy to fix: “Because implicit association tests (IATs) have been found to be unreliable, scholars are concerned about their use to screen or hire applicants, or in bias training.” Further, the construction “a shared concern . . .on” is awkward and should be “Many scholars are concerned about. . . ” or some other construction.
Yes, these errors may seem minor, but don’t newspapers like the Washington Post employ line editors any more? What’s just as bad, or worse, is the painfully awkward prose, with long sentences, that pervades the entire article. Like this:
Kang said implicit bias tests provide useful, yet inexact information, which he compared to weather forecasts, about a person’s beliefs and stereotypes at a certain moment, but they ought to be used as road maps to help law enforcement agencies develop better methods and procedures, rather than as individual hiring tools.
UG-LEE! But examples are easy to find. One more and I’ll leave you:
Catafi said POST will be working with psychologists and law enforcement experts to incorporate these new required items to the current psychological screening manual, and they have until January 2022 to complete the process.
That one has a bad error as well: it’s incorporate INTO, not “incorporate to”.
But where are the editors? There ought to be editors. Well, maybe next year.
The link to this video came from reader Andrea, who said,
This may be one reason why you can’t stand today’s music… an insane overuse of the supertonic… the second note on the scale. BTW, the guy in this video has a cool keyboard.
Combine supertonic obsession with autotuning, and you get a bunch of songs that not only all sound alike, but are also boring, turgid, and unoriginal. This video by Andrew Huang gives a bunch of examples. If you think this kind of music is as good as the great rock and soul of the Sixties and early Seventies, you’re just wrong. Rock music is circling the drain, and survives solely because young people have to have some kind of music to call their own.
It’s time for your host—now even more peevish than usual because of the pandemic—to vent about his most-despised words and phrases. And you can add yours in the comments, or perhaps you’d like to inform me that language changes and these neologisms are fine. In that case, take a number and get in line.
As usual, my examples come from HuffPost, which is the fastest way to find examples of odious jargon. Click on the screenshots to read the articles.
“Back in the day“. Yes, everybody says this, but it annoys me because of its lack of precision. Exactly what day are you talking about? Back in WHICH day? If you mean “during the 1950s”, or “in my youth,” then why not say that? You will never find that phrase coming out of my mouth.
“Bigly” marks the user as a clever person—supposedly. Actually, it marks that person as a sheep who follows ridiculous speech trends. “Bigly”, of course, means “copiously” or, as in the case below, simply “well”. If we’re going to use “bigly”, how about “smally” to mean “not much” or “not very well”?
I do have a “Yo Semite” tee-shirt thanks to a kind reader, and I enjoy it a lot, but I don’t enjoy it “bigly”.
“Sorry not sorry”. Now this one really burns my onions. What it means is that you’re not sorry at all. I suppose that someone who was clever (and that doesn’t include those who use this phrase) could construe it as “I’m sorry, but I’m not apologizing for what I said/did.” But it’s used, like the phrase just above, to mark yourself as a clever speaker, which it doesn’t do at all.
“Slay”. This means “amazes” or “wows”, but it’s both overly cute and macabre at the same time. A classic use would be “Beyoncé slays with new album,” but here’s an article from Huffpost that I found in about five seconds. In so doing, I discovered something new to me: “slay” can be used as a noun as well as a verb. And that’s even worse!:
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of rap music, which has replaced soul music, a fantastic period of song, as the African-American pop music. I do like some rap songs, but only when the rapping has a melody interspersed.
Here’s Iggy Azalea “freestyling”, which is improvised rap. She’s not very good at it, and this almost seems to be a form of glossolalia, or religious speaking in tongues. And, just like for those who do this in church, the crowd goes wild.
The New York Times has a new profile of Steve Pinker, with a photo that, while nice, doesn’t include his cowboy boots. It concentrates mostly on the letter signed by 550+ academics calling for the Linguistic Society of America to rescind Pinker’s “distinguished fellow” and “media expert” status. Since I’ve discussed that letter in detail, I won’t go over it here, but simply give my take on some of the statements in the NYT’s generally fair profile. I’ll just add, by way of self-aggrandizement, that you read about that here (as well as the letter in Harper’s that Pinker signed) well before it appeared in the paper of record. And the NYT’s report adds little to what I said. Further, you can read me for free!
Click on the screenshot to read.
The Times comments are indented, while mine are flush left.
The linguists demanded that the society revoke Professor Pinker’s status as a “distinguished fellow” and strike his name from its list of media experts. The society’s executive committee declined to do so last week, stating: “It is not the mission of the society to control the opinions of its members, nor their expression.”
Good for them! That’s a slap in the face to the letter signers. But then there’s this:
But a charge of racial insensitivity carries power in the current climate, and the letter sounded another shot in the fraught cultural battles now erupting in academia and publishing.
What power did it carry if it didn’t accomplish what it set out to do? The “power of Twitter”? (I’d add that “sounded another shot” is bad writing. “Fired another shot” would be better.)
In an era of polarizing ideologies, Professor Pinker, a linguist and social psychologist, is tough to pin down. He is a big supporter of Democrats, and donated heavily to former President Barack Obama, but he has denounced what he sees as the close-mindedness of heavily liberal American universities. He likes to publicly entertain ideas outside the academic mainstream, including the question of innate differences between the sexes and among different ethnic and racial groups. And he has suggested that the political left’s insistence that certain subjects are off limits contributed to the rise of the alt-right.
This is the kind of wording that I read differently from others, perhaps because I think the Times has an agenda. Why does somebody have to be “pinned down? What are the “pins” on which we’re to be impaled? “Progressive woke leftist,” “Liberal”, “Centrist,” “Conservative, and “Nazi”? Pinker is a left-centrist, I suppose, but one who thinks for himself and is unwilling to accept “received wisdom” without data behind it. The description of his intellectual independence is positive to me, not “something hard to pin down,” and why bother to pin someone down in the first place? All they had to say is that he’s a liberal but has independent opinions that often don’t jibe with the mantras of progressive Leftism. The Times would prefer somebody to be pinned down because it fits better into their Manichaean ideology.
The origin of the letter remains a mystery. Of 10 signers contacted by The Times, only one hinted that she knew the identity of the authors. Many of the linguists proved shy about talking, and since the letter first surfaced on Twitter on July 3, several prominent linguists have said their names had been included without their knowledge.
Several department chairs in linguistics and philosophy signed the letter, including Professor Barry Smith of the University at Buffalo and Professor Lisa Davidson of New York University. Professor Smith did not return calls and an email and Professor Davidson declined to comment when The Times reached out.
These people are a bunch of yellow-bellied cowards. Why would they sign such a strong letter and then refuse to talk about it, or decline to comment? I suspect it’s because their “accusations” proved to be a bunch of nonsense and that many of them are embarrassed to have signed it. I’d love to chat with some of them and ask them, for instance, why referring to Bernie Goetz as “mild-mannered”, when several liberal media did at the time he shot people on the subway, is such a sin. And who included people’s names without their knowledge?
The linguists’ letter touched only lightly on questions that have proved storm-tossed for Professor Pinker in the past. In the debate over whether nature or nurture shapes human behavior, he has leaned toward nature, arguing that characteristics like psychological traits and intelligence are to some degree heritable.
The heritability of the traits mentioned, like IQ, is not in question. IQ is at least 50% heritable within populations, becoming more heritable with age—up to 80%. What you do with those data is contentious, but the NYT implies here that the data simply reflect Pinker’s “arguments” rather than real scientific evidence. It’s like saying this: “In the debate about whether evolution or creation is true, Pinker has leaned toward evolution, arguing that observations like the fossil record and biogeography support evolution.” This way of describing real data as a sort-of-opinion is implicitly anti-science.
The clash may also reflect the fact that Professor Pinker’s rosy outlook — he argues that the world is becoming a better place, by almost any measure, from poverty to literacy — sounds discordant during this painful moment of national reckoning with the still-ugly scars of racism and inequality.
Partly, I’m sure, but note that Pinker was demonized by the far Left long before George Floyd was murdered. And his claims about the moral improvement of humanity are more than arguments, as they’re based on data. That’s why Better Angels is filled with graphs. Many of his claims about things getting better are simply uncontestable.
Finally, a telling omission:
The linguists insisted they were not attempting to censor Professor Pinker. Rather, they were intent on showing that he had been deceitful and used racial dog whistles, and thus, was a disreputable representative for linguistics. . . .
Umm. . . here’s what the original said (my emphasis):
We want to note here that we have no desire to judge Dr. Pinker’s actions in moral terms, or claim to know what his aims are. Nor do we seek to “cancel” Dr. Pinker, or to bar him from participating in the linguistics and LSA communities (though many of our signatories may well believe that doing so would be the right course of action). We do, however, believe that the examples introduced above establish that Dr. Pinker’s public actions constitute a pattern of downplaying the very real violence of systemic racism and sexism, and, moreover, a pattern that is not above deceitfulness, misrepresentation, or the employment of dogwhistles. In light of the fact that Dr. Pinker is read widely beyond the linguistics community, this behavior is particularly harmful, not merely for the perception of linguistics by the general public, but for movements against the systems of racism and sexism, and for linguists affected by these violent systems.
There’s more than just “censorship” here; in particular there’s the claim that they aren’t judging the morality of Pinker’s actions. That claim is laughable in view of the letter’s repeated accusations of racism and sexism against Pinker, and the implicit accusation that Pinker knew exactly what he was doing with his “dog whistles”. Aren’t those connected with morality? I think the funniest sentence in the letter, and the most duplicitous, is the first sentence in the paragraph above.
As I said, I think the profile, by and large, is pretty good and objective. But it leaves out crucial parts of the kerfuffle, and irks me by implying that data-based claims are simply “arguments”.
The article below just appeared in the Boston Globe, written by Ty Burr, and it’s about how some young people are coming to appreciate the music of their elders, which they call “dad rock”. Oy!
Click on the screenshot to read:
One of the more satisfying cheap thrills that comes with getting old is watching the discombobulated expression on someone young when they realize something they’ve dismissed as hopelessly parental is actually something rather . . . good.
Translation: Today’s sermon will be on Steely Dan and the vicissitudes of dad rock.
It’s prompted in part by a June 18 New York Times article in which writer Lindsay Zoladz admitted with a degree of chagrin that the music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, long derided from her back-seat position on family car rides, has in her early 30s taken up permanent residence in her headphones.
Wrote Zoladz, “My recent embrace of Steely Dan has helped me settle into a newfound level of self-acceptance. I am a discerning, feminist-minded millennial woman. I also love dad rock.’’
Here’s Zoladz’s article:
Back at the Globe, Burr first pushes back at the demeaning term “dad rock” (why not “mom rock”?), and then goes on to explain why the Dan are so great. I’ll skip the second part, and give my own brief take. The argot:
But, first, a word about “dad rock,’’ a term coined (as the Times article points out) in a 2007 Pitchfork review of a Wilco album. The phrase is, of course, profoundly insulting while remaining absolutely undeniable, the end result of generations of boomers and Gen Xers treating the music of their youth as catechism for their children. Apostasy is guaranteed.
Dad rock takes its place next to dad jeans and dad jokes as an endearing diminution — you’re corny as hell, old man, but I guess we’ll keep you — but what kind of music actually qualifies? In practice, it’s whatever you play to your kids as important cultural education (disguised as fun) until they retaliate by going over to K-pop, Katy Perry, or industrial death metal. In theory, it’s all the classic rawk from your adolescence that you now hear in Starbucks and the aisles of Whole Foods. More damage has been done to Van Morrison’s career by the overplaying of “Moondance’’ than by his worst-charting album.
The Beatles don’t count as dad rock, because they’re foundational — a bouncy pop bedrock best introduced early. But the Stones, the Who, and (sob) the Kinks qualify. So does Springsteen, which I know is tough for a lot of you. So do the laid-back LA rockers of the 1970s — the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne — and Southern rockers like the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Marshall Tucker Band. The prog rock that was so rad in 1974: Yes and ELP and all the rest? Don’t even try. My personal induction into the dad rock hall of shame came when a group of my guy friends and I started singing Jethro Tull’s album-long “Thick as a Brick’’ at a barbecue — and we knew every word.
I’m not sure what Burr means by “foundational,” because if you’re talking about the roots of rock, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis were also foundational, but surely they’d be classified as “dad rock”. Like the Dan, the Beatles were sui generis—though the Beatles began heavily influenced by the rock of the late Fifties and early Sixties. Both bands developed their own style that, well, didn’t reflect earlier influences nearly as heavily as other groups. I mean, “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Blackbird”—where did they come from? I’d also disagree that Fleetwood Mac and the Allman Brothers were dad rock: they were great bands that can still be appreciated not as a marker of your youth, but as great music on its own, just as we can appreciate Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and Charlie Parker. Are Parker, Basie, Ellington, and Billie Holiday “dad jazz”? I don’t think so. And that’s where Burr goes wrong:
I could go on; the point is that the process is a natural state of evolution. No growing person can develop their own taste until they overthrow their parents’ tastes, which means cherry-picking selected parental pop while making independent forays into their generation’s musical present and a self-curated past. Such rejection has gotta hurt, but it opens the floodgates for the tide to come the other way. My 20-something daughters send me their playlists now, and they’re fantastic. And you know who turns up on them a fair amount?
Perhaps my beef arises because this view doesn’t reflect my own musical journey. When I was a kid, I listened to my parents’ LPs, including Sinatra, the great Broadway musicals like Oklahoma and My Fair Lady, and White Folks’ Jazz: Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, et al.: the music my parents danced to, live, at Penn State dances. And I still love that music. I never overthrew my parents’ taste, but simply added to it my own tastes beginning when rock took off when I was about five years old. That’s when I first heard “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets, often regarded as the first true rock song.
I’ve always said—and I stand by this still, and have defended it with examples—that somebody had to grow up during rock’s halcyon days, and those lucky people happened to be me and my contemporaries. For as I was finishing high school, the Beatles were surging, along with the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Santana (NOT dad rock), Janis Joplin, and so on ad infinitum. You’d have to be pretty tone deaf, or lack taste, to say that today’s rock and pop music is just as good as the music of that era. (I can hear blood pressures rising!). Well, somebody had to say it, and I did.
In my view (this is a theory that is mine) most art forms describe a flattened parabola. Classical music began reaching its apogee with Bach and Beethoven, and has gone downhill ever since Stravinsky. Painting, too, is now debased, so that visits to art galleries are dutiful rather than exciting. And as for opera, well, let’s not talk about it. (I shouldn’t have to say here that all tastes are subjective, and that I’ll get angry responses by people who say that classical-music adepts, for instance, find much to admire in the modern genre. But if that’s the case, why do symphony orchestras still present “the greats”, throwing in a little classical modern music to try to get people interested in newer stuff?)
And so rock further declines, and perhaps some day will give way to another genre of music. As for me, I do try to listen to good rock music—and yes, there’s some—but I never hear anything as good as the music that enveloped me when I was a teenager. Further, well into my forties, I developed a love for “real” jazz, the jazz of black people, beginning with Louis Armstrong and extending through Ellington and Basie to Parker, Gillespie, and John Coltrane. I have no truck for contemporary jazz, so I guess I like “Dad Jazz,” except that a). my dad didn’t listen to black people’s jazz, and b). jazz is pretty much moribund.
Now that I’ve angered many, I’ll just add that Steely Dan is great because their music is complex—the first real rock that was inextricably bound up with jazz. The more you hear it, the more you’re attracted (if you have taste). It bears repeated listening, and each time you listen you hear something more. Here are ten reasons why the Dan is not “dad music (click on the song to hear it on YouTube):
Have a listen to this, particularly the off-tempo break starting at 1:55, and tell me this is “Dad rock”. (As for what the words mean, that’s your guess.)
The Dan: Becker and Fagen:
I’ll close by thanking my old friend Tim for the article (I’m not sure whether he’s a Dan fan), and for suggesting the last of the “unappreciated groups” I’ve put below. And here they are: fantastic groups or musicians (not “dad music”) that I consider underappreciated:
Buffalo Springfield (CSN and CSN&Y are pretty well appreciated)