Monday, August 06, 2007

Conversation Series - Part One

I know him from the deserted library we called college, you know him from his 3,000 word blog comments, the man with the encyclopedic knowledge of genealogy and the mountain dulcimer, the man from Louisville but of an entirely different planet…ladies, gents….I present to you Ross K!

In addition to being an avid blog-reader, Ross is an accomplished drummer and songwriter and one of my favorite people (even though he doesn’t listen to Bob Freaking Zimmerdylan). One day I was reading an email from Ross—we’d been talking back and forth about music for a couple of months—and a blog was inspired. I thought it might be fun to have a conversation series with another musician, talk about music, argue about boxing, and see what happens. Here now is Part One in our Three Part Conversation Series with the One and Only Ross K:


Rosstopher Killebrew,

Thoughts while wondering if Barack Obama isn’t so much black as mocha…

I went to a whole concert of music the other night and the feller onstage sang an entire song in falsetto. At first I thought, “well, he’s a sensitive songer and singwriter and the falsetto comes with the territory.” But then it occurred to me: freaking everybody sings in falsetto these days. The Fray. Daniel Powter. Aqualung. Keane. Matt Kearney. Augustana. It’s a veritable murderer’s row—or suicide row, depending on how much you like their music. And while I’d gladly make this a broader issue of decaying manhood in our society (guys singing like girls and such), I really just blame Coldplay. Granted, I got a flat Coke yesterday and blamed Coldplay. I blame Coldplay for most of my annoyances and the world’s troubles. I’m fairly certain (but have no way of proving it) that Coldplay is somehow indirectly tied to Al Qaeda and is using their particular brand of piano-based atmospherics and saccharine journal-lyrics to lull our armed forces into huggy-loving-times somewhere in the caverns of Afghanistan. If Pat Freaking Buchanan ran for President under a platform of a War on Coldplay, I’d find the means to vote for him twice.

But seriously, at what point did the good bands go away? Why are all the men on the radio singing like girls? And are record companies really looking for falsetto in potential breakout acts? Do they reject potential singles that don’t go an octave up during the chorus? What the hell is happening here?


If you could pick any current celebrity to be in your music video (ala Enrique and Anna Kournikova), who would it be? I’d go with Jerry Stiller.

Who are your five favorite rock drummers?

If Nashville was a girl, would she be anorexic or bulimic? I maintain that she would have one lazy eye.

I’ll be down in the basement mixing up the medicine….(that’s a Dylan line, you human wasteland).

Mi Llamo Mi-lamo



You have not listed the most grievous and abhorred offender, James Blunt, although one can’t call him rock. Gender in pop music is actually quite a fascinating subject. People like David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Freddie Mercury and Prince have played with androgyny of voice and appearance to great effect, and you can look at so many glam rockers and pimps who wear make-up, spandex and feathers yet whose masculinity is seen as unreproachable.

This isn’t just about falsetto. You’re not just talking about general androgyny of sound and appearance, its mixture with a certain effete malaise and sickness of the soul, general whining, but the MUSIC lacking a certain fire and conviction. We’re talking about ROCK here, and rock is better with machismo. I don’t know what evil demon created Coldplay, James Blunt, the heinous and reviled Nickelback, and others like them. I myself feel that rock fell off into its current slump in the late ‘nineties, with the advent of Korn and nu-metal as well as the Blink 182-styled nasal teens. One or two bands a year come out and restore my faith in things: Foo Fighters for sure; The Strokes and the Vines back when they first broke out, although I’ve been less impressed since; Queens of the Stone Age; Casket Salesmen; The Mars Volta at one time…

Chris, remember that juvenile and asexual non-rock has always existed. This is nothing new. There has always been a Herman’s Hermits for every Rolling Stones or Hendrix, a James Taylor for a Led Zeppelin, a Kajagoogoo, Men Without Hats and WHAM! for Guns n’ Roses and Motley Crue. And there was this entire era called doo-wop, where guys serenaded ideal, unattainable, and uninterested women exclusively in boyish falsetto voice, occasionally to haunting and memorable effect. Remember—there has always been heinous crap.

My favorite rock drummers? John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), Keith Moon (The Who), Neil Peart (Rush), Levon Helm (The Band) and Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age). I look for big drum sounds, solid timing, some kind of inventive interaction with the other musicians (listening to accents and hooks and filling in, not just keeping square time), and the bonus of singing and helping out with songwriting. They have to have been part of a good band or bands and have a defensible career, a good-sized body of work.
And they have to be EXCITING. Holding down the pocket is great, but this isn’t funk or gospel or soul we’re talking about, it’s rock and roll. These people either have to take risks, make big splashes, be naturally charismatic or otherwise exciting to watch.

There are lots of honorable mentions: I always liked Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience), but am less impressed with his time these days—he got a little ahead of himself and kept sloppy, inconsistent time, overplayed and rushed too much. I love Buddy Miles (Band of Gypsys), but mainly for his voice and less so for his drumming. John Densmore (The Doors) is cool, too, but also not always solid and not exciting and big enough, despite his listening and accompaniment skills and creative tone coloring. Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones) is cool, but again not quite big and dramatic and bad-ass enough and not always solid either. I like Alex Van Halen, but he hasn’t done anything that John Bonham and Ginger Baker (Cream, et al) didn’t do, and I feel like the same goes for Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave) and Stephen Drozd (Flaming Lips) even though I love the way they sound and feel. I’m not speaking to Drozd’s songwriting for Flaming Lips, just the drumming itself, and I love his heavily altered drum sounds. Stewart Copeland (The Police) and Chad Sexton (311) I always liked, but I don’t think they did anything on the drums (Copeland’s composing not included) that Neil Peart didn’t do already, and I like Rush better than The Police and 311. Matt Cameron (Soundgarden) and Danny Carey (Tool) are the deal, but they’re just not quite top five (I haven’t liked the direction Tool has gone in since…Undertow, sound and production-wise). Ditto Dave Lombardo (Slayer). He sounds like an avalanche, but he’s basically just a super-heavy Moon or Peart. And there’s only so much Slayer I can listen to in one sitting…

Nashville is BULIMIC. Does Nashville starve itself of talent and soul or does it gorge on them and then puke them up? The latter, I think. The city is glutted, not starved. Any night of the week, you have several groups to choose from who are all playing so well that you have to numb yourself to it so that you don’t become too discouraged at your lack of accomplishment next to them. This leads to nothing being good enough. You’ve seen stuff so great that nothing satisfies you. You then cut yourself off from the disappointment of not being able to recapture a golden moment. You just quit going to shows and eventually move someplace starved, so that music can become precious again. All kinds of mega-musicians live in Nashville and chill, but then go out on the road to do their real work. Interestingly, Nashville’s best shows then come not from the piles of musicians who live within walking distance, but from visiting bands on tour who come from someplace else, because all the stars who live there have to get out most of the year. Like a Roman emperor mid-orgy, vomiting to make room for more meat and wine, Nashville gluts itself and pukes people out every week.

Your choice of Jerry Stiller is genius, and I can’t beat it. (***Omitted rant about other MALE choices for his music-video starlet.)

Will this work? I'm having fun so far. Thanks for agreeing to do this.



ross k. said...

Props on the James Blunt photo--he's douche-tastic. Since he's already in the snow, it would be tight if they combined videos with "Don't Cry," where Axl Rose is out in the snow with a bottle of whisky and a gun, and in the new one Axl shot him. They could show Blunt's lip quivering in this Orphic fainting kind of way for about ten seconds, then cut to Guns n' Roses rocking on top of a building.

Holly Capote said...

First off, Ross is the Gods' God. When the Gods don their footy pjs and kneel at night to pray, they pray to Ross. And by day, when they drive their Godmobiles, which go putt-putt-putt and backfire an occasional, incongruous lightning bolt, if you look close, you'll see a drums sticker on their bumpers. That's their fish sticker equivalent.

As far as androgyny in rock 'n' roll, I like it. Now, at the risk of offending the Gods' God, Ross, how can you site the Stones as an example of machismo when Mick appealed to the boys as much as the girls? Mick and Keith were boy/girl blends. Mick was a tart on stage for a good long time, wearing lycra and little else. He's still be a tart if he didn't have varicose veins. Hell, even the coordinating outfits of heavy metal bands is thoroughly girly. Girls try to synchronize by color and tone and many band members do the same. When have you ever seen a band where one guy has big hair and another looks like Elvis Costello? Never. And so, in this way, all bands are girly. I think androgyny is part of many acts because it's hot. Girls want to sleep with girls and boys want to sleep with boys and with David Bowie or Annie Lennox, you get to do both.

ross k. said...

I see I'm remiss. The Stones did totally go through that Satan and make-up phase...and Keith Richards sleeps both in a coffin and then upside-down when he's in bat form, and vampires are straight from Gothic Romance, which is WAY girly! Additionally, the Stones had a video for one of their songs called "Shattered," where they're all wiped out on drugs and are singing so close together they appear to be necking. It's not exactly Pantera.

Smart comment, Holly, and good point about coordinating.

Holly Capote said...

Yeah, Goth is girly.

Here's the never-stated, super-secret recipe for Goth: steep 'n' seep in emotion through puberty and beyond. After the third day of self-indulgence, black accouterments and stark makeup will automatically appear. Disenjoy!

Goth kids feel more than the rest of us and that's as girly as it gets.

And Mick and the boys backed up their tights. Keith Richards said that creative people are bi. And longago Bianca (or was it Angela?) wrote about finding Mick and Bowie in bed one morning.

Wikipedia: "Bowie met his first wife Angela in 1969. According to Bowie, they were "fucking the same bloke" (record executive Calvin Mark Lee).[34]"

Here's my guess as to what drives the androgyny: the living entombments of cubicles and housewifery. Kids see where they'll be. Boys see so many sullen, emotionally constipated papas and and girls see too many sagging mamas and both wonder, but never dare ask, "Is that all I get to be? Forever and ever until I die?"

So rock offers alternatives: emoting girly boys and sneering boyly girls. No way can one imagine Mick Jagger in a cubicle. No way can one imagine Annie Lennox doped up on shopping, Prozac, and redecorating her kitchen with stainless steel appliances.

Rock doesn't deliver immortality, but it argues that one needn't be buried prematurely.

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