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:
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.