Friday, August 10, 2007

Conversation Series - Part Three

And now...the third and final installment of our Conversation Series with the Incomparable Ross K!


For all the kids reading at home, what Ross is really saying is “Stay in School. Follow Your Dreams. You, Children, Are the Future.”

Here’s the thing: where we went to school was particularly weird. Half the student body used it as a pre-professional finishing school, a place to work on your handshake, a country club with a handsome library. Then there were the kids who actually used that library, intellectually-curious but often misguided types. And these are exactly the kids the professors FEED ON. Education, at best, can give you the tools to develop ideas. But ideas, in that particular environment, are as welcome as anthrax in the mailroom. I kept wondering why the second-rate students kept getting the first-rate grades in college. It wasn’t until Junior year that I realized my professors just wanted my papers to say the things we’d already said in class. It honestly didn’t even occur to me. I always thought, “Okay, we went there…where else can I go? Can I go deeper? Can I take that futher?” But in undergrad, that’s just not what most teachers want. They want seven pages of their lecture handed back to them, so they know you went to class and didn’t sleep every day. And that’s really about it.

That said, I think I got a great education in college and I wouldn’t change it. It’s just something I had to actively seek out.

What I really learned in college was that Tri-Delts are sometimes worth the trouble. Bada-bing!

Relatedly…Cate Blanchett? Are you sure you understand this question? I remember Stephanie Seymore in the GNR videos, and I remember her being a Victoria’s Secret supermodel at the time. Cate Blanchett is physically frightening. If she showed up at a video shoot and I caught her in the wrong light, I’d throw a bat at her and run the fastest mile of my life. Next you’ll tell me you own a swimsuit calendar of Judie Dench. I have to move on…

I should’ve qualified the Most Underrated question. I guess the best way to define “underrated” is the disparity between the quality of the band’s work and their actual, tangible impact (mainstream popularity and success). Your statement, “if they’re TRULY obscure, if no one at all knows them, it’s probably because they’re not good enough to be rated” is dead-on and something I’ve often argued. A buddy of mine maintains that the greatest rock band on the planet is probably unknown. I think popularity is at least an indication of relevance. In that way, you can’t be great and truly obscure. No prog-techno outfit of seventeen year-old Romanian girls is better than the Beatles. And they’re not gonna be…

But I digress. I’m picking Big Star and I’ll tell you why. First, you might be going “Who is Big Star?” Well, exactly. But second of all, I’d argue that their first album (#1 Record) is as good a debut as any rock band has ever released, and their second/last record (Radio City) is maybe even better. Big Star was a band from Memphis in the early 70’s, led by Alex Chilton of The Boxtops. They specialized in uber-accessible Brit-pop and infused it with Memphis-style soul and blues-rock. They were an insanely good band with an insanely bad label that got them no radio play, no distribution, and limited press (although what reviews existed were predictably glowing). The label went essentially bankrupt and the band, discouraged and defeated, broke up. One of the members died a few years later in a car crash, preventing any future albums. And that was that. They’ve directly influenced R.E.M, Gin Blossoms, Weezer, Counting Crows, Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, Sub-Pop founders Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt, on and on and on—and those are the folks who talk about them constantly in press. A thousand bands were indirectly influenced by “Thirteen,” which might have been the first emo song. I can’t think of any other band that made music that great that your average person has simply never heard of and maybe never will. They’re the only band I’ve ever heard who had Beatles-level greatness, but never became remotely famous.

Finally…if you could have any pop singer’s voice, who would you take (this is not limited to rock singers)? Why didn’t you name me your most admired songwriter of all-time? And maybe the biggest question…

Every 15 years or so, rock redefines itself and completely alters the pop-cultural landscape. It happened in the early 60’s, (British invasion) mid-late 70’s (punk), early 90’s (grunge)…are we due for the next huge thing? And what will it be? And, since these things usually come from the active musical scene of one city…what is that city? What’s the next Seattle? Who’s the next Cobain?

I give you the last word, sir. Or the last eight-thousand.

You know who I am,



I suppose you’d fill a video with a different orange-tanned Maxim-cover wank for every month of the year. I see there is no talking to you on this subject. Obviously your intelligence is extremely low, Radioactive Man #1 is worth more than your life please exit the store.

Your choice for Most Underrated is clearly much better thought-out than mine and quite instructive. You definitely appear to advantage before your fans here. I had never heard of Big Star, but now I am eager to, provided I can do it for free on copies burned by you. As an honorable mention, I’d like to suggest Doctor Hook, an ironic country band from the ‘70s who did “On the Cover of the Rolling Stone,” the show-biz ditty you sometimes hear on Bob and Tom in the Morning. Hop on Youtube and look for their videos for a memory-jog on just how funny they were versus how known or appreciated they are.

But, excuse me, Gin Blossoms? For shame, Doc! I say, man, I was going to challenge you to a duel for comparing Cate Blanchett to Judi Dench, but then you mentioned Gin Blossoms in a conversation about music. As Doctor Johnson said of a woman’s preaching, “It is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs:
it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.” Come, let us have no more of this.

If I could have any pop singer’s voice, I’d probably take Sam Moore’s of Sam and Dave. Sam and Dave are the guys on the eight-track in The Blues Brothers. Sam is the one who sounds like a better singer.

My most admired songwriter of all time is J. S. Bach. Get outta me.

This last question is a tricky one: my gut feeling is that I don’t see there being another Cobain or another Seattle because rock is losing its boundaries and fan-base and leaking energy into other genres. I realize that conditions were similar before the last sea-change in that rock’s having fallen into the hands of smiling cheerleaders wearing make-up caused the backlash and that rock’s now having fallen into the hands of sighing, pouting, fainting emo-nancies wearing make-up could cause a similar backlash. However, part of me wants to ask who would even notice a rebirth of rock when BET and VH1 play more music videos than MTV, when the McRap wrongly called hip-hop has curdled everything into a shitty soup and Music Television plays only dating shows, before I tell myself that that’s why we need it more than ever.

Chris, I can only read minds a certain number of hours each day before becoming indisposed and having to lie down with a cool cloth on my forehead, and telling the future is pert-near beyond my abilities. I do think that whatever the next big thing is, it won’t be rock.

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