Great Artists Dilemma

Great Artists Dilemma

Written by Jay Jay French

As much as my Springsteen article caused an outpouring of comments, I was impressed by the numbers and passions of the comments on my “Why Can’t America produce a Great Rock Band?” article.

I did ask for it, and you, the readers delivered.

Rather than respond individually, I thought I would write a larger and broader response.

First, however, I want to thank Copper editor Bill Leebens for inviting me to the John Atkinson farewell dinner last week in NYC. Well, I wasn’t actually invited to the dinner. Bill asked me to meet him at the restaurant after the dinner but, when you get journalists like Michael Fremer, Art Dudley, Herb Richert, JA, new Editor Jim Austin (and also “JA”), Kal Rubinson  and the host Bill Leebens in a room, you can bet that they would be hanging out much longer than expected. When I showed up, dessert hadn’t been served so I was introduced to all the writers whom I have been reading for nearly 30 years.

I was surprised by how many of these guys had seen Twisted Sister in bars years ago, and were also aware of my Copper credentials. Because I also worked at Lyric HiFi in the 90’s, that led to some great stories. John Atkinson was great to meet and talk to and of course, I got to meet face to face with Bill Leebens as well. [Oh, p’shaw.…Ed.]

Between becoming friends with Ken Kessler, with whom I will be attending the Munich HiFi show with in May, and writing for Copper, I’ve been able to express my inner fanboy high-end enthusiasm (as well as neurosis), something that I couldn’t have imagined 5 years ago, and I am enjoying the hell out of it.

Again, Editor Leebs gives me great latitude so I can write articles like the last one and skirt the periphery of our audio world. What is so satisfying is that, while listening, critiquing (and buying) audio products is the fun part. Without the music we just have lots of wooden and steel boxes that mean nothing. The music is and should always be what it is all about and Copper lets me go on that one!

Technically the US is a Constitutional Democracy/Republic (depending on which founding father/historian you wish to quote) and the UK is a Parliamentary Democracy with a Constitutional Monarch.

I could have said that in the beginning.

I chose to not sound that professorial.

You all need to know that even though I am a born and raised Manhattanite ( the only true New Yorkers, I add arrogantly), my second wife is British, as is my daughter. I have owned flats in London and a house in Basildon, my daughter is married to a British school teacher, I spent 14 years vacationing on the Cornish coast walking hundreds of miles on the cliff walks between Loo, Polperro, Foye, as well as Penzance and Lands End.

I also lived for long periods of time in Battle and Cookham.

Twisted Sister was signed to our 2 record deals in the UK, first with a punk label called Secret Records (The Exploited, Cockney Rejects) and then by Phil Carson, former Led Zep tour manager and the man who signed AC/DC, to Atlantic Records worldwide.

We also have appeared live on UK TV shows (The Tube Show, Top of the Pops) more times than in any other country, and almost all our live legendary albums have been from UK venues (Hammersmith Odeon, The Marquee, The Astoria & The Reading Festival). We have also performed at Wembley Arena and Castle Donnington.

My daughter also went to college at university in England and I have had to deal with the NHS on her behalf as she has to deal with a chronic illness.

As I have lived in the UK for so long, I can tell you that there are very different experiences than living in the US.

My “socialist” reference really had to do with the way the British deal with economic issues, i.e. education, health, and other aspects of cultural support. These are very, very different than the US, and more closely aligned with socialist governing.

I believe that the differences in our cultures, in whole or in part, and how the musicians referenced in this analysis mirrored their life experiences, played a part in how they viewed the world and how those views impacted their creativity.

Now, having said that, if I had just said:

“This is the difference between the 2 countries” and left out the politics, it would have saved some of you the time and energy to correct the inference.

But, I did say it and yes, comments were made.

Let’s move on!

My Great Band list.

I was born in 1952 and was 11 when the Beatles hit. This was an historical moment that impacted millions of people around the world, saved rock ‘n’ roll, and unleashed, over the next 50 years, immense creativity loosely connected under the rock ‘n’ roll umbrella.

When I wrote that the Beatles, Stones, Who, Zep & Floyd were the greatest exponents of this era, it was based, in my humble opinion, on sociological impact, sales and longevity.

Let’s get this straight.

I haven’t listened (meaning played their music intentionally) to Zep or The Who in years. That doesn’t diminish their impact on the world. They are absolute monsters in their respective positions and they both really impacted me through their music and live shows.

My personal taste runs almost exclusively to Blues music, which I listen to daily. The Blues has been my haven for decades. It is timeless and soothes my soul.

The Beatles, as I write a Beatles column for Goldmine magazine, and the Rolling Stones from ‘63-72 are also a part of my listening rituals.

When Twisted Sister started in ‘73 I stopped discovering new music all the time because I was now a part of the machine.

Up until then, I had seen hundreds of artists (I kept a list and I will find it and put it up at some point) and prided myself on knowing everything about everything music related.

My first concert was seeing the Weavers in Carnegie Hall in 1963, followed by the Animals at the Schaefer Beer Music Series in Central Park in August 1966, and The Who, The Cream (that is how they were listed), Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, Wilson Pickett and The Young Rascals, all together at Murray the K’s Easter show at the RKO theater on East 59th St. in March of 1967.

What followed over the next 5 years was, to many, every person’s musical fantasy.

I became a huge Deadhead as well as super fan of (among many) Beach Boys, Stones, Who, Floyd, Joplin, Zep, Sly, Kinks, Chambers Bros, The Band, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Move, Fugs, Mothers, Byrds, Dylan, Hendrix, John Mayall, BB King, Albert King, Muddy Waters, Mountain, Clapton, The Jeff beck Group…etc.

Bowie came at the end of ‘72 and changed my life and musical direction.

The next artist after Bowie that blew me away was Dave Edmunds. I saw Rockpile in 1980, played a show with Dave in ‘83 and said to myself that if I went solo, that is the kind of band I would have.

When Oasis hit in 1996, I saw them about a dozen times in both the US and UK. That’s how much they blew me away.

Now, at the age of 66 it has become harder and harder to find “new” music that I think is interesting and not derivative.

First off, as a musician. I know a cliché chord progression when I hear it and I tend to run from its current iteration.

Watch this Youtube video that explains what I’m talking about.

It’s very funny but you will understand.

This may sound strange as both early rock ‘n’ roll, Doo Wop, and Blues all have thousands of songs that have the exact same chord structures, but I’m ok with it.

The other issue is hype. I don’t doubt I was manipulated to like certain artists when I was younger. Now, however, I see this stuff coming a mile away.

Call it cynicism.

Why do we love Classical, Jazz, Blues, etc.

Maybe because we feel it’s not just timeless and personally meaningful, but free of the manipulating forces that seem to be everywhere.

In terms of great US bands, sure there were many. I have loved many of them. I have seen dozens of them.

Among the greatest concerts I ever attended was a US/UK hybrid band called Leon Russell/ Mad Dogs & Englishmen show (minus Joe Cocker at this point) at the Fillmore East in 1970.

It was the closest to R&R nirvana I had ever experienced.

Having said all of this, I really appreciate the feedback but still stand by my larger statement. And of course, you are all free to make yours.

Till next time…

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