Friday, August 01, 2008

Your Favorite Band Sucks, And So Does Mine

Oh no, I can hear you saying, another dumbass blogger music snob post about how much band X is so much better than band Y because blah blah blah.


Is this going to go that way? Maybe not. Stay with me. Just because I don't like what you like does not make me a music snob, honest. It is a little tale about a certain band, enjoying a recent resurgence in popularity, which is loathed by your humble blogger.

Let's set this up with a little story.....


Recently, I was at a charity walk in my town. The festive atmosphere had food, activities, a DJ spinning the most common songs one could imagine, and even a live band. The band, whose name escapes me, was a local outfit of older guys (I'm guessing late 40's and up), played a variety, if one could call it that, of early 70's soft rock. (Think "A Horse With No Name", "Ventura Highway" etc.) Funny that they and the DJ seemed incredulous that the crowd wasn't responding as they would have hoped. Call me crazy, but I don't think America (the original artists of the songs mentioned) got that much of an enthusiastic response when they did that song in 1972, so I'm not sure these guys got an atypical reaction. Anyway, the band wrapped up their brief set, thanked the crowd, and was rewarded with polite, if scattered, applause. At this point, Mr. DJ picked up the mic to fill the air, and this is where our story really begins.


A friend of mine and I were chatting as the raffle finished, while in the background the DJ had just finished spinning that perennial crowd fave "Cotton Eyed Joe" [imagine my eyes rolling right now, as yours might be]. It was at this point we heard the unmistakable intro to a song everyone knew, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'".


"Finally", my friend said, "some real music!", and he looked at me in the way you would when you expect a certain unconditional approval, maybe an agreeing nod of the head, perhaps even a "Hell Yeah!". My response was somewhat different.

"Oh man", I said "I fucking hate Journey".


As soon as the words left my lips I looked around anxiously. Not because of the sentiment I'd expressed, but because the event was loaded with kids, parents, grandparents, etc. It would be pretty embarrassing to have had some little kids hear that. Luckily, none did.


My friend was taken aback slightly, and asked why I thought the way I did. "They represent everything that is bad about music" was my response (which I have to admit was said through almost clenched teeth), and we moved on to other topics. Upon reflection, it led me to thinking though. Why do I have such vitriol for this band in particular?


I began to think about my opinions on Journey, and music in general. One thing I've noticed is that when it comes to music, there seem to be two kinds of people:


Group A - Listen to the radio, absorbs whatever is played, might make a purchase or two on occasion, but rarely ventures outside the "mainstream". Music is an important part of their life, but functions as a background to their lives as other things are going on. Doesn't read any type of music press, either online or in print. Rejects most new trends until they are assimilated into the mainstream. Think "I hate that rap garbage....but that 'Bust A Move' is sure a fun tune!" Most of these people really enjoy stuff like Journey, Bon Jovi, and Carrie Underwood.


Group B - Listens to what is popular, but seeks out other options, and is not averse to looking beyond the mainstream. Might buy an album or download a song despite never having heard it provided there is a good buzz around it. Keeps up on developments in music (maybe not quite as much as they age). It's safe to assume these folks are into old school stuff like The Ramones, Run-DMC, or R.E.M. while keeping abreast of newer bands like Arcade Fire or Vampire Weekend. Investigates a new trend before rejecting it outright.



Belonging to either group isn't absolute, nor is there any problem with it. It just boggles my mind sometimes how, when I'm surrounded by a bunch of people who fall into the first group (you probably noticed by now that I consider myself to be firmly in the second) I am forced to defend my opinions as if I was some psycho radical hippie junkie dirtbag punk. Explaining to people that you don't particularly have any care whatsoever for Bon Jovi can elicit a dumbfounded reaction. I can almost hear them thinking, "Jeez, Bon Jovi is nice and popular. Why wouldn't you like them?" (For the record, I don't dislike Bon Jovi, and recall having a really great time signing "Livin' On A Prayer" while drunk and dancing in a bar one night...., but let the record show that I do not own anything the band has ever produced.)

Which brings me back to Journey. I've always had a particular distaste for what Rolling Stone dubbed "Faceless" rock back in the late 70's/early 80's, referring to the era where bands like Journey, Toto, Foreigner, Kansas, Styx, etc. ruled the roost without any particular distinguishing characteristics. To me, Journey was the worst of this bunch - a bunch of clearly talented musicians who resorted to playing bland, generic, risk-free Rock (tm) aimed for the masses. While obviously not the first, nor the last group, to be guilty of aiming for success without artistic merit, they were easily the most egregious example of the era. Throw in the ridiculous album cover art and the cheesy ballads, and it was enough to make me want to scream.

Thankfully, the group faded away as musical trends evolved. Unfortunately, in the age of instant nostalgia, the band is hot again (thanks in part to "Don't Stop Believin'" being prominently featured in The Sopranos finale), with a new lead singer pulled from a cover band (I'm not making this up) and a new CD, and here we go again.

What also grinds my gears is that I've never run into anyone who claims Journey is a great band, you know? It's always along the lines of "They're good, they had those songs I liked back in the day", but never have I run into anyone who would passionately defend the group. To me, that speaks volumes. Perhpas the comments to this post will attract some defenders. I say bring 'em on.
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