February 12, 1939 – May 20, 2013
the unpopular opinion
21 May 2013 Leave a Comment
February 12, 1939 – May 20, 2013
18 Feb 2013 Leave a Comment
On this occasion of Yoko Ono’s 80th birthday, I’d like to take a moment to wish her many happy returns and explain a little bit about why I admire her. It’s not because of her art. It’s not because of her music. Neither of those things are all that great. It’s because I feel she did more for feminism than any number of political activists or angry writers. She redefined, in the popular imagination, what it meant to be a wife. (And here I will also give part of the credit to Linda McCartney.)
Why did Yoko, and to a lesser extent Linda, attract so much rage and criticism from every corner or society? It’s not because she broke up The Beatles. That’s bullshit. The Beatles were going to break up anyhow. It’s not just because Yoko is a damn dirty non-Caucasian foreigner, although racism certainly played a part. Yoko’s crime was that she had the sheer nerve to be her husband’s equal. The problem had two parts; one, she just wasn’t pretty enough for a big famous rock star; and two, she had things to say and goddamn it, John listened to those things and took them seriously and wanted everyone else to, too.
The first problem – not pretty enough. Now, by regular human standards, Yoko Ono has always been an attractive enough looking woman. But she’s no fashion model, no movie star, no unattainable superhuman ideal. She’s just a regular woman of average appearance. That goes for Linda McCartney as well, but she at least had the decency to have blonde hair. Nobody had any problems with the first round of Beatles wives, because they were all safely, conventionally, nonthreateningly attractive. They were decorative, just as wives should be. Patti Boyd was a fashion model, Jane Asher a minor movie actress, Cynthia Lennon and Maureen Starr were housewives. Three of them were blondes. I am no way disparaging Patti Boyd or any of the others, they were all, in their own way, strong women who made the best of a very weird situation. But they didn’t threaten the status quo. Then Yoko and Linda came along. Plain looking, smart women with creative careers of their own and ideas in their heads. With the others, you could understand why those guys chose them. They were pretty, and famous rock stars are entitled to have pretty things. But why, oh god why, would Beatle John and Beatle Paul choose such non-hot women for wives? What could they possibly see in them? In a culture where a woman’s worth is measured in beauty, Yoko and Linda were practically subhuman. They obviously had no worth as decorative objects. And in that way, they both forced the public to grapple with the possibility that they had worth as human beings; intellectual worth, spiritual worth, creative worth. Those were marriages based on something more than disposable physical attributes. That was a radical, radical notion in 1969.
Secondly, Yoko Ono had ideas. Which she said. Out loud. In public. She was an artist, and not just a maker of pleasant objects. Her art was meant to challenge, to confuse, to inspire thought. She not only made her own art, she influenced her husband’s art. John listened to her. They shared an intellectual affinity. She changed him, opened his eyes to new ideas, and I would argue, made him a better, more enlightened person. Together they experimented with music, film, art projects, political activism. As equals. Where one went, the other followed. Always as equals. The fact that many of those collaborations weren’t very good is beside the point. The point is they did those things, because they loved to do things together and didn’t care about what flak they would be getting for it. Which, meanwhile, is exactly what Paul and Linda were also doing. Playing music, making art, raising a family, doing everything together in a partnership. Those were radical, radical things to be doing.
The press raged. Who did those two bitches think they were? How dare they try to influence their husbands? How dare they make themselves heard? Did that crazy Japanese bitch Yoko somehow bewitch our John? Yoko was too weird. She was making John turn weird too. She was a bad influence. She wasn’t worthy of being his wife. She wasn’t good enough, she wasn’t talented enough, she wasn’t pretty enough, she wasn’t white enough. What nobody could grasp was, John thought she was good enough. They loved and respected each other and they didn’t care if the world didn’t approve. Nobody has been put through so much public abuse for no good reason than Yoko Ono has. She has been called every insulting word, she has been vilified and scapegoated. And she has handled it with remarkable grace and dignity. She simply went on doing her thing, speaking her mind, being herself. Eventually, over the years, the hate abated. She earned respect for her courage after John’s death. She earned respect for continuing to make music and create art, and as the keeper of John’s legacy. Most of all, she’s earned respect for being unquestionably her own woman, despite everything that has been thrown her way. She married arguably the most famous man in the world, but refused to be overshadowed by his fame, refused to let his identity obliviate hers. She put her foot down and demanded to be his equal in the eyes of the world. The world responded with anger and hatred at first, but eventually the world came around. Now we take it for granted that two people, even if one of them is the most famous man in the world, can have a bond that’s not just based on the man’s desire to possess an attractive thing. That’s something a lot of very, very smart women have written a lot of books about. But I believe that written manifestos only go so far. The common person doesn’t care about some activist writing angry letters. But the common person cares very much about The Beatles, and it took The Beatles leading by example to make the common person pay attention. It’s because people were paying attention to the personal life habits of a couple of rock stars that we now accept that a wife is more than a piece of furniture, that marriage should be a partnership of equals, that the woman deserves to be heard, that being an outspoken brave person is more important than being pretty and love is all you need.
05 Feb 2013 Leave a Comment
Well here’s something that doesn’t lend itself to any depthly depths of analysis. You gotta love Cheap Trick, though. They were almost a parody of corny stadium hard rock, except that they did it better than most other people. I mean, look at them, they look like long lost Arrested Development characters. Sure the camera tries to focus on pretty boy frontman Robin Zander but you can’t hide Rick Nielsen and his signature ugly sweaters.
13 Dec 2012 Leave a Comment
April 7, 1920 – December 11, 2012
05 Nov 2012 1 Comment
Happy fourth anniversary to us and a happy 71st birthday to our patron Art Garfunkel!
It’s pure coincidence that I started this blog on this day. I didn’t know it was Art Garfunkel’s birthday and the name of the blog was originally just Song of the Day. But it worked out, didn’t it. Now celebrating 4 years, 289,341 blog visits, 1,736 posts, and 805 subjects in 30 categories. Still not internet famous, but working on it.
30 Aug 2012 Leave a Comment
I’ve been suspecting that poetry is dead as an art form, and now it seems that songwriting is headed towards extinction as well. Or at least, songwriting as we’ve known it in the past fifty years. While I’ll admit there’s still good songwriting going on in the indie realms, in mainstream popular music we’ve reverted to the factory style song production of an earlier era. As you know, before The Beatles came along and popularized the idea than an artist should come up with their own words, singers would be allocated (usually by their management) songs written by professional songwriters for whom songwriting was an office job in places like The Brill Building. In fact, in those days singers didn’t even see themselves as ‘artists’. Today we’re seeing a similar arrangement, in which a handful of professionals churn out songs to sell to top entertainers. Very, very few top 40 artists write their own material unassisted. Lady Gaga is one who writes all her own hits, and unfortunately, she would very much benefit from someone coming in to polish up her nonsensical lyrics. Katy Perry gets songwriting credit on most of her songs, but isn’t above purchasing a little assistance from pros. Other stars like Rihanna rely entirely on the efforts of outside songwriting teams. The difference between then and now, is that back then, the songs were good and many of them have stood the test of time and are still popular. Brill Building songwriting wasn’t in the same realm of experimental creativity that The Beatles or Bob Dylan would bring to the form, but it did produce many classic songs that were catchy, humane, emotional, funny, touching and memorable. Today’s songwriters, partly as a reaction to quickly evolving media formats and the needs of an overstimulated ADD-afflicted audience, focus on hook and beats over content. On the production end, ‘beat masters’ use software to generate catchy beats while ‘songwriters’ like Ester Dean freestyle a vocal melody and come up with hooks. Dean literally uses a cache of random phrases to fit the melody. Obviously content has no place in such an arrangement. The mindlessness of today’s popular hits is unrivaled by any other period in music history. There is absolutely no one with anything intelligent to say, except the aforementioned Lady Gaga, who has got a lot to say, but doesn’t know how to say it coherently. Which is where we come to Lily Allen, whose recent semi-retirement is a minor tragedy for pop music. Allen had a period of enormous popularity in 2007 and has released two hit albums. Since that time she’s grown bored of the music scene and has been out of the public eye, raising a family and pursuing other interests. That’s great for her and terrible for us, because she’s one of those rare people who is the total pop star package. She’s got a lovely, recognizable voice with a charming accent, she’s adorable, she’s outspoken, she’s got style and she knows how to write the kind of catchy pop song that people never get tired of singing along to. Most of all though, she’s got a talent for words, things to say, and a sense of humor. Her songs are always about something. Who else would think to write an infectious pop ditty speculating hilariously about the nature of God? “Do you think He’s thin or financially secure?” Allen ponders. You might be tempted to dismiss Lily Allen merely because she’s been a high charting pop sensation who often makes a drunken spectacle of herself, or because she’s such a cutie she can’t possible have serious thoughts in her head, but that’s plain wrong. She’s a very talented songwriter who needs to stick around and mature and show us what she can really do. And yes, Allen did collaborate heavily on the writing and production of her first album, while the second one was much more her own vision. It stands to reason that she should continue to grow as an artist and here’s hoping she ends her sabbatical and comes back with some more sorely needed intelligent pop songs.
27 Aug 2012 Leave a Comment
Deep Purple is supposed to be ‘proto-heavy-metal’ or somesuch, historically, but given what passes for heavy metal nowadays, they can take that label and burn it. Music industry labels are more or less meaningless anyway. They just slap the easiest ones on there to sell records. To me heavy metal is like Metallica. Deep Purple is straight-up rock’n'roll. So is Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, even Iron Maiden for god’s sakes. Not to mention that any band with any level of musicianship whatsoever will inevitably experiment and broaden their style beyond just one measly label. I don’t know enough about Deep Purple to judge how widely they’ve diversified over the years, so they’re a rock band in my book. Hard rock.
03 Jul 2012 Leave a Comment
Brian Jones - February 28th 1942- July 3, 1969
Jim Morrison – December 8, 1943 – July 3, 1971