And now it’s time for another installment of Rock-Critically Correct, in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe, and Spin are given a once-over by an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles–or maybe even all of them! After the click-through, he examines the most recent issue of Spin:
Your very own Keyboard Krybaby, upon spotting the December Spin on the newsstand a few days ago, immediately chuckled, thinking of the ex-staffers he knew in the ’90s/early aughts and how each would have likely blanched at the prospect of the Big Daddy of Baby Boomer Rock on the mag’s cover.
Yet there Bruce Springsteen is, smiling gamely for Ben Watts’ lens while his covermate Win Butler merely offers the dead-eyed gaze common to his suspicious-of-the-mass-media ilk.
In contrast to the Spin of years gone by, this cover doesn’t represent much of a risk for the magazine in 2007. Because of the advocacy of Butler and the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Springsteen is more than the torchbearer of a mass-culture consensus that folks weaned upon college radio used to mistrust, if not openly despise. Now, as many of those college-radio partisans fret over mortgages and which district has the best public school, Springsteen’s brand of responsible center-leftism seems not at all offensive. (Doug Brod’s editor’s letter hints at this.) And it certainly doesn’t hurt Spin that a good portion of this demographic probably has more of an attachment to print than its younger counterparts.
As for the story, entitled “The Feeling’s Mutual,” deputy editor Steve Kandell accompanied Butler to New Jersey’s Continental Airlines Arena for what seems to be an extremely protracted joint interview; Herr Boss would be regaling thousands of folks on his home turf shortly afterwards. Butler and Springsteen discuss Springsteen-y topics like the sense of community shared between audience and band, Robert DeNiro and Motown, DUH SCREEN DOOR SLAMZZ, MEH-REEZZ DUH-RESS WAY-EEEVES, that kind of thing. Not much to see here, although Springsteen seems like much better company than the sullen Butler.
Two of the piece’s three sidebars involve Finn and the National’s Matt Berninger attesting to Herr Boss’ incandescence. A third, entitled “Little Steven’s Wicked Cool Ways,” is written by contributor David Browne, and as such is the latest installment in his “rock and roll was much better when I was a lad” series. He finds the most willing conspirator possible in the E Street Band’s resident pedant, Steven Van Zandt. There’s no evidence that Browne questioned any of Van Zandt’s premises or deviated otherwise from stenography, likely because he thinks Little Stevie is right. Here are some quotations from Chairman Steve:
• “Today, you can trace the mainstream stuff all the way back to Eddie Vedder. Or, with the indie stuff, it goes all the way back to…U2.”
• “We grew up with 30 years where rock’n'roll was the main thing…we’d been hearing for years that rock and roll is dead. But rock’n ‘roll was dead.”
• “You have to go back to greatness to achieve greatness.”
• “Fun is gone from the culture. Where’s fun?”
Has it possibly occurred to Van Zandt that it is not for him to decide what constitutes “fun” for those several decades younger than he?
Two decades ago, the man who speaks these words spent what he calls his “celebrity capital” pressuring musicians to not perform in a resort town in South Africa, thus explicitly rebuking the country’s system of apartheid. Nowadays, the best use of that selfsame cultural capital is apparently to complain that current rock music does not suit him. So he has resolved to write a rock-history curriculum for high schools.
It’s possible that KK is even more old-fashioned than Van Zandt, since he believes that learning how to play any iteration of rock and roll is a discipline best refined outside of school, far away from teachers or any individuals (such as Van Zandt) who are bent on enforcing a “right” way of making music, and it has been ever thus. The results may not please Van Zandt, but maybe a 57-year-old man isn’t supposed to like the music teenagers like. KK wonders if the teenaged Van Zandt would have bristled if an older gentleman suggested the music he enjoyed was not enough like Glenn Miller or Mantovani. Christ, take it from Van Zandt’s benefactor: “We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever did in school.” (“No Surrender,” 1984.)
Now, watch KK as he switches gears from “old dude trying TOO hard to be down with the ‘kids’” to “old dude bemoaning that ‘HARRUMPH the kids sing like pussies HARRUMPH.’ ” In this issue’s “big picture” feature–a slot that typically ends up as the best article in a given Spin–contributor David Peisner examines the singing style that persists in emo. “Whine of the Times” concludes that the majority of the genre’s singers observe strict stylistic templates defined by former blink-182/current Angels and Airwaves dude Tom DeLonge, Saves the Day’s Chris Conley, and Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Atkins, and as such are largely ignorant of or suspicious of older singers who sound as if their balls have not just dropped, but have been emptied at least once while inside of a woman or man.
Peisner has done a fine job here, interviewing the likes of DeLonge and producer Tim O’Heir, who sounds as if he’s awfully tired of the bands he’s worked with–”Saves the Day: here’s an adult who sings like he’s a sixth grader,” he sneers. He goes on to mention a band he’s worked with recently: “their music history starts with the Chili Peppers. They will not go back and listen to a great singer like Bowie, because it sounds old and weird to them.” If this is at all true, KK finds it odd that, after a little less than a decade of downloading culture, post-teen emo musicians have so little interest in incorporating music outside of their immediate frame of reference. He’ll also add that this article could easily have encompassed many if not most indie rock singers, who seem equally afraid of experimenting with their chest voice.
Now, some notes that do not warrant excessive verbiage:
1. Spin clearly needed to address the arrival of In Rainbows. But a month and a half after it nearly rent the NetWeb asunder, a front-of-the-book think piece as to What It Means For Radiohead And The Rest Of Us can’t help but feel irretrievably late.
2. Said album receives the lead review spot: four stars, ho hum. Its author, the cutesily-inclined Mikael Wood, pens two other featured reviews: Angels and Airwaves’ I-Empire and Say Anything’s In Defense of The Genre. Wood’s a slick, if slangy, scribe, but one fears that by assigning him so many prominent reviews Spin‘s reviews section is cultivating its own Rob Sheffield.
3. Thank you, whichever Spin staffer oversees the short artist profiles in “Noise,” for including a piece on the wonderful, on-her-way-back Robyn, instead of yet another indie-rock band that no one will care about three months from now.