Sunday, July 28, 2013

Deconstructing Idols

Sacred Cows: Blade Writers Take Down Some Of Our Cultural Icons
(By Christopher Borrelli, Toledo Blade, 2008)

Hey. Um. Well. This is hard to say, but... we've been thinking...  M*A*S*H? Not funny. At all.  
Jane Austen? Too precious.  Punk rock? Soooo overrated.  Citizen Kane? Ditto.  Eric Clapton? Tapioca blues.  The Miracle Worker? Please.  The Doors? Worse than Jane Austen. Charlie Chaplin? A pale imitation of Buster Keaton.  Every single major composer since the 19th century? Oh, you mean to say there has been one? Blue Velvet? A disaster. Saturday Night Live? Never funny, not even back in the celebrated Belushi days. Abstract expressionism? So lazy. And the same goes for cubism, pointillism, and nearly every major art -ism since Andy Warhol - oh, yes, and Andy Warhol?  "Oh, look at me, I make copies of things, and now I'm an artist!"  More sacred cows: Movies: Gone with the Wind, TV: American Idol, Art: Whistler’s Mother, Theater: The Sunshine Boys, Classical music: Romeo & Juliet, Rock: Nirvana’s Nevermind, Literature: William Faulkner.  Angry yet? Outraged?  Blood-pressure sky high?  Good. OK. That's the idea.  Not to kill you. And certainly not to get you mumbling "ignorant philistine." (I, for one, think Clapton is more like watery vanilla pudding.) Instead, what follows is an attempt to question a number of long-held assumptions about icons and undisputed masters and their masterworks - you know, the stuff you think but dare not say.

What the above artists and art works and art movements share in common is that each is unimpeachable - untouchable, generally considered as good as their sterling reputations always said they were. So, with that in mind, we asked a number of Blade staff writers to pick a widely canonized work, artist, or movement - then take it down.  What we received back were a number of well-reasoned and provocative arguments for the immediate expulsion of, among others, Nirvana, and a cornerstone of 20th century literature, William Faulkner.  Why do this? Not to be prickly.  Or brainlessly provocative.  The point is to illustrate a massive, gradual, yet surprisingly little-remarked-upon shift in the way we think about the arts in this country. Call it the Emancipation of Taste, or the Democratization of the Arts. Either one describes a major split in the old idea of what we're supposed to appreciate (opera, ballet) and what we enjoy (video games, movies) - and it goes both ways. You run into your child's principal at Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and think nothing of it; or, you run into your mechanic at the theater and think nothing of it.

Art wasn't always this way.  Steadily over the past 30 years, then quickly in the last dozen, old distinctions between what's classic and what's overrated, between highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow, evaporated. If you were born since, oh, The Dukes of Hazzard - the TV show, not the film (itself an example of these distinctions) - you might find it remarkable that once upon a time a number of very smart people (an ancient tribe, called "intellectuals") wrote entire books and magazine articles that sorted pop and middlebrow works from the rare air of highbrow culture. One (middle) you enjoyed without pressure, and one (high) was "good for you."  Elvis versus Picasso, in short.  That sentiment is on life support. To a small extent, we can thank Toledo. In the '60s, the popular paint-by-number kits of Craft Master were designed here for a while. (That's the Democratization of Arts in action. If you could count, you were an artist.)

But more important is the fact America no longer speaks as one voice (if it ever did), but as narrowly marketed, demographically-defined niches. There's the shrinking middle class - which hasn't meant the elimination of middlebrow entertainment (airport best-sellers, sci-fi movies, etc.) but of middlebrow entertainment melting into aspects of high (movie-theme nights at the symphony) and low (comic books written by heralded novelists). There's the rise of minority enrollment in universities and subsequent questioning of "dead white guys" like Ernest Hemingway - writers you had to study to be called "well read."

There's the slashing of art programs in schools, which for better or worse often fostered the old high, middle, and lowbrow distinctions. And there's other reasons: the domination of pop culture; the wider accessibility of operas, books, theater, and symphonies; and perhaps most important, the rise (and anonymity) of the Internet - which has given anyone with a keyboard the chance to ask, "Wait, why should I love Chinatown again?"  If a critic once carried authority by title alone, that day is gone.  You could argue this isn't always a good thing. Having an opinion of a work is not necessarily the same thing as considering, appreciating, or understanding that work. But without a doubt what this loosening has done is chip away at that monolith we call "the classics." As for our choices for toppling, the only rule was that each pick be widely beloved or iconic or its credentials rarely questioned. Which means, someone is going to get hurt. Which means, we're playing with fire, But then, as the worst television series in history once put it:  Suicide is painless.

Generation Flap
(By Scott Bowles, USA TODAY)
 On May 19, the final Star Wars showdown begins.  We're not talking Jedi knights vs. Sith lords, Obi-Wan vs. Anakin or even good vs. evil.  When Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith hits screens next Thursday, fans of George Lucas' six-part opus will again clash over which films rule: the original hits of the 1970s and '80s or the prequel that began six years ago.  Conventional wisdom has the original films - 1977's A New Hope, 1980's The Empire Strikes Back and 1983's The Return of the JedI - winning hands down.  Fans of the early movies tout the breakthrough technology, the story lines and the birth of such unforgettable characters as Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Yoda and the suave Han Solo.  "There is no personality in the new movies," says Michael Walker, a 39-year-old Star Wars devotee from Decatur, Ala.  "The new movies, it seems that they are trying to win you over with fantastic special effects."  But fans younger than 25 — many of whom had their first Star Wars theater experience with 1999's The Phantom Menace or 2002's Attack of the Clones— have a different perspective. They find the old films slow, the dialogue corny and the special effects crude.  "I watched the originals to learn the whole story, but I couldn't watch them more than once," says Jean Burton, a 22-year-old Los Angeles retail sales employee. "I like the worlds in the new Star Wars."

The dispute can get downright testy. Yale Tindell, 28, a Baltimore automotive service manager, says "These new ones are an abomination. They have weak actors, weak stories, weak effects. They've bled the originals for profit."  Elayne Rapping, a professor of American Studies at the University at Buffalo, says that each trilogy represents a seminal moment for its audience.  "Whether it's the 1970s or the 1990s, George Lucas has always known what kids want," Rapping says. And it's natural, she says, that each generation would favor the movies it grew up with.  Dave Myatt, 32, an editor at the fan site, has his doubts whether Sith can bring about peace in the Lucas galaxy. "This one is going to please more people than the last two. But each group feels so strongly about their trilogy that I don't think they'll ever really agree."  So who has the edge? We compare key characters from both trilogies in a tale of the galactic tape:

The Young Hero:  Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) vs. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen)

Strengths: A farm boy with no clue as to who's his daddy, Luke yearns for a life beyond the planet Tatooine, where he can take his skills with a land speeder and use them as a fighter pilot for rebel forces. He's gifted with a lightsaber and fearless in the face of danger. Born a slave on Tatooine, Anakin displays an unrivaled grasp of the Force, both the light and dark side. He is passionate, mechanically skilled, a quick learner and has a strong sense of justice. 
Weaknesses: Luke is impatient and quick to fight. He doesn't want to wait for his Uncle Owen's permission to join the rebellion, nor for Yoda to finish training him as a Jedi. Anakin has a temper he can't control. He occasionally prefers choking someone to diplomacy. 
The winner: Luke Skywalker, for his pure heart. "Luke was a boy we were all rooting for, which made the story so powerful," Rapping says.

The Plucky Heroine:  Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) vs. Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman)

Strengths: The daughter of Padmé, Leia is beautiful, defiant and skilled with a laser gun. Even under torture by her father, Darth Vader, she refuses to give up the rebel bases.  Padmé, queen of Naboo, is beautiful, kind and fierce in the defense of democracy. She's unafraid to fall in love - even when it's a forbidden romance with a Jedi knight. 
Weaknesses: Leia is too quick to judge, branding Han Solo incompetent. Plus she wears her hair in goofy buns and - unaware they're related - kisses her brother, Luke, on the mouth. Padmé overlooks husband Anakin's flaws, even when he's cutting down enemies and longing to rule the galaxy. 
The winner: Leia. "Every time someone came to rescue her, she wound up saving the day," says director Kevin Smith.

The Sidekick:  Old Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) vs. young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor)

Strengths: When we meet Kenobi in A New Hope, he's old and frail. But he still knows how to wield a lightsaber and counsel young Luke on the ways of the Force. The younger Kenobi is an up-and-comer in the Jedi Council. He's a deft pilot and is unafraid to confront villains such as Darth Maul and General Grievous, even when badly outnumbered. 
Weaknesses: Old Obi-Wan's body ain't what it used to be, and he's no match for Darth Vader in their second battle. Young Kenobi is a touch incompetent. By his own count, his padawan Anakin has saved his hide nine times. And he can't seem to teach his pupil that murder is not cool. 
The winner: Old Obi-Wan, for his earnestness.  Guinness, who died in 2000, said he regretted taking the role because it came to define his career. "Ewan was great, but you look into Alec's face and you believe he's lived through the fall of the galaxy," says Phillip Wise, editor of fan site.

The Villain:  Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) vs. Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) 
Strengths: As commander of the Death Star, Tarkin is ruthlessly effective in running the galaxy's deadliest weapon. When his captive, Leia, refuses to reveal the location of the rebel outpost, he blows up her planet, Alderaan. Palpatine is much more insidious. He consolidates his power in the Senate by instilling fear of attacks and rebellions. And he knows way too much about the dark side of the Force. 
Weaknesses: Tarkin is too cocky. When facing a final assault by rebel forces in A New Hope, Tarkin doesn't put up as much as a screen window over the hatch that allows rebels to blow up his spaceship. Palpatine doesn't think twice about having friends killed, which may come back to burn him. 
The winner: Palpatine, for his brilliant villainy. While Tarkin seems content to fly around the galaxy, crushing isolated uprisings, Palpatine fancies upward mobility on the job. Maybe even immortality.

The Wise Mentor:  Puppet Yoda (Frank Oz) vs. computer-generated Yoda (Frank Oz) 
Strengths: When he makes his debut in The Empire Strikes Back, this pint-sized rubber puppet has much to teach Luke. He's patient, powerful and can commune with the dead. By the time he goes digital in Clones, Yoda is a lot more limber, able to parry with a lightsaber twice his size. 
Weaknesses: Puppet Yoda is a little crotchety, accusing Luke of being untrainable. Digital Yoda, for all his prescience, doesn't see that the latest inductee into the Jedi council might not be a good addition. And would it kill either one of these guys to use a simple, declarative sentence? 
The winner: CGI Yoda, for his dexterity. His battle with Count Dooku was the action highlight of Clones, and puppet Yoda was nearly the undoing of the franchise, Lucas says. "He was the hardest thing to shoot. If he had looked like Kermit the Frog flapping around, Star Wars wouldn't be what it is."

The Comic Relief:  Ewoks vs. Jar Jar Binks 
Strengths: Ewoks may be little, but they are pretty inventive when it comes to battle. With little more than sticks and wires, they help topple the Empire. Jar Jar's asset is diplomacy. He speaks for Padmé in front of the galactic Senate. 
Weaknesses: Ewoks are too cute to be taken seriously as warriors. And their chirping dialect made them sound like Tribbles on steroids. Besides having an annoying accent, Jar Jar is a coward. 
The winner: Jar Jar, by a nose. Sure, half the film galaxy loathes him, but he's the third-most-popular toy, behind Yoda and R2-D2, according to Lucasfilm. "Jar Jar represents innocence," says Dave Myatt, an editor at the Star Wars fan site "The movies have always had those hokey characters. That's why we all loved them when we were young. It's the people who have changed over time. Not Star Wars."


5 Rock Myths Debunked
(Spin Magazine, November 9, 2009)

MYTH No. 1: Radiohead Can Do No Wrong

REALITY: Radiohead kinda blow.

By Chris Norris: They're the vanguard of music, a post-rock think tank, the absolute state of the art.  They've also been righteous, giving a confused music world a moral center. So we sit, wearing headphones and frozen grins, and continue denying that guilty, nagging feeling that actually, in some ways, when you think about it…Radiohead kinda blow.  Few, save for Liam or Noel Gallagher, dare speak this heresy aloud, instead couching it in longings for a "back-to-basics" album or a "return to form," despite the fact that Radiohead are at their critical and commercial peak. Civil (by Internet standards) discussions reside on Yahoo message boards with titles like "Why Did Radiohead Become Dull and Boring?" But while such almost apologetic criticism typically hides online or at water coolers, sometimes the elephant isn't in the room, but onstage.

At last year's All Points West festival, as their thin, stubbly faces filled massive video screens, Radiohead began their set with In Rainbows' "15 Step": an open-ended groove with a quirky electro beat, two-chord motif, and airy, abstract singing. Then they did the 2001 song "Morning Bell/Amnesiac": an open-ended groove with a quirky electro beat, two-chord motif, and airy, abstract singing. Then they kept going, one groovy tone poem into another, masterfully weaving beats, sound-washes, and misty vocals into an immersive experience of sound, light, pattern, rhythm, and utter, paralyzing boredom. By the encore, it was obvious what Radiohead had become: an exceptionally well-dressed jam band. That you can't even dance to.

The trajectory makes perfect sense. Thanks to "Creep," from their 1993 debut, Pablo Honey, the band contracted Gimmick Hit Syndrome and began the usual defensive career arc. To prove they were more than a grunge one-liner, they recorded the smart, powerful anthems of The Bends. To prove they weren't just excellent rock songwriters, they dug deep and created the stunning OK Computer, whose melancholy sweep of strange, gorgeous songs played like an elegy for modern man. With that, Radiohead supernovaed, garnering every superlative there was, including comparisons to epochal albums like Dark Side of the Moon. Then they had to make another one.

Kid A was a deft, sometimes beautiful experiment in electronica-based songwriting. Some fans found it a bit formless and switched to Coldplay, while others declared another masterpiece, encouraged by critical blurbs such as "Comparing this to other albums is like comparing an aquarium to blue construction paper." Even the nuttiest hyperbole reflected a growing belief that Kid A had revealed the future of rock, although it actually revealed the future of Radiohead. "I think, 'What would my life be like without the Beatles?'" Bono once said, worryingly, about Radiohead's post–Kid A output. "If the Beatles had just kept going on experimenting after Sgt. Pepper's?" And so they kept making pleasing beat reveries, enjoying continued success with fans, and receding ever further from the larger culture.

But in 2007, they dominated headlines by self-releasing In Rainbows online on a pay-what-you-want basis, positing a new economic model like some anarchist jewelry-maker at Burning Man. Of course, the nobility of the gesture was somewhat mediated by the fact that Radiohead are millionaires, and that three months later, In Rainbows was released, on CD, by a label (ATO) and sold in fine stores everywhere. The free download was more self-leaked promo than revolution. Even so, Yorke promised yet another paradigm shift, telling an interviewer this summer he had no interest in making proper albums, that Radiohead -- who held the medium so sacrosanct that they weren't on iTunes until 2008, lest a track be divorced from its proper context -- would abandon this hoary format and lead us into the free-floating digital world. Until guitarist Ed O'Brien let slip soon after that they are indeed working on an album.

So they're a band, making records. Why all the newspeak? Does Radiohead's every move have to be without precedent? Must they define a new music language? And really, does anyone believe that the creators of the finest, most original, and significant rock album of the last 15 years shouldn't be making rock albums? No one is suggesting Radiohead play the Super Bowl or release OK Computer 2: The Legend of Curly's Gold. And certainly, if they were the type of band that took advice, they wouldn't be Radiohead. But knowing the level of songcraft they're capable of, and that they possess an almost unheard-of level of autonomy and status, makes their latest behavior inscrutable at best.

There have been signs of a thaw. Yorke recruited fun-loving, oft-shirtless Chili Pepper Flea for a few solo shows in L.A. this fall (though Flea may just be doing fieldwork for his music degree at USC), and new songs like "Open the Floodgates," which Yorke debuted in October, augur anything but rockin' good times. The lyrics begin, "Don't bore us / Get to the chorus" and indict grabby, pleasure-seeking fans as another example of the self-medicating masses he satirized on OK Computer's "No Surprises" -- people who demand that art and life include only "the good bits…no heartache, no pain."

He made the exact same point with his actions during Radiohead's encore at All Points West. After a two-hour set, with the crowd screaming for more, Yorke retook the stage alone, sat at a grand piano, and played a quiet, minimalist nocturne. For five minutes. Before 20,000 people. The song, "Cymbal Rush," from his 2006 solo album The Eraser -- titled in an apparent gearhead reference to some sonic effect or software patch (probably between "Amp Fuzz" and "Element Isolator") -- amplified the sense that this man was so far up his own formalist ass we might as well have not even been there.

It's a valid outlook, but an odd one for someone making populist gestures in his business life and performing on such a giant stage. This became even more apparent after Yorke was rejoined by his band. As they began the loud, dramatic surge of "Just," from The Bends, it was like a toggle switch transformed the crowd from a group of happy, attentive young men and women to an ecstatic mob. "Pumped by an oldie" doesn't come close; this was now a different audience.

A year later, Radiohead opened their headlining set at the Reading Festival with the rarely played "Creep," the song that started it all. Sixteen years ago, this outsider anthem's refrain, "I wish I was special," stated an irony that has engulfed Radiohead their whole career. A band that can make iconic songs that stretch across a fractious culture, that can weave them into an even greater whole, and that have a unique, haunting musical voice we will remember for decades, is plenty special. As special as it gets. If only they'd settle for good.

MYTH No. 2: Nirvana Killed Hair Metal

REALITY: It was already dead. Blame Queensrÿche.

By Chuck Eddy:  The legend of Nirvana has always demanded that the band be viewed as a sea change in popular taste -- the meaningless but oft-rehashed factoid that Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson's Dangerous off the top spot on the album chart, as if sales turnover didn't exist until Kurt Cobain came along. But the most enduring fable has always been the one about how Nirvana, and grunge in general, rid the world of foofy coiffures and pink guitars and power ballads overnight.  By the time Nevermind charted in October 1991, hair metal was already long on the way out.
Glam poodles had wiped off their mascara and were trying to get serious -- Cinderella's 1990 Heartbreak Station was a purist blues-rock record; Skid Row's Slave to the Grind, out in June 1991, was pop-shunning arena turbulence that went to No. 1 without a hit single.  A certain kind of boogie-based hard rock had also been on the way back ever since Guns N' Roses and the Cult broke through circa '88; Black Crowes' debut album reached No. 4 in 1990.  By the turn of the decade, even the breakthrough metal-leaning acts had a pronounced boho bent: Living Colour, black Manhattanites led by their slumming avant-jazz guitarist; St. Augustine–quoting Houston eggheadbangers King's X, led by their black gay Christian bassist; proggish San Francisco reformed rap-punks Faith No More. And maybe most significantly, given the emerging Lollapalooza Decade, new-age L.A. sideshow beatniks Jane's Addiction, whose Ritual de lo Habitual went Top 20 in 1990.

One of the biggest rock hits the year before "Smells Like Teen Spirit" even came from Seattle—namely, Queensryche's "Silent Lucidity," a Pink Floyd pastiche by thinkers-of-big-thoughts more given to high-flown concept albums about technological conspiracy than lowbrow groupie gropes.  So what changed after Nirvana, exactly? Well, the haircuts, maybe. And within a couple years, radio and MTV were overrun by such innovative new bands as Collective Soul, Candlebox, Live, and Silverchair. The more things change…

MYTH No. 3: Lady Gaga Is All Style, No Substance

REALITY: Lady Gaga's bizarre getups only distract from the fact that she's a brilliant songwriter.

By Chuck Eddy: Lady Gaga's purportedly transgressive persona -- wearing doilies over her head in lieu of pants, possibly having a secret penis -- relentlessly dares you to despise her, and it's no surprise so many have taken the bait.  The press focuses on her performance-art shtick in lieu of her songs, so even though The Fame has been one of 2009's biggest-selling albums, nobody seems to have pointed out that it's also one of the best.  Partly it's the sound -- an unabashedly bonkers, rubbery synth-loop boogie that manages to sell back 35 years of esoteric Eurotrash as something unmistakably in-your-face and American, without ever branding itself as retro. If you're tuned in to them, blatantly uncool references abound: Ace of Base's Swedish reggae, Aqua's Danish Barbie twirl, Boney M.'s Teutonic West Indies world disco; her single "Paparazzi" has the ominous minor-key fragility of '80s Italo-pop.

Gaga ropes in distorted rhythms from KMFDM sprocket-rock to Peaches electroclash. But she also croons a cascading Latin freestyle ballad called "Brown Eyes," heartfelt enough to be Lisa Lisa in 1987.  And in her flirtiest tracks, "Boys Boys Boys" and "Summerboy," she's a California girl on Echo Beach, bopping along to Blondie in her new-wave bikini. All of which would already be wonderful if Gaga's songwriting wasn't just as inventive. But on The Fame, she leaves no doubt that word games are as much her idea of a good time as love games. "Poker Face" extends a gambling metaphor through several verses as cleverly as any country outlaw. Over the hard thump of "Just Dance," a celebratory night out implodes into fright and confusion in ways so mundane it's a shock no lyricist thought to detail them before: A boozed-up girl misplaces her keys and phone, turns her shirt inside out, forgets what club she's in and what song is playing.

Gaga's most inescapable obsession albumwide, though, is kinky sex, which she's sane enough to depict as not so much decadent as funny. And through it all, she's tossing off nonsense syllables and phrasing pirouettes and juvenile side chants and martial Marine grunts and cherry-cherry-boom-booms just to throw you off balance, preferably without losing her own footing. If you play along with her bag of tricks and disco sticks, accept her pretensions as a new twist on club music's costumed tradition, and refuse to be blindsided by her backstory, it's as delirious a dance as you've witnessed all year.

MYTH No. 4: Biggie & Tupac Are Hip-Hop's Pillars

REALITY: Biggie and Tupac don't matter anymore.

By Jon Caramanica: For hip-hop, which has always prided itself on origin stories, the intertwining sagas of the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur are key formative narratives.  Together, they've become a collective idea, the culture's most important dyad.  And yet, think of everything that's happened in the 12 years since their murders: hip-hop's full immersion into pop, the rise of the South, the reemergence of independent rap, Kanye West. None of these things would have been possible without the footprint Biggie and Pac left upon the collective consciousness, but none rely on their templates or modes for sustenance.
Biggie and Pac have emulators, of course, from 50 Cent to Young Jeezy, but they're of an older generation, the first descendents in the ancestral line. For a teenager today, the Biggie/Pac axis might sound as foreign as references to Grandmaster Caz and the World Class Wreckin' Cru.  "I never cried when Pac died/But I probably will when Hov does," Drake raps on "Fear," from his So Far Gone EP. So much distance has been traveled -- musically, but really, psychologically -- that the likes of Soulja Boy, Drake, Plies, and even Black Eyed Peas are just part of the tapestry now.

In a world where hip-hop is lingua franca, it's hard to recall a time when a rapper could rupture the culture like they did. Now their gifts are part of the starter package: The ability to remain musically whole in the face of mainstream fame, their ease and utter lack of inscrutability, and as ever, the violence. But this particularly toxic blend that led to their murders isn't as pungent now. And the conflict Biggie and Pac came to embody -- East vs. West, in temperament and sound -- is less than a memory now. If anything, it's become the template of what not to do. The commercial success built upon Biggie's and Pac's backs has made hip-hop more financially ruthless, but paradoxically, perhaps a touch less life-or-death.  Which is why it's okay to let them go. It's time Biggie and Pac stopped bearing the burden of a genre that's swallowed their teachings whole and continued on apace. Let's let them rest.

MYTH No. 5: Marilyn Manson Is A Puppy-Killing Nazi

REALITY: Maybe we should let him explain…

By David Marchese: "Some people think I'm one of the rock stars who had surgery so I could suck my own dick. Quite honestly, I WOULD NOT WANT TO SUCK MY DICK.  It's been in a lot of dirty places. The Christian Coalition said I was throwing puppies and cocaine into the audience and demanding they kill the dogs and do the drugs, when, in fact, I'VE NEVER HURT AN ANIMAL AND I DON'T GIVE AWAY DRUGS FOR FREE.  "There's also that thing about me being from Mr. Belvedere. I never even saw that show. I hope the real actor is using that rumor to get laid [see below]. I've heard I'm a Nazi and that I was grown in a petri dish.

THE TRUTH IS BIGGER: I've snorted sea monkeys. I've snorted mud. I could tell you sexual misadventures that would have you reaching for the lotion. But the scariest possible thing about me is that I HAVE MORE KILLS ON MY RECORD THAN ANYBODY.  "In the last ten years, I've been blamed for more school violence than anyone. More than Ozzy or Judas Priest. I find out about the murders that don't get noticed by the national press because I'm associated with all of them. It's strange -- MARILYN MANSON IS A VILLAIN CREATED BY PEOPLE WHO NEED HIM TO EXIST IN ORDER TO EXPLAIN THE PROBLEMS THEY'RE RESPONSIBLE FOR.  "[A woman's muffled screams are audible in the background] Did you hear that? I can start another legend right now. I'M THE ROCK NESS MONSTER. I'M THE BOGEYMAN." -- MARILYN MANSON (as told to David Marchese)


Bands That Are Kind Of Unlistenable Now Because Their Frontmen Became Insufferable
(By David Malitz, Washington Post, 2010)

It’s a sad truth - the older you get, the lamer you become. This is not exactly 100% science fact, and the Bill Murrays, Nick Caves and, uh, Betty Whites (?) of the world seem intent on proving otherwise. But they are clearly exceptions to the rule. This reality is often harsher in rock-and-roll, which has always been the playground of the young. But sometimes what happens later in life makes it impossible to enjoy what came earlier. With Sting coming to town this weekend we decided to look at five rockers whose later-in-life actions (and music) have rendered their quality music unlistenable.

The Police

Does it get any worse than Sting? That’s a serious question. It’s easy to get into “So Lonely” or “Can’t Stand Losing You” but then you picture Sting playing lute while in the backseat of a Jaguar as the Royal Philharmonic soundtracks some tantric sex act and you just have to turn it off.


Clapton Is God, Ginger Baker is rock’s best drummer and Jack Bruce ain’t too shabby himself. All power trios wish they had the power of Cream. It’s basically the opposite of everything Clapton has done with himself since then, from guitar faces to inspiring John Mayer to having his own signature Fender T-Mobile cell phone. Rock-and-roll! At least he helped inspire this hilarious “Mr. Show” skit.


It’s Family Feud. The question is: “We surveyed 100 people and asked them to name a sanctimonious rock star.” Could that question even make the show? Wouldn’t 100 people just answer “Bono”?


If you think Gene Simmons is crass when it comes to objectifying women, that’s nothing compared to how crass he is when it comes to being a shameless corporate shill.

Elvis Costello

A couple years ago I deleted “My Aim Is True,” “This Year’s Model” and “Armed Forces” from my iTunes. Partly because those songs are all so internalized but also because he just seems like an uptight and humorless dude. (Maybe it was always the case - "Elvis was really ambitious. He was overtly and dangerously ambitious, I suppose," his old labelmate Wreckless Eric told me a few years ago, and that was about young Elvis.) You aren’t fooling us with those guest appearances on “Colbert” and “30 Rock.”

Honorable Mention: Lou Reed

It’s hard to defend much of what Reed has been a part of over the last 30 years, from “My Red Joy Stick” to his crotchetiness that knows no ends (which I got to experience firsthand at SXSW two years ago). Not to mention his mediocre-at-best output and that soul-crushing moment when 16-year-old me saw him at 9:30 club reading lyrics off a teleprompter at a 1997 concert. Still, none of this changes the fact that the Velvet Underground is the greatest rock band in the history of music, and their albums will never be tainted.


Rock's Biggest Quitters: 20 Musicians Who Walked Away From Fame
(Posted by Staff Comments, 2009)

They say winners never quit, but in the music biz there's something to be said for going out at the top of your game. Whether they left for greener pastures, fled amid feuds and controversy, or just dropped off the face of the earth, here are some of the biggest quitters in rock music history.

D'Arcy Quits the Smashing Pumpkins:
After five albums with the Smashing Pumpkins, bassist D'Arcy Wretzky ditched the notoriously difficult Billy Corgan (and ex-fiancé James Iha), which Corgan later blamed on D'Arcy's drug and emotional problems. D'Arcy played briefly in other bands before leaving the industry altogether to "pursue other interests." Those interests included owning an antique store, living on a horse farm, becoming a masseuse -- and recently entailed calling a Chicago radio station to inquire about Davy Jones of the Monkees.


Zack de la Rocha Quits Rage Against the Machine:

Zack de la Rocha and Rage Against the Machine stuck it to The Man with their politically incendiary hits, but in 2000 the fiery frontman quit the band at the peak of their fame, citing the ever-popular "creative differences." While his former bandmates joined Chris Cornell to form Audioslave, de la Rocha toiled on an abortive solo album and a never-released collaboration with Trent Reznor. RATM reunited for some festival appearances in 2007-08, but the band's future remains uncertain.


Lauryn Hill Quits Singing (and Rapping and Acting):

The Axl Rose of the neo-soul crowd, Lauryn Hill went from superstar to super ... hermit. A hip-hop sensation with the Fugees in the late 1990s -- and 'Sister Act 2' movie star -- Hill struck platinum with 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' in 1998 before dropping out to focus on motherhood, religion and a new album that's been "in development" for more than a decade. Despite an awkwardly conceived 'MTV Unplugged' and a brief 2004 Fugees reunion, Hill remains a troubling enigma.

Jason Newsted Quits Metallica:

When Metallica bassist Cliff Burton died in 1986, Jason Newsted won the most coveted gig on the mullet circuit. Despite his good fortune, he quit in 2001 when his side project, Echobrain, led James Hetfield to question Newsted's commitment to the Biggest Metal Band on Earth. When Echobrain fizzled, Newsted joined Voivod and toured with Ozzy Osbourne, and in 2006 he joined a cast of washed-up rockers on the less-than-successful "supergroup" reality show 'Rock Star: Supernova.'


Abba Couples Quit Each Other and Music:

'Mamma Mia!' had audiences dancing in the aisles, but not even an entirely new generation of fans -- or a reported offer of $1 billion in 2000 -- could entice the Swedish pop deities out of retirement. One of the best-selling groups ever, Abba disbanded in the early 1980s following the divorces of both couples. They've since vowed never to perform together again, no matter how much 'Money, Money, Money' they're offered.


Ace Frehley Quits Kiss (Twice):

They called him Space Ace, but "head case" might've been more appropriate. In the early 1980s, the substance-addled lead guitarist quit the band in disgust at its move toward disco and concept albums. The fans seemed to agree, as both a separated Kiss and Frehley encountered only mild success until they all put their makeup back on for a 1996 reunion tour. True to form, he left the band again after its 2002 "farewell" tour.


Rob Halford Quits Both Judas Priest and Hiding His Sexuality:

Boasting a feverish guitar attack and Rob Halford's distinctive wail, Judas Priest brought leather-and-spikes metal to the mainstream with such Beavis and Butt-head–approved headbangers as 'Breakin' the Law.' When self-proclaimed "metal god" Halford exited the band in 1991 over "creative differences," he was famously replaced by a fan (inspiring the unfortunate Mark Wahlberg film 'Rock Star'). After fronting other bands, Halford made headlines when he announced his homosexuality in 1998. The newly liberated singer rejoined Priest in 2003.


John Lennon Secretly Quits the Beatles:
The blame has been placed on Yoko's shoulders, but the Beatles' breakup was going to happen sooner or later. After a long period of infighting, Lennon officially resigned from the band in 1969, asking his bandmates to keep it private so they could "work it out" legally. But the cat was let out of the bag when Paul McCartney released his solo debut in 1970, triggering a spate of lawsuits that took years to settle.


Natalie Merchant Quits 10,000 Maniacs, Leaving 9,999 Maniacs:

After years as indie darlings, the Natalie Merchant–led 10,000 Maniacs finally hit their commercial stride in 1993 with 'Our Time in Eden,' which spawned the hits 'These Are Days' and 'Candy Everybody Wants.' So how did Merchant celebrate? By leaving the band. Her first two solo efforts, 'Tigerlily' and 'Ophelia,' were hugely successful with adult alternative audiences, and though subsequent albums have seen diminishing returns, she remains popular with the hemp-and-organic-vegetable set.


 Michael Nesmith Quits the Monkees:

In the Monkees, Michael Nesmith was clearly destined for better things. That's why in 1970 he asked to be released from his contract. Nesmith became a pioneer of both country-rock and music video production, and in 1980 he sold the concept to what would become MTV. Not that he needed the money, being the heir to the Liquid Paper fortune -- freeing him from the need to bash out 'Last Train to Clarksville' at state fairs.


Prince Quits Being Prince:

Quitting a band is one thing, but how do you quit being yourself? In 1993, to prove a point to his record company, the mercurial superstar changed his name to a symbol. So what's in a name? Well, the "Artist Formerly Known as Prince" years coincided with some of the weakest music of his career, so let's just say everyone was happy when he once again proclaimed, 'My Name Is Prince.'


Steve Perry Quits Journey:

Steve Perry led Journey from 1978 until he and the band went their "separate ways" in 1987. Despite early solo success with 'Oh Sherrie,' by 1995 he was ready to resume knocking out power ballads with his former bandmates. Perry retuned to the sidelines after a 1998 hip injury -- and has since been replaced by pint-sized Filipino karaoke star Arnel Pineda -- but if he asked nicely, the band would surely welcome him back with "open arms."


Dee Dee Ramone Quits the Ramones for Rap:

Dee Dee Ramone can be credited with giving the band not only its name but also its signature punk sound. But in 1989, after 15 years in the Ramones, he said, "Hey ho, let's go" and left to pursue, of all things, a rap career. Although his solo endeavors failed miserably, Dee Dee continued to write songs for the Ramones until his death from a heroin overdose in 2002.


Cat Stevens Quits Music for Religion:

Cat Stevens, born Steven Georgiou, sold millions of copies of his touchy-feely folk rock. But after nearly drowning in 1976, Stevens began searching for higher meaning. He converted to Islam, changed his name (again) to Yusuf Islam and auctioned off his guitars for charity. Though praised for his philanthropy, Yusuf's support of Islamic charities landed him on an FBI watch list in 2004. Fortunately, his name was cleared in time to promote his 2006 return album.


Izzy Stradlin Quits Guns N' Roses:
Considering how long it took Axl Rose to release 'Chinese Democracy,' Izzy Stradlin knew well enough to quit Guns N' Roses while he was ahead. In 1991, the guitarist had seen enough of the booze, drugs and egos surrounding him, and he left the band during the 'Use Your Illusion' tour -- hence the famous "Where's Izzy?" sign in the 'November Rain' video. No hard feelings, though: Stradlin still fills in at the occasional G'n'R gig, most recently in 2006.


Mase Quits Rap for the Ministry:

After a long stint as P. Diddy's sidekick, Mase broke out on the Notorious B.I.G.'s megahit 'Mo Money Mo Problems,' and his 1997 debut album, 'Harlem World,' blew up multiplatinum. But then "rap's newest bad boy" found Jesus after an arrest for soliciting a prostitute. After his second album sagged, Mase quit the biz to become neither a baller nor a shot-caller but instead a minister. His failed 2004 comeback album, 'Welcome Back,' needed some divine intervention.


Tom Fogerty Quits on His Brother in Creedence:

 The musical interplay between brothers Tom and John Fogerty fueled Creedence Clearwater Revival, but with frontman and songwriter John getting all the attention, fraternal tensions boiled over and Tom quit the band in 1971. While he continued to make music and perform on his own, Tom's strained relationship with his sibling culminated in a lawsuit over CCR royalties. Although the suit was successful, Tom Fogerty died tragically in 1990 after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion.


Holly Johnson Quits Frankie Goes to Hollywood:

A mere three years after the global success of 'Relax' in 1984, Frankie Goes to Hollywood frontman Holly Johnson quit the band over, what else, creative differences. After winning a landmark court case to get out of his contract, the openly gay Liverpool native found some solo success with a new label, but upon learning he was HIV positive in 1991, Johnson left the music business to focus on painting. Frankie -- and Frankie's physicians -- say relax.


Brian Wilson Quits Touring With the Beach Boys:

Brian Wilson set the template for the Tortured Rock Genius. The Beach Boys leader had scored hit after hit in the early 1960s with 'Surfin' U.S.A.' and 'I Get Around,' but soon Wilson wasn't having any 'Fun, Fun. Fun.' He stopped touring in 1964 and eventually had a breakdown while trying to perfect his magnum opus, 'Smile.' Showing he's not a complete quitter, a much-improved Wilson finally released 'Smile' in 2004, a mere 38 years after he started it.


Noel Gallagher Quits Oasis (Finally):
When Oasis announced they wouldn't be taking the stage at a Paris music festival in August 2009, the crowd thought it was a joke. But after a wicked backstage fight, Noel Gallagher quit the band, declaring he couldn't "go on working with Liam a day longer." Noel and Liam aren't exactly the poster boys for brotherly love -- they once got in a fistfight over their favorite Christmas song -- but despite their many well-publicized feuds, this is Noel's first official departure.




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