Sunday, August 29

Battling the Punk Rock Supremacy

The other day Radio Host Johnnie Wendel put forth the following question on Facebook.

After the Dickies, Me First + Gimmie Gimmies and too many others to name have made a career out of "punk rock versions of non punk songs", the question remains: Has there ever been a song that cannot be turned into punk rock?

I don't usually wade into musical discussions because they don't generally end well, and can be even more angry than discussions of politics - but this time I did anyway.

Now for those who don't know this is what Me First & the Gimme Gimmie's do, take songs from Pop, Classic Rock, Funk and even R&B and give it a "Punk Rock" make-over as they do here with the R. Kelly song "I believe I can fly".

My answer to the question was simple - there are some songs that where this can't be done. Admittedly I came down hard.

Is there is a song that can't be musically dumbed down into simple-minded 3-chord crap? Yes. Try "Roundabout" by Yes or "2112" & "La Villa Strangiato" by Rush - would turn most Punk Bands to puddles of quivering mush with bleeding fingers and tendinitis.

Now I admit my answer was based in the fact I don't like (most) Punk, hate it even, because I'm a musician who cares about actual musicianship - and Punk at it's core has become ANTI-music.

Be that as it may, I got an equally saucy response from Johnny, who himself is a punk rocker (ne "musician").

"Roundabout" is basically "Eight Miles High", which was punked up impressively by Husker Du, so, that would be easy, changes and all.

No, it's not really "Eight Miles High" - that song is completely different. Contrast and Compare:

Roundabout vs Eight Miles High

He also said this.

No sane human being would bother spending more time on Rush than it takes to hit an "off" button.

To which I responded, rather hotly.

‎"No sane person" eh? That's a typically bigoted and ignorant punker position. No surprise, I've heard that crap for years. If you were talking about Dream Theater you might have a point, but you don't. Fact is, Rush has had more consecutive Gold and Platinum Records than any band other than the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Lots of proud to be "Not Sane" people out there. If this is how little respect you have for a group of genuine musicianship and integrity, it's no surprise that all it takes to "punk up" a song is to remove the talent, ability, and play it lousy. See, it doesn't suck - it's the "Punk" version. Feh!

And when I say I've heard that for years, I'm not kidding. I heard nothing but a complete disdain for musicianship all through the 90's. Nothing but excuses for bad playing, bad singing and bad writing which grew to it's peak in the wake of Nirvana's rise to fame and misfortune. The problem wasn't necessarily with Nirvana, but with Kurt's specific anti-guitar attitude (he even used to badmouth Pearl Jam because they had extended Guitar Solos, until he met them and got to know them) which permeated the music scene and destroyed tons of bands and tons of perfectly fine musicians. Some of those guys were friends of mine. It was like a plague, and yeah, I'm still miffed about it. Always will be.

Kurt wasn't a great guitarist, but that was ignored because he was treasured as a "Great Songwriter" - however many people don't know what many of his songs are about. Few even realize that "Teen Spirit" was a women's deodorant. Even fewer realize that the reason he could hit the notes during those Meat Puppets songs he was covering was because he was being "so emotional" - it was simply out of his range. What happened, largely because of him - but many others who put him on a pedestal, was that a lot of bad playing and bad singing became treasured and good players and good singers were trashed.

People kept telling me that Chino from the Deftones was such a great singer, I said he's trashing his voice. What happened? He had to have throat surgery, just like Jon Bonjovi who also had lousy technique and some horrific glottal stops in his singing. It's wasn't "Jealousy" - it was just physics - they were SINGING WRONG, and Cobain if he's survived long enough was headed vocally right down the exact same road.
I've heard Chino since his surgery and he was retrained to sing properly and Now he's great, he sucked balls before. That's a fact.

I was told then that good singers and players were just "Technicians" - they didn't have "feeling", they didn't have "Emotions". They had "No Soul". All crap. Define "Soul", please? It's all subjective, in the ear and eye of the listener, not something you can quantify and measure. It's about what the listening thinks about someone, whether they think they "Cool" - not whether they actually perform well or not. Yes, there were some who went over the top and overplayed or over sang, but the vast majority didn't. It's like saying that only someone verbally illiterate has the ability to speak, or should be heard. I'm not saying Kurt wasn't great at what he did as a writer and his ability to connect with his audience, I'm saying he became the standard bearer for everyone else to follow and that's always a bad thing. No one should be put on a pedestal that way, as used as a weapon to denigrate everyone else. It's like saying that everyone should eat Italian Food, because suddenly French Food, and Mexican Food and Chinese Food are just no damn good.

We battled further, and all the whlie I kept asking - "How do you convert a song like La Villa... into Punk?" as others jumped into the fray.

Johnny Angel Wendell - Rush couldn't write a concise, succinct song if their lives depended upon it nor could me leben G Lee sing it if they did--might be the worst lead singer in history.

Lee Joseph - Punk by Rush? The least organic thing I could ever think of. Rush does not have the heart nor soul to do punk rock either of the 60s or 70s variety.

Lee Joseph Frank, three words. 1) "pretentious" 2) "bullshit" 3) "yawn"
Turn blue, dude.

Fair enough, I came out swinging - but what's writing a concise song have to do with whether someone can do a punk version or not?

The issue to me is one of Musical Supremacy that drives Punk. Is not an accident that it's the chosen music of the Skinhead movement. Certainly they aren't alone in this of course, I've seen the same type of Supremacist attitudes among Classic Musicians and Fans (Oh the compositions are so elegant, you just don't understand how the melodies interweave with the counterpoint in such creative ways).. or Jazz (the inspiration and improvisational nature is just so *special* with Jazz music), or with Metal (Dude, those bands are just so Heavy!) or with Death Metal/Grindcore (Everybody else is FAKE!")

This comment of Johnny's completely betrays the smug hubris of the genre.

Johnny Angel Wendell - Rush, for all of their skill, couldn't possibly write a "Personality Crisis", "Pale Blue Eyes", "Deny", "God Save The Queen", "I Wanna be Sedated", because they do not have it in them to write a song--y'see Frankie, assembling a composition... out of meticulously rehearsed parts doesn't equal "good song", it takes zero inspiration or imagination to "compose", it takes raw talent to make three simple chords and a beat come alive--which is why "Wooly Bully" or "I Fought The Law" or "Dance Franny Dance" are light years beyond Rush and why Al Jackson or Tommy Ramone playing a backbeat are vastly more talented than an uptight rightist ham hander like Neil "Ayn Rand is God" Peart.

So many things wrong with that from "Ayn Rand is God' to "They don't have it in the to write a song"... Yeah, they didn't write "Tom Sawyer", "Freewill", "Working Man", "Spirit of Radio", "Nobodies Hero", "One Little Victory", "Ghost Rider", "Vapor Trails" or "Subdivisions"?

No Songs? Here check this Rush cover by Jacob Moon, if this doens't bring you to the edge of tears you've got compassion deficit disorder.

Or this "Earthshine" from the Rush in Rio Tour


Or I said, even a "Punk" song like Dog Years

But here's the bottom line and has purely to do with music. The way that groups like Me First (who I actually like) do what they do is boil a song down to it's essential chord progression, shift the tempo upward to double-time - possibly with a Bo-Diddley Shuffle, and sing the original melody on top. Viola. Presto, Chango - It's Punk.

The reason you can't do that with "Roundabout" is that it's got a specific signature bassline which is integral to the song. It's not about how "cool" the line is... it's that it's not "ROUNDABOUT" if you don't play that part. If you just play a chord and sing the vocal melody - it's an imitation of "Roundabout" but it's not "ROUNDABOUT". Plus it's already pretty fast, so trying to speed it up any further doesn't really work either. You either aren't really playing "Roundabout" or you've sped it up so fast a human being can't perform the parts. Not Les Claypool, not Billy Sheehan, not John Entwistle - nobody could do that part that fast.

La Villa Strangioto.

My point wasn't the "La Villa" Is such a awesome song no punk rocker could play it - although chances are they CAN'T except for maybe the Gimmie's or Taylor Hawking's solo and Coat Tail Riders who already mix punk and prog - but the same thing is true about it as Roundabout, and even worse because it's an instrumental - so simplifying the parts and pretending you're doing the same song by singing over isn't possible - there are no words. Also again, La Villa isn't just a "lot of notes" it has various movements and changes - some of them a very slow and quiet, some of them fairly fast. but the primary portions is just one chord played three times followed by a fast 16th note guitar fill. If you aren't playing that fill - you AREN'T PLAYING LA VILLA STRANGIOTO - you're just playing a power chord three times. If you try and speed the part up and do it double-time, you'd need YNGWIE to pull it off that fast - and Yngwie's not gonna play your dirty little punk song.

Just like the bass line on Roundabout, you've got a simply problem with human physiology and temporal physics. IT CAN"T BE DONE. These songs can't be tempo shifted and work, and IMO you can't remove crucial parts and pretend you're actually playing the song, because YOU'RE NOT.

The fact that Punk Rockers don't know the musicality of that fact is why I started out so harsh, and why I continue to hold my view that some songs can't be reduced to 3-Chord Punk Crap, because once you do that - they aren't the same song anymore, period.


No comments: