This was originally written in September of 2000. The world was a far, far different place back then. It was two months before the contested election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Google was still a new thing that most people had never heard of. There was no Facebook or Twitter. There was no American Idol. CDs were the main way people listened to music. Most people still had land line phones. People read newspapers and watched TV for news. I was 27 years old, a college dropout (with one year left to complete my degree), working as a manager in a coffee shop, and I had an assload of credit card debt. Several months before I wrote this I had finally busted out of a two-year stretch of writer’s block with a long essay that covered music, my childhood, and other random stuff. I was still riding that wave with this piece. I have evolved my opinions on some of this stuff since then, but I love that it is such a time capsule of the era, both personally and otherwise, in which it was written.
Tonight is Doors night. I will listen to all six of their studio albums in a row, no pauses, no radio or TV. Last night and all day was Oasis. It has been all about Foo Fighters and Nirvana for so many months now. I only allow Foo to be played in my car. Not even Nirvana is allowed! In my CD player I still have five of the seven slots filled with Foo. I did this with the Doors boxed set three years ago, keeping four spaces always open for The Doors. It stayed that way for over a year. I don’t remember what was in the other three spots—nothing has ever lasted a year in there. So far, Foo Fighters have been in place for, let me see, I think I bought the first two CDs in the spring, and it’s now September, so I’m gonna say it’s a good five months. I didn’t buy the latest album on CD until a few months ago—I had it on tape, and finally got sick of having to get up and flip it over when the first side ended, especially when I was listening to it before I went to sleep. The second side is perfect for that, very mellow and cool, good chillin’ out music. Anyway, it was that, and the fact that I wore out the first side—“Stacked Actors,” to be exact—playing it in my car constantly for like six months, that made me buy the CD. So I have the three albums, plus two CD EPs permanently stuck in my CD player. And now I have The Doors. For tonight.
Oasis perfectly set and reflected my mood. As I feel myself drifting into depression, an unanticipated and bizarre depression, peculiarly mellow and non-suicidal, The Doors are pushing me into myself, making me think too much—but not the same way Oasis was making me think. Despite some moodiness and pessimism, the actual music of Oasis always seems hopeful to me. There’s a lot of peppiness to it, even when they’re being maudlin, you know? They have some pure pop songs, to be sure, but generally, every single Oasis song is a kick in the arse. Don’t fuck around, don’t be stupid and depressed; that’s what I get from it. Strange that a girl like I should respond to that. But I also respond to the simplicity of the lyrics, even when they’re not so simple. See, that’s the mark of a great artist, to make it seem simple and accessible, when it’s really quite painstaking and far out. Oasis songs all seem to be about me.
And The Doors have that effect on me also. The difference is Jim’s lyrics encourage me to wallow in my misery, in the hell I have created. Jim tells me that life is shit and I can’t fix it and I may as well party like hell before I die—but I don’t need to be happy to do that. That is much more my style. I am much darker than Oasis, I am much more like Jim Morrison, very artsy and shit. I don’t know. I fucking love Oasis, but the shit I write is way more Jim Morrison than anything. If I had to pick a lyricist to compare myself with, it would be Jim Morrison. Not that I’m flattering myself—I don’t think I’m nearly as poetic as he was, but the sheer honesty, the desperation, the introspection. That is me.
And then there’s the sex. I like the sexual aspect of The Doors, and it’s not just the suggestive lyrics. Listen to every single instrument on “Love Me Two Times,” every twang, every drumbeat, everything building to climax, and Jim’s singing is only part of that. The whole song is a good, stiff fuck. It is no wham bam, thank you, ma’am—it is slow and meticulous at first, and then it teases, and every pause in Jim’s singing brings you closer and closer to the final destination. His scream at the end lets you know he has shot his wad, and that you should, too. It’s unabashedly sexual, it’s glorious, it’s masterful. That song is one of the great rock-and-roll aphrodisiacs—I put it neck and neck with “Whole Lotta Love.”
Strange Days is my favorite Doors album, and one of my favorite albums of all time. One of these days I will put together my Top 10 list of albums—I could never pick just one, or even five! Ten is a good number, fifteen or twenty even better. Here is a hastily-arranged Top 10 (in no particular order):
Strange Days, The Doors
Live at Leeds, The Who
Sticky Fingers, The Rolling Stones
The Colour and the Shape, Foo Fighters
Too Much, Too Soon, New York Dolls
Raw Power, Iggy and the Stooges
Rubber Soul, The Beatles
Aloha from Hawaii, Elvis
Pearl, Janis Joplin
There are obviously other albums by each of the artists that I love and have played to death, but I picked the ones I did because they each represent a particular time and/or mood in my life. I can tell you exactly who I was and what I was doing when I first heard these albums and became obsessed. To me, that is what makes a list like this interesting. I am not saying these are the best albums ever, I am not saying these are the ones everyone should own or anything, but they are some of my favorites, they are the most important albums in my life. I love music. I love all kinds of music. There are things I could include in a more extensive list: Kind of Blue, Miles Davis, for example, or Ah Um by Charles Mingus. I love the Amadeus soundtrack, I love the Pulp Fiction soundtrack—I remember that Pulp Fiction year, that was significant for me. I saw it nine times at the theatre, I rented it five or six times when it was released on video. I bought the special edition on VHS the day it came out, and have now seen it at least seventy times.
If we are going to get into pure significance, we have to mention Madonna’s first album in the same breath as Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual and Michael Jackson’s Thriller—back in the day, those were the ones I played to death. Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger was awesome, Sports by Huey Lewis and the News, and Hall & Oates’ Big Bang Boom were also 80s faves of mine. See, it was very difficult to list these things. I need to categorize, because everything I’ve ever listened to has been important in some way. If I never listened to Ratt I never would have led…eventually…to Iggy, or to Motorhead and Prodigy. Everything happens for a reason.
Every time I am in a Doors mood I am in a writing mood. Listening to truly artistic people like this inspires me—and vice versa. I have been writing—actually, I wrote like a fiend for a month, then worked on submitting that manuscript to publishers, then took a few weeks off. I had been meaning to write since then, I just got lazy again. This past week I have written a little, and I spent the bulk of the last two days putting queries and outlines in the mail. This latest rush of creativity is due in large part to Dave Grohl. I am so into him and everything he’s ever been involved in, and I am so fascinated by his talents and how prolific he has been—it is awe-inspiring, but it also makes me see the potential in myself, it makes me want to stop being so goddamn lazy and excuse-ridden. I want to be Dave Grohl, I want to know what it’s like to be that talented, that creative, that expressive. See, I started off liking Foo Fighters and hating Nirvana. I reluctantly bought Nevermind on a used cassette for $1.99, and told everybody I would probably never listen to it—I only bought it because there were pictures of Dave in it, and would only be interested in the Nirvana stuff that he was part of. Something made me listen to it one day this summer, and it really wasn’t too bad. I knew as soon as my sisters heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” they would wonder what the hell was going on. We had a mutual hatred-of-Nirvana society, and I knew they’d be disappointed and disgusted. Before I listened to the whole album all I knew of Nirvana was “Teen Spirit” and a few other songs I always turned off as soon as I heard them come on. I never bothered listening to the lyrics—not that they’re really audible most of the time, but they really are pretty good. I actually bought the other two albums Dave was on, and tried to convince my sisters that I was only listening to the drum parts! I bought Live! Tonight! Sold Out!, the concert video, and was watching it daily for about two weeks, and I eventually had to admit that I really liked Nirvana, and even bought Bleach, their first album that Dave is not even on. So now I am a Nirvana fan, I’ve lost some of my sisters’ respect, and I know more about the band than I ever thought I would care to, but I still don’t like them being called the spokespeople for my generation. They were a really good band who had a huge following. I don’t believe there ever was a grunge “movement.” No one in Seattle even considered Nirvana grunge.
And as I have become so knowledgeable about Nirvana and Foo Fighters and about Dave as a person and a musician, I can see how he has evolved. Whenever I see clips of Nirvana concerts or interviews, Dave’s really not there, you know? He even said that about himself. He didn’t really talk that much, no one really knew who he was, no one bothered him with questions—and he pretty much liked it that way. He was in bands before Nirvana, but this was the one that really, well, you know, here was this fucking phenomenon, the hugest thing anyone had seen in years! They were all pretty uncomfortable with it, but Dave was still pretty much out of the spotlight. When he formed Foo Fighters he was the lead singer and wrote the songs and everything. He is the main man now, and he is pretty much in control. He seems so much happier. He is the best drummer in the world, no question, and everyone knows how many drummers Nirvana went through before Dave joined. And he really made the drum parts noticeable, you know? I don’t think it’s just because I focus on him that I notice the drums more, because I really can’t hear the drums too much in other music I listen to. I listened to some Led Zeppelin a few weeks ago, right after a heavy rotation of Nevermind, Incesticide, and In Utero, so I could compare Dave with his idol, John Bonham. There is no question that Dave hits harder than even Bonzo. I know he would never admit that, I know he honestly does not believe he’s better, but he really is, he really makes the drumbeat stand out—I mean, it’s not even really a drumbeat when Dave is playing, it’s not just keeping time, it’s not just in the background. The drums are really a seriously important part of the song when Dave plays. I read somewhere about “Something in the Way,” a fairly mellow song from Nevermind, that the way it is recorded on the album is completely toned down drum-wise from the way the guys wanted it—they really didn’t sound like that in person. The drums are much more dramatic on that song when it was performed live.
Anyway, I think Dave is a much more satisfied person now than he was when he was in Nirvana. Sure, being in a group that huge will take a toll on anyone, and he’s a pretty private guy who really just wants to play music and have a decent life, you know? And I’m sure working with two maniacs like Kurt and Krist wasn’t easy for a well-adjusted guy like Dave. Every clip I see of him from those days, man, he just looks exhausted and miserable. And now, he seems to enjoy everything, he seems like he’s pretty settled and relaxed. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that he gets to express himself fully now, he is able to say what he wants and how he wants. He was so stifled in Nirvana; I mean, he obviously had a lot to say since he wrote every word and every note of the Foo Fighters’ first album. I am so happy to see someone like that be successful, because I feel like I too have been held back for so long—only I have held myself back.
So that is what I aspire to, Dave Grohldom. I want to be the star, I want to be prodigious and creative, and I want to be the best! I am Kurt, Krist, and Dave all rolled into one, and I am done being the two fucked up ones; it’s time for me to move on and form my own band. I know Dave doesn’t really care about all the fame and glamour and shit, and that’s cool. He is a true musician, a true artist, and he is really all about that—expressing himself, having a good time, and being honest. He’s a regular guy, and that is so hot!
Every one of these Doors albums has a different feel. You can’t say that about all artists. With some, everything sounds the same from album to album—there is no growth, nothing new to say, nothing interesting. With others, each album has kind of a theme, either implied or not, where there’s like a new side to them or something, they’re either experimenting or being trendy or whatever. Then there are kick-ass bands like Foo Fighters whose songs all sound different, no matter the album. The Colour and the Shape kind of has a theme; it’s kind of about a relationship from beginning to end. The first song, “Doll,” is about a new relationship and being scared and stuff, and all the songs in between explore what relationships go through, fighting and break-ups and love shit. The album ends with “New Way Home,” which is about moving on and learning from what you’ve gone through. I don’t think Dave meant it to come out that way, but it really all fits together; reading the lyrics is like reading an epic poem. Dave could be a poet or a novelist. Read the words to “For All the Cows:” pure genius. But each song sounds different despite the unifying theme of the album. That is the case with all their stuff. I don’t know that they really have a sound; they just play what they want and it sounds good. There are ballads and hard rock tunes and mellow, prog rock-type songs on each album; there are funny things, serious things, meaningful things, and it all makes sense, it all flows well and is fabulous and I am making everyone I know sick from talking about goddamn Foo Fighters every waking moment—but that is just too bad! I cannot say enough good things about them, and I cannot be more grateful for their music—it came along at the perfect time for me.
Anyway, I am now listening to L.A. Woman, The Doors’ last studio album. It kinda feels like a last album. There is a great blues influence on this one, beginning with “Been Down So Long.” A lot of stuff on this record is pretty weird, at least when you consider that it came out in 1971. The Doors really were ahead of their time in many ways. Like Led Zeppelin, there is no one else who sounds like them, nor should anyone but The Doors play their music. It’s very obvious that Jim was a poet, a performance artist, more than anything. Listen to “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” and tell me you don’t hear Jack Kerouac! Even “Riders on the Storm” sounds pretty beat. That was one of the things that set these guys apart, the literary influence. Jim was a student of words, not music. He was a film student. He was into history. He brought all his interests to the stage and to his lyrics. No one else was doing that, at least, not as blatantly as The Doors were. Everyone showed their influences, but they were all musical like The Beatles with Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry first, and then George introduced the sitar. The Stones were great fans of the blues, especially Muddy Waters. Jim Morrison was the first one to cover a Bertolt Brecht song—who the hell else would think of that? And he made it sound like his own creation! I heard Oasis play Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize,” and it was so hilarious to me because the way they did it, it sounded exactly like Noel had composed it—and I’m sure most of the people they were singing it to thought he had! When a band can do stuff like that, I mean, not just cover a song, but turn it into their own, that is just the coolest! Why sing someone else’s song like they would? Do something interesting with it, make people wonder what song it is, shock them when you go into the familiar chorus. It was just too funny when I heard this song start and then out of Liam’s mouth came, “So you think I’ve got a dirty mind…” I about rolled off my bed with amusement—it was genius! It just didn’t seem to make any sense for Oasis to cover a song like that.
Now, as I listen to Sid Vicious sing The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” I see the genius of such a group covering such a song. Sid singing Iggy or The Dolls is pretty unspectacular. I mean, he did a version of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” in The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, and it is actually pretty painful to watch, but that has more to do with what we now know about him, his ultimate demise and the Sid cult that has festered since his death. But to take a song like that and that traditional image of Sinatra singing, and put a degenerate like Sid up to it, it’s pure genius, too bizarre for words. That kind of juxtaposition—David Bowie and Bing Crosby singing Christmas songs?—is what makes rock ‘n’ roll so accessible, so liberating and proletarian. I hate to analyze rock music, because that is the very antithesis of what it is supposed to be about—rebellion, angst, youth, all that shit—and to overanalyze it is to complicate it, and to discuss it as a commodity—which, sadly, it has become thanks to record companies and MTV—really cheapens and degrades it. When you’re a kid and you’re struggling to figure your shit out, when you feel like no one understands you, like everything is just a mess and you need to escape, and then you find rock ‘n’ roll, you’re not thinking about the social ramifications of your favorite band, you don’t care about censorship and fads and what’s hip. You just want something that will make you feel better, you want a friend, you want something to live for. That’s what music does for people. That is why it can never be a bad thing. That is why people without the ability to appreciate music—and, indeed, other art forms—are truly deprived, they are unfulfilled and can never be well-rounded individuals. And you shouldn’t just listen to one band or one type of music—everything can be an influence. Without reggae there could not have been punk; without rock there could not have been disco; without rap there could not have been electronica; without heavy metal there would have been no grunge. And without country and the blues there would have been no such thing as rock ‘n’ roll. We can go back to Mozart, probably the original punk, the first music rebel, who in turn influenced Stravinsky who begat John Cage who begat Laurie Anderson who begat The Chemical Brothers. Everyone influences everyone else, whether you can feel it directly or not. This is true in culture as much as in our personal lives. Everything that happens would not have happened he we not taken swimming lessons at the Y in fourth grade, or had that pen pal in Australia when we were fifteen. It’s all connected.
It’s hard to imagine that there can be another form or style of music coming soon to a radio near you. Everything is really just a newer version of something that already exists.—what’s that theory, that there are only seven original ideas in the world? Something like that. There have certainly been a lot of great achievements from those seven thoughts. Who will come up with the next big thing? Can this really be anticipated? No one really saw disco coming, or punk, or grunge, or rap, really—those genres all started out in small communities, with a few local bands who weren’t really looking to be famous or successful—like all true artists, they were doing their thing for themselves and their friends, they were having fun and expressing their feelings and ideas. It had nothing to do with commerciality or national acceptance. It was all from the heart. This is how rock ‘n’ roll started out. And this was the spirit punk really tried to recapture: do-it-yourself, for yourself and your friends. You don’t have to be a masterful musician or have a superior voice—just sing songs you like and have a good time. All those early rock stars were not getting rich, and many of them were working days jobs. When the first contracts were being signed they were not particularly artist-friendly. Things have not changed too much in the business, except the size of the checks. Artists these days are much more business savvy, thankfully for them, but that’s just because they have to be. I think they are more wary of business types, and they want to make sure their own vision is protected. So many artists these days have their own labels, and so many are involved in signing their own acts to them. This is a great thing about the modern music biz, the ability to seek out and promote new talent, to sponsor artists you believe in. Obviously, making money is important, but it just seems that if the people recruiting fledgling artists are artists themselves, there’s a much better chance that they will be treated respectfully and fairly. A lot of fresh faces are sought after when a new trend is sweeping the music world, but they are rarely given an unrestrained voice. Almost no artists who are just starting out are allowed to do whatever the fuck they want from day one. Everyone has to compromise on something. And that’s really too bad, since there are so many new things and new ideas that are repressed because record companies are so conservative—and this goes for Hollywood as well—and it is just easier to join the crowd, to not ruffle feathers, at least, not too much. You want to be noticed, but you don’t want to upset the balance. I hate that. One of the things art is supposed to do is upset people. But instead of finding a truly fresh voice, a truly unique sound or thought, it is easier to promote more of what is already out there. This is what happened after The Beatles invaded America—anything British was what the people supposedly wanted. Everyone hoping to make it big after that was called “the next Beatles,” and this is true today. The Sex Pistols, The Bay City Rollers, Duran Duran, The Bangles, Oasis, Nirvana—everyone has been compared. Certainly, there has been hysteria surrounding every successful band, but there will only ever be one Beatles, one Elvis, one Nirvana. They all carved out their own niche in music as well as in popular culture. The Sex Pistols did their own thing, and they had imitators, but no one will ever do exactly what they did. No one will ever destroy hair bands the way Nirvana did. No one will challenge boy bands and so-called teen divas like Kid Rock. But there will always be a need for such “harmless” entertainment, such mindless and trendy shit like that—if there were no Britney Spears, no Backstreet Boys, why would there be Eminem? His whole career is based on dissing boy bands. Without pop stars there would be no need for so-called rebellious acts like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit.
But one could argue that, through dissing the popular, candy-ass acts, the hard core ones are just cashing in on the same appeal. Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP is full of references to stars like Will Smith and Britney, et al, and the fact that he has to mention them on his own record just makes them more popular. Who cares what he thinks of them? If they didn’t exist, neither would he. It’s one thing to criticize someone’s music, but there’s really no need to get personal. That is just immature. Yeah, he’s sold millions and millions of records, but so have all the people he hates. It doesn’t really matter. Eminem sets himself up as an alternative to the pap that fills the airwaves, but he’s just as much a staple on MTV as Britney and ‘N Sync. He’s just as much of a pop star. So where’s his street cred? Who cares?
Posturing has always been a part of rock. With some people, it’s just a natural expression of feeling and opinion—with others, it’s all phony, it’s all about manipulation and fame. And some people use that in a good way. I was never into hair bands, but I did like the ones who kind of made fun of the genre. I love Spinal Tap, and I think Twisted Sister is kind of a tribute to them, as is Ratt. They did the makeup and the generic rock star Spandex thing, but it was in a funny way. Mötley Crüe was much more serious about that shit, and Poison and all that other shit I’ve always hated. There’s nothing wrong with dressing up—I fucking love the New York Dolls! But they were about trashing rock, killing the monolith, the boring old fart it was becoming. Hair bands kind of brought an end to new wave, and then grunge brought upon the demise of poseurs like Poison and Warrant. Punk killed prog rock, and when punk went mainstream it died of its own mediocrity. Once the underground becomes easily purchased at the mall, it’s all over. Make way for the next trend, please. New wave was born of punk’s ruins, and people eventually got tired of pretty boys like Duran Duran (I never did, but there were some who were just over it!) and wanted more dangerous sex appeal, so along came meaningless songs by so-callled badasses to wipe out meaningless songs by dandies like Flock of Seagulls and Wham! That was popular for a few years—the Bush I years—when people started realizing how phony that was, too—oddly, just at the same time people were getting tired of recession and Republicans. The 80s were over, Dynasty and Dallas were off the air, and reality set in. I think people were tired of the bullshit all around. Just as punk was born of the dismal economic conditions of Tory England in the 70s, it was finally having some success in America as we uncovered the truth about the Reagan years. People dug punk originally because it looked and sounded like anyone could do it, and to poor kids with no hope and no future that’s what they needed to keep them going every day. Punk was at least something that could give them a chance, it could give them a reason to be and somewhere to go. Kids in America (at least white kids) have always had it pretty good, even in the poorest areas, compared to the rest of the world, but in the early 90s there seemed to be something lacking, some transition that needed to happen. I graduated from high school in 1991, and I did not listen to most music on the radio. I had long since forsaken MTV but was, quite honestly, content with the music I had always had—The Beatles, Elvis, Chuck Berry, The Doors, Buddy Holly. There really wasn’t anything interesting going on for people my age. I never felt like I was part of my generation anyway, so I was not searching for a new identity. I mean, I was always much more interested in what I was going to achieve, what I was going to do with my life. I didn’t give a shit about people my age. They were all pretty apathetic and ignorant and uninteresting to me. But I guess there were enough of them who lacked something generationally or whatever, and that is what made the whole grunge thing happen. I said earlier that I do not believe that there ever really was a grunge movement, and that is the truth. People grab onto things like that because they have a desperate need to belong. Bobbysoxers, beatniks, hippies, punks, ravers—whatever. None of these groups was ever the majority. None of these people ever took anything over. The power, the passion they each had within their communities may have been sincere, but once the masses caught wind, once there was enough media exposure and regular kids from the suburbs were able to assimilate themselves into these “underground” groups, it was meaningless. That may sound elitist, and itt is. People in these subcultures are often more elitist than the society they claim to be rebelling against. Anyone who attempts to understand them is viewed with suspicion. They feel like they are members of an exclusive club with severe membership restrictions, and no one who really wants to join is cool enough to. You either are or you aren’t. You are born into it or you aren’t. You cannot become; you simply must be.
Honestly, I don’t think any of this really matters. Who cares what kind of music other people listen to? I do not listen to boy bands and teen sensations; I do not find them interesting, but I can see their appeal to kids. My generation has the New Kids on the Block, whom I despised, but so what? There will always be shit like that, and it’s really not important. People can say that acts like that are destroying music, but that is not the case. Rock has been dying a slow death for years, and it is not at the hands of screaming pre-teen girls. It is the record companies—and the artists themselves. Of course they all want to make money. What’s wrong with that? At some point, there will have to be someone who stands up for themselves, their vision, their voice. I wish everyone could do exactly what they wish to do artistically. And this being a free market, their success or failure would depend upon We the People. If people are intrigued, you will succeed. If not, you’ll have to get a real job. And that, for every artist, is a fate worse than death. Controversy may get you rich and famous, but money and fame do not make you a success. Honest artistic expression does. Having fun and being real does. Being a rock star is meaningless unless you have a good time at it. And you can be a rock star in your garage and be just as satisfied.