The Drama You've Been Craving
Monday Nov. 6, 2000
Stand-Up Guys: Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Al Gore
Taking a stand for what's right, and damn the torpedoes.
By Michael Goldberg
It was with disappointment that I recently saw a TV clip of Patti Smith supporting Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader. If Gov. George W. Bush becomes the next President, it could well be because a group of idealists voted for Nader on principle, instead of seriously considering the harm that a Bush presidency will inflict on this country.
Will Patti Smith fans vote for Nader just because she's behind him? I leave that to the pollsters to figure out. I do know that stars influence their fans, and that their ideas, style and attitudes spread through society. If voting for Nader is the "hip" thing to do, if characterizing Bush and Vice President Al Gore as "the same" is the PC way of thinking among your peer group, then you just might cast a vote for Nader. Which, in practical terms, is a vote for Bush.
Make no mistake, there's nothing cool about a vote for Bush. He doesn't support a woman's right to choose. He doesn't support hate-crime legislation. He would like to mix religion and education. He cares not about the environment. He wants to cut taxes for the rich, who certainly don't need the money.
It should be news to no one that George W. Bush is ignorant and not particularly intelligent. If you watched the three debates carefully, you saw Bush suck air over and over again, when he wasn't delivering empty, scripted statements that were misleading and often uninformed.
Metallica's Lars Ulrich said, "Ultimately you want the smartest guy to be president."
I would amend that to say that you want the smartest guy who is thinking about the country, not his corporate backers. You want the smartest guy who stands for equal rights, a woman's right to choose, protecting our precious environment, quality education and a smart, reasoned, informed approach to managing the country and inspiring the people.
I certainly have problems with Gore, and with some of his positions. His wife, Tipper, was the force behind the ratings now found on some CDs. But interviews with Gore, such as the one in the current Rolling Stone, show clearly why Gore is the man.
It's Just Music
I was sitting in a room with some cable-TV programmers recently when one of them said, "It's just music; you can't take it that seriously."
A week later, I heard the same thing from a friend of mine, a hard-core music fanatic who has a closet full of vinyl, in addition to his current CD collection, and is himself a guitar player and singer. "It's only music," he said when someone else at the table bemoaned the fact that a young co-worker wasn't aware of Neil Young. "Just some songs for the jukebox."
When I was a kid, my parents and the people of their generation had this attitude. Rock and pop music were unimportant, not to be taken seriously. In fact, to many of them rock was trash.
It is alarming (though, when I think about it, not so unexpected) that even fans of current music (rock, pop, hip-hop, electronic) now belittle it. If they don't belittle the music they found meaningful when they were young (the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, the Who ... ), they dis artists who have come along during more recent decades (Limp Bizkit, Korn, Pearl Jam, Metallica). When I recently spoke to a longtime friend about such artists as Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, he looked at me like I was crazy. In his mind, Bob Dylan is an artist; Fred Durst isn't.
No matter how cool and open a generation thinks it is in its youth, age seems to bring conservatism. We do become our parents.
Except for Neil Young.
Who else but Neil Young, who hung with Devo in the '70s and Pearl Jam in the '90s, who celebrated Kurt Cobain in song and who still makes loud, raucous, garage-meets-punk-meets-grunge rock, could pull off the Bridge School benefit, year in and year out, for nearly a decade and a half?
This year, on Oct. 28 and 29, Young gathered such current stars as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck, Foo Fighters and the Dave Matthews Band, as well as perennials Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Those of us who have followed Young's musical journey beginning in the '60s know that he is a stand-up guy who does it his way. At the Bridge School benefit concerts, musicians seem to drop their guard. For a couple of days, they stop thinking about themselves and instead look outward. Every year, the concerts, held at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View (south of San Francisco), are sellouts. Every year, money is raised for the Bridge School, which helps kids with serious communication disorders. And every year, sitting on the stage behind the performers and in full view of the audience, are many of the children who attend the school. It is a humbling experience to see the stars and the children together on that stage. Sacred ground.
And The Mockingbirds Sing Along
Johnny Cash, with the help of producer Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc., etc.) has recorded a sparse, brilliant album about standing tall and holding your ground. The songs here, many of which Cash didn't write, are about integrity, about not compromising, and about walking it like you talk it.
American III: Solitary Man is, obviously, the third in a trilogy of back-to-basics albums that do justice to the voice and the soul of the great country singer/songwriter Johnny Cash.
This is an album of hard truths. It begins with Cash interpreting Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down," which could well serve as Cash's last words when it finally comes to that. He takes on (and takes over) the Neil Diamond hit "Solitary Man," then goes obscure on us, reviving "That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day)," which, Cash writes in wonderful liner notes, he won a talent contest singing when "I was young." He makes U2's powerful love song "One" his own.
In David Allan Coe's "Would You Lay With Me (In A Field of Stone)" Cash asks a lover questions that put her to the test: "Would you lay with me/ In a field of stone/ If my need were strong/ Would you lay with me?" he sings. And, "Will you still love me/ When I'm down and out/ In my time of trial/ Will you stand by me?/ Will you go with me to another land/ Walk a thousand miles in the burning sand.... "
The centerpiece is a version of Nick Cave's dark "The Mercy Seat." "It all began when they took me from my home and put me on Death Row," the song begins, and no one can deliver that line like Johnny Cash. "A crime for which I am totally innocent, you know."
With Heartbreaker Benmont Tench providing sinister organ, and playing spare, steel-string acoustic guitar, Cash delivers this Death Row tale. "I go shuffling out of life, just to hide in death a while... / An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth/ And anyway I told the truth/ And I'm not afraid to die."
In The Game
Hooverphonic, The Magnificent Tree (Epic): I used to think of Hooverphonic as a kind of poor man's Portishead. While the comparisons remain, this trip-hop trio have made a very cool third album in The Magnificent Tree. Radiohead may have felt compelled to practically abandon melody as they created a nearly guitar-less electronic sound for Kid A; groups such as Hooverphonic, who come from a DJ/recording-studio/anything-is-fair-game-for-the-sampler approach, work at utilizing odd textures, rhythms and sounds to create a modern, melodious pop music. When Hooverphonic strike gold, as on this album's standout, "Jacky Cane," you get music that feels of-the-moment and hit-bound. Like Portishead's breakthrough, "Sour Times," "Jacky Cane" rides on a simple, "Secret Agent Man"-influenced guitar riff. On the surface, the song is about a young innocent who gets taken advantage of and discarded ("They used her up before the sell-by date"), but it implies layers of meaning. Perfect Year 2000 pop.
Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.
© 2000 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.