Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Swing The Casbah

"Rock Music”. Sounds funny to our ears, like “french-fried potatoes” or “hamburger sandwiches”. Sounds like something you might hear on a 50’s TV show you watch for camp value.

When someone says “music” is almost assumed they are referring to rock. Go look at 90% of your friend’s CD collections and you’ll find rock, rock and more rock (with the occasional jazz CD thrown in for good measure).

Our music tastes were basically set by the previous generation of baby boomers, who did away with their previous generations tastes of cocktail music, crooners and pop-jazz. In it’s place came the more “authentic” blues-based rock that resonated with a young generation experimenting (and making a lifestyle of) drugs and sex.

When I think back to my childhood, I remember hearing basically nothing but rock. I remember in about 1976 playing T-Ball at the Excelsior Common and hearing “More Than A Feeling” from the new band Boston. From then on, rock was ubiquitous.

And tiresome. Local station KQRS still plays Boston and Foghat and Bob Seger and the rest, a playlist that was last updated in 1987 with Greg Allman’s “I’m No Angel”.

With this background in mind, it is laudable that someone so completely non-rock like Norah Jones should win so big at the Grammys--beating out someone still carrying the rock flag--Bruce,

Norah’ music is adult music. Big melodies, sultry singing, relaxed grooves. Music that was commonplace before the Boomers replaced it.

She is currently being savaged by critics on two fronts. One is from the rockers who say that she didn’t write many of the songs on the record, like Bruce did, therefore she isn’t a “Complete Artist”. The other is from the jazz snobs, who say her music is watered-down pap and her piano playing is rudimentary compared to Chick Corea’s.

To the former,I say we really need to get over this Bob Dylan mold of singer/songwriter. Before this paradigm was established in the 1970’s, singers would choose from a wide array of writers and record the best they found as well as their own; they didn’t think it was some kind of badge of authenticity to have to write each and every song themselves.

To the latter, yes, Chick Corea is a better pianist. No one is debating that. But the appreciation of talent like that takes patience and learning. Most people won’t sit down once for a listen and find it as enjoyable as one listen to Nora. We are talking about popular entertainment here, after all.

It’s starting to look like a trend with the industry recognizing popular music that is not rock (and no, I’m not including rap). The entire O’Brother phenomenon from last year has introduced thousands to music they would have sneered at only a few years ago.

Now some adults might actually discover that rock is for kids and stoners and there is a whole other world to be discovered.

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