Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Greatest Letter to the Editor Ever Written, Part 1 (the part that's not about the letter to the editor)

I checked out the Rolling Stone Top 100 Songs of the Decade list today. Now, my Stone subscription expired some time around my 16th birthday; I've been away from the magazine and its female belly button-obsessed covers for over half my life. But I was trying to figure out how far my tastes had strayed from that of the magazine which, during my formative years, taught me so many important life lessons with its coded language and seemingly off-the-cuff asides by its subversive writers. 

Read any feature article from the 1977-1983 RS era and every sordid rumor you've heard about that odd twitchy era could be found there. Stevie Nicks and her drug problems. Warren Zevon and his codependence issues with women. Steely Dan and their druggy codependence issues with each other, Lindsay Buckingham and his Stevie Nicks problem, etc. - they're all discreetly addressed, usually in an article's last few column inches - the "continued from" sections buried next to the ads for couples-friendly sex toys and the ads for couples-friendly mail order catlalogs in which you could buy sex toys. But if a smart overcurious pubescent Swedgyptian from the Philly suburbs like me could figure out the codes back then, then surely others could. 

(The irony of ME commenting about someone else's "coded language" and irrelevant asides is palpable in its juicy ripeness. So, no need to get all Johari Window on me - remember that the border between the Blind and Open quadrants is a crossable, if one-way, line.)

Let's just say I had a teenaged impression of the rock and roll world - more specificlly, the Los Angeles rock and roll world that Rolling Stone was obsessed with - as a decadent sleazy hellish nadir-land that besmirched all innocents that dared enter its borders. Having lived in the greater L.A. area for 15 of the past 21 years, I can neither confirm nor deny that this description was ever accurate and, if so, whether it still holds true today. I don't work in the music business, nor do I run with the movie/TV crowd, the enabling big brother to the music biz's curious kid sis. I have, however, met a few people who have personal experience and/or run-ins with the celebrity culture - a cast member of a hit NBC sitcom, a former child-actress-turned-painter who apparently is not a lesbian (based on my careful Googling just now), a session musician whose brief appearance on a now out-of-print 1995 album made me want to get to know her better after which I knew her better, a cast member of a hit NBC sitcom from the 90s, and one of the members of L'Trimm (Tigre, not Bunny, if I remember correctly). They all seem like lovely undecadent sorts that wouldn't hurt a naif. 

Where exactly is that Sodomic society, where the lesser bandmates (the bassists usually) were forced to buy the drugs, where housekeepers were hookers and hookers were personal assistants, where the smoother the music (or the more family-oriented the TV series), the rougher the living? I haven't seen any evidence. At the very least, I would have heard stories of such behavior. But even the stories are weak; they're not at all sordid, they're predictable and unsurprising. There are exceptions of course - let's just say that I won't be hanging out with Tom Sizemore anytime soon.

All this makes the editorial policy of Rolling Stone in the late 70s and early 80s - the policy that decreed that the Eagles destroyed rock, that Warren Zevon should only be celebrated for his eccentricity, that Fleetwood Mac's genius was so transient that nobody knew it was there in the first place, that any mention of Los Angeles had to have the words "sunny," warm", and/or "lala land" nearby, and back in RS's home headquarters of New York, that Lou Reed does no wrong - seem like an odd policy built on long-time grudges and blackmailable secrets. This anti-L.A. culture got so ingrained that, in 1978, there was a softball game between the Eagles and Rolling Stone taking place on the baseball field that sits 300 feet or so away from my office. There's no need to click the link; here's what you need to know: the Eagles won 14-8 and Ben Fong-Torres went 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter.

(I started writing this entry because I wondered about how many songs my list and Rolling Stone's list have in common. Now I'm on pace to write more words than anyone has written about anything and I haven't even gotten to the part about the letter to the editor! I'm tired of typing. I need to get in my car and go somewhere. Part 2 will appear soon, as will the remaining 18 songs on the list. Oh - how many songs do we have in common, you want to know? Nine. I thought it would be more like five.)

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