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Loggins and Messina and musical fascism

Exactly what did I buy when I bought a Loggins and Messina song?

My college roommate Arnie would have smiled yesterday if he had caught me on iTunes buying the Loggins and Messina song "Angry Eyes."

Arnie and I, you see, had musical tastes that had just a small slice in common. I was, to borrow a phrase from Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter, a 96-decibel freak, while Arnie liked mellower stuff, such as Loggins and Messina.

I didn't like a lot of Arnie's music, but he didn't care for a lot of mine—say, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. The foundation of our friendship, though, was far more substantial than our musical tastes. It's been more than 40 years since our lives' roads diverged, but certain songs make me think of him—anything by Stephen Stills, Neil Young or the Eagles. This was in the early Seventies. Arnie was way out in front of the Eagles' days of massive popularity.

Yesterday, "Angry Eyes" ambushed me on Sirius, and I thought, "This sounds pretty good," but I remembered the song as having a soft spot about halfway through, a place where the integrity of the song fell apart and turned it into a musical doughnut. If it does, though, I didn't hear it yesterday, so I bought the song.

You could say I wasn't really buying the song. The musicianship is good, but no one really stands out. The song's chorus is hook-y, but it wasn't that, either. And it's never been on my "I gotta add this song to my collection" list. In fact, nothing by Loggins and Messina has ever been on that list. Maybe after hearing it, I was buying a slice in time—something that brought back pleasant memories of times gone by and a valuable friendship.

Music for me has always been about not only the beat, but also associations, or at least the feelings the song evokes. Jethro Tull's "We Used to Know" is a great example. I've never been in a situation that's exactly like the song's story, but the last four lines get to me every time:

Each to his own way. I'll go mine
Best of luck with what you find
But for your own sake remember times
We used to know
Over the weekend, something besides "Angry Eyes" reminded me of how powerful the attraction is. In The Guardian on Saturday, a writer named John Harris wrote an article headlined "Coldplay: How can something so banal be so powerful?"

I have one Coldplay album in my musical library, and the only reason I bought it was because I had heard Brian Eno was producing it. As it turned out, it sounded as if he was trying to make the band sound like U2, so I lost interest—not because I don't like U2, but because I was looking for something different. I have no opinion of Coldplay or the album one way or the other; in fact, I can only remember a snippet or two from just a couple of songs on the album.

The readers' comments on the story were more interesting than the story. I've taken part many, many times in the give-and-take they reflected. Some readers loved Coldplay. Others loathed them. The writer was praised. The writer was slagged. Other bands were dragged into the argument. Some were hated, while others were not. Fans of the band, or anti-fans, were insulted by the other side. The question of what makes "good" music was treated like a volleyball. The commenters tried to be as shocking as possible. The comments encapsulated everything about being a rock fan.

As an example, I once had a friend who was convinced Bachman-Turner Overdrive was a great band because they were so popular. I tried to convince him that popularity and greatness were entirely different things. We went round and round, and neither of our minds was changed. (Of course, he's still wrong.)

I also liked to push people's buttons about their favorite acts—telling a friend who was a Dylan fan that Dylan "wrote one, maybe two, good songs," or saying, "Two words come to mind when you mention the Eagles: 'Wretched excess,'", or referring to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" as "the most pretentious song in rock history."

But one particular reader's comment hit the bull's eye for me:

Silly article and on the whole predictably silly comments—perhaps inevitable when a subject like Coldplay is presented to the Guardian commentariat. The popularity of Coldplay would have been well understood by someone like Dennis Potter.

"When people say, 'Oh, listen, they're playing our song,'" Potter said, "they don't mean, 'Our song, this little cheap, tinkling, syncopated piece of rubbish is what we felt when we met.' What they're saying is, 'That song reminds me of the tremendous feeling we had when we met.' Some of the songs I use are great anyway, but the cheaper songs are still in the direct line of descent from David's Psalms. They're saying, 'Listen, the world isn't quite like this, the world is better than this, there is love in it,' 'There's you and me in it,' or 'The sun is shining in it.' So-called dumb people, simple people, uneducated people, have as authentic and profound depth of feeling as the most educated on earth. Anyone who says different is a fascist."

Over the years, I've become less of a musical fascist. I still hate Bachman-Turner Overdrive, but if my friend liked them, so what? And sometimes the artists and bands I used to dislike sound pretty good now, as my rapidly expanding collection of soul music shows.

As for Loggins and Messina, well, at least I have one of their songs in my collection now. I have a feeling Arnie would say, "It's a start." Even so, I have to wonder if he ever came around to listening to Zappa.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 28th, 2015 03:29 pm (UTC)
I quite enjoyed reading that.
Dec. 28th, 2015 04:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Sometimes, a good idea turns itself into a post pretty readily.
Dec. 28th, 2015 06:25 pm (UTC)
That Dennis Potter quote is excellently put. I remember watching a documentary about obsessed fans of Britney Spears. What was very striking was how much meaning people found in that music (which is often snobbily dismissed as cheap and pointless). There was no denying it gave people strength in really tough times. Commercial or avant garde, when any music finds its ideal hearer, it changes everything.

Of course, there were also people simply enjoying it because ‘it has a good beat and you can dance to it’. What some people don’t realise is that the slightly less popular, maybe even weird type of music can also be enjoyed in just that way (it doesn’t have to be about chin-stroking or philosophical significance… you genuinely can dance spontaneously around the kitchen to… well, anything!).

My own personal musical taste is founded on (a) personality (if I’m not interested in the person making the music, it can never appeal to me fully) and (b) purpose (if I can feel that the benefit from my listening flows both ways - i.e. it’s significant not only to me, but to the artist - then so much the better). I never like to feel like some kind of sales statistic, or that I’m just a pixel in a crowd. ‘Safety in numbers’ isn’t very appealing. Being a recognisable human being in the front row and making eye contact with the music-maker is more like it. In general, in life, I’m not looking for the feeling of belonging - I’m looking for the feeling of existing. When a musician makes you feel like you exist outside your own head, because they have seen you and made music for YOU to hear… that’s gold. For some, that feeling is easily found, for others, less so. Wherever you find it, though (whether in Britney or something less ubiquitous), it’s magnificent. :-)
Dec. 28th, 2015 08:13 pm (UTC)
Your comments about your personal musical taste are as spot-on as any I've read. You and I vary slightly in that I like the sense of belonging in a small concert crowd. Richard Thompson comes to mind. He doesn't draw big crowds, and everyone there realizes he's the best songwriter and guitarist nobody's ever heard of. I went to a Toots and the Maytals show and experienced the same temporary camaraderie. I've seen Thompson in small venues, though, and Toots was in a small concert hall (just a few hundred capacity). I can't recall having the same feelings in larger places—arenas in particular.
Dec. 29th, 2015 05:56 pm (UTC)
You and I vary slightly in that I like the sense of belonging in a small concert crowd.

Well, in fact, I like that too, when it occasionally happens. :-) Best examples for me were probably Julian Cope and the most recent Magma. It's strange, sometimes that really works, and sometimes it just doesn't - even if you might be expecting it to.
Dec. 29th, 2015 08:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah, sometimes you just wind up surrounded by drunks.
Dec. 29th, 2015 12:35 am (UTC)
Great post, pjv, really enjoyed it. Funny about Coldplay...I'm really not familiar with them or their music, but I commented a few weeks back when they performed a song on The Voice, how the lead singer, Chris Martin, was dancing around with reckless abandon while he sang and it made me smile a really big smile. I thought to myself, I hope he doesn't give a flying fuck what critics say about his music, because damn, he's having fun right now and that should be ok. And it should be enough.

Whenever I hear the opening strains with thunder and rain of "Riders on the Storm" I am immediately transported back to my childhood home; I'm sitting on the bed listening to a radio station that played songs in some pre-formatted rotation thinking about Kiddo all those miles away at SUC Geneseo, and missing him.
Dec. 29th, 2015 03:53 am (UTC)
Some songs, like "Riders on the Storm," instantly take us back to times/places/people—for good or for bad (sometimes). Other songs, as you point out, are just plain fun; for instance, I don't need or want to get any connections to anything when I crank up James Brown.
Dec. 29th, 2015 01:20 pm (UTC)
Music is a lot like life...when you put your fingers on the strings of both...play what you feel-Holiday
Dec. 29th, 2015 01:46 pm (UTC)
Play on, Holiday.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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