Thursday, April 13, 2006

I Wanna Be Mike Skinner. Man, That's Just About As Funky As You Can Be.

Adam Duritz bonds with humble fan, considers writing decent song.

Duritz attends premiere with Mary Louise Parker, beautiful actress about whom he will soon write a cringe-inducing song.

UK rapper Mike Skinner has a pint while trying to figure out how to write about fame without turning into Duritz-like creature.

A bit Slate-heavy the last couple of days, forgive me, but the site also had a review of The Streets' forthcoming third record today. (For clarity moving ahead, The Streets is basically one guy named Mike Skinner, pictured above.)

Everything I've read mentions that the album focuses on the trials and tribulations of life post-fame, and I agree with Slate's Jody Rosen that this is usually a bad sign. I'll leave aside judgment on this particular record until I've heard it. (Rosen likes it; other assessments have been more mixed. Many critics raved more about Skinner's second album, A Grand Don't Come for Free, than his first, Original Pirate Material. I felt the follow-up was a slight disappointment, if only slight -- the lyrics, key to Skinner's appeal, seemed less inspired to me on Grand, but its best songs were more mature and fully realized than the best on the debut. Long story short: I'm bracing myself for a letdown.)

But about fame: What could be more boring? I remember when Counting Crows hit it big -- a band many of you probably despise. The reason I liked (and still like) "Mr. Jones" is because the song sympathetically but critically addresses its subjects, people desperate for stardom because of a craving that stardom could never fill. The song's power, if you think it has any apart from a pretty good hook, comes from the intersection of their striving and the meaninglessness of that striving. Even if you think the message is still too obvious, the song gets its point across by plainly expressing the dream of its characters. When Adam Duritz sings, "We're gonna be big stars," you're not supposed to think, "Yes, and then they'll be happy!"

Duh, right?

The rest of the first album was full of hand-wringing, depressive but pastoral/rustic, existential love songs. Then, the follow-up album was lousy with caterwauling about dating movie stars and life as a rock star, expressed in solipsistic blather like this:
I was out on the radio starting to change
somewhere out in America
it's starting to rain
could you tell me the things you remember about me?
Yes. I remember you were a decent songwriter.

(Luckily, Duritz recovered, within reason. He's still a self-dramatizing sad sack, and you have to like that to like him, but the band's last, Hard Candy, featured some really good songs alongside some mediocre ones.)

Anyway, the most irritating thing he did around the time of the second album was change the lyrics of "Mr. Jones" to reflect his own stardom. Toward the end of the song, instead of singing "When everybody loves you, that's just about as funky as you can be," he sang "When everybody loves you, that's just about as f---ed up as you can be." Nothing like a sledge hammer to drive home a point. Poor baby.

The point of all this rambling (and there was a lot more of it than I had planned, so: sorry, sorry, sorry) is that Mike Skinner has been appealing -- way more than Duritz, obviously -- precisely because he sings about everyday activities like playing video games and making out on the couch with your girlfriend and drinking pints with a few rowdy friends. I'm eager (anxious, rather, given how much I've enjoyed his work) to see if he can pull off this next move.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Dezmond said...

Interesting stuff. Duritz is a whiny little bastard. I too liked their first record quite a bit, but after I saw them in concert on that tour, it ruined it for me. Even then, he was acting like the put upon rock star above it all. When some drunken frat boy stumbled up on the stage during a song, Duritz at first seemed to take in stride, and even let the guy sing along with him on a line or two before motioning for security to escort him off stage. That was fine, a great way to handle an annoying fan. But then he launches into, there is no other way to put it, a LECTURE about his artistic integrity and please respect that, etc. Shut up you blowhard, the dude just wanted to party and got a little too excited, and you initially handled it perfectly, but then you screw it up with your unnecessary lecture. I remember it clear as day because it was so absurd, he actually said these words: "please remember, we are the artists and you are the audience. We are trying to share our work with you, please respect that". Waaaa. Well thank you, Pope Adam IX. I feel privileged to be in your presence. I'll tell you what, a-hole, release more than one great album, and then we'll talk about how important you think you are.

The Streets kick ass, I can't wait. But you are right, the themes are troubling.

Who pulls that off well? (Stars whining about stardom?) Not many. Even a true Great like Van Morrison gets a little tiresome on his rants (but at least he always sounds good doing it). Three come to mind. Check out Pete Townshend on the subject (mostly on his solo work on this topic, not so much with the Who, but it is there as well on THE WHO BY NUMBERS with "However Much I Booze"). ALL THE BEST COWBOYS HAVE CHINESE EYES, brilliant observations of being an aging rock star and dealing with it. Not egotistical or contrived or whiny at all, just great observations from a dude who has earned the right to talk about it. Pink Floyd's WISH YOU WERE HERE is one of the few albums dealing with the soul-crushing music biz and prices of fame that is worth hearing. Also brilliant. In part because it is about former Floyd leader Syd Barrett, who was truly a rock and roll casualty (not physically, but mentally and spiritually). Finally, The Kinks as usual give us insightful and nuanced observations on LOLA VS. POWERMAN AND THE MONEYGOROUND, PT. 1. Managers, fame, fleeting pop stardom, the road, music unions...it is all there with Ray Davies brilliant observations.

The rest, like Duritz, are just whiners and wankers.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous lfw said...

let's not forget the bon jovi classic "wanted dead or alive". he's been everywhere, and he's standing tall. he's seen a million faces, and he's rocked them all. awww yeah, tell it, jon.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

That is a great line. Good call, L. "I've seen a million faces and I've rocked 'em all!" That's different, cause that is a cool line...especially in the way Jon delivers it.

3:53 PM  

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