Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pocketful of Rainbows And A Jukebox Full of Hits

I already spoke of my fondness for Ratatouille and it may seem curious that I am referring to this movie again when today's topic is neither cinema nor food, but music. This is dictated by this movie having stirred sentiments dear to me as a person and important to my work: 'In many ways the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgement. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But, the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things... the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so'. A lot can be said on the critic's position within intellectual debate, but that is for another day's reflections because today I am thinking about nothing particularly intellectual in the academic sense of the term.

I am of the unwavering opinion that we do not choose what music we like to listen to, it choose us. I can state that I like pop or rock for example, but can I say that I like it all? It is impossible to do so, because of the different, multi-faceted permutations one can find within both pop and rock. It would be like stating 'I like all non-fiction'. Yet I do not like biography, autobiography, self-help, cooking, fashion, architecture, religious, inspirational, sports, physics, popular psychology in equal measure. That just ain't going to happen. But while writing can spur us to pick a title and many more titles in the so-called same vein, music is more immediate and can make a dash at us when we least expect it, as we idly wait in a room or exercise at the gym. One can like rock and not care very much about Led Zeppelin or U2 or Elvis or REM or indeed Bon Jovi. And here's the snag my friend: some will shudder at mentioning Bon Jovi under the same breath as Led Zeppelin or U2 or Elvis or REM. Yet, they have been more prolific and longer-lasting than Elvis for sure, to mention one, so, what exactly makes them the rockers that critics love to hate?

There is a lot I could go into, as my fingers hover uncertain above the keyboard, wondering whether I too, like their worst detractors, should go down the route of poodle perms, tight leather pants or armfuls of jingle-jangle bangles. I have been unable to locate an article over the past twenty years about Bon Jovi that does not refer to any, or indeed all, of the above. So much for originality; I wonder how these writers/critics get jobs? Maybe that's how you need to write in order to work for certain publications. It seems everyone hired by Empire magazine needs to display easily pleased carbuncular youth humour infested by cliches and laced up by the frolicking of idiocy. Not my idea of critic, for sure. But we digress.

I am happy to proceed further down the line of blasphemy and identify Bon Jovi's body of work au par with Johnny Cash's. Consider this for example:

I bet there's rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
they're probably drinkin' coffee and smoking big cigars.
Well I know I had it coming, I know I can't be free
but those people keep a movin'
and that's what tortures me...

And now this:

You can't help but prosper where the streets are paved with gold
They say the oil wells ran deeper here than anybody knows
I packed up on my wife and kid and left them back at home [...]
Down in dry county they're swimming in the sand
Praying for some holy water to wash the sins from off our hand
Here in dry county the promise has run dry
Where nobody cries and no one's getting out of here alive.

Cash got stick a -plenty with his prison stunts; he was seen as glorifying the life of what were essentially low-lives stuck in prison for a reason, and the reason was not a prosaic and romanticised one of human error or miscalculation, it was not an issue of victim against all odds or of a potential miscarriage of justice. He humanised delinquents and went out to entertain them at a time when his own life was in dire need of a lift out of the black hole carried by the wings of a miracle. Still, Cash was a deeply Christian man, and I believe that it is fair to identify his behaviour as the one of a man that showed Christian charity and compassion. His detractors saw little else than a businessman getting back to business. Now Cash is no longer, it is perfectly acceptable to look back at his life with nostalgia, all hail to the man that spoke to the masses in their own language, getting close to everyman's heart and knowing exactly what he was going through.

I see no substantial difference between Folsom Prison Blues and Dry County, the latter too invoking redemption as we crawl through the broken glass (or as we swim in the sand indeed, something I seem to do often) scattered throughout our lifepath.

Now consider this:

As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I've known proves that it's right
Because you're mine, I walk the line

And this:

I want you like the roses want the rain
You know I need you like a poet needs the pain
I would give anything my blood my love my life
To have you in these arms tonight

Rhyming is another sore point for some; I recently read that Coldplay too are being scoffed at for their apparently gratuitous use of rhyming couplets. Yet, rhyming has an illustrious past, you'd think Spenserian, Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnets had shown its beauty enough times. While I do not want to raise hair all over anyone's body on this one, we ought to keep an open mind regarding artistic endeavours; rhyming is not just for Shakespeare or professional poets. There is no reason to dismiss, or indeed diss, musicians that make use of it on the grounds of using it. It would be like writing off all money because one finds a fake a note. Nobody does that, yet many are prepared to relegate a song to the land of the cheesy on the grounds of a handful of rhymes, as if musical composition accounted for nothing.

I am also rather suspicious of the popular/populist attacks that have been regularly thrown the Bon Jovi way (and the Johnny Cash way as well). Their greatest legacy and gift is to be able to capture the universal state of mind of millions of Tommys and Ginas. Considering that so much music is about love, life and sex, I often wonder why we do not have more best-selling, 25-years-at-the-top sort of bands. If it were so easy to epitomise and crystallise the feelings associated with life, then surely every musician should be a best-selling one. Perhaps the Populist Haters that tear Jovi apart while yakking away about poodle perms (ditched in 1988, note) could perhaps try and make up a more up-to-the-minute argument that does not involve big hair and tight pants. I, for one, would love to be enlightened about what is intrinsically low-brow about a song that celebrates the difficulty of starting out together (Livin' On A Prayer) or the one that suggests we should all carpe diem (It's My Life) or the one that looks back on life with renewed vigour and gained wisdom (Just Older).

Jovi chose me when I was around about four years old and was flicking between channels. They did not look much different from their Swedish counterparts at the time, Europe, but they sounded different, at least to my untrained ears. For all those years spent singing along, when I didn't even know what I was singing to, and for all those years where friendships, kisses, exams, disappointments, university, death and, quite simply, life were all marked by the latest Jovi hit, I can testify that the average piece of Jovi junk has been more meaningful to me than a million reviews trashing it. They gave me pocketful of rainbows and a jukebox full of hits, as Jon himself said today and, you know what? I ain't gonna scoff at that.

From today:

From Manchester June 2006:

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