The wise and once-young New Yorker writer James Thurber once wrote, “Even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would dim a little as the days ran on.”
I squandered a few years of my youth as a rock critic, a job most young reporters believe they want, but when you finally get it, you’re like the dog catching the car.
Three or four nights a week driving into LA to see shows by everyone, whether I liked the performers or not. You don’t just get to see bands you already like. Hundreds of them: Gino Vannelli, Dolly Parton, Supertramp, Dire Straits, Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates, Linda Ronstadt, Jethro Tull, Yes, Queen, the Stones, Dylan, REM, Neil Young, and scores of lesser-name bands in small clubs — way more than I can name or even remember.
Then, after the show, I hauled back to the plant to write a review for the morning paper. They’d hold the press run until I was finished, maybe 1 a.m., with editors standing around tapping their feet, while I pulled out all the reviewer tropes: “If Frank Zappa and the Kweskin Jug Band had a love child…”
Eventually, having broken all the windows in the RCA Building, I burned out into a little pile of smoldering ashes and took on a different assignment and it was a long time before I attended another arena concert. I retreated into a space where I’d only see shows at Fingerprints or in somebody’s living room.
And my listening became a lot less critical as I retreated to a binary method of judging bands and records: I like it, or I don’t like it. I’m not going to explain why.
Today, for my daily assignment of things to do as assigned by members of the Post/Long Beach Business Journal staff, senior business writer and musician Brandon Richardson had me listen to three albums of his choice: “Melting Sun,” by Lantlôs, “Simple Math,” by Manchester Orchestra, and “White Bat,” by He Is Legend.
So here I am back in the hell of writing about music.
OK, “Melting Sun,” I didn’t like, according to my notes on the first listen. I even wrote, “I don’t know why or when I would listen to this.”
But subsequent playings grew on me and now I’d say it’s a fine record to spin whether you’re sitting in a chair paying attention to the restrained post-black-metal of Lantlôs, or running around the house doing chores while the sounds waft through the house. I did both. It’s dense music with mega-layered sequencers and electronics, but dominated by punishing guitar work crashing over dreamy, Pink Floydish vocals. I’ll give it a 7 out of 10.
Manchester Orchestra is a thoroughly enjoyable band that I liked immediately and put on my Spotify list. The band is from Georgia, not my favorite state these days, but in terms of rock geography, it’s near the top, being home to REM, Vic Chesnutt, the Allman Brothers and Drive-By Truckers. With immediately likable vocals and melodies and some great guitar work, the oxymoronically titled “Simple Math” goes into my Georgia-rock Hall of Fame with a 10.
Assaulting, rather than cleansing my palate was Richardson’s third pick, “White Bat,” by He Is Legend.
The eponymous song “White Bat” (God how we critics overuse the word “eponymous”) does manage a nice chorus slicing through the raucous post-punk racket, but I didn’t get any true enjoyment out of listening to the rest of the record, though I do admire the stamina of the musicians. It gets a 4, and that’s just because I’m in a good mood.
Now, to update the standings of things people have forced me to do, in order of the likelihood of me pursuing them further.
- Sitting around listening to records
- Learning Spanish
I asked Brandon why he chose those particular records. He said he was looking for variety (success!), that they were three of his current favorites, and he was curious about what another generation would think of them.
Well, there’s not necessarily a whole lot of difference in a generation (or two. Or three.) over the 60 or so years of the rock “generation.”
The main genre has sprouted scores of tentacles and, while it’s true that many listeners get stuck in the sort of music they grew up with in high school and college (I know a lot of people my age who hit their plateau with the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan and the Eagles. Some even stalled back with Led Zeppelin) some of us at least try to keep up with the newer stuff. And these days Spotify can give people of the age at which it’s highly recommended they stay home during the COVID days a boost through such features as Discover Weekly and Release Radar and any number of curated playlists.
Anyhow, thanks for the fun. And two out of three isn’t bad. Nobody bats .666.
Support our journalism.
Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.