Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
The whole concept of a guilty pleasure has always eluded me. Once, an ex-boyfriend found my shame stash of CDs, the stuff I realized I wasn’t supposed to like but did anyway. (Ani DiFranco, Swervedriver, and lots of bad Janet Jackson). He mocked me. We broke up. And I resolved to never again apologize for the fact that I love the shit out of that song “Cold Beverage,” by G Love.
I was thinking about this the other night after having fought my way to a tiny little space against the wall at Bowery Ballroom during the Frank Turner show. This guy has some rabid fans, which is fascinating because he’s relatively new on the American music scene. Turner has been busy over the last decade in his native England, playing in bands and touring. But it’s his solo work – cheery, witty pub rock – that is now beginning to connect to an American audience. Well in advance of the forthcoming release of his first major label album, Tape Deck Heart, the Bowery show proved Turner’s already converted a bunch of dudes who look like they know their way around the engine of a muscle car into a chorus-screaming sweaty mass. So that was fun to see.
But the moment that really struck me was a bit into the set when Turner asked the crowd’s permission to play new songs. They cheered politely. “We’re going to play the hits too!” he reassured. “We’re going to do ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ and all that.” There was a scattering of boos. “Who booed that!?” he shouted. “That’s a great song!” Later, I asked him about this moment. “Well, to each to their own,” he said, decorously. But he agreed that the whole concept of feeling guilty about a song that brings you pleasure is silly. “The older I get the less I care about the context of a song — if it’s a good tune, it’s a good tune. I’ve covered everything from Queen to ABBA to Take That in my time, and never ironically – could anything be worse than an ironic cover?! A good song is a good song, and that’s that,” he insisted. Then added: “Maybe I should work on a Bon Jovi cover.”
What you listen to, like what you wear, has always been part of how you assert your identity. It used to be that if you had a Kate Bush single in your collection, that said something about you. If you wore a Smiths t-shirt, that gave people a sense of what you were expecting out of life (misery, heartbreak, great hair). The proliferation of the Internet has changed all of that. Now everyone has access to everything all the time, but instead of breaking down the barriers, sometimes it seems only to have strengthened them. People seem to feel that it’s more important than ever to hyper-curate their tastes in order to distinguish themselves from everyone else out there with an iTunes account. And that’s too bad. We should celebrate the fact that fans of smartypants British guitar pop can now have easy access to and equal affection for trashy Jersey shore anthems.
Dave Grohl, of all people, brought up this same point in his keynote address at South By Southwest last week, when he confessed, “I can truthfully say out loud that ‘Gangnam Style’ is one of my favorite songs of the past decade.” He pointed out that the onslaught of musical information has made us too intent on giving everything a grade. “Imagine Bob Dylan standing there singing ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ in front of Christina Aguilera,” he said. We all shuddered. To slightly misquote Jason Lee in Almost Famous (a criminally maligned rock movie): didn’t we all get into rock and roll to avoid having to feel guilty about anything ever again?