MUSIC TO MY BLEEDING EARS
The Creeps Who Ruin Music
Fumbling down to the wire
Yesterday, while traipsing around YouTube, the mighty algorithm machine recommended HAIM’s “The Wire.” Since the song came out seven years ago, I hadn’t heard it or watched the video in quite some time. However, the still photo reminded me of the comedic nature of the video and that it starred that awkward-looking guy from the Lonely Island (no, the other awkward-looking, Lonely Island guy). So I decided to double-click.
Within seconds, the danger receptors in my brain started screaming. But wait? Why did I have such a negative reaction to the opening beats of a feel-good pop song? Then it hit me. The percussive beat the harmonious sisters used to open this track wasn’t exactly an original creation.
Having visited a sporting arena within the past two dozen years, I soon recognized the distinct rhythm as a sampling from the song “Rock and Roll Part 2” by Gary Glitter.
With that figured out, I normally would’ve been able to go right back to enjoying the song. The only problem was, Gary Glitter has a troublesome history — a very troublesome history.
While almost everybody know his song “Rock and Roll Part 2” (or the “Hey!” song as you may call it), but far fewer people know about the eerie musician himself. From the United Kingdom, the first few decades of Glitter’s career proceeded without a hitch. As a self-identifying glam rocker, he always came across as a bit unusual, but due to the nature of the game, people wrote it off as performance eccentricity.
However, in the late 1990s, more than 4,000 images of child pornography were discovered on his computer after the dimwitted musician took it to a random store to have it serviced. This Luddite mistake not only put Glitter on the UK’s national sex offender registry, it also opened the door for investigators to uncover Glitter’s disgraceful history which involved decades of abuse and sex crimes, much of which involved underage girls.
Music gets stained
I’m not looking to do a deep dive into Gary Glitter. And I don’t want to drag HAIM because they’re just three talented sisters trying to make it on their own. What I want to talk about is how perfectly good music is constantly being tainted by the sordid personal lives of musicians.
That “Rock and Roll Part 2” opening wasn’t only adopted by the Sisters Haim in the early 2010s; it also saw a reemergence less than a decade after its 1972 release. That’s when the Eagles used a similar sound in their 1979 hit, “Heartache Tonight,” which was written in part by Bob Seger and clapped on the recording by Glenn Fry. Needless to say, quite a few artists got their hands dirtied by this controversial beat. The only difference was the Eagles didn’t know about Gary Glitter’s foul nature until nearly two decades after releasing their song.
However, even though HAIM was probably aware of how Glitter spent decades moving around Europe and Asia in order to avoid prosecution, I can reasonably assume they didn’t write “The Wire” in bad faith. After all, how could anyone who hangs out with Vampire Weekend be bad?
The truth is, there are only so many sounds and beats available to create an effective hook for a song. Music is much more limited than people believe, especially for pop acts. Sure, the girls could haul up their John Cage or Frank Zappa trousers and get crazy experimental with their music. But that would only perplex or even alienate their fan base. Besides, that would be unnecessary since nobody is actually holding HAIM’s feet to the fire. They’re just the example I’m using to illustrate a greater point about musical triggers.
Start with the man in the mirror
Musical triggers aren’t going to bother everybody the same. Some listeners can easily separate the art from the artist. For others, creating that disconnect is not so easy. There’s no denying that Michael Jackson and R. Kelly have both made some incredible music. Unfortunately, even time I hear the recognizable openings to so many of their songs, the first thing that enters and then encompasses my mind is all the child molestation.
That may seem weird, or even counterproductive, but it’s the music industry that dropped the ball on this one. Instead of elevating Michael Jackson’s legend status and labeling him “The King of Pop,” back in the ‘90s when dozens of accusations and lawsuits were being hurled at the man, maybe that should’ve been the time to steer away from full-on idolizing living musicians.
I never plan on getting into the music business despite how enticing the film 24 Hour Party People made it seem. But if I did, and somehow became the president and CEO of all music, I’d make it a rule that an artist cannot be canonized until ten years after their death.
The world needs some time for all the skeletons to topple out of these people’s closets. We’re now at point where we know about the questionable antics of James Brown, Frank Sinatra, Steven Tyler, Morrissey, Ike Turner, John Lennon, and many others. Whether listeners still have an affinity for any of these artists is entirely up to them. But whether or not they are musical geniuses doesn’t always play into the decision. Sometimes those danger receptors ring louder than the choruses.