Radiohead: How Do You Afford Your Post-Rock Lifestyle?

In a particularly stifling scene from Radiohead’s 1998 tour documentary Meeting People Is Easy, director Grant Gee uses Thom Yorke’s numerous false starts while filming a drowning scene as a metaphor for his band’s sense of suffocation about itself existing in the vacuum of Rock Stardom. The clip for “No Surprises” features a close-up of Yorke’s pinched and pale visage inside a diving helmet as it slowly fills up with water. Now, apparently Yorke has Navy SEAL-ian breath-holding ability, having eventually held his breath for 55 seconds as the sequence was filmed. But through Gee’s camera, we watch as Radiohead’s principle headcase repeatedly reaches the brink of suffocation as the sequence is shot and re-shot, Yorke yanking the safety release valve each time he can no longer take it.

Radiohead haven’t exactly reached for that safety chain yet, but their behavior since the release of Kid A is starting to look like a cop-out on the scale of a Christo art installation.

Rock Stardom in 2001 is like some bizarro S.P.E.C.T.R.E. experiment gone horribly right. Through manipulation of globalized media, gossip, rumor, and the artist’s own personality/ability (depending on the, er, “talent” of said Rock Star), pop culture domination is achieved by shady characters in mahogany boardrooms (picture Donald Pleasance stroking a cat). Oh, and the Rockstar gets real paid. Through the efforts of operatives with evil moustaches – or Carson Daly – the world’s creativity is siphoned off into holding tanks and replaced with an international pop-culture poultice made out of Jessica Simpson, Aaron Carter, Jon Tesh, and Michael Flatley. Compared to Sumner Redstone, Dr Evil is a little bitch.

And the poor lads in Radiohead are stuck in the middle of this corporate game, like life-size chess pieces with pasty English skin. After the international acclaim garnered by 1997’s OK Computer, the band’s post-rock melodic experiments could no longer be wasted upon the ears of haughty record store clerks and people who wear shiny fabric. Radiohead’s success – like it or not – had made them a commodity. Sure, a skinny, strange commodity with odd traits and strong followings in far-flung locales. But a commodity nonetheless. To the ENCOM-like Capitol Records, Radiohead had become bauxite.

Even though you gnash your teeth each time Fred Durst appears on television, treading water in the Grotto with 14 Playmates fanning him with palm fronds, you forgive the son of a bitch because he’s a Rock Star and it’s part of the game. Hef’s Grotto is a destination of Rock Stars; it’s a rite of passage that occurs when The Man’s dealings have achieved the desired effect (i.e. worldwide cultural acceptance). Now here’s the bombshell: Radiohead has never visited the Grotto. They’ve never thrown TVs from windows. In fact, in Meeting People Is Easy‘s 90 minutes, Our Pals spend most of their time looking forlorn and fretting about how lonely they are (meanwhile outside the hotel, yowling pre-teen Japanese girls pile up like chickens in a factory farm). Is this the life of a Post-Modern Rock Star?

Oh no. that was just the beginning. Only after the buzz for Kid A began did it begin to seem like the band had become too post-modern for its own forlorn good. Absurdly confusing websites written in bizarre languages. Scanty tour information. And shifty rumors that Kid A was – uh oh – a “concept album.” Indeed, the album’s icy, angular tunes distill Radiohead’s essence down to its most base form; they demand a patient ear. It would seem that Yorke and his fellow fame-sufferers had hit the panic button in the wake of OK Computer, pulling the safety valve to release the water in their diving helmets. Kid A’s minimalism would return them safely to the folds of psuedo-intellectual music listeners everywhere…

A self satisfied Thom Yorke to Capitol Records’ evil henchman Sark: “Do you expect me to rock?”

“No, Mr Yorke! We expect you to be popular!” (Maniacal laughter ensues…)

Capitol’s Master Control Program of a marketing blitz that propelled Kid A to a Grammy nomination was pure evil genius. Here was a dark, unhappy collection of songs that would devour Billy Gilman’s brains in one sitting, and yet the record debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The critical acclaim (Entertainment Weekly: “A+!”) was deafening. Kid A was so popular, Brian Eno was seen sitting in the Grotto next to Fred Durst. You could almost hear Thom Yorke screaming in intellectual pain. All of his efforts to disassociate himself from the pain of Rock Stardom, all of his band’s strides to create music that emulated the harsh glare of florescent pod lights, and what does he get? An F’ing Grammy nomination! Bollocks!

I have not yet heard Amnesiac. But given that the songs were recorded during the Kid A sessions, I’m pretty sure it’s not an uplifting collection of ska-inflected soul grooves. But enough about the music. The point here is not to accuse Radiohead of being musicians with a brain. On the contrary, their artistry challenges a listener willing enough to accept it. What they need to realize though is that being post-modern, or post-rock, or just plain avant-garde (and doing it for real, not as part of the act) in today’s global pop culture economy is pretty much impossible. Their commodity status was proved after Capitol successfully marketed their dropout attempt of last year. It will be interesting to watch Yorke and his mates’ reaction to the marketing blitz behind Amnesiac.

Is it post-modern for a Post-Rock Star to receive an on-camera massage by three Playmates? If I was Thom Yorke, I’d look into that.

JTL

OASIS AND THE BLACK CROWES? TOGETHER?

On Saturday night, in row L-VV, two very different worlds collided. From the feathered top of his luxurious mullet to the silver tips of his black leather boots, the sullen, shifty-eyed roughneck in seat 75 had nothing in common with his fellow concert-goer in the next chair. In seat 76 sat a Graham Coxon lookalike nattily attired in Ben Sherman threads and a purple anorak. As he withdrew a fancy cigarette case from the folds of his corduroys, the fact that his body weight represented roughly the right leg of the hockey-hair’d yeti sitting next to him didn’t seem to fluster the brit-pop dandy. Just as nonchalantly, the resident of 75 lifted the hem of his long-sleeved Dio shirt (from the Majica Tour 2000. Who knew?), drawing from his acid-washed pocket a crumpled pack of smokes. And with a flick of his Zippo, he lit up a slightly bent Winston. Just then, bizarro Jarvis Cocker was in a funk. His Dunhill stuck unlit from the corner of his mouth. As he felt his pockets, a gruff voice next to him breathed hot cheese-fry breath in his ear.

“Hey man, you need a light?”

Such was the scene Saturday night as Oasis and the Black Crowes rolled into Detroit’s DTE Energy Music Theatre for a night of the rock. The “Tour of Brotherly Love” had been predicated upon the infamous petulance of each band’s sibling nucleus – the close-fitted Liam and Noel Gallagher uniting in denim with the bell-bottoms of Chris and young Rich Robinson. As their respective sets proved, both bands and all four brothers came to rock, not pout. But what was perhaps not predicted beforehand were the hundreds of unlikely meetings in the pavilion and out on the hill. Legions of hi-fiving Camaro rockers sharing close quarters with fancyboys in pegged jeans and caeser-cuts.

The bland glitter rock of Spacehog opened the show. These morons in oversized 70s aviators don’t wear their influences on their sleeve – they stole their influences’ shirt. When vocalist Royston Langdon’s tiresome yowl was mercifully silenced, it was not clear whether the band’s Bowie’d out histrionics had done anything other than remind people that Spacehog’s shining moment – their 1996 single “In The Meantime” – still sucks. But soon enough, the simple black Oasis banner dropped, and a hokey, country-fried “Strawberry Fields” instrumental led the lads onstage. The intro was an interesting choice. The brothers Gallagher didn’t make it clear whether they were pulling one over on their Midwestern crowd, adding in a banjo over the rhythms of their beloved Beatles. Were they trying to get hip to the Crowes’ southern harmony? Who knows. At any rate, no banjos, free-jams or gospel preaching were present in Oasis’ muscular set of rockers. Choosing to focus on their more aggressive material (“What’s The Story (Morning Glory)”; “Acquiesce”) was a good plan. Many mullets shook to the sounds of Noel’s clean Les Paul solos. And Liam was up to his old tricks, at once taunting and energizing the crowd with his snidely stoic stage persona. But for a few “cheers” here and there, the brothers were silent. However, in prawpa roight fooking roughkskstah fashion, Noel did find time to dedicate one of his own songs to himself. For the Man U set with Union Jacks unfurled, the band’s set was a real gem. Besides opener “Go Let It Out” and the atmospheric “Gas Panic!,” the entire hour was taken up by older material. In perhaps another nod to their touring partners, the end of Oasis’ signature “Cigarettes & Alcohol” morphed into Jimmy Page’s towering riff from “Whole Lotta Love.” 40,000 britpoppers and AC/DC rockers pumped their fists in unison.

Despite their continued international dominance, Oasis has seen a steady decline in US album sales since their “Wonderwall” salad days. While 1997’s Be Here Now was critically panned everywhere, last year’s Standing on the Shoulder of Giants was a much stronger album, and helped the boys reclaim some domestic street cred. However, they seem to have settled with their established US audience of brit-rock freaks and the occasional shmoopy couple whose special song is “Wonderwall.” The Black Crowes have followed a similar path. After the heady success of 1990’s Shake Your Money Maker, the Crowes moved away from the muddy Rolling Stones vibe that made that album great, eventually drifting into a Southern-style jam band complete with organ and gospel backup singers. Like Oasis, their LPs have seen steady sales within their fan base, but with a twist. Since Chris Robinson, et al are really the only band out there consistently blending weed, distortion, and classic-rock jamming into a marketable stew, they attract a cross-section of the American population that likes its Coors Light cold and back of its neck warm. So the Tour of Brotherly Love isn’t that bad of an idea after all, from a demographic standpoint, even if it makes the crowd mix a little funny. Case in point. A middle-aged couple in flannels and Zubaz were overheard as they waited for beer. She had never even heard of Oasis, and theorized that Liam Gallagher was gay because he played the tambourine (?). Her husband shuffled his feet, shrugged and said “I liked the beat. They rocked.”

And back in row L-VV, the blue smoke from Winstons and Dunhills mixed in the air as the Marshall Stacks blared. Perhaps no new friends were made, but at least everyone had Rock and Roll in common. And that ain’t Hard to Handle at all.

JTL

Songs for Big Dame Hunters

Since I’ve already gotten into a knockdown dragout discussion of the essential integrity of vinyl records with Phil Wise and Jake Brown of the crew, I know this little posting culled from the linkmastas at k10k.net will be of interest to at least two of our frequent readers. One of the points made while the boys had me on the floor in a sleeper hold was that LPs are worth collecting just for the cover art. If that’s the case, then Show and Tell Music (www.showandtellmusic.com) has made having a large and weird record collection that much easier. All you have to do is link to it! Will of Show and Tell has a gallery of all the wildest covers in his record collection arranged by general subject area, and even the most cursory browse through some of the covers will reveal some forgotten gems of the thrift store bins. Will also includes commentary about each album on display, including whether or not the album between the sleeve is any good, which is not always the most important consideration when you’re talking about Evel Knievel’s spoken word album, or Laussmann’s Lousy Loggers Band, or The Plastic Cow Goes Moooooog. If you don’t have time to browse endless thumbnails (a little too tiny for my taste), take one of the theme tours — some of the covers in the Girls section could easily replace Herp Alpert in my Desert Island Discs.

Glorious Noise Reader Feedback

Recent visitors to Glorious Noise might have noticed that if they click on the “Discuss” link at the bottom of a post, they’ve been getting nowhere for the past couple of weeks. I apologize for that. The interactivity is what makes this fun and interesting.

I implemented a new, temporary commenting system tonight. The only reason I bring this up instead of leaving it behind the scenes where this sort of technical update belongs is that the new system has pop up ads. As dreadful as they are, we’re going to have to put up with them until our old commenting system comes back to life or our gracious webhost installs a particular scripting application. The pop ups are the annoying cost of an otherwise free webhost that allows PHP scripting. Believe me, they bug me as much as anybody so I will get rid of them as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, the old comments are not available under this new system, but I will attempt to restore them as soon as the old system is resurrected enough to do so. Thanks for your patience.

BRING THAT BEAT BACK: AT THE DETROIT ELECTRONIC MUSIC FESTIVAL 2001

The sign outside the festival makes it seem so simple: DETROIT TECHNO.

Inside the first tent, an ecstatic club kid flails about as a wall-projected corporate logo swirls behind him and the DJ’s vibe emanates from the hatchbacks of two loc’d out economy cars. As the beats crescendo, smoke fills the tent, making it difficult for the users at the Be Your Own DJ kiosk to see the miniature turntables on their monitors. Evidently the spinning corporate oval feels the music, too. It begins to morph between its corporate identity and that of an amorpous color wheel which splays reds, browns, and jarring yellows across the skinny frame of the raver busting his nouveau running man before it. Welcome to the 2001 Detroit Electronic Music Festival, sponsored by Ford. Counterculture meets corporate culture in the streets of the Motor City, and the beats echo through empty buildings.

The sins of Detroit have entered the vernacular. The automotive corporations still call the city home. But the decrepit outnumber the vital buildings in an aging downtown that can only whistle with the ghosts of its boomtown past. There is life here. The city burns with a sense of urban cool that seems borne from its hardscrabble existence. Unfortunately, sometimes it just plain burns. Despite a recent downtown resurgence of sports teams and theatre districts, despite the city’s proud subculture of punks, pimpdaddys and DJs, it’s D-Town’s cliched and sad downfall that remains its calling card. As if apologizing for the city’s woe, the sad, deserted visage of the 88-year-old Michigan Central Train Depot greets highway visitors with empty windows and 18 deserted stories of Indiana limestone.

Detroit Techno has always been about imbuing soulless beats with the sunny grooves of Motown’s stable of artists. The electronic music internationally known as the Detroit Techno sound does its best to combine the Motor City’s industrial heart with the soul of its ever-enterprising culture. Motown was a part of this, as was Detroit rock pioneers like the MC5, Iggy Pop, and even Bob Seger. DJs like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Carl Craig are superheroes within the community, having established and developed the music while fiercely protecting its hometown affiliation. The Detroit Electronic Music Festival is derived directly from Detroit Techno’s pride – both for itself and the city it thrives in.

Held over three days Memorial Day weekend in an outdoor plaza shadowed by skyscrapers, DEMF 2001 was a free event showcasing not only local DJ talent, but also an international array of electronic musicians, either influenced by or paying tribute to Detroit Techno. Three stages featured a non-stop onslaught of beats, scratches and grooves, with instant dancefloors happening all over as the rain poured down. Over a million people, mostly kids with something to prove, made the trip downtown to hear the music. Over a million people added a bottom end to the soundwaves reverberating through normally empty downtown streets.

This year’s festival featured a major corporate partner in the Ford Motor Company, on board to promote the Focus, a flashy little thing aimed at the very demographic that was shaking its pants off to DJs on three stages. Ford’s presence was not as overt as it could have been. Backing up the Focus TV campaign, futuristic signage hung about proclaimed ‘DETROIT TECHNO’ over a shot of the car in action. The aforementioned ‘Focus Tent’ featured plenty of smoke, beats, and (surprise!) a few Focus floor models for the Great Unwashed to check out. But for the most part, Ford’s sponsorship, even its siphoning of the DETROIT TECHNO tagline, seemed to be more about supporting a good thing than milking it for sales.

There was a sublime moment in the evening of the second day. As frenetic breakbeats cascaded out from the Motor Lounge stage, the club kid proletariat grooved beneath a giant, windswept American flag. Behind the stars and stripes was the sheer limestone wall of the (soon to be demolished) Ford Amphitheater, upon which a flickering hologram projected itself, larger than life. The spiraling image shifted from the blue Ford oval to a rainbow color strobe to a drivetrain schematic to a Blade Runner-esque florescent cityscape image and back to the spinning blue corporate logo. It was as if Ford could feel itself mixing with the kids dancing below, shape-shifting between its 9-5 identity and the freewheeling rainbow of color that signified the DEMF’s never-ending groove. Finally, just beyond the amphitheater, the neck of a great steel crane jutted out, silhouetted against the night sky. As the beats and sounds of two stages met and mixed in the airstream, all of the faces of Detroit co-mingled in a single image of pure potential.

And the people danced.

JTL

The Song Remains the Same

Is a band’s most popular song ever its best?

For some people, the question really is no question, as they suggest with more than a little heat that the answer is obvious: Yes. A friend is unwavering in his insistence that Led Zepplin’s best song from all aspects is “Stairway to Heaven,” which is undoubtedly its most popular. Even though that prom-schmaltz is derided and other examples of better Zepplin tunes are provided (e.g., a song that has much the same structure as “Stairway”: “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”), he stands unmoved. Indeed, he digs in his heels.

While many of us come down on the negative side of the question—perhaps exhibiting a crypto-elitism that may be unbecoming—and could spend plenty of time citing better B-sides (now proverbial B-sides, as 45s are only in the bins of used record shops and so that notion is essentially behind us), perhaps the answer really is yes, but not for the reason that my Zep-loving friend thinks.

It might seem as though the most popular song would be the one that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Consequently, there is a bigger group on the top side to be appealed to. Because of the breadth of the possible appeal, we quickly assess that it must, perforce, be bland. However, as I am writing this, I am on an NWA airplane on which the video entertainment includes a documentary titled “Elvis Remembered.” Presley, certainly, appeals to a diverse group of people, social classes, levels of education, wealth, and even age notwithstanding. There are those who write for GloNo who think he is certainly the King. There are those for whom “Soap Opera Digest” is War and Peace who share the same belief.

The ability to cut across such a wide space is undoubtedly an indicator of an unusual degree of talent. Consider, for the sake of argument, that there was a performer named “Melvis.” Further, that his career had the identical time span of Elvis’s. Let’s assume that from the points of view of both talent and proficiency, Melvis was a better musician than Elvis. But Melvis was appreciated only by the cultural cognoscenti. They applauded his recorded and live performances in journals that have an annual circulation measured in three digits. Not only did Melvis not appear on “Sullivan,” because of the timing of his career, there weren’t even cable-access channels.

Who, then, is better: Elvis or Melvis? Elvis is (was) undoubtedly more popular. Even if Melvis actually existed, he would barely exist in the public consciousness and would therefore be essentially irrelevant.

Although it might seem easier to appeal to the masses than it is to collect the laurels from the learned few, the opposite is more likely the case. A subset of individuals (i.e., the few) is related by a common idea, notion, worldview, what have you. It is merely a matter of identifying what that something is, then fashioning a congruent object. It’s like Cinderella’s glass slipper: there are plenty of women with feet, but the Prince was only interested in one pair. Fitting narrow limits can be easier than dealing with wide boundaries.

Consider the inherent difficulty of creating not merely something that’s one-size-fits-all (which tends to be a situation wherein there is an inverse relation between breadth and suitability to any given individual) but something with mass and individual appeal. That is undoubtedly a sign that whatever it is that can do that must be able to rise above other objects in the same class: Elvis, unquestionably, trumps Melvis.

And “Stairway to Heaven” really must be Zepplin’s best song.

But I still don’t like it.

So what do you do when your best friend is Jeff Tweedy?

So what do you do when your best friend is Jeff Tweedy?

Okay, so I’m lying; he’s not really Jeff Tweedy. But he’s written and recorded a song as good as anything I’ve heard from Tweedy (including my faves, “Acuff-Rose,” “Passenger Side,” and “Via Chicago”).

“So what?” you say. Well, here’s a bit of background—on my relationship with Tweedy and my relationship with my buddy.

Tweedy is my favorite songwriter of the moment, in fact, I’ll admit that his band, Wilco, is about the only band I have given a shit about for the last few years. I’m a big music nut—hence my involvement with this here Web site—but many days I feel like music did in fact die in the mid-70s. If you told me from now on there would be no more new music made, I couldn’t care less. Yeah, that’s right; there are enough Bob Dylan albums that I haven’t listened to, and Joni Mitchell albums that I own that I’ve never so much as dropped a needle on, that I’d be fine living out my years listening to all the great stuff I’ve yet to discover. (Shit, even if you took away all the rock music ever made, I could live happily listening to my dad’s jazz collection, forever.) So, point being, Tweedy and Wilco are pretty damn important to me. In an era of mediocre music and my own post-collegiate corporate-motivated angst, they’ve been burning the torch for credible rocks-off music for me for years.

Why Tweedy? Because he can write songs and lyrics with catchy hooks and deep words. Lyrics that are fun to sing along with. Lyrics that sound good to the ear. Lyrics that make you think. Lyrics that tug at your heartstrings. Lyrics that make me feel like I’m not the only miserable motherfucker on the planet who’s had to go through the self-torment of being me. Sure, that’s pretentious and self-absorbed and probably boring to anyone who’s not me—unless you’ve also been moved by Tweedy and Co. and you know what I’m saying.

Now about my friend. He’s been in some bands and they’ve all been cool. Garage stuff, mostly. Catchy tunes about nothing at all, girls and booze and fun. Live music, music to see with that proverbial head full of beer. We’re into that. But that’s not the sort of music you listen to late on a Sunday night by yourself when you’ve polished off a whole bottle of red wine and you’re feeling sorry because you were stupid enough to dump your girlfriend. That’s when Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen and Gram Parsons and John Fogerty find their way onto your turntable. But once you’ve broken up with enough chicks, drank enough wine to sail a yacht, and cried enough tears to drown a hound dog, you get to looking for new sounds to soothe the savage beast. Hence the aforementioned love of Tweedy and Wilco and Uncle Tupelo.

But there’s a more positive side to Tweedy than the rest of that group of songwriters, a side that brings people together, that forms bonds, like between me and my friend. Tweedy is not the existential loner that Neil is. He’s not a populist preacher like The Boss. He’s not as fucking crazy as Parsons, and he’s not as, I donno, classic rock (?) as Fogerty. Tweedy is more like sitting-round-the-oak-tree-sucking-down-a-bottle-of-something-with-your-pals-writing-songs-and-singing-off-key. That’s the spirit of the music that attracted us, more than the personal shit. But the misery loves company line is fitting; my buddy and I have realized that maybe, if you put aside all that macho shit and share in the life experience together, maybe things ain’t really so bad. Wilco’s music hits that point spot-on better than any other band, ever. “Colloquial” is the word that sticks in my mind. Plus they are amazing live—transcending the intellectual level of the lyrics: The rhythms of the music and the wild essence of the jam say the same things to the body that Tweedy’s words say to the mind.

So given the adoration that we have for Tweedy, it was only a matter of time before my friend’s garage rock bands gave way to a larger project, a bigger band, more of a musical challenge. I remember my friend telling me one day when we were goofing on some lyrics around a campfire—he was strumming his guitar—that he couldn’t play good enough to be in a bluesy country-rockabilly band. This was before anyone had told us that the genre of music we were loving was called alt-country and we didn’t really know anyone else who liked Sun-sessions Elvis, CSNY, and Uncle Tupelo—and liked them all for the same reason.

Now it’s a few years later and I guess he’s been practicing, because he’s got his alt-country band and they sound as good as anyone doing this type of music. They’ve got great songs and tight production on their demo EP and the lyrics are cool and slick and emotional and everything is right. But after a listen or two, I was looking for the soul. It was hard to find. I kept hearing someone else’s songs. I kept hearing the influences, “worn on the shirtsleeves” but I couldn’t hear who they were, this new band. They were a lot of things: Wilco, Parsons, Dylan, etc.; even a bit of Kurt Cobain.

Then I realized it was me. We’ve been talking about this sort of a band for years now—how cool it would be for my buddy to play in a band that did the things that Wilco, et al, do. How great this genre and style of music is, how much opportunity there is in the songwriting to say things, meaningful things. I’d even written the lyrics to a couple of songs, trying to draw a blueprint for this new endeavor. Then it just happened, all of a sudden, he has the band and they’re everything that we’d always thought a band like this could be. But I can’t hear the music because I realize that all I’d ever really been wishing for was that my best friend would be Jeff Tweedy.

But he’s not. He’s just the same guy he’s always been.

And when I realized this, I also realized something else. I listened to the EP again and really listened for my buddy’s voice, for his thoughts, for his elegant guitar playing. And I heard him this time, not Tweedy, not Neil, not any of the other guys who’ve worked their magic through his fingers and his interpretation. They were gone, but my friend was there now and I realized the greatness of his work. It was no longer imitative, it was him. And he was talking to me in his voice, telling me things that I’d never heard before, telling me things that weren’t takes on Tweedy, but his takes on his life, and my life too. There and then, he became a great singer, a great guitar player, and a great songwriter.

And goddamn it, he’s a great friend too. And I hope he realizes just how important his music is to me.

Happy Birthday Dude

It’s Bob Dylan’s 60th birthday.

Jolie told me a story about how when she was a little girl she heard a song on the radio. The singer’s voice appalled her. She couldn’t believe how grating this man’s voice was. She asked her mom why music like this was allowed on the radio.

“It’s political,” her mother said, and left it at that. That was enough. It all made sense.

I love Dylan’s voice. And I love his songwriting. And I love the fact that he introduced the Beatles to grass. And I love that he plugged in and went “rock and roll” when all the folkies thought of that as the ultimate sell-out. He may be a creepy old guy who looks like Vincent Price now, but he’s still got more of the rock and roll spirit and soul than anyone else out there today. Especially those of his generation…

MH-18 MAKES ME WANNA SMOKE CRACK

I always thought that Maxim was written at a 12th grade level. Now that I’ve read MH-18, the new magazine aimed at America’s male teenagers from the makers of Men’s Health, it turns out I was right.

Ask my man Phil Wise about Maxim Magazine and he’ll most likely wince in pain. Back in the day, he’d subscribed to the mag, and found it to be to be a good read…if the cable’s out, you lost your little black book, and bandits made off with your record collection. Excluding the occasional decent article, Maxim’s content pretty much puts the toilet bowl back into bathroom literature. The joke got even funnier when Dennis Publishing (Maxim’s sugardaddy) unleashed Blender, a music magazine written in the same towel-slapping tone as its brethren. And now Men’s Health has sent out MH-18 to meet the masses. Like li’l Aaron Carter following in the Backstreet footsteps of his crooning brother Nick, MH-18 has combed its hair like Maxim and started hanging out at The Peach Pit.

MH-18 is published by Rodale, Inc., the parent of Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, and other magazines with covers featuring shirtless dudes with great abs. Though it isn’t affiliated with the Dennis Group, there’s no mistaking the look and feel of a mag like Maxim, Blender, or Stuff. Where Maxim’s masthead features the calling card of SEX SPORTS BEER GADGETS CLOTHES FITNESS, MH-18 has its own, pre-kegger version: FITNESS SPORTS GIRLS GEAR LIFE. The articles are a potpourri of inspirational bios, female tips, product reviews and Men’s Health-type fitness how-tos. The snapshots of young athletes are the best. In a very Boy’s Life sort of way (“you too can be a rodeo rider! C’mon, it’s easy!!!”), surfers with names like C.J. and Hawkbit tell the average lawn-mowing high school shmoe what’s it’s like being a world-class wave rider. It’s the same fawning type of copy that reigns over at Rosie, where a profile of Hollywood newcomer Shannyn Sossamon lets every lonely girl in the world know how to get discovered lickety split.

One insight into the demographic research sunk into MH-18: no music/movie reviews. Instead, the last third of the book features reviews of video games and personal electronics gear. In the Summer 2001 issue (ft. a Judas Priest-clad Mena Suvari on its cover), the “Report Card” section features reviews of personal CD systems by two high school cross-country runners. Like the interactive nature of Disney’s Zoog TV cable outlet or similar articles in magazines aimed at teen girls, MH-18 is making an attempt at least to actively involve the voice of its target market. I guess I’d still like to see music reviews or band profiles. Maybe the guys in Blink-182, Sum-41, or SR-71 could review MH-18…

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve subscribed to Maxim, too. After all, I’m as big a fan of young starlets doffing their kits as the next dope. But just like Phil Wise, it’s the copy that kills me. It’s white noise in print. And MH-18’s attempt to latch onto the younger brothers of Maxim’s subscription base kind of kills me. Rodale’s press release for MH-18 describes what its editor believes about his new ad vehicle: …[MH-18 will] “help teen males break through the clutter of information to find out what they really want to know about being fit, looking great, and staying on top of their lives at home and school.” And hey man, that’s great. I know that I was like a little lost sheep without MH-18 to guide me through puberty. But later on in the same PR, MH-18’s ad director weighed in with his thoughts (perhaps while lighting a cigar made of C-notes). “Teenage spending power was more than $150 billion last year, and is expected to grow by almost 10 percent a year well into the decade,” stat[ed] Steve Bruman, Advertising Director for MH-18. “MH-18 magazine and Web site offer a new conversation for marketers to reach this young, dynamic segment.”

MH-18: We’re here to make sure that you’re just as dumb as your older brother.

JTL

Rock and roll can change your life.