August 28, 2013

"Blitzkrieg Bop" and the 10,000 Hour Rule

Malcolm Gladwell writes in The New Yorker in defense of his 10,000 Hour Rule of practice:
... the psychologist John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers and found that, in almost every case, those composers did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years. (The sole exceptions: Shostakovich and Paganini, who took nine years, and Erik Satie, who took eight.)

Writing great classical music is extremely hard.

Indeed, counting up years or hours of work needed for historical influence might be a reasonable way to rank art forms against each other: average years required to achieve a place in the history books. (Charles Murray's 2003 book Human Accomplishment shows that encyclopedias can be used to come up with reasonable lists of influential artists and works of art for purposes of quantitative analysis.)

One methodological tweak would be to not focus on time to an artist's greatest work but look instead for his first work to achieve some consensus level of greatness. This somewhat reduces the amount of subjective judgment required. For example, what was Beethoven's greatest work -- the 3rd Symphony? 5th? 6th? 7th? 9th? Or the late quartets? A fun question to debate, but clearly the 3rd (The Eroica), whether or not it's Beethoven's greatest, makes any kind of grade for greatness.

Moreover, years of effort required to achieve the immense breakthrough of the 3rd Symphony (which premiered when Beethoven was 34) is a more relevant statistic. If Beethoven had died right after the 3rd, that shouldn't change the answer to how long it took him to achieve a 3rd Symphony-level of greatness in classical composition.

Perhaps the greatest child prodigy composer was not Mozart but Mendelssohn, who wrote enduring works at 16 and 17 (Overture to A Midsummer's Night Dream). He had enjoyed the finest cultural education imaginable. That Mendelssohn lived long enough to top that is impressive, but not really relevant to thinking about the applicability of the 10,000 hour rule.

At the opposite end from composing classical music in terms of hours required might be composing punk rock. Consider the Ramones, who remain ridiculously influential all these decades later:
The Ramones were an American rock band that formed in the New York City neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens, in 1974. They are often cited as the first punk rock group.[1][2] Despite achieving only limited commercial success, the band was a major influence on the punk rock movement in both the United States and, perhaps to a greater extent, in the United Kingdom. ...
Their only record with enough U.S. sales to be certified gold was the compilation album Ramones Mania.[7] However, recognition of the band's importance built over the years, and they are now mentioned in many assessments of all-time great rock music, such as the Rolling Stone list of the 50 Greatest Artists of All Time[8] and VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.[9] In 2002, the Ramones were ranked the second-greatest band of all time by Spin magazine, trailing only The Beatles.[10] On March 18, 2002, the Ramones—including the three founders and drummers Tommy and Marky Ramone—were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[2][11] In 2011, the group was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.[12][13]

Drummer Tommy Ramone had been in bands before, so maybe he got his 10,000 hours there? Or did it just not take all that much effort to change the course of popular music history?

Guitarist Johnny Ramone came up with a sort of ideological explanation for the Ramones' linear, utterly unfunky style: the blues had dominated electric guitar music for so long that it was getting boring, so it was time for white people to come up with their own form of rock stripped of black influence.

Strikingly, Johnny's ideology of stylistic racial separatism proved hugely influential and remains relatively dominant even today. It fit in well with black grievances over whites "stealing" their stylistic innovations.

It was a pretty good idea in the 1970s, but here we are in 2013 and people are still wearing Ramones t-shirts.

While pop (made for girls and gays) continues to be a mixture of black and white elements, serious (i.e., masculine) popular music tends to follow the white rock v. black rap divide that had become evident by the end of the 1970s. This enduring racial division probably accounts in sizable part for the slowing of American popular music innovation over the last few decades in contrast to the astonishing creativity unleashed by black-white interaction in the first three quarters of the 20th Century.

The Ramones' most historically influential song, the one you hear in all the TV commercials in recent years, was their first single:
"Blitzkrieg Bop" is a song by the American punk rock band Ramones. It was released as the band's debut single in April 1976 in the United States. It appeared as the opening track on the band's debut album, Ramones, also released that month.  
The song, whose composition was credited to the band as a whole, was written by drummer Tommy Ramone (music and lyrics) and bassist Dee Dee Ramone (lyrics).[2] Based on a simple three-chord pattern, "Blitzkrieg Bop" opens with the chant "Hey! Ho! Let's go!" ...  
"Blitzkrieg Bop" is number 92 on the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In March 2005, Q magazine placed it at number 31 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks, and in 2008 Rolling Stone placed it number 18 on top 100 of Best Guitar Songs of All Time. In 2009 it was named the 25th greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1.[3]

Now, the interesting thing about the dominance of Blitzkrieg Bop today is that it doesn't stem from memories of a 1976 fad for the song. Practically nobody heard it in 1976. It slowly emerged later from a bunch of Ramones songs that are all quite similar.

A related but different question is the source of audiences' long-term bias toward the early stuff, such as Blitzkrieg Bop.

From Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing (1982):
Debbie: [...] How’s old Elvis? 
Henry: He’s dead. 
Debbie: I did know that. I mean how’s he holding up apart from that? 
Henry: I never went for him much. ‘All Shook Up’ was the last good one. However, I suppose that’s the fate of all us artists. 
Debbie: Death?
Henry: People saying they preferred the early stuff.

The Ramones, for instance, were not a flash-in-the-pan that burned brilliantly and vanished. I saw them in, roughly 1979, 1980, and 1994 and they were the same old Ramones each time. All those thousands of hours didn't seem to make them better, but there was also something a little endearing about how they didn't get worse.

I probably would argue that the Ramones' greatest song is Teenage Lobotomy from their third album. That appeared to be the opinion as well of Dee Dee Ramone, who named his memoir, Lobotomy, after his composition. (Dee Dee didn't offer too much insight into how he came up with so many of the Ramones songs: it was just kind of a knack, he explained.)

But, Blitzkrieg Bop might be the Ramonesiest Ramones song ever, so history has been kindest their first song, even though practically nobody heard Blitzkrieg Bop when it first came out.

I think this is an important point that's easy to overlook: much of historical influence comes from the impact of the artist's unique personality, once he's achieved some level of competence to allow his novel approach to be appreciated.

Similarly, Stoppard fans increasingly tend to view Arcadia from 1993 as his masterpiece, but his first play to be staged, 1966's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, remains his most famous. That's not unreasonably, because it's awfully Stoppardish. If you keep hearing about this Stoppard fellow and want to find out what his plays are like, Rosencrantz is a good place to start. It's classic Early Stuff: somebody comes a long with a new angle on things and this is the first time he gets it together well enough for the public to notice. After that, he has to react against what he's already done.

It's worth noting that "the early stuff" isn't necessarily the first stuff.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead wasn't the first Stoppard piece to be mounted. I'm reading a book of early Stoppard work that includes some of his TV plays broadcast shortly before Rosencrantz. Pleasant, but their obscurity is not undeserved. By the way, by the time Rosencrantz debuted when Stoppard was 29, he'd been a full-time professional writer (e.g., reporter, theater critic, etc.) for a decade since leaving school.

It really does take a long time to get good in the higher fields.


Marc B said...

"so it was time for white people to come up with their own form of rock stripped of black influence."

Iggy pop stated much the same about creating a streamlined Stooges pre-punk sound, particularly regarding blues influences. Raw Power was the album where they came closest to doing so, but still not entirely. The stripping away of blues influence and excess was finally achieved with Hardcore in the late 1970's.

Anonymous said...

Strikingly, Johnny's ideology of stylistic racial separatism proved hugely influential and remains relatively dominant even today. It fit in well with black grievances over whites "stealing" their stylistic innovations.

It was a pretty good idea in the 1970s, but here we are in 2013 and people are still wearing Ramones t-shirts.

Ramones t-shirts will now be listed as hate symbols by the SPLC right next to confederate flag and swastika - the only quesiton is if the cross will make it first- Daneil Goldhagen certainly thinks its one.

Anonymous said...

Since race is a social construct, why do we have to be 'white' - I would like, hereforth, to be known as Albion, a group that was colonized and exploited by imperial Europeans (rome) and then met with hostile nativist reaction when we immigrated to America to increase vibrancy of 'boring' native american cultures.

Beckland said...

I'll pile on here and mention that Lou Reed claims that in the Velvet Underground there was a fine for playing a blues lick.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man, the Ramones are a terrible example for this kind of thing. They really just had a new gimmick and a knack for hooks. The "greatness" is illusory.

The "10,000 hour" rule is actually probably close to correct, if you limit it to the naturally talented. Beethoven's father groomed him as a prodigy and worked him hard very early on. Without hours and hours and hours of serious practice, he probably wouldn't have been a name. Gladwell just stupidly thinks this will work on anyone.

Thursday said...

Mozart had composed Symphony 25 at age 17 and Symphony 29 at 18. They're not his absolute best, but they're still both astonishing.

Anonymous said...

Peter Norvig (now director of research at Google) wrote the original article which Malcolm Gladwell stole from:

Norvig was talking about teaching yourself to program software. He does not preclude the fact that expertise may be more important than deliberate practice, even to teach yourself to program.

"Fred Brooks, in his essay No Silver Bullet identified a three-part plan for finding great software designers:

Systematically identify top designers as early as possible.
Assign a career mentor to be responsible for the development of the prospect and carefully keep a career file.
Provide opportunities for growing designers to interact and stimulate each other.

This assumes that some people already have the qualities necessary for being a great designer; the job is to properly coax them along. Alan Perlis put it more succinctly: "Everyone can be taught to sculpt: Michelangelo would have had to be taught how not to. So it is with the great programmers". Perlis is saying that the greats have some internal quality that transcends their training. But where does the quality come from? Is it innate? Or do they develop it through diligence? As Auguste Gusteau (the fictional chef in Ratatouille) puts it, "anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great." I think of it more as willingness to devote a large portion of one's life to deliberative practice. But maybe fearless is a way to summarize that. Or, as Gusteau's critic, Anton Ego, says: "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."

Pity Gladwell didnt get the whole message while lifting the idea.

Anonymous said...

Mr Sailer writes:
It really does take a long time to get good in the higher fields.

Right. How long had Einstein been working as a scientist when he first published his papers on Relativity in '05? (He was then 26yrs old btw)

Was it all downhill from then? Hardly

Anonymous said...

ramones t-shirts are going to become hate symbols...

Dutch reader said...

I don't get the whole greatmess thing with regard to the Ramones. There is nothing remotely inventive or accomplished about their songs. If rawness and simplicity is the important thing, I think bands like the Who or the Kinks did that way earlier and better, too.

Unpersoned at iSteve said...

"time for white people to come up with their own form of rock"

White like Tim Wise: Jews, Punk and the Holocaust

Anonymous said...

Gladwell's 10000 hours is for individuals to become expert. I wonder if things are different for a group where a number of people specialize in different aspects of a problem.

According to Wikipedia The Ramones break through occurs in 76. 2 members started a band in music in 66, and one in 72. So that's 24 years between them. There were additional members too. So all in all they probably did spend a lot of hours working on their act.

So Gladwell's theory may be an argument for ending High School which just burns up hours unproductively.

As to why the Ramones were so influential. They spent 22 years touring so a generation of Americans and Europeans saw them whether they liked the Ramones or not. In their middle age people get nostalgic for the things of their youth, even if they played variations of the same song over and over.

Another reason is of course New York City real estate. Even though the East Village hangouts they frequented are no more the sky high rents need to be justified so the importance of the Ramones, Joe Strummer, Sid Vicious et al is being exaggerated to give the shoddy dilapidated tiny apartments a sense of history. Dylan Thomas drank himself to death there, Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend here, you can't afford to live in either place. Oddly back when you might actually see Lou Reed or one of The Ramones walking about the rent was actually quite reasonable. Does anyone care where The Jacksons lived in Gary Indiana or ZZ Top lived?

Anonymous said...

our culture prolongs 'exploraiton' and youth wayyy too long - result of the baby boomers..

Anonymous said...

The Ramones wrote so many great songs, they made it look easy, which made people think it must have been, and that they couldn't be as mindbogglingly great as they were. But as Jonathan Richman wrote, if some else could do it how come nobody does?

sunbeam said...

Dutch Reader said:

"I don't get the whole greatmess thing with regard to the Ramones. There is nothing remotely inventive or accomplished about their songs. If rawness and simplicity is the important thing, I think bands like the Who or the Kinks did that way earlier and better, too. "

I agree totally with you. I am a huge Kinks fan, and that is the greatest band that is obscure to the general public ever.

That band literally did everything in their time, and might have started a genre or two.

I'm not a professional musician, but the older I get the less I think of bands like the Who and Pink Floyd.

I think more of the Kinks every time I listen to them. They were utterly amazing.

But the Ramones... c'mon, influential? To who exactly?

If you want a band that did a lot without blues influence the Kinks did that too and early.

But at the same time they also did blues, and used some reggae stuff.

Sorry, but the Ramones have less talent than Ray Davies' toenail clippings.

fish said...

Sorry, but the Ramones have less talent than Ray Davies' toenail clippings.

Yeah but the "Happy Birthday" to Monte Burns was the greatest!

Have the Rolling Stones killed!

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think the Ramones debunks the 10,000 hour rule pretty hard. They certainly put the time in, and I'm not saying they weren't hugely popular and influential, but it would be pretty tough to argue that Johnny Ramone was an "Expert" at guitar in the same sense that Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, or Bob Dylan are.

Anonymous said...

The enduring appeal of the un-falsifiable 10,000 hour rule stems largely from the left (and to a degree the right) denial of endogenous or congenital human differences, particularly with regard to intelligence. Others include:

1. that markets are efficient, or that traders cannot make exceptional returns (note the trend of denying exceptional ability) . There are many notable exceptions to this, than would be predicted by mere statistical chance.
2. that skill in one area (such as math) must come at the expense of another (verbal). Or that strength in one area must be offset by weakness in another by some arbiter of equality. Einstein was as eloquent at writing as he was at math.
3. that prodigies suffer reduced creative output later in life 'early ripe, early rot',

elvisd said...

The stripping away of blues influence and excess was finally achieved with Hardcore in the late 1970's

When I first heard OC Hardcore I thought it was the most blindingly white muscic I'd ever heard. It was so stripped of any kind of inflection that it was disorienting to a Southern boy like me. I had listened to about everything from blues to Beefheart to deathrock at that point. The punk I was familiar with still had hooks or some kind of interesting weirdness- Dolls, Pistols, Butthole Surfers. I just couldn't get into the OC stuff- I thought it was pretty lame sounding at the time. The only people I met who liked it seemed to be yankee transplants or suburban ex-jock kids wishing that they were skateboarders.

Anonymous said...

I would imagine sailer is kind of like me he grades ramones on a curve because Johnny is kind of right wing. That said I think their best is their most left wing song Bonzo goes to bitburg.

Anonymous said...

Rolling Stone's top ten rock & roll songs were composed at age 25.0±3.2. Oldest: Marvin Gaye, 31. Youngest: Keith Richards, 21.

Different fields have different time scales. By age 24, back in his family home, Newton had invented modern physics. Galois died at 20. Euler completed his dissertation at age 16.

Goethe, on the other hand, had his first hit at age 24 and his last hit at 82.

Anonymous said...

"The stripping away of blues influence and excess was finally achieved with Hardcore in the late 1970's."

Strange given Hardcore is a genre best known for the all-black band Bad Brains.

Kibernetika said...

@Anonymous at 4:15 PM

Whoah, Fred Brooks mentioned in a thread about The Ramones! :) Well, Dr. Brooks was and is still a great mind and man. He has contributed so much to computer science and the US.

On the other hand, Joey Ramone wrote a song titled "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue." ;)

Harry Baldwin said...

The Ramones were one of my brushes with fame. I was brought in to illustrate their "Road to Ruin" album cover and had several meetings with the group at Danny Fields' office in midtown. They had just gotten rid of Tommy, the drummer, and hadn't replaced him. I was struck by how bizarrely wide Joey's hips were and his general appearance of ill health. He was always sniffing into a Kleenex. Dee Dee sat on the floor with his back to a wall practicing flicking out the blade on a folding knife and occasionally said something idiotic. Johnny was normal.

Interesting experience, but the job was pulled from me and given to John Holstrum. The design was copied from a drawing sent in by a fan.

That's the closest I have to an Albertosaurus story.

Like Steve, I rate "Lobotomy" highest, due to rhymes such as, "Now I guess I got to tell 'em, I ain't got no cerebellum."

Harry Baldwin said...

One of the things I find odd about the "10,000-hour rule" is that so often an artist's initial work is his best and the follow-up is mediocre. A case in point is Joseph Heller and "Catch 22." I don't know if Heller put in 10,000 hours writing that book, but with whatever time he did expend on it you'd think subsequent projects would be even better, wouldn't they? Am I missing the point?

secretariat the exception said...

A generally unexplorable refinement to the "youngest age" analysis is this: We are judging the production of artifacts. If we were able to ignore the artifacts (records, compositions, novels, concert recordings, etc) and judge things based only on how purely musical somebody was in the then-present moment, irrespective of their ambitions for the future, or based on how well they could make people laugh or cry or remember happiness , in person, by telling stories or singing songs, or just conversing, we would probably conclude that virtually every cultural celebrity was a lot more interesting in their 20s than in their 40s, because a much smaller percentage had any pecuniary or psychological interest in caricaturing/repeating themselves at the younger age. So your number of hours metric would be much smaller.
Of course non-celebrities take a different track (which is why artistic celebrities don't take much advantage of hanging out with their celebrity peers). Sports are different, because human sports geniuses just can't go out and make up their own rules, so they are almost always better in every measurable way after rule-based, boring, personality-diminishing, long long practice. Since "rock and roll" is usually more like sports in this regard than "classical" music (more rules in the shape of repeated patterns in rock, and less variety in most aspects), I usually prefer the latter.

Glossy said...

Music is more like an addiction than are other art forms.

Up until a point, our liking of it increases with the number of exposures. In contrast, it doesn't generally take more than one reading for us to be able to love a good novel or short story. A second reading will rarely make us love them more than we already had.

It's possible for a smart person to love a piece of music written by idiots. This is a complete impossibility in literature. I suspect that it has never happened in the entire history of fiction. It never happens in Steve's profession either. A smart man would not be able to enjoy political commentary from idiots.

But I've enjoyed a ton of music written by obvious idiots, and so have most people. I remember how surprised I was when I first found out that Keith Richards was the principal author of the Rolling Stones' oeuvre. Jagger sounds 2 or 3 SDs smarter in interviews, so for a while I naively assumed him to have been the main creative force of the group. He wasn't. There are lots of other examples of this.

Compare the fates of black music and black literature among white consumers. I've never seen a white person reading "urban fiction". Sister Souljah never had a shot at achieving Michael Jackson's lifestyle.

Conclusions: there's less intellect in music than in writing or the visual arts. Music works on humans somewhat more like drugs, booze and cigarettes than do other arts.

Glossy said...

Just the mechanical act of repetition is often enough to make us like a piece of music more. To me this doesn't say any good things about the intellectual content of music. I still love it of course.

Another thing:

I doubt that practice makes people better writers. Coming up with the 1,000th original turn of phrase isn't easier than coming up with the 50th one was. While writing one gets the impression that no matter how long one sticks with it, it will never get easier.

Music gets easier with practice. There's more of a mechanical component in it. Originality only comes into play once you've mastered a lot of mechanical skill. And this skill withers daily without practice, so practice has to go on through the entirety of a musician's career. Consequently there's less time for originality in the life of a musician than in the life of a writer. And because music is addictive in the same dumb way as cigarettes, originality isn't even as important for a musician's success as it is for a writer's success.

Before the amount of BS in life ballooned in the 20th century, writers were mostly autodidacts, but all important musicians had teachers, often important musicians themselves. Music HAS to be taught. Originality can't be taught at all.

Marc B said...

"Strange given Hardcore is a genre best known for the all-black band Bad Brains".

Bad Brains were an anomaly and there wasn't much of a blues influence in their sound, particularly on their fast songs. They stood out because they were good musicians and so very different from the rest very White hardcore scene.

Thursday said...

The Ramones wrote so many great songs

The Ramones wrote one great song . . . over and over and over again. The most memorable versions of it are Blitzkrieg Bop and I Want To Be Sedated.

Just Another Guy With a 1911 said...

The first song I wrote with my high school band was a simple G - em - C - D progression. (It is used in a lot of early rock songs, i.e., "Blue Moon" or "Last Kiss"). It started of somewhat languid and arpeggiated and then kicks into a frenetic strumming pattern. It was, of course, about a girl. At the time, the Ramones were not on my musical radar. I was a Clash, Pogues, and Billy Bragg type of guy, so I got the influence second hand. So I did not know it at the time, but we had written a Ramones song. It is not that hard to do. Of course, the Ramones did it first and they did it better.

But practice will make you better. Case in point:

I was listening to and old battered cassette tape of my High School band that I found stashed away in a shoebox the other night. In a fit of middle aged nostalgia, I threw it on the boom box, had a few adult beverages, closed my eyes and, for a while at least, I was young again. However, my first thought was "Wow, I sucked" And, yeah, I did. However, the other guys in the band didn't and most had only a few more hours in the cockpit than me. Yeah, they might have been rough, but there was stuff one of the other guitarist was doing (who later got a STEM PHD) that it took me, oh, 15 years to figure out, like when you are playing over a G hit the 12th fret - just tapping the D, G, B strings lightly to get harmonics, it sounds awesome. Listening to the tape, I sort of wished that I could go Back to the Future and show them who the real guitar god really was. Bow before my face melting solos, boys.

Anyway, I am a lot better now. Probably have hit the required 10,000 hours in. A lot of that time was not doing scales, but sort of looking at guitar tab and then jamming live for hours at a time and learning what works and why. Sort of like musical MMA. The Ramones may have spent thousands of hours playing, but, at the end of the day, they just became the best version of who they were when they emerged. It was like one of Spengler's Cultures forming around a prime symbol that never lost the confidence of its springtime.

Yes, the Kinks are under rated. My current band was practicing All Day and All of Night this evening. It is punky, the verse is F - G - F - Bb - G, but you need hit Bb right at the END the measure - on the four, hit it a couple times and slide back down to the G, and it creates and interesting subtle effect.

Thursday said...

Keith Richards likes to read Gibbon. I don't think he's the complete idiot some think he is.

Aaron Gross said...

"Blitzkrieg Bop" would be my favorite, ever since I first heard it in the 1970s. Or maybe "Rockaway Beach." "Lobotomy" I'd put pretty far down on the list, but de gustibus. And Rocket To Russia their best album, as the PJ Soles character says in Rock and Roll High School. (I still remember that the movie audience cheered when she said, "That's their best album!")

About "Blitzkrieg Bop": Originally it was written by Tommy Ramone as "Animal Hop," a straightforward kids-going-crazy song. Dee Dee suggested exactly two changes: change "animal hop" to "Blitzkrieg bop," and change "they're shouting in the back now" to "shoot 'em in the back now." That added another layer and changed a very good song into a great song.

Tommy later complained that Dee Dee had sabotaged his song, guaranteeing that no radio station would ever play it. (Tommy was born in Hungary to a Jewish family that evaded Nazi persecution in WW2, and in general he was the most hesitant about the Ramones' Nazi references, but apparently his main objection to Dee Dee's changes to BB was that it would now be unplayable.)

I got this from the memoir/bio I Slept With Joey Ramone, written by Joey Ramone's brother. Or maybe I got some of it from Please Kill Me, I'm not sure. Both books are good reads.

james wilson said...

Paganini began composition lessons at 12, already having no peer in playing the violin and so no one to mentor him. His 24 Caprices were written at age 15 and 16. He coasted the rest of the way.

sunbeam said...

Glossy wrote:

"It's possible for a smart person to love a piece of music written by idiots. This is a complete impossibility in literature. I suspect that it has never happened in the entire history of fiction."

The Eye of Argon wants to gaze upon you.

Scrutineer said...

For example, what was Beethoven's greatest work -- the 3rd Symphony? 5th? 6th? 7th? 9th? Or the late quartets?

The Missa solemnis, obviously.

Aaron Gross said...

Marc B, what I read from Iggy Pop about blues influence was a little different. As I remember (?), he worshiped the black blues artists and their music, but he realized that as a middle-class white boy he couldn't write songs like that. So he tried to translate what the blues artists were doing to a language that he could speak.

Aaron Gross said...

Harry Baldwin, cool recollection! Joey Ramone had chronic health problems all his life. Johnny appeared normal in interviews, and he wasn't a basket case like Joey or a total mess like Dee Dee, but it's obvious from what people say that he was pretty screwed up as well. Apparently, Tommy was the only original Ramone who was both sane and more or less well adjusted.

Wondering what impression you got of Danny Fields? I had never heard of him before reading Please Kill Me, but of all the celebrities and their thousands of words in that book, from Lou Reed to Iggy Pop to the Ramones and more, it's Danny Fields, a non-musician, who comes across as the real star of the book.

Aaron Gross said...

Thursday writes, "The Ramones wrote one great song...over and over and over again."

An interviewer asked the Ramones what they would say to critics who complain that all their songs sound the same. Tommy Ramone replied, "They're not listening close enough."

Aaron Gross said...

About the Ramones and black music: The Ramones were strongly influenced by black music, especially Joey. Lots of the songs he wrote were influenced by the early-1960s girl groups, lots of whom were black.

Johnny said that he liked black music, but the Ramones were white, and they weren't going to try to write music that wasn't natural for them.

Anonymous said...

Ramones had one shtick and did it over and over.

And was it really original? What about early Beatles and 'My Generation' by the Who?
Dylan's 'sub homesick blues'?

And speaking of stripping rock of 'black' influence, Buddy Holly done it already.

Bruce Charlton said...

Rossini, not Mendelssohn

The youngest classical composer to contribute to the standard repertoire was I think, Rossini - with his 6 String Sonatas written in 3 days and published when he was aged 12.

Anonymous said...

Apparently the chant 'Hey Ho, Let's Go!' was lifted off the Bay City Rollers, of all people.

Similarly Slade were plundered for 'Beat on the Brat' (Gudbye t'Jane).

I was never a big fan of the Ramones, and still am not. IMHO the apogee of mid 70s music were bands like The Eagles - professional, smooth and polished, but just too good and flawless. Basically their repetoire hasn't dated, it sounds like it could have been made yesterday. You can't say that for the Ramones, they sound terribly dated and old fashioned. And their amateurish, racousness and lack of any real musicality or craft to their art never really did anything for me.They sounded like a bunch of kids screaming and shouting to me back in 1980, and they still do right now. Bit like the Pistols really.
British bands such as The Stranglers, The Clash and The Jam were probably the best thing punk threw up (no pun intended).

Uncle Peregrine said...

"By the way, by the time Rosencrantz debuted when Stoppard was 29, he'd been a full-time professional writer (e.g., reporter, theater critic, etc.) for a decade since leaving school."

This reminds me of your earlier posts,Steve.

"Two of the world's most famous living writers are named Tom: Tom Wolfe and Tom Stoppard. . . So, they make a fun and fair comparison for this question: Judging from their published works, can you guess which one never attended a day of college and which one earned a doctorate from a world-famous university? Which one's Dr. Tom?"

(Dr. Wolfe has a PhD in American Studies from Yale)

"I'm (slowly) rereading Hamlet for the first time in decades. Something that's obvious this time through is that -- despite the popularity of theories that the Man from Stratford, the well-known theatrical impresario, couldn't have written Shakespeare's plays -- Hamlet was written by a man in the theater business."

Writing enduring work for the theater, plays that non-academic audiences will pay money to see is a different skill set from scholarship. The case of the two Toms supports the Stratford Man's claim to be Shakespeare.

agnostic said...

It would help to limit pop songs to ones that show some basic sign of musical accomplishment, if we're going to see how long it takes to "get good."

Like songs with a solo. Can't just pull up another variation on a chord progression. It has to sound more original and complex enough to uniquely identify the song.

Songs with a riff (hook, lick, groove, etc. -- a motif) would work too, but those tend to be simpler -- and how complex does this simple thing need to be in order to count?

In case there's disagreement, Pandora's entry says if the song has a solo.

Of course, you'd be limiting your study's sample to songs from back in the glory days of solos, most being from the '80s. So I'd be wary of generalizing whatever the result was to "guitarists" or "saxophonists". I would totally keep open the idea that the number of hours until greatness actually changes over time.

At any rate, it would be neat to compare the hours-until-greatness across different instruments. Do you need more practice to write a guitar solo or a sax solo? How long did it take before that guy could write the kickass pennywhistle solo for "You Can Call Me Al"?

Aaron Gross said...

Re Bay City Rollers: The Ramones actually tried to play covers of Bay City Rollers songs at first, but they weren't able to play them.

I never could figure out Nick Lowe's "Bay City Rollers" song. Back then I thought it was the one bad song on the album, but maybe I just "didn't listen close enough."

Re the Eagles, PJ Soles was a fan of the Eagles and Jackson Browne when she was hired to star in Rock and Roll High School. When she listened to a Ramones record to hear what they were about, her reaction was that playing a fan of theirs would be a very difficult acting job.

agnostic said...

Getting into fuzzier territory like "songwriting," how about looking at the inductees into the Songwriters Hall of Fame?

How to define their first "big hit"? First that cracked the Billboard top X on the weekly charts, first that cracked the top X on the year-end charts, etc.?

Probably just poke around and see what the data say about how they ought to be measured. Like if everybody knows that so-and-so's first big hit came out in 1976, but technically they had a song from 100-200 on the weekly charts, go with the top 40 or whatever.

Another problem is which country's charts you use. Their native country, probably.

Anyway, something that an interested quant could look into (not me, not right now anyway).

I picked one example at non-random to see how old the guys were. Tom Kelly and Bill Steinberg, both born circa 1950, did the lyrics and music for a host of mega-hits in the '80s and early '90s. The earliest being "Like a Virgin," which they gave to Madonna, and the last one being "I Touch Myself," which they co-wrote with The Divinyls.

Kelly had been in bands since the late '60s, and Steinberg since the mid-'70s. Wrote "Like a Virgin" probably in '83 or '84. You figure they had written lyrics and riffs when they were playing in bands, so that's awhile.

Maybe songwriting is like screenwriting, requiring you to have a fully developed sense of empathy to put yourself in another role, since you won't be recording the song yourself. It's going to be performed by Madonna or whoever, just like your dialog and stage direction is going to be performed by an actor.

I could see that taking until the late 20s or 30s to really pull off. Before then, you're still somewhat egocentric and the lyrics will be more intensely personal. Doesn't mean nothing good could result. But if you're writing for somebody else, it takes much more maturity.

Peter the Shark said...

"Strange given Hardcore is a genre best known for the all-black band Bad Brains".

In what universe would that be? Hardcore is a genre best known for white bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat and the Descendents.

Peter the Shark said...

"Keith Richards likes to read Gibbon. I don't think he's the complete idiot some think he is."

Not at all. The Stones were probably the smartest of any of the big 60s group - Jagger, Richards, Watts are all very smart. Wyman probably not so much, not sure about Brian Jones. The Beatles were clever chaps but none of them were as intelligent, or well read, as Jagger or Richards. Townshend tried to set himself up as the intellectual of the British rock scene, but in retrospect I think he had an inflated sense of his own intelligence from spending too much time with proles like Moon and Daltrey. Of course Ray Davies also comes across as very intelligent.

Anonymous said...

The Ramones wrote about a dozen very good songs. I'm partial to "Cretin Hop" and "Chinese Rock", as well as "Rock'N'Roll High School". Everyone keeps saying all their songs sound the same but it's really only "Rockaway Beach" and "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" that stand out in this regard, both good songs btw. I also like their covers of "Needles and Pins" and "It's A Wonderful World".

dearieme said...

Some of the NY jazz bands of the 20s seem to have treated The Blues as rather overwrought, as judged by their treatment of blues songs on their recordings.

As far as I can see nothing much happened in post-WWII pop music that had not been prefigured in post-WWI jazz, though of course the latter happened at a much higher musical level.

neil craig said...

But for authors it is common for their first book to be their best.

Heller's Catch-22 being an example. Admitedly Heller had studied English, been a copywriter etc for some years before.

Even moreso look at Asimov's Foundation series - the earliest bits written while he was still at school. His later books are technically more proficient (& more voluminous) but not, if sales are any measure, better.

This suggests that original ideas, of which everybody has a limited stock, are more important in this field than technique.

Just Another Guy With a 1911 said...

The fact that the Ramones had Phil Spector produce "End of the Century" for them and covered the Ronettes' "Baby, I Love You" on that album is an indication that the band (or at least Joey) was influenced by Black music.

Also, it is not accurate to say they the Ramones only had one speed and one song. They actually did sappy and sweet pretty well - check out a song like "Danny Says" or "Questioningly" (which actually has a guitar solo - or, well, a bended note, but it was something). I think they also covered the Who's "The Kids are Alright" in concert sometimes.

"Do you need more practice to write a guitar solo or a sax solo? How long did it take before that guy could write the kickass penny whistle solo for "You Can Call Me Al"?

If you have natural musical talent, the main barrier to entry would be developing technical mastery, the needed dexterity, along with an understanding of the nuances and internal possibilities of the instrument. Also, exposing yourself to good examples of solos on those instruments helps. If, like me, you kept at an instrument until things just "clicked", it might be a little harder.

Basically, I am sure Clapton could come up with a pretty awesome and cool penny whistle solo if he wanted. The execution would probably not be as good as if he were playing a strat.

Also, one ability that would transfer over is rhythm, which really dictates the space between the notes, carries the recognizable core of a particular type of music, and drives it. You get that down - well, it's half the battle.

Bottom line: if you can figure out how music works, it is not that hard to transfer over. Technical mastery takes time, though.

Of course, River's Cuomo of Weezer has a different opinion. He actually sings about your question in the song "Falling For You."

"Holy sweeps, goddamn, you left your cello in the basement
I admired the glowing stars and tried to play a tune
I can't believe how bad I suck, it's true
What could you possibly see in little ol' 3-chord me?"

Anonymous said...

"The "10,000 hour" rule is actually probably close to correct, if you limit it to the naturally talented."

There is the muse factor, and it differs from artform to artform, expression to expression.

Comedy, for example, is something some people have while others just can't get the knack of it.

Lennon and McCartney were more creative early on than much late when they had more practice.
Springteen completely lost it after 1985.
Maybe some artforms lead to faster burnouts.

Classical music requires lots of training since it has to be played properly, like traditional painting has to be exacting.
But some artforms are more spontaneous/eccentric/originality-oriented and not very complicated technically. But even most trained musicians cannot come up with a tune as catchy as Daydream Believer, the biggest seller in 1967.

Maybe there is also the 8hr a day factor. Whether you have 10,000 hrs behind you or not, you have to keep training. It's like athletes have to keep working out day after day as long as they're in the sports.
It could be that some artists, after great success, just slack off and rest on their laurels.
Tyson lost that way to Douglas. He forgot the 8 hr a day rule.

Also, maybe 10,000 hrs prepares you, but 20,000 hrs tires you out. You begin to feel 'been there, done that' and you 'shot off your wad', and the thrill is gone.
And everyone eventually comes up against a dead end. Schultz's Peanuts got terrible in the mid 70s and never recovered. And it's difficult for an old dog to learn new tricks.

I think when you're young, neurons are being formed and this makes your mind more vibrant. But then, the brain cells begin to turn off, and there's less inspiration even if more understanding. It gets darker in there with fewer bulbs.
When I was young I used to able to visualize images in me head like I could see them as real, tangible. But this faded in my late 20s.

Also, creativity is like childbirth. After giving birth, woman loses something. When an artist achieves something really great, he feels drained, as if the best of himself was released from within. It's now out there but no longer within himself.
Dylan could never do anything that matched blonde on blonde. Peckinpah could never come near the wild bunch again. Fellini could not replicate the greatness of 8 1/2. Coppola lost the greatness factor after Apocalypse Now. But there are people like Beethoven and Kubrick who never seem to lose it.

There's a short story about this dilemma of creativity:

"Finally Seikichi put down his brush and looked at the tattooed spider. This work of art had been
the supreme effort of his life. Now that he had finished
it his heart was drained of emotion."

James O'Meara said...

I've addressed the whole gay/black/white issue in music a number of times:

Light Entertainment:The (Implicitly) White Music of Scott Walker

I’ll Have a White Rock, Please: Implicit Whiteness, Aryan Futurism, and the Godlike Genius of Scott Walker

As you can see by the Scott Walker references, I'm not sure I buy the rather stereotyped pop=girls/gays=unserious linkage. And although unpopular [!] to admit, there's a lot of homos in that white rock world -- Rob Halford, Ray Davies, who's been mentioned already, does Bowie count as rock or pop?

Dahinda said...

One reason that the Ramones weren't a commercially more sucessful was that their songs all sounded the same. Also, the reason they were popular at all was that New Yorkers generally exhibit the same hokey small town "one of us has made it in the big time" mentality that they lay on cities in the flyover states.

Dahinda said...

Maybe Galdwell can now tell us how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie roll tootsie pop.

Just Another Guy With a 1911 said...

Re: the common critique that the only songs that the Ramones wrote were "Blitzkreig Bop" or "I Wanna be Sedated" and all their songs lacked craft or technique.

While I would never make the argument that the Ramones reach to the Faustian and polyphonous heights of classical music - there is, as Tommy intimated, a little bit more there than you think.

For instance, "I wanna be Sedated." It sounds straight ahead, right? Nary one note of craft. Well, actually, it jumps a whole step for the final verse. Moreover, it does have a solo - basically playing the open high E string and the B string at the fifth fret. It is not a chord, right? Because it is less than three notes. It's just one - played at two different octaves. Sure, not the first time such a lick was pressed onto vinyl. After all, you hear it in blues, but mostly in passing. Johnny got a lot more musical mileage out it - pounding on it without remorse - and it works.

As an aside - the solo on "I Wanna be Sedated" adumbrates the Edge's solo in Sunday Bloody Sunday: open strings and single notes that capture the over all chordal and rhythmic martial quality of the song. He is, of course, aided by much delay. I still find it amazing that a guy who was, at the time, a fairly limited musician, was able to leverage an almost empty musical toolbox to create something unique, like a guy with just one hammer and some boards building a mansion, but I can't help but hear a little Ramones in there.

But back to the Ramones. Take a song like, say, the "KKK Took my Baby Away." It is, I think, played down a half step and does not feature the signature Johhny Ramone's Mosrite buzzzaw throughout. The verse is somewhat slow and sad, and the guitar stutters in perfect time to Joey lamenting the loss of the love of his life to Johnny. There is also a great little guitar solo on their cover of "I Don't Want to Grow Up." And the cover of "California Son" shows that Johnny could handle riffs and, at the same time, betrays the band's roots in 1950 Rock and Roll and surf music.

Anyway, it is all too easy to get caught up on technique as the sole measure of a piece of music's artistic merit. It is a mistake to sort of draw these arbitrary lines: ancient, early, and modern and sort of keep on moving the goal posts. Ofttimes, there can be more in common or interrelation between, say, the Art and Music of a time, and the Music and Art that your college textbook told you were their predecessors, even if they share common technique. An example of this is how the interrelation between the rise of Rock and Roll and the birth of the Marvel Universe tells us more about the 1960's than, say,the techniques of form rendition common to both Kirby and Michelangelo.

The music of the Ramones tells you more about that state of the Culture when it was created, as opposed being another step on the long march of musical progress. The Ramones are distinctly Faustian. The songs are profoundly reductive and are about seeking space and time by drowning out death and doubt with their own particular wall of sound and quirky sense of humor.

So, yeah, beauty and texture are not absent in the music of the Ramones. You just gotta look a little closer. It's no trick of the light; it's there, really. But, I think, @Anon, you're also right - the Eagles capture the nature of what Western Culture considers beautiful, and what speaks to us, with far more utility.

However, it is instructive dwell on the possibility that the music and their techniques, however limited, chose the Ramones, not the other way around. The fact that we are still talking about it, and kids wearing White power Ramones t-shirts years after the last Ramone shed his mortal coil, speaks to the fact that whatever question the Ramones music answered in the souls of its listeners still lingers.

Ok, no more Ramones. As Forrest said, "that's all I got to say about that."

blogger said...

Ken Kesey pretty much quit writing after SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION. Every last ounce of him was poured into that book. Creativity is like that, especially among modern artists.

There seems to be two modes of creativity: lowburn simmer cerebralism and high-burn full blast inspirationalism. As Tyrell says to Roy in BLADE RUNNER, a light that burns twice as bright burns half as long or something like that. It's like bigger hotter suns have shorter lifespans than something like the sun, and when a big sun collapses, it really collapses, even into a black hole.
It's no wonder that some of the greatest artists seem to be like gods but then totally vanish from the scene. They burned bright and big but when the fuel ran out, they just collapsed into the void.

Haydn and Eric Rohmer were lowburn simmerish cerebral artists whose minds always controlled their emotions. They had a long illustrious career but no super-high-points. And their output was prodigious.
Sibelius, in contrast, was a total artist who poured everything into his symphonies. Though he lived to a ripe old age, when he lost the inspiration, he simply quit and he stopped working. He only finished 7 symphonies(though it's been rumored that he destroyed 8 and 9). The 7th symphony is only of a single movement at 20 min, but it is total music, a real force of nature. To work on that level, an artist surely has to reach beyond himself in depth and reach. The danger the artist may become a casualty of his own creativity(like Brian Wilson with Smile and too much drugs and over-reaching). Haydn and Rohmer never lost control that way and were consistently very good and professional but arguably never made anything TRULY great.

The Romantic era gave us the notion of the artist who goes beyond the humanly possible, even at the risk of losing one's sanity. Even the romantic notion of the scientist was to break beyond what was scientifically possible, and so, the idea of Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll.
Coleridge used drugs to gain the vision of Xanadu. Blake was a serious weirdo; never read him but saw his illustrations.
They were willing to risk all, even sanity and life, to play prometheus. (In this sense, Hitler the gambler willing to risk all was partly a product of romanticism. And of course, Romantics revered Napoleon, leader as poet-god of history.)
Though Romantic Age is associated with the 19th century and though Mozart is associated with Classicism, Mozart was a proto-romantic figure in some ways. While his many symphonies were classicist--rather like prettier versions of Haydn's works--, some of his operas were very ambitious and fathomed into dark depths hitherto unexplored by musical artists, and he lived an excessive life, at least according to AMADEUS.
And even though Michelangelo lived long before Romanticism, the legendary tales of his going to heaven and hell and back to paint the Sistine Chapel became a point of inspiration to the Romantics. Michelangelo was willing to go for broke to go beyond himself, the 'agony and ecstasy' thing.

blogger said...

Haydn and Rohmer were the kinds of artists who, as Harry Callahan might say, knew their own limitations(as well as their strengths) and remained within those boundaries. But filmmakers like Fellini, Coppola, and Peckinpah were never really content to be moderate artists or mere professionals. They had to push the envelope, but the danger was the burnout factor. It's like so many 60s rockers burned out or died so fast. In a way, their addiction to drugs was related to their addiction to greatness. They saw drugs as the pathway to greatness. Heroin destroyed many Jazz greats but may have aided the likes of Charlie Parker in going the extra mile. Drugs certainly inspired Lennon, Dylan, Morrison, and Hendrix. Lennon and Dylan survived but were never quite themselves and Morrison and Hendrix died young. Age old Faustian bargain.

So, in creativity, it's not just a matter of hours but kilowatts. If you wanna have a long productive career, keep it at 1000 kilowatts. If you want greatness, ramp it up to 10,000 kilowatts.. but understand that you're likely to burn out much faster.

But maybe drug-using artists are much savvier today. In the 60s and 70s, so many rockers and filmmakers were so excited by the new freedom that they indulged in it freely without caution, and they ended up like Sam Peckinpah or Keith Richards. Richards survived but just look at him.
Since then, it could be drug-use has become more responsible and gentrified--and chemically safer. Chris Nolan's films seemed to be part-drug-inspired(though I could be wrong), but Nolan seems to be very much in control of himself, in the way that directors like Peckinpah, Ashby, Coppola, Fosse, Cassavetes(major alcoholic),and Cimino were not. Instead of 'on the road' mentality, it's like 'on the road and good nights rest' mentality. Go the extra mile but be sure to get plenty of rest in between efforts--and be sure to take your Flinstones after getting stoned.

Svigor said...

At the opposite end from composing classical music in terms of hours required might be composing punk rock. Consider the Ramones, who remain ridiculously influential all these decades later

Haha, Black Sabbath wrote their song Paranoid in the half hour before they recorded it.

Marc B, what I read from Iggy Pop about blues influence was a little different. As I remember (?), he worshiped the black blues artists and their music, but he realized that as a middle-class white boy he couldn't write songs like that. So he tried to translate what the blues artists were doing to a language that he could speak.

Realized, schmealized. Plenty of bluesy rock and metal kicks ass, all of it by white men. I don't really care for blues, on the other hand.

blogger said...

Haydn and Rohmer: golfers/marathoners/bowlers.

Coppola and Peckinpah: footballers/sprinters/weightlifters.

Svigor said...

Ramones t-shirts will now be listed as hate symbols by the SPLC right next to confederate flag and swastika - the only quesiton is if the cross will make it first- Daneil Goldhagen certainly thinks its one.

Well, it really is racist to refuse to "steal" from blacks* and thus deny them something to point the finger at YT over.

* (LOL, Jesus Christ how do people even utter that phrase? "Whites stealing from blacks," you just have to be clueless to even contemplate saying something that fucking stupid in earnest; another of those tacit statements of white supremacy in that one, Steve)

a notion said...

Instead of 10,000 hr rule, how about 10,000 ounces rule?

Suppose we convert Gladwell's notion of hrs into oz and suppose we say the 10,000 oz rule is valid.
But for it to be valid, a person must have a container that can hold 10,000 oz.
If a person's container can hold only 3,000 oz, then it will benefit from the first 3,000 oz but the other 7,000 oz will just spill over and go to waste since a 3,000 oz container can only hold so much.

Robert Simmons Bevington IV said...

Rock music is not, at bottom, about musical virtuosity on any level. A certain competence is required and desirable, but the main thing is to by God DO IT and reflect the emotions of the audience. The attempt to redefine the Beatles as "the new classical music" was just a desperate attempt by the older generation to normalize what was really a highly threatening development.

And Whites have ALWAYS done Black music styles better then Blacks. The White embrace of Black styles was another demonstration of the ability of Whites to take useful influences and innovate with them. And Black styles themselves were simply Blacks using White instruments and music and putting it through their own filter. It sounded different. Whites noticed it. They took it and ran with it, and improved it immensely.

Johnny Winter is sometimes referred to as the best "White" blues guitarist. But he is infinitely superior to his Black influences in both songwriting and guitar technique, not to mention vocals. Winter's "Bad Girl Blues" is one of the coolest things I've ever heard. It's about a Blue Collar White man trying to date a lesbian. Confusion and angst ensue. Black stuff is simple and repetitive. Once they stopped trying to copy Whites, they ended up with the current garbage that sounds like obscene jump rope ditties.

Note too that bands like Cream were supposedly blues based. The blues was a tiny seed that they planted and Cream grew it into an awesome tree that is all their own. You don't hear Black bass players and songwriters like Jack Bruce. Jack Bruce is a White man par excellence.

What the punks/new wavers decided to do was another brilliant White innovation. There were so many rock fans that wanted to be great players, but they didn't want wait to put in the time. So they played just enough to get competent and channeled the STRONG adolescent emotions that is really all Rock is about. They performed NOW. They emoted NOW for appreciative fans. But that's an astounding achievement. I admit that I LOVE a lot of it.

And as for competence, the successful punk/new wave people were quite good. The Sex Pistols lead guitarist was a riff writer without equal. Their original bass player was monumental. No they weren't capable of classical music, but they were highly, highly qualified to articulate with precision the things that were important to them. They nailed it. They played live music that was perfect.

Note too that Sid Vicious was a very bad bass player indeed. The Pistols were much diminished by the presence of Sid Vicious. Fans noticed. Sid noticed. Sid entered a shame spiral.

There were some punk/new wave icons who were more proficient than some others of course. Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart would have been right at home in any era of popular music production. "There Must be an Angel" is all you need to know about those lovely people. Elvis Costello was another highly protean songwriter and performer and he had some very narrow limitations to work with.

And finally, look at the Ramones. They were pretty danged good. I've learned about half their songs on the guitar and they are not the simple, retarded crap that their reputation would lead you to believe. And the sound is just right. The chord progessions are dripping with emotion. They are inarticulate brutes and losers with no social skills, no inner manual to guide them. They wanna wanna be sedated. I know what they mean. When the Ramones tell their best girl that "I Want You Around" that's a massive, heartfelt emotional commitment. It comes out that way too, along with some extremely nice chord changes.

Even stupid losers living in a Leftist tyranny are capable of the Art that moves them. More and more of us relate in a very deep way with every generation. I grok it totally.

Thursday said...

Tommy Ramone replied, "They're not listening close enough."

Angus Young of AD/DC was much funnier (and more honest).

"I'm sick to death of people saying we've made 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we've made 12 albums that sound exactly the same."

Also, AC/DC have about 6 versions of their one song that are worth listening to.

Anonymous said...

"And Whites have ALWAYS done Black music styles better then Blacks."

What about Hendrix? He seems to have done 'white rock' better than most whites.

And how whites do Motown soul better than the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross/Supremes, Smoky Robinson?

Which whites did Ray Charles, Fats Domino, and Otis Redding better than them fellers?

Which whites did Michael Jackson better than Michael Jackson?

Which whites did rap better than black rappers? Mebbe mnm but then i know cuz i don't care for rap.

Which whites did jazz better than Ellington or Coltrane?

Whites did amazing things with pop music that blacks didn't do, but it seems ridiculous to say whites did black styles--all of them--better than blacks did.

Glossy said...

"Maybe some artforms lead to faster burnouts."

Some art forms or some intoxicants.

"But there are people like Beethoven and Kubrick who never seem to lose it."

Maybe they just stayed sober.

Anonymous said...

hey ho ho ho

Anonymous said...

"While pop (made for girls and gays)"

And at least one of your straight male readers, two if you count LotB.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe they just stayed sober."

I think McCartney and Springsteen remained sober(relatively speaking) but after the Beatles breakup, McCartney did some good stuff but no great stuff.
And Springsteen's been treading water since BORN IN THE USA.
Some people just lose it.

Maybe Lennon and McCartney still had it in them to be great after 1970, but on their own, they were too easy and relaxed to get their creative juices flowing. It was as Beatles that they felt a kind of competitive spirit to outdo the other. Even as members of the same team, they wanted to be the better, the best. Without such competitive pressures, Lennon got silly with Yoko--though PLASTIC ONO BAND and IMAGINE received rave reviews, they sound rather dated or thin today--, and McCartney was just happy cranking out mellow pop melodies.

As for Springsteen, he either ran out of juice or bought into his own myth as some kind of emblem or monument of American working class hero virtues, and he was soon more into playing saint messiah than gritty artist. Even in his best early works, there was an element of overblown egotistical self-regard that came close to Broadway schlock, but he still had to keep pushing to become truly mainstream, and that kept him raw and real. Once he became a mega-superstar with BORN IN THE USA, he didn't need to push anymore since everyone was patting him on the back and pushing him from behind as not only a great artist but great American hero. He went from iconoclast to icon.
With wind on your back, you no longer need to push, and without pushing, there's no more effort.
The same seemed to have happened to Sting. SYNCHRONICITY is a remarkable album, and 'Every Breath You Take' is one of the all time great songs. But then what? Sting turned into pompous insufferable Stink. He finally had a decent song much later with the beautiful ballad "Fields of Gold".

I've no idea what happened to Bowie after LET'S DANCE. I was never a fan, but he was uniquely talented. But he just faded. Maybe he just matured and wanted a quiet life.

Anonymous said...

All this stuff about Ramones taking black style out of rock sounds bogus.

'I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND' and 'SHE LOVES YOU' didn't sound black. Neither did HOLD ME TIGHT.
Sure, they all had the energy of rock n roll, but the sound was different, much cleaner and smoother than rough and raunchy like most early rock n roll was.

And ALL MY LOVING, for the most part, doesn't sound black at all.

As for Beatles' cover of DEVIL IN HIS(HER) HEART, it's hard to call it 'white' or 'black', though the original version was black. The Donays' version is more soulful(though not very), Beatles version is cleaner, more polished.

And Diana Ross's style was as much Broadway as soul. I guess it was for the crossover appeal. She didn't(and couldn't) belt and bellow it out like Franklin.

Anonymous said...

Slightly OT, but I'm always surprised by your interest in music and that of your readers. If you want to increase your hipster cred (or if you still do drugs)I highly recommend Rollerskate Skinny, one of the most criminally underrated bands of the mid-90s:

Anonymous said...

"If you want to increase your hipster cred"

The relevant cred here is 'lame-square' cred. We are proud to be 'lame' and 'square', so send the Skinny to the binny.

We lamo-squares go for regular pop that normal folks like:

Thursday said...

Yeah, I'm not sure I buy into the myth that rock had to wait for the punks to turn it into really white music. The Beatles and The Who often sound pretty darn white. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 3:45

I'm Anonymous 2:37 and the Anonymous who recommended Rollerskate Skinny. I like the regular pop, too. In fact, it's most of what I listen to nowadays.

Anonymous said...

The Ramones may be proof of the 10000 rule. That is the Ramones had no natural talent, their musical success is due entirely to their work ethic.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that when there is a discussion of compositional prodigies George Bizet is never mentioned. Yet he wrote his remarkable one and only symphony at age 17. Perhaps it is because the work was not discovered until after his death; makes me wonder how many other undiscovered masterpieces are out there.

Anonymous said...

"The Beatles were clever chaps but none of them were as intelligent, or well read, as Jagger or Richards."

Lennon wasn't well-read but he was very intelligent.

Anonymous said...

"The Stones were probably the smartest of any of the big 60s group - Jagger, Richards, Watts are all very smart. Wyman probably not so much, not sure about Brian Jones."

Jones didn't contribute much musically but in terms of sensibility, he was a crucial stone. He had the most creative bohemian sensibility. He was to the Stones what Stu sutcliffe would have been to the Beatles had he lived and stuck with the band. Jones linked the Stones with the larger arts culture. After he died, Stones became less arty, for better or worse.

Anonymous said...

"If you have natural musical talent, the main barrier to entry would be developing technical mastery, the needed dexterity, along with an understanding of the nuances and internal possibilities of the instrument. Also, exposing yourself to good examples of solos on those instruments helps."

Some have performance talent, some have compositional talent. Dylan and Lennon were not great musicians by any means but they had great compositional talent and found the kind of performance people they could collaborate with to flesh their ideas out into sound.

I don't think Neil Young was much of a instrumentalist either, but Crazy Horse understood his ideas and played well for/with him.
It's like a great filmmaker may not be a master of cinematography or sound, but he can find the right people who can understand his vision and bring it alive.

Aaron Gross said...

...Joey lamenting the loss of the love of his life to Johnny.

This false urban legend must be corrected!!! Steve, you stand on the side of truth against the propagation of lies. You must join the crusade to set the record straight!

The KKK Took My Baby Away is not about Johnny stealing Joey's girlfriend. In fact, the song was written (but not recorded) before that even happened.

It was apparently inspired by something that happened before the Ramones were even formed. Joey (then just Jeffry Hyman) had a black girlfriend whom he'd met in the psych ward, which is where he met most of his girlfriends at that time. The two used to joke about their interracial relationship and the KKK.

The girl more or less moved in to Jeffry's mother's apartment where Jeffry was living. After a while, Jeffry's mother got fed up with the girl's weirdness - like Jeffry, the girl was a mental patient - and called her parents to come take her home.

When Jeffry's brother came home that day he asked Jeffry where his girlfriend was, and Jeffry replied, "They took her away."
"The KKK."

This is from I Slept With Joey Ramone by Joey's brother, Mike Leigh (Mitchell Lee Hyman). It sounds much more convincing than the "Johnny" story, which I've never seen confirmed by anyone who would know the truth.

Alcalde Jaime Miguel Curleo said...

In a review of one early Ramones release its songs were found to have a militaristic vibe and "appeal to fascist instincts" by bed-wetting Ivy League nitwit Robert Christgau (the Sasha Frere-Jones of the 70s). Despite the awkward hemming & hawing he wrote it was the most fun/enjoyable record in his recent memory. That review is why nothing ever published at Salon now surprises me

(p.s. I thought of "The KKK Took My Baby Away" during the Oberlin posts--to a person only seeing the title but knowing nothing about the band, presumably it'd appear as some kind of genteel statement piece (hopefully?). That would be false, but IIRC during the post-9/11 Clear Channel freak-out it still landed on the airplay blacklist.)

Anonymous said...

Ramens are boring, stupid, childish, and ugly. It's Dr Demento novelty stuff at best. One-shot blunder stuff.

We need more songs like these:

Anonymous said...

First punk and rap.

Whiskey said...

The Beach Boys and Dick Dale removed Black influences from rock a decade before Punk and the Ramones. Think about it. Nothing Black there. Then the British invasion added it back. New Wave may have been symphonic but it was White as hell. It was really the 90s boy bands and pop tarts that went Black. With serious rock remaining very, very White from the Replacements to New Radicals to Coldplay to say, the Naked and the Famous or Keane.

Chris Martins wife may follow Kanye West and Jay Z on tour, but his music is Whiter than White.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"The Beach Boys and Dick Dale removed Black influences from rock a decade before Punk and the Ramones."

But the steady beat thing and rhythm has 'black' roots.

SURFIN SAFAR and SURFIN USA were ripped from Chuck Berry. '
I GET AROUND owes a lot to rock n roll.
Beach Boys were also inspired by barbershop singing and there's black roots in that too. Of course, we must be careful not to go for one-drop rule in culture where something is called black because it has some or little black influence.
Sloop John B is a West Indies song, I think.

So, it's wrong to say they 'removed' black influences. They did their own things and made their own sounds. It can be called 'white' but its deeper influences are varied.

And WILD HONEY was Beach Boys doing R&B.

Anonymous said...

White? black? who cares?

It's fabulous.

Peter the Shark said...

"You don't hear Black bass players and songwriters like Jack Bruce. Jack Bruce is a White man par excellence."

That's crazy talk. Bass is one instrument in pop music where blacks have consistently been more innovative and interesting than whites over the last 50 years. White music tends to focus on melody and harmony and bass just plays a supporting role hitting root notes and 5ths (e.g. in country music - the whitest of all popular music). Black jazz musicians like Charles Mingus started pushing the role of the bass to new levels in the 1950s, then black musicians like James Jamerson and Bernard Odum started giving bass a more prominent role in R&B, followed by people like Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins, Stanley Clarke, etc. The virtuso white rock bassists - Entwistle, Geddy Lee, Bruce - often just play bass like yet another lead guitar just tuned down a few octaves. Black musicians are the ones who have developed a real "bass" voice in popular music.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or is 'Every Breath You Take' a ripoff of 'Stand By Me'?

Just Another Guy With a 1911 said...

Aaron, hey, appreciate the KKK origin story. If you have not watched it, check of the "End of the Century" Ramones DVD, some good stuff in there.

Neil Young: my band covers "Like a Hurricane", "Hey, Hey, My My", "Powder Finger", and "Keep on Rocking in the Free World". (One time we played out and had a whole bar full of 20 years old kids hopping around to "Powder Finger." It was bizarre).

Anyway, I do not copy solos note for note, but, really, it is not that hard to get a solo to sound Youngian, but a lot of that is predicated on nailing the feel.

That being said, while Young is not a virtuoso, he does have a lot of tricks up is sleeve. One example: on "Like a Hurricane", he does this thing where he plays octaves and slides them up in down. Or the neat little G - B- C bass run in the chorus of that song. Another example: "Powder Finger", when he is playing an open C he hammers the E. He's also really good at playing the heck out of single notes, which you here in almost all his solos. Another trick is a variation on the Johnny Ramone open high e and e on the fifth fret drone - he will slide it all up and down then back up to say the 17th fret or something and then just vibrato or bend the shit out a note. Also, I think his guitar picking is probably above average.

Where Young really shines, and I guess the whole band, really - is Rhythm. Everyone always thinks solos are the key to rock - but it really is the Rhythm as expressed not just through the Bass and Drums, but also the guitar solo. If you just know the basic blues box, and you get the feel down - ,man, you can do some pretty awesome things.

If you don't have the feel forget it - I played for years with this guy once who was a real aspie. He spent hours practicing. Jesus, he loved rock and had an encyclopedic knowledge of it. Went to concerts all the time. But he was looking at music from the outside in. His Rhythm guitar was not that bad, although very mechanical, but his solos were always lacking something.

Anyway, back to Neil Young: basically a guy with middling skills who, along with a great band, was able to fully execute a pretty compelling musical vision.

I always thought of surf music, at least as played by Dick Dale, as amped up Flamenco.

Hope all you iStevers have a good labor day.


Anonymous said...

I'm late to the party, but...

1. Did somebody really just ask who The Ramones influenced?!? Let's start with every punk rock band. Members of The Clash and The Sex Pistols attended a Ramones show on July 4th, 1976 which begat the British punk movement, which begat new romance and new wave which begat goth rock. On the other hand punk begat hardcore, which begat speed/thrash metal, which begat death metal, ad infinitum. In a nutshell, The Ramones are directly responsible for every strain of underground rock music that exists or has existed since 1976.

2. Somebody asked about the enduring appeal of The Ramones? Fist and foremost, they were the ground zero originators of punk rock. After about 1986, listening to punk rock was akin to learning a dead language, and all the important bands had long since broken up (The Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Misfits, Dead Kennedys, etc.). However, The Ramones were still together and still touring. Any aspiring young punk could still see something they missed. It was like time travel for disgruntled adolescents.

3. I wholeheartedly agree that "Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk Rock" was a fantastic book. However, the best book purely on The Ramones is "On The Road With The Ramones" by Monte Melnick, their tour manager for over 25 years.

4. Minor Threat was without a doubt the most important in influential hardcore band. That said, I really liked Bad Brains (named after a Ramones song, BTW), but the most noteworthy thing about them, other than their skin color, was that they played both pure hardcore and pure reggae without blending the two into ska. Also, Dr. Know introduced the guitar solo to hardcore.

5. Best Ramones song ever, IMHO "I Wanna Be Sedated".

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

The well-read Richard and well-educated Jagger pale next to Dr. Brian May, doctor of astrophysics, chancellor of John Moores University and sometime guitarist for Queen.

Anonymous said...

Writing great classical music is extremely hard.

Emily Bear was writing pretty decent classical music at age six. Pretty decent jazz too! Definitely a challenge for anyone who denies the existence of inborn talent.

Anonymous said...

Wilson being weird.

Anonymous said...

The Ramones lived by four simple rules.

First rule is: The laws of Germany
Second rule is: Be nice to mommy
Third rule is: Don't talk to commies
Fourth rule is: Eat kosher salamis

Svigor said...

The well-read Richard and well-educated Jagger pale next to Dr. Brian May, doctor of astrophysics, chancellor of John Moores University and sometime guitarist for Queen.

He's got nothin' on Dr. Buckaroo Banzai.

vinteuil said...

Finally broke down and decided I'd better listen to a Ramones ditty, just to hear what exactly y'all were nattering on about. Chose the top version of Blitzkrieg Bop on YouTube. Well, Jeezus H. Christ. What utter crap. I mean, it's not even *interesting* crap. Lacks the literary interest of the average poem by Ogden Nash, and lacks the musical interest of the average national anthem. Just pathetic.

Anonymous said...

"Chris Martins wife may follow Kanye West and Jay Z on tour, but his music is Whiter than White."

His curvaceous singing style owes something to soul.

Anonymous said...

"Keith Richards likes to read Gibbon. I don't think he's the complete idiot some think he is."

And he likes to act like a bonobo.

Anonymous said...

Surf music may not have been strongly blues-based but it had its share of black influence, not only from Chuck Berry etc. but also from jazz. Both direct and indirect.

Anonymous said...

Brian Jones of the ROLLING STONES had an IQ of 133.

Anonymous said...

I thought the first reaction against simple blues-based rock was progressive rock in the early 70s?

Initially at least, punk rock was championed by left wing music critics as a "popular" (read hipster) response to progressive rock, which was seen as white, middle class and elitist for trying to include classical influences in blues/jazz based rock songs.

Hence on one level it's pretty ironic that bands like the Ramones and post punk rockers Joy Division (the main inspiration for neo-folk) are so influential in white nationalist circles.

A stylistic example of the continuing egalitarian influence of punk in WN music is that nearly all neofolk bands have terrible vocalists who sing in a low flat style that puts me to sleep in about 60 seconds.

By all means reduce the blues influences, but why extinguish melody and dynamism?