The worst offenders are the truly repellent likes of Yes, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, those bands with wind-up toy time signatures, castrati vocalists and reams of wretchedly vacant philosophizing that was so steeped in skull-fuckingly dull clichés that I suspect even Edgar Guest would call these guys grunting , formless worms choking down their own fecal trails. Still, there is some of this ambitious stuff that I think works, on their own terms--King Crimson, The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. The lyrics from all three bands were idiosyncratic and free of pud wilting platitudes, and the music for the three of them was, overall, unique and entirely original blends of marginal influences that, when stirred the right way, created something just as original. Peter Townsend had been called an intellectual so often by both the rock and the mainstream press that I suspect he came to believe and sought to live up the image of the Thinking Artist. The irony was that he already was doing Art, a special and original kind of music; his sagging jock strap of an ego trip with Quadrophenia robbed him of that talent,which is to say his wit, which is to say again, his mojo, saying finally, his pretensions made him hand his balls over to the Muse , who was done playing with him. He never got his groove back. I do think good rock and pop musicians and songwriters can be taken seriously to a degree, but there is always the danger of pomposity and self-congratulating bombast, the inflated sense of importance, that nearly always saps the music of real inspiration and vitality. Yes, even the best of our generation's singer-songwriters have been maudlin, precious and bordering on hard-edged baloney-mongering. But they have a knack, in general, to recover from their worst work and give us something actually inspired, focused, full of conviction. Still, others have not regrouped from their worst efforts. Sting, post-Police, is an auto-didactic tourist in other culture's music; he is lost in his pretensions, lost to us. Joni Mitchell decided she wanted to be a composer and a poet of an extremely diffuse, Eliot ilk and tried to merge meandering imagery with badly conceived, Mingus inspired impressionism; she has been minor league ever since. Peter Gabriel, in turn, has been largely quiet on the solo front and involved himself instead in other projects; this keeps our memory of his music a fond one.
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