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Shrewsbury, Massachusetts – Not long ago there was a tribute to Bruce Springsteen on PBS and since there was nothing better to watch, an all too common occurrence, we left it on for a while. After several minutes of listening to a few bands, who I didn’t know, play what I can only assume was a medley of Springsteen’s hits in front of a packed house, my wife commented “It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes.” Now you may not understand what she meant but I immediately got her inference, that all the people in attendance were either too foolish or didn’t have the courage to admit that the music was awful.
I’m not criticizing the musicians since they didn’t hit any discordant notes, it was just that each song’s melody contained no more than five or six notes repeated over and over, as were the lyrics that to me made no sense whatever. When mentioning this to an acquaintance the following day she said that Springsteen had a lot of social commentary in his music, which made me realize that she was just one more bystander in the crowd, watching the naked emperor pass by.
Before you call me an out of touch old coot, which you probably already have, let me just give an example of one of Bruce’s catchy lyrics, indelibly etched in my brain due to the constant repetition of “Adam had a Cain, Adam had a Cain.” Of course the biblical reference would be obvious to even a ten year old, but other than that what in hell did those words mean? Unfortunately the sounds that followed provided no clue since all that the singer intoned was “ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh” like a banshee. Perhaps I’ve omitted an “ooh” but I doubt it would help clarify anything.
Since I mentioned clothing I might as well comment on the performers’ attire, dark, ill-fitting garments that made them all look positively dirty, only reinforced by heads and faces of unruly hair. Do they really dress that way off stage? When commenting on this as well to my acquaintance, she defended the groups by saying they were protesting against formal society’s conventions, a custom that’s been in vogue for generations. Protesting…. protesting what? The hippies are gone, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are old men like me. These bands weren’t playing in front of idealistic college kids since the men and women who were present were all well-dressed music industry executives.
There was a time when performers could be distinguished from audiences by the tuxedoes or gowns being worn, outclassing the attendees who merely sported well tailored suits and dresses, while nowadays the entertainers can be easily identified by appearing too unkempt to even be allowed inside the theaters.
Don’t get me wrong for I’m not advocating going back to the day when men wore suits, ties, and hats to ballgames. All I would like to see is entertainers who look presentable, performing songs that contain melodies with words that really mean something and actually rhyme. There was a time when a beautiful singing voice or the playing of a jazz piano coming from a radio would make the listener stop and wonder “Who is that?” Wouldn’t it be nice to hear those sounds again?