Dial A Cliche

Some, in the pursuit of physical fitness, turn to running. Some would call that jogging. I, more accurately, stagger–although I do refer to it as a run. I try to run six days per week, and thus far it has helped keep me in decent shape. Decent, that is to say, if pear-shaped is acceptable. But in addition to any physical betterment, running–some say–is wonderful for clearing the mind. In my case, alas, it is not.

All manner of things trot through my head as I am running. Most, admittedly, are trivial–although I do occasionally try to retain the stray thought. Last week it occurred to me that, with the latest technology and social media, Punk Rock has at last attained half of its goals. Now anybody, whether a musician or not, can play any instrument whatsoever–however well–and secure an online audience.

I was just barely a teenager when the genre emerged in New York and London, and my very first thought was that it represented two things simultaneously: A venting of white-hot outrage over the socio-economic conditions of the time, and a democratization of music.

Kind of like Rock ‘n Roll itself–at least originally.

But 20 years on things had changed. What began as a virtual garage band rebellion of youth–think “Summertime Blues”–had become, by the mid 1970’s, thematically fed-up not only with a sense of hopelessness but with the futility its own sometimes anthemic music. Remember “Stairway To Heaven?” Remember Disco? Now think “God Save the Queen.”

In 20 years’ time, Rock ‘n Roll had gone from youthful to corporate–a slickly marketed, vastly profitable glitzy package. Kind of like how it has remained.

And when the time came for the young to rebel against the music itself–hey, Presto! Punk Rock. It was only when the industry wanted their cut–albeit of a tamed product; a parody, really–that New Wave was foisted on us.

But something funny happened en route to the mediocrity that still plagues us: Indie Rock, among the first of whose bands was The Smiths.

I was still listening to Jimmy Buffet when The Smiths formed in Manchester, England in, 1982–and to this day think “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” should be our national anthem. But The Smiths brought something new to the turntable: More than a return to guitar-driven Rock, The Smiths’ two songwriters–vocalist Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr–coupled a Punk sensibility with the tunesmithing of the original British Invasion. Kind of like how Cream, once upon a time, merged original Heavy Metal with literature-quality lyrics. In other words, you might hear a song about anything at all, and it would be socially relevant.

It would also be a good song: “Panic.” “Girlfriend in a Coma.” “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.” “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.”

The Smiths disbanded after five years, but Morrissey has enjoyed an ever-flourishing solo career since then. On August 29 he played to a sold-out Visalia Fox Theatre. The tickets were gone in a matter of hours.

And for good reason. What I like about Morrissey is that he has remained an interesting lyricist. We’re not talking simple Pop here–the man always has something to convey. It’s refreshing. I’m particularly tickled by the humor and sense of resignation Morrissey brings to whatever topic he puts his pen to, no matter the rage with which he is imbued. It’s a good quality in an artist.

Let’s face it: Art is about the conveyance of an idea. Any idea. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be pretty, or well executed. Only good art does. The term “Abstract Art” is oxymoronic.

Oh–and Art for Art’s sake? As Morrissey himself might say–although he did not perform that song last Saturday night–“Dial a Cliche.”


— Joseph Oldenbourg

Use your voice

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