Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Influence(s).

If two of my favorite bands, who have each changed the face of rock in their own ways, started out listening to less-than-great music in their formative years (but eventually surpassed such influences), where does that leave me, having them in the place where they had these other less-than-great acts? I suppose it would be easier to name names.

I read part of the biography, Rivers' edge, about Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. From general Weezer fandom, I knew he was a Kiss fan, but I read this section where, as a teenager, he learned every single Kiss album, playing them with his first, high school band. Kiss? If Kiss influenced anything in Weezer, it was certainly not in Pinkerton. (I guess I can't boldly state that, as I've only ever heard "ROCK 'N' ROLL ALL NIGHT".)

I read this book, Please Kill Me: The oral history of punk, and in it there is this section where The Ramones play in the UK and The Clash were there, just worshipping them. The Ramones? Okay, I can see this a bit more clearly with The Clash, but if The Ramones influenced The Clash, it was certainly not in London Calling. I remember a punk band (could have been the Clash) saying something about the era being just kids in the audience saying that they (themselves) could play better than the Sex Pistols, and then the kids just set out to do just that.

I guess I could say the same about Morrissey, who has released a collection (essentially a personal mixtape) of his influences, Morrissey: Under the Influence, since one of the songs is from The Ramones. And I guess I could mention something about the Smiths covering "Golden Lights," by Twinkle, but I don't know anything about her original recording or other music. Just that that cover by the Smiths is bad.

(One of the Amazon reviews of Under the Influence is particularly amusing. Entitled "I wish *I* were under the influence while listening to this," he notes

"All that is My Own" - Nico
I really hate Nico. I really hate this song. I don't hate this song as much as I hate "Fire and Ice".)

So where does this leave me, the aspiring musician? I'm certain these groups weren't the only ones Weezer, The Clash, and Morrissey (and The Smiths) listened to, but they sure do seem to play a large part in the start of their musical careers.

I guess that is kind of a selfish, arrogant, partially ignorant question, but I'm going to pose it regardless.


  1. You have to take these things in context. Rivers did like Kiss a lot, in fact a lot of people do. And you can definitely hear them, especially on Pinkerton which has more than its share of "pop-metal" moments.

    The important thing to remember is that he was so dedicated that he learned every single Kiss record. That alone sets him apart from the average, "yeah metal in your face" guy. And he was good enough to know that maybe he could try something else and make it work. But also, we must face the possibility that the Weezer phenomenon may have, all along, not even been what he really wanted to do. The record company could have talked him into doing Blue the way they did, and when it got huge he could have just kept going for the paycheck alone.

    Does that diminish his contributions? I would argue that it puts them in perspective and that some of these mythical walls in the entertainment industry need to be torn down. I was just talking to Caleb the other day about how frustrating it is not to know how the bands I like made it. I mean the specific details; how they dealt with managers, publicity people, and record labels; how they got together in the first place (which is usually told in the form of some kind of exaggerated story); and how they made their sounds work.

    The Ramones are an interesting part of this. From reading the book, you realize that UK punks completely misinterpreted the American scene. And you have to realize that when the Ramones record came out, there was literally no one doing what they were doing, especially in the UK. The closest thing you had was maybe Jonathan Richman. So here's this record comes out with four guys in leather jackets and jeans on the cover, and the songs are all these loud fast ditties about beating kids up and sniffing glue and suddenly these disenfranchised kids in England could project their ideals onto the personalities that had made this record. Because they were living in such a repressive situation, with unemployment so high, the record took on a lot of symbolic meaning. And the Ramones go to play a show in England and they get threatened and spit on and totally don't understand that the UK kids are voicing their approval. Because in NYC the vibe was just so different and it wasn't about being violent or revolutionary.

    (U2 was also very influenced by the Ramones, and in the early days they used to pass Ramones songs off as their own which I find hard to believe.)

    Morrissey (and Marr to some extent) were raised on 60's pop. And glam rock, which is another more obvious facet of their sound. You should listen to some T. Rex and read about them to get an idea of what really got the Smiths going. ("Bang A Gong" is of course the one you hear on classic rock radio ... after I put it in perspective, I liked that track a lot more. There's also "20th Century Boy", and "Metal Guru" was deliberately copied for "Panic".)

    The bottom line is of course your influences aren't the only thing that creates your artistry. There's always an "x-factor", something that you personally add to the mix that justifies what you do. And it may not be anything "new", but it's still valid. For example, it could be said that all that Reel Big Fish ever did was put ska and riff rock together. But that's a pretty big step and it was a new connection being made between two existing things. I think that's an important thing to remember.

    I'm sure "Under the Influence" is boring to us, because the Smiths were able to take those common interests and expand on them to such a large degree. But the process is still happening even now, to the point where someday people will say, "Yeah, this band is great, but I can't believe they were influenced by the Smiths. That stuff is so dated." (or whatever)

    You may not have felt this yet, but I think my listening tastes are slowly becoming outdated. I find I don't look for a lot of new stuff anymore, that might just be that I'm having so much fun "digging through the archives" as it were, but I don't know. But when today's bands cite their influences, it's always someone who was big 5 or 10 years ago ... they aren't going to say the Killers or the Strokes, because the people who are going to be influenced primarily by these bands are still learning the ropes, still discovering their musical identities.

    I'm only stopping now because I'm hungry. I might come back to this later.

  2. (I did know about U2's covers of Ramones, and am also surprised by it.)

    The ebb and flow of popular music, with influences and modern artists, is certainly a very interesting topic. Whenever anyone asks me what my band sounds like, or what my musical influences are, or if I think one band sounds like another, I almost always respond with a shrug. It's pretty hard to introspect that much for me, but I, from time to time, realize that some of my riffs came from here or there, or this bit of singing sounds like this. I like the idea that all of these bands and ideas are put in one end of my psyche, and as you said the "x-factor" happens, and the output comes out the other side. So, when I completely lift something from a certain song, I am usually surprised, although I know that I really liked that song (especially when I never set out to learn the chords or melodies to the song, but manage to copy them anyway).

    I'm constantly surrounded by new groups and music, and it kind get kind of overwhelming at times. Most of the times I balance the new stuff with listenings of all my favorite albums. Finding new bands can be pretty exciting, but I can definitely feel the draw to just step out of the loop and just listen and enjoy all the stuff I already know.

    And, as I learn in psychology, there is a peak of remembering in people's lives around the early 20s, when a lot of stuff is going on. After this point (where you are), many are settling down, not seeking out as much new stuff, etc. So, I view my early teenage years and these years as being pretty influential in my musical development, and hoping that I find a lot of stuff that I like, but sooner or later I'll probably realize that I've got everything I need, and rely on the records I've listened to for dozens of times for recreation. I guess it's kind of like people have a limited number of slots in which to put bands or... something, and if you keep searching out the new stuff, the old stuff probably won't mean as much.

    So overwhelming.

    With that in mind, off to Vinyl Fever to trade in old, crappy CDs for some new, cutting-edge stuff! ;)

  3. Anonymous1:40 AM

    ...just as long as you don't insist that you are influenced by Beck, Bjork, Bright Eyes, Cursive, Dream Theater, Elliot Smith, Fugazi, Hot Hot Heat, Interpol, Outkast, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, The Darkness, The Flaming Lips, The Police, The Postal Service, Tool, and Wilco, and yet somehow only manage to produce vapid, generic pop-punk.

    Uh, not naming any names.