Rock Snobbery Selected Entries (Page 3)
NOTE: Given the complexities and interconnectedness of the Snob universe, cross-references between entries are common and are spelled out in CAPITAL LETTERS for easy identification.
Jangle. Critic-beloved noun-adjective used to evoke sunny guitar pop; derived from Bob Dylan’s allusion to the “jingle-jangle morning” in “Mr. Tambourine Man” and the chiming sound of the RICKENBACKER played by Dylan’s foremost pop acolyte and songwriting beneficiary, the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn. While most readily associated with the mid-’60s, the word jangle has also been applied to the precious pop of studenty English bands (such as the Smiths and Belle and Sebastian) and to L.A.’s flagrantly retro Paisley Underground scene. Nick Heyward’s first solo record after leaving Haircut 100 is a lost masterpiece of jangle-pop.
Kraftwerk. Acutely German, acutely secretive inventors of “robot rock” (their preferred term), a highly mechanized dance-pop heavy on synthesizers, vocoders, and lyrics about robots, computers, trains, and bicycles. Founded in Düsseldorf in the late ’60s by the KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN-influenced art students Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, Kraftwerk effectively invented electronic pop music with their five albums released between 1974 and 1981, Autobahn, Radioactivity, Trans-Europe Express, The Man Machine, and Computerworld, all the while toying with Teutonic stereotypes by appearing in photographs as waxen, short-haired, emotionless mannequins. Hütter and Schneider have since become semi-recluses, infrequently releasing albums and playing live, though it’s said that they beaver away at their Düsseldorf studio, KlingKlang, on a daily basis.
Kuti, Fela and Femi. Nigerian father-and-son exemplars of Afrobeat, a term Fela coined to describe his fusion of West African polyrhythms, jazz vamping, and ’70s-style funk. The outsize, sax-tootin’ Fela was a polygamist who had 27 wives, boasted of Wilt Chamberlain levels of promiscuity, and was prone to performing in nothing but bikini briefs. He died of H.I.V.-related illness in 1997, after a tumultuous life in which he sparred frequently with Nigeria’s various military regimes. Fela’s principled political stands, hypnotic music, and generally outré personality have made him, even in death, a cause célèbre of world-music Snobs, BRIAN ENO chief among them. His son Femi, who had been performing with Fela since his teens, carries on the Afrobeat legacy with the help of his (only) wife, who is actually named Funke.
Laurel Canyon. Hilly Los Angeles neighborhood, located directly above Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, that has come to represent a musical ideal and lifestyle ethos for the burgeoning legions of neo-hairy, 70s-A.O.R. homagists. In the late ’60s, much of L.A.’s new, hippie-pop aristocracy repaired to the woody, brownish Arts and Crafts houses that dot the canyon’s twisty roads (the “very, very, very fine house” shared by Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell was on Lookout Mountain Avenue) and re-invented themselves for the coming decade as denimy, mildly countrified singer-songwriters. Though the scene quickly dissipated as its principals migrated westward to Malibu and northward to Santa Cruz and beyond, the “Laurel Canyon vibe” remains a touchstone for such blissed-out current acts as the Thorns (a quasi supergroup consisting of Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge, and Shawn Mullins) and the Thrills (a youthful quintet of California-obsessed Irishmen whose repertoire includes songs named “Big Sur” and “Don’t Steal Our Sun”).
Leslie, the. Hefty chunk of audio hardware originally designed as an amplifier for the HAMMOND B3 organ. The Leslie is distinguished by a high-range speaker horn that rotates atop its cabinet, lending a strange vibrato and distortion to the sounds that are processed through it. The Beatles forever expanded the utility of the Leslie when, eager for a dramatic effect in the final verse of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” they broke into the circuitry of the cabinet and fed John Lennon’s vocals through the speaker. Ever since, the Leslie has been put to similarly exotic uses—to make guitars sound like sitars on the Box Tops’ 1967 hit “Cry Like a Baby,” and to make Mick Jagger’s vocals sound sinister on Exile on Main Street. More recently it has enhanced Portishead vocalist Beth Gibbons’s atmospheric keening on a song entitled, in tribute, “Leslie.”
Lo-fi. Luddite recording aesthetic championed by contemporary artists who tend toward sparse, raw production and believe that older, analog equipment produces a more “honest” or “organic” sound; or, more realistically, by artists too musically incompetent and undisciplined to record crafted, finished music. At their best, Pavement combined Phi Beta Kappa smarts with an endearing lo-fi slipshodness.
Love. Baroque mid-’60s L.A. popsters led by Arthur Lee, a black hippie of prodigious talent and erratic discipline. Love’s ability to combine such seemingly irreconcilable genres as psychedelia, West Coast sophisto-pop, mariachi, and garage punk reached its apex with the band’s 1967 album Forever Changes. Having spent much of the 1990s serving time in a California prison on an illegal-firearms possession charge, Lee, who now sports a luxuriant, Phil Spector-esque wig, has returned to the touring circuit to ecstatic response, particularly in Britain, where he was received by giddy Boomer MPs in the House of Commons, one of whom read a special proclamation declaring Love “the world’s greatest rock band.”
Marshall stack. Monstrous amplification system designed to put out massive guitar sound from a proscenium, and, quite possibly, to make up for musicians’ penile shortcomings. The Marshall stack is built from numerous rows of squat amplifiers sitting atop four-speaker cabinets, each black-fronted component bearing the scrolled “Marshall” logo. Designed in 1962 by Englishman Jim Marshall to provide rock guitarists with dirty tone and devilish torque, the stack has served the Rock God needs of everyone from Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend to Van Halen and Guns N’ Roses. In my fantasies I am Slash, a screaming crowd before me and a Marshall stack behind me.
Master Musicians of Jajouka, the. More respected than enjoyed Moroccan collective whose members play the ancient devotional music of the peoples of the Er Rif Mountains, near Tangier. Though their wailing horns and pipes and polyrhythmic drumming often make for mesmerizing listening, the Master Musicians, who were first given Western exposure by such druggie adventurers as William S. Burroughs and the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, are most readily revered by killjoy World Music Snobs (chief among them was the late New York Times critic Robert Palmer) who view their work as the musical equivalent of oat bran, to be dutifully taken in as nourishment rather than as a sensual experience. I can’t be bothered with rock music anymore; all I listen to is Miles Davis’s Nefertiti and the Master Musicians of Jajouka.
Mellotron. Primitive ’60s synthesizer whose keys, when pressed, activate prerecorded tape loops; used to famous effect in the opening bars of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Vintage mellotrons are now purchased at great cost (usually in the low five figures) by retro rockers angling to sound Beatles-esque. Let’s put some mellotron over the fadeout to make it really Revolver-ish.
MIDI. Abbreviation for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, a communications protocol that allows a central electronic device, usually a keyboard or computer, to interact with other MIDI-compatible devices, enabling one person to command several instruments at once—and to tweak, twiddle, and layer every last note and beat of one’s composition to one’s heart’s content. MIDI, which was developed by a consortium of musical-instrument manufactures (among them Yamaha, Roland, and Korg), was viewed warily by many purists when it was introduced in 1983, but is now used by nearly all rock musicians save the White Stripes. With all my MIDI sequencers and interfaces, I can perform The Wall without David, Rick, or Nick, God help them.
Mojo. English magazine offering an exuberant, high-production-values take on Rock Snobbery; the compulsory Snob read since its founding in 1992. A typical issue offers a reverent interview with a crinkly rocker of ’60s vintage, a couple of multipage, photo-laden articles on suitably obscurist topics (such as the Doug Yule–era Velvet Underground, or the triumphal years of English blues plodders Free), and some sort of article on Nick Drake.
Morricone, Ennio. Prolific Italian composer of music for films, most notably his old schoolmate Sergio Leone’s famous spaghetti Westerns A Fistful of Dollars, Once Upon a Time in the West, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Though Morricone continues to churn out scores for both Hollywood and European movies, it’s his atmospheric 1960s work that has made him the patron saint of such upscale-Snob mood-musicians as Goldfrapp (whose icy-cool chanteuse, Allison Goldfrapp, thanked “Ennio” in her first album’s sleeve notes).
Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Crack four-piece of white Alabama boys (Barry Beckett, keyboards; Jimmy Johnson, guitar; Roger Hawkins, drums; David Hood, bass) responsible for underpinning such soul classics as Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” and Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally.” In 1969 the group opened its own Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, which in subsequent years became a pilgrimage destination for such swamp-vibe seekers as the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan. Snobs like to refer to the Muscle Shoals four as the Swampers, the insiderist nickname assigned them by beardy WRECKING CREW stalwart Leon Russell.
Neo-. Generous rock-critic term for “refried,” usually used to elevate knowing hommagistes above the station of mere tribute bands. The Strokes’ Room On Fire is a delightful platter of neo–New York punk.
Nesmith, Michael. Singer-songwriter whose civilian standing as the wool-hatted, least-reunion-inclined member of the Monkees is trumped in Snob circles by his standing as a progenitor of country rock. Nesmith recovered from Monkeedom by releasing three GRAM PARSONS-worthy albums with his First National Band in 1970-71, Magnetic South, Loose Salute, and Nevada Fighter, all of which sold poorly but hold up surprisingly well. Also known for having “invented” MTV, by virtue of having sold his concept for an all-music television program called Pop Clips to Time Warner (which developed his idea into a network), and for being the heir to the Liquid Paper fortune.
Nilsson, Harry. Brooklyn-born, powerfully piped singer-songwriter equally famous for well-realized retro-pop albums such as Nilsson Schmilsson (1971) and for being John Lennon’s drinking buddy/partner in crime during the latter’s “Lost Weekend” period in Los Angeles. Though his adept melding of Tin Pan Alley and Sergeant Pepper idioms suggested an artist of limitless possibility in the late ’60s and early ’70s, his increasingly sozzled state put him into a mid-’70s artistic decline from which he never recovered. (His tipple of choice was the Brandy Alexander, which the admiring Lennon referred to as a “milkshake”). Since his 1994 death, however, Nilsson’s oeuvre has acquired significant hipster cachet, with his oeuvre lavishly repackaged by BMG and his song “One,” as sung by Aimee Mann, used prominently over the credits of P.T. Anderson’s 1999 epic Magnolia.
Nitzsche, Jack. Runty, cantankerous Phil Spector protégé who started out as a session pianist but quickly graduated to status as rock’s A-list arranger, working with Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, and Tim Buckley. Though his ambitions as a recording artist were extinguished with the poor sales of his 1972 opus St. Giles Cripplegate, he gained new renown as a soundtrack composer; movies as diverse as Performance, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and An Officer and a Gentleman bear his spectral imprimatur. Check out that awesome Nitzsche arrangement on Springfield’s “Expecting to Fly.”