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Rock Snobbery Selected Entries (Page 5)

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.

Seminal. Catchall adjective employed by rock writers to describe any group or artist in on a trend too early to sell any records. The Germs were a seminal L.A. punk band, but guitarist Pat Smear didn’t realize any riches until he joined Nirvana.

’68 Comeback Special. Nickname for television special that originally carried the simple title Elvis. Upheld by Snobs as Elvis Presley’s last great flourish of brilliance before getting fat and inordinately chummy with Richard Nixon, the special, which aired on NBC in December 1968, saw Presley temporarily liberating himself from the odious grind of B-movies and reclaiming his relevance and sensuality in the Beatle era—growing out his sideburns again, wearing tight leathers, and, of the most musicological importance, reuniting with his 1950s bandmates Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana for a proto-Unplugged, rootsy revisitation of old rockabilly numbers. Though Elvis had no shortage of the sort of overwrought, unintentionally funny production numbers endemic to TV at that time, the stripped-down segment, only a fragment of which was seen in the original special, has since become a phenomenon of its own as full-length video entitled Elvis—One Night With You.

South by Southwest. Annual Austin, Texas, music festival-cum-industry convention that, since its inception in 1987, has become the prime one-stop showcase for ascendant indie talent; a sort of Rock Snob analog to the Sundance Film Festival (though South by Southwest has expanded its mandate to include film and new media). Each year, over a thousand acts perform on more than 50 stages. Like all things that began in indie-upstart fashion, such as Sub Pop records, Lollapalooza, and rock itself, South by Southwest (known in shorthand as SXSW) is lamented by Snobs for having been “corporatized” and for not being the loose, scrappy free-for-all it once was, though it’s still wont to offer soon-to-be-big bands their first national exposure, as such alums as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Norah Jones and the Strokes can attest.

Southern-fried boogie. Ancient rock-hack phrase, originally used to describe the music of hirsute white electric-blues bands of early-’70s vintage, such as ZZ Top, the Outlaws, and the Allman Brothers, but dusted off recently to describe the new music of hirsute white youngsters of early-’70s ethos, such as Kid Rock and Kings of Leon. Fresh from the backwoods of Tennessee, Kings of Leon blew away the crowd with their hickory-smoked brand of southern-fried boogie.

Stanley Brothers, the. Bluegrass duo formed in 1946 by Virginian brothers Carter (guitar, lead vocals) and Ralph (banjo, harmony vocals). With their backing group, the Clinch Mountain Boys, the Stanleys were a fixture on the college and folk-festival circuit until Carter’s death in 1966. Thereafter, Ralph persevered as an elder statesman of mountain music, his fan base limited to the country cognoscenti until he attracted national attention with his warbly, shamanistic a cappella rendition of “O Death” on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Though known now even to Starbucks baristas and entertainment lawyers, Ralph is still cherished by Heritage Snobs who like to enthuse about how his banjo technique “ingeniously fuses the old-time clawhammer approach with the three-finger style of Earl Scruggs.”

Stax/Volt. Composite term for two Memphis-based soul labels of the 1960s, Stax Records and its subsidiary, Volt, whose releases, by the likes of Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and Rufus Thomas, provided a rawer, grittier counterpart to the more polished black pop of Motown. Rock Snobs are particularly enamored of Stax/Volt’s crack house band, Booker T. and the MGs, and its equally adept horn section, the Mar-Keys. When I saw all those great Stax/Volt players backing up Belushi and Aykroyd, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Karlheinz Stockhausen Stockhausen, Karlheinz. Avant-garde German composer and early electronic-music enthusiast whose sound collages and forays into musique concrète have impressed pop disciples ranging from the Beatles (whose “Revolution 9” was a very Stockhausian piece of art gibberish) to Jim O’Rourke. Already given to making extraordinarily pretentious, Sprockets-like pronouncements—being an avant-garde German composer and all—Stockhausen forfeited all civilian goodwill when he publicly declared the 9/11 terrorist attacks to be “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos.”

Stooges, the. Filthy-sounding, drug-addled late-’60s-early-’70s Detroit band fronted by charismatic, self-mutilating singer Iggy Pop, né James Osterberg. The Stooges’ primal, three-chord rock and Pop’s naughty, nihilistic lyrics (on such songs as “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell”) helped form the template for punk. Degenerate drummer seeks like-minded fuckups to jam and kick ass like the Stooges.

Sylvester Sylvester. Aggressively queeny black disco singer of the late 1970s (1947–1988), posthumously regarded by dance-music Snobs and queer theorists as the spangly materfamilias of modern, hedonistic club culture. (He paraded about in drag years before RuPaul and OutKast’s Andre 3000.) Though such amyl-popper anthems as “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat)” were never huge chart hits, they won the crucial appreciation of the Studio 54 cognoscenti, making Sylvester a chic name-drop in Manhattan to this day. His hefty backing singers, Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes, later scored their own gay-disco hit as the Weather Girls, with “It’s Raining Men.”

Television. Late-’70s guitar band lumped into the New York punk movement by dint of connections to the CBGB’s scene (Blondie, Talking Heads, Ramones) but actually wont to do unpunk things such as play eight-minute songs featuring noodly guitar duels between second banana Richard Lloyd and ornery, beanpole-ish front man Tom Verlaine (whose ex-girlfriend Patti Smith described his playing as sounding “like a thousand bluebirds screaming”). Considered by Rock Snobs to be more important than any other New York band of the era, despite having released just two albums, 1977’s Marquee Moon and 1978’s Adventure (plus an obligatory 1990s reunion album).

Richard Thompson Thompson, Richard. Wry, bearded singer-songwriter-guitarist and veteran of SEMINAL British folk group the Fairport Convention; unaccountably deified by rock critics for his intelligent yet never transcendentally great albums. (Rolling Stone named Shoot Out the Lights, the 1982 album he made with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Linda, as that year’s best.) As such, Thompson has provided the template for a slew of younger, similarly overpraised troubadours such as Freedy Johnston, Vic Chesnutt, and Ron Sexsmith.

ToeRag Studios. Tatty, reverse-chic London recording facility that uses only vintage equipment, such as Neumann microphones, VOX AC-30 amplifiers, and LESLIE speakers. Founded in 1992, ToeRag became a Snob byword with the release of White Stripes’ Elephant album, which was recorded there, and whose song “Ball and Biscuit” takes its name from an old-fashioned microphone (more clinically known as an STC 4021) suspended from ToeRag’s ceiling.

Tropicalia. Term describing both a 1968 compilation of avant pop released in Brazil and the subsequent movement it inspired. Mixing Brazilian rhythms with Anglo-American songcraft and hippie flourishes, Tropicalia—and its foremost practitioners, such as the Rock Snob cult fave Tom Ze—gained new currency in the late ’90s thanks to youthful champions such as Beck, who included a song called “Tropicalia” on his album Mutations.

Troutman, Roger. Flamboyant synth-funk producer and leader of early-’80s funk band Zapp, best known for its quasi-underground hits “More Bounce to the Ounce” and “Dance Floor.” Troutman’s trademark kitsch-futuristic sound was enhanced by his processing of his vocals through a vocoder, which he referred to as a “Ghetto Robot.” Though his career was resuscitated by his appearance on Dr. Dre and Tupac’s 1996 hit, “California Love,” Troutman died tragically three years later when he was gunned down by his brother-manager, who then committed suicide.

Townes Van Zandt Van Zandt, Townes. Lanky Texan singer-songwriter in the country-folk idiom who, like GRAM PARSONS, exuded a hard-drinkin’, ramblin’-man aura despite coming from a wealthy family. Best known for his song “Pancho and Lefty,” a huge country hit for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in 1981, Van Zandt the performer never rose above cult-artist status, and died a HARRY NILSSON–like alcohol-related death in the 1990s. Frequently confused by novice Snobs with eccentric L.A. scenester VAN DYKE PARKS, immolated Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant, and Springsteen sideman/Sopranos actor Steven Van Zandt, none of whom is anything like him

Vox AC-30. Handsome but puny British-manufactured amplifier-speaker that first gained attention during the Beatles’ early, scream-drenched appearances in America. Cheap and eminently portable, the AC-30 became standard issue among the hordes of American garage bands that arose in the British Invasion’s wake. (The amp is recognizable on old Shindig episodes by the crisscross gilt pattern on its woven brown speaker cloth.) Among the purists who maintain fealty to the modest, tube-generated sound of the AC-30 is, surprisingly, guitarist Brian May of the bombast purveyors Queen. My AC-30 is old and battered, but you just can’t beat that warm, intimate sound.

Brian Wilson Wilson, Brian. Mentally fragile Beach Boys leader. While revered by normal people for the catchiness and ingenuity of such hits as “I Get Around” and “California Girls,” Wilson is revered by Rock Snobs more for his sensitive orchestral-pop masterwork, Pet Sounds; for the ambition and general way-outness of its unfinished follow-up, Smile, the unraveling of which sealed his repute as a misunderstood genius forever persecuted by his own demons and “the Man”; and even for his fragmentary output from the ’70s and ’80s, which offers only evanescent moments of his ’60s-standard brilliance. Still a palpably haunted figure, Wilson has been well enough in recent years to mount live-concert versions of Pet Sounds and Smile (the latter of which he re-recorded in 2004), though furious Snob debate rages over whether these shows are evidence of his still-burning genius or the too-generously received work of a barely participatory man whose adoring, proficient backing musicians compensate for his tentativeness.

Dennis Wilson Wilson, Dennis. Strikingly handsome middle brother of the Beach Boy Wilsons. Long suspected of being a marginally talented surfer-stoner dude who was merely along for the ride with genius older brother BRIAN WILSON and golden-voiced kid brother Carl—though nominally the group’s drummer, he often ceded his sticks to WRECKING CREW stalwart Hal Blaine—Dennis surprised fans when, as a novice songwriter in the late 1960s, he ably crafted emotionally fraught ballads; his out-of-print 1977 solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue, is a major cause célèbre among Snobs. An even more tragic figure than mentally ill sibling Brian, Dennis befriended Charles Manson and facilitated his entrée into the 1960s L.A.-rock artistocracy, and he died in 1983 in penurious, booze-addled circumstances, ironically by drowning in the Beach Boys’ beloved Pacific. The title of a 2001 Dennis biography, The Real Beach Boy, neatly encapsulates the fervent ethos of Dennis Snobs.

Wrecking Crew. Crack team of ’60s-era Los Angeles session musicians whose number included drummer Hal Blaine, bassists Carol Kaye and Ray Pohlman, keyboardists Larry Knechtel and Leon Russell, saxophonist Steve Douglas, and guitarists Jerry Cole and Tommy Tedesco. Often summoned at odd hours to execute the tricky, ambitious arrangements of Phil Spector, BRIAN WILSON, and JACK NITZSCHE.

Yé-yé girls. Swinging-’60s French ingenues who applied their inherent Franco-opacity and Euro-cheesiness to the fluffy girl-pop styles then in vogue in Britain and America, alchemically achieving a highly sexualized result. The most famous yé-yé girls were Brigitte Bardot (wearing her singer’s hat), Francoise Hardy, and France Gall, but hard-core enthusiasts revel in delving deeper, obsessing over such forgotten single-named stars as Hédika, Géraldine, Sophie, and French national treasure Sheila (née Annie Chancel), renowned for her pre-Britney schoolgirl outfits and her yé-yé anthem “L’École Est Finie” (School Is Over!).

Zimmy. Insiderist nickname for Bob Dylan, favored by shut-in Dylanologists in their painstaking discussions of their godhead’s oeuvre; derived from Dylan’s actual surname, Zimmerman. Man, Blood on the Tracks is just a harrowing document of Zimmy’s divorce.

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