Welcome back to The Roundtable. Let’s get back to the conversation. In case you’re new to it, this is where Treble opens up to our readers about our individual experiences on a more personal level, without putting too much of a critical eye on it. Not that the eye ever shuts — this is simply a casual conversation. Got a question for us? Feel free to send it over to [email protected] with the subject “Roundtable topic.”
This week’s topic: What band or artist took you a long time and a lot of effort before you could enjoy their music?
Dakota Foss: Everyone and their dog kind of enjoys Radiohead. They just seem to be one of those groups that, no matter who you talk to, people chime in agreement that they’re pretty great at what they do. At the very least, people can belt out the words to “Creep” in a joking-but-not-really sort of way. I was firmly in that group until rather recently (see: April). The world made a big enough deal out of Radiohead that I felt like I’d heard all I needed to hear without actually, you know, listening to them. Reviews were always unanimous with praise and I’d seen enough appreciation posts on my Facebook timeline to make the well-informed choice of becoming completely ignorant to their sound or relevance. Boy, was I wrong. Looking back now, I see just how groundbreaking and influential their late ’90s/early ’00s output was. And especially on as large of a scale. They may not be the most out-there band, but Radiohead is responsible for turning an incredible amount of people onto more avant-garde directions. It’s hard not to marvel at their commitment to being so non-committal to a single sound.
A.T. Bossenger: To be honest, I can’t even really remember what my prejudice against them was, but I couldn’t stand Fleetwood Mac growing up. Maybe I never really gave them an honest try, but I think it had something to do with how ‘punk,’ ‘indie,’ or ‘experimental’ most of my music collection was. Fleetwood Mac was definitely not heavy or bizarre. And, unlike other relatively quieter acts I enjoyed, they were sincerely approachable from a pop music standpoint, which used to be an issue of some measure for me. Keep in mind I was around sixteen, and these scales aren’t universal since I was definitely into The Beatles and The Rolling Stones — whom I was listening to ever since I learned how to work a radio. For whatever reason Fleetwood Mac never got far enough past my defenses to really stick. I never gave them a chance.
Sometime around 2010 I went to a Halloween covers show. I was living in Lexington, Ky. at the time and local artists have a tradition of forming little mini-supergroups to cover artists they love. There’s not really a lot of camp involved; usually three co-headlining sets, each with a new group focusing on a specific tribute. The big finale that year was David Bowie (which was amazing) and my good friend Scott was playing guitar on that set so I went to check it out. As luck would have it, one of the openers was playing Fleetwood Mac covers. When I saw the name on the flier I had admittedly rolled my eyes, but as I watched the band play I was entranced. The drums kicked ass. The guitars kicked ass. The bassist was incredibly skilled and the vocal harmonies were definitely up my alley. And since this wasn’t some hokey touring cover band (no offense — a living’s a living) I was able to realize that, when played within the earnest sweat and ambiance of a live show, I really, really loved this music. I felt excitement, and then a little shame for never really giving them a chance. It’s not that I had actively avoided Fleetwood Mac, but a bias I had developed as a child had stuck with me. It hurt a little to think of all the other music I was probably missing for the same reason. So I turned to Scott and confessed that I’d never been able to get into Fleetwood Mac. His answer both shocked me and put any shame to rest: “I used to feel the same way. You can’t think of them in terms of a rock ‘n’ roll band. They’re something else entirely.”
And there you have it. Now I have their records on vinyl and will honestly never tire from listening to “The Chain” on repeat. But it took that push of seeing a live faux-Fleetwood Mac to realize that the genres they really dive into — folk rock, soft rock, blues rock, blue eyed soul — were genres I wasn’t embracing yet at the time I developed that silly teenage superstition, but later came to love. I just had to stop thinking of them as a ‘lame rock band’ and start thinking of them as Fleetwood Mac.
Paul Pearson: For a long time there was a triumvirate of “classic rock” bands that I just refused to give much of a chance to, because I figured I’d heard enough of them by not trying — the radio, dorm rooms, elevators, loud gatherings with hydroplanes — that I knew everything I had to. One was The Doors and their mock poetic, sexually lumbering front man, and another was the Grateful Dead, whose whole ecosystem I kept at a distance, which ain’t easy if you’ve ever lived in San Francisco. I’ve come around a little on both of them. Now I don’t mind The Doors if they keep it under five minutes, and I grew to appreciate the Dead of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty — i.e., the Dead that actually wrote songs.
But I held out longest against Led Zeppelin. My mind’s eye had formed a sort of sculpture of what a Led Zep song was: a prohibitively large object (a zeppelin, if you will) covered with follicles, rolling over abandoned Delta graveyards with an aimless, wailing sound coming out of 80-foot amplifiers lodged in the sides in giant recesses. And the whole thing was being tugged by a dwarf.
One evening when there wasn’t much going on, I gave a listen to their officially untitled fourth album, all of which I’d been casually inundated with as an adolescent, but I’d never really listened to attentively. I found some surprises I hadn’t picked up on before: Regarding “Stairway to Heaven,” there’s an electric piano buried down in the mix, and the song wasn’t as “heavy” as I always thought — in the coda, for example, the guitars are barely distorted at all. I’d always thought they were thundering through that mix, but the guitars on “Stairway” are, Page’s solo notwithstanding, kind of light. Frothy, even. Who knew? Still don’t need to hear the song ever again, but at least my impression’s more accurate now.
That led to more intimate sessions with the first three albums, and even though they were giddy cases of outright thievery, I have to admit they were pretty good. My favorite was Led Zeppelin II, in no small part because they were making some seriously dumb, amusing production choices. The hard-panning on the long break in “Whole Lotta Love” — that’s just comedy. I liked the curveball they threw everyone on Led Zeppelin III: largely acoustic, remarkably sedate, and especially on Side Two very well-written. I didn’t expect their first three albums to contain as much diversity as they do.
Greg Speranza: I’ll never forget my first experience with Tom Waits. I had long heard many fantastic things about the man and his music, so I decided to give Rain Dogs — his most highly regarded work — a listen. During the first track, “Singapore,” I was taken abaack by the abrasive and comical nature of the music. It wasn’t so much that the music was offensive so much as it was difficult to understand. “Clap Hands “was a little easier to interpret. The eerie marimba that drives the song acts as a guide to hold your hand through its duration, making it one of the more accessible tracks on the record. Now, couple that with Tom’s bourbon soaked vocal melodies and you have yourself a classic Waits tune.
But, to be honest, “Clap Hands” was the only song that really stuck out after my first listen. Further listens did much to change this. “Jockey Full of Bourbon” and “Union Square” started to rear their heads, but not much else was shining through. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people that can just go through an artist’s entire discography in one sitting and pick which one I liked the most. I usually take their most/one of their most praised works, see if it sits right with me, get really into it, and then explore the rest of their catalog. With Rain Dogs not really clicking at all, I decided to put it on the back burner for a while.
It wasn’t until probably a year and a half later that I decided to give Tom a shot again. I was on vacation in Florida, scrolling through my iPod, when I spotted Rain Dogs and thought, “why not?” What ensued was musical bliss. Every track clicked and played off of each other beautifully. I totally understood what Tom was going for — schizophrenia and all. I found all of the musical styles that he incorporated into the album incredibly inspiring as both a listener and a songwriter. That was about three years ago, and now, I consider Tom Waits as one of my favorite artists. I own a very fair amount of his albums, still frequently listen and take influence from him to use in my own music, and am waiting for the day that I can see him perform live.
Jeff Terich: This is probably not something I should admit too readily as someone who writes about metal with some regularity, but up until just a few years ago, I absolutely could not stand Metallica. I didn’t start out having so strongly a distaste for the Bay Area thrash metal band; my neighbor when I was in grade school had a cassette copy of the Black Album and I regularly heard tracks like “Enter Sandman” and “Sad But True,” and even thought them sort of catchy. But James Hetfield’s absurd too-many-syllables singing style (Count all the “yeahs”!) quickly grew on my nerves, and by the time the band released Load, I started to find them truly groan-worthy. At this point I was a teenager, spending most of my time hanging out with skaters that routinely listened to Metallica or Pantera to get stoked before busting out some kick flips, and though Phil Anselmo struck me as a much bigger asshole than Hetfield, I didn’t find his voice nearly as annoying. (Weirdly enough I liked Megadeth a lot more than both bands, though we won’t go into that right now.)
But I think the moment that I truly wrote off Metallica happened with Re-Load, with the song “Fuel.” To this day, I consider it one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard (“Gimme fuel! Gimme fire! Gimme that which I desire!”… so many ughs) — and they only got worse after that! So, for the next decade or so, I had absolutely no reason to believe that Metallica wasn’t awful. I understood their importance, and their influence on metal and rock, but I was willing to concede that from a distance without giving them much of a real endorsement. But sometime around the late ’00s, on a lark, I decided to listen to Kill ‘Em All for the first time in years. As I recall, this was a favorite of my skater friends, and I kinda liked the riff to “Motorbreath,” so what the hell — time to fire up some thrash metal. And much to my surprise, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Next I went to Master of Puppets, and while it was a little overlong in parts, I had the same reaction — this is really fun! And by the time I got to Ride the Lightning, I was totally sold. To quote Otto from The Simpsons: “Metallica rules!”
Don’t get me wrong — Load, Re-Load, St. Anger, and especially Lulu should never be listened to anyone ever again. And Death Magnetic and The Black Album still aren’t anything special. But I’ve got the first three, and I’m ready to rock.
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