I’M GOING TO HELL. You know it and I know it. But I’m fairly sure it’s not going to be of the William Blake-etching variety. There will be no eternal fire, three-headed dogs, or seas of percolating sinners. There will be no cloven hooves or torture racks or rounds of cribbage with Pol Pot and Hitler. No, my hell will almost certainly take place in a windowless basement room buried deep in the purgatorial nethers. The ceilings and walls will be slathered an institutional shit-brown. I will be in the center of a wet cement floor, Duct-taped to a broken lawn chair, with old Victrola megaphones stuffed in each ear.
And I will sit there. Forever.
Listening to scratchy mp3s at top volume.
For untold millennia.
Not only do I know this treatment is coming, I know I deserve it. Mainly because I have a deep and unforgivable flaw. A personality defect. A gaping and oft-salted emotional wound: since the day I turned eleven and inherited my uncle’s Beatles albums, I’ve cared about music to the exclusion of all else. I’ve been an unrepentant vinyl nerd. A tedious mix tape fanatic. A mortgage-flouting download freak. I’ve bought, sold, and archivally stored such a pendulous, debauched, and endless train of rare vinyl that there should have been an intervention years ago, one that ended with me forcibly installed at Santa Barbara’s Passage to a New Promise.
For some reason I just seem to hate certain songs more viscerally than normal people. If normal means “not driven to psychotic distraction” by Bizkits, limp or otherwise. I simply need not to listen to music I choose not to listen to, in a very physical way, from psyche to belly to rote musculature. I am the sort of person who snaps off the car radio in anger, tears records from under expensive diamond-tipped needles and flings them out into the street, secretly donates my loved ones’ Dixie Chicks CDs to charity, and loudly bemoans musical choices in restaurants, cafes, and in front of hostesses of small social gatherings.
In other words, a total asshole.
But I just can’t help myself. I have no reverse. My only three musical gears are John Coltrane, blessed silence, or the sort of turgid pop indulgences that make me want to run, naked and screaming, deep into the night, doomed never to return. At least not until I am tased, hog-tied, and relegated to Belleview for ninety days of involuntary observation and a round of Wellbutrin suppositories.
And so for these crimes I am sure, much like Robert Johnson, that I will eventually have to pay Ol’ Scratch down at the crossroads. Or at least down in Gehenna. And once I am in his fiendish clutches, The Lord of Flies will no doubt devise a loop of ten bands, spinning them with merciless repetition. They will come at me one after another, song after malformed song, for days and months and years and decades. It will be a playlist of eternal aural misery. Of soul-damned disharmony. Of long-due euphonic comeuppance. There will be no snacks, no piss breaks, and no skip button.
There will only be the sound.
The constant, pounding sound.
Of pure brimstone retribution.
And these ten bands.
1. Counting Crows
While it’s true that one man’s hell band may be another man’s rockin’ ceiling poster, I think we can all agree that that this whiny, falsely poetic, utterly self-satisfied unit, slated to ruin every wedding from now until the name “Duritz” is struck from the connubial lexicon by writ of post-apocalyptic parliament, is an obvious candidate for The Dark Prince’s most damned playlist. They are melody made torment, choruses made grief, hooks of despondency and woe, a steamy squirt of maudlin pandering. Listening to Counting Crows makes me want to eat my appendix raw–along with a delicate zinfandel, a sack of roofing nails, and a hearty swipe of deli mustard.
2. The Beach Boys
For a band that has been around sixty years, it’s an astonishing accomplishment that pretty much every last song is a Guernica-like assault of falsetto warbling, sugary melodics, cheap Hawaiian shirts, male-pattern baldness, and banal lyrics about cars that should long ago have crashed into telephone poles. Not to mention girls with atrocious breath who never actually put out, beaches swamped with spilled petroleum, surfers who went under due to the Greg Brady tiki curse, and the falsely benevolent California sunshine that delivered an archipelago of neck melanomas to an entire generation. Yes, I’ve listened to Pet Sounds. Yes, I’ve listened to Smile. The Beach Boys continue to be the sonic equivalent of having a dog whistle implanted in your medulla and then honked on by a didgeridoo player with protean bong-tested lungs.
3. Billy Joel
The limp, brutally Caucasian, cheese-larded background for a thousand muggy Staten Island Tuesday nights. Every BJ song is crammed to the very brim with a Big Shot’s worth of insipid lyrics, unabashed emotional pandering, 80’s nostalgia, and weepy songs about piano men and struggling steel towns. Not to mention Captain Jack and Mrs. Cacciatore. It may Still Be Rock N’ Roll to Joel, but he’s been high since the fall of ’77, so who do you really believe? Listening to Billy bust out yet another sailor ballad or salty bar drama is like being held down and waterboarded with Christie Brinkley’s morning breath.
Alternative nerdom at its most annoying, twee, and self-indulgent. Fauxllectual tunes about sweaters that sound as if they were written by the Song-O-Mator 5000. Dorm ditties for dorm hermits. Dice rock for dungeon masters. Dance jingles for serious overbites. Unexpectedly raises the specter of late-stage syphilis while using the term “infectious melody.” Buddy Holly glasses + bad haircuts + oversized collars=They Might Be Giants for people who think They Might Be Giants thrash way too hard. Each and every song is like being stabbed in the face with a frozen venison steak.
5. Eric Clapton
Not Cream, not Blind Faith, not even Derek and the Dominoes. They all get a pass. No, it’s solo Clap that really scratches Lucifer’s itch. The Clap is to the blues as mayonnaise is to a gallon of warm mayonnaise. His style is so wheezy and derivative it’s almost gone full circle and become cutting edge again. He puts the yawn into stultify, the stupefy into catatonia, stone-facedly delivering the exact same chords, licks, and nasal delivery for over three decades over a backbeat that would have lost the Boer War. The Clap is a one man soundtrack for the many and various stages of menopause. He is the lodestone of radio stations that should have had their licenses immediately yanked after they shot the sheriff, but not the deputy, for the four-million-and-first time. When you want to get down, down on the ground, Cocaine. Followed by an eightball of Clapton.
The doe eyes. The repeating choruses. The catchy hooks. But mostly, the voice. Hey, I understand why (white) people like to dance to R.E.M at (white) parties. What I don’t get is why no one ever mentions that Michael Stipe’s voice is always (and, yes, that is all ways) off key. Out of tune. Unharmonious. Sharp. Pitchy. Flat. Wrong. Every line, every bridge, every verse, every chorus. Every single note. Truly and deeply unlistenable. If only Europe really had been Radio Free. If only Mike wasn’t Superman and couldn’t Do Anything. If only Everything Did Hurt. If only there really was a Man on the Moon. Spinning R.E.M. is like mowing the lawn, except with a tractor made out of castrated Culture Club and grass made out of shards of Foreigner 4.
Britishness stripped down to its worst and most cynical cliches: arrogance without due, rhyme without style, sarcasm without wit, pose without prose, booze without tolerance, chav without street, repetition without foundation, Wonder without Wall. Oasis is one long watery dump taken on decades of English pop mastery that came before it. It’s held-up-lighter music for an empty EnormoDome tour, big sweeping choruses that lead straight to the merch table or vomiting in the alley. It’s all that was wrong with the nineties encapsulated in one inane, brain-worm lyric. The Gallagher brothers should have to fight each other with meat hooks during halftime of the next Super Bowl. The Son of Perdition cackles with glee each time I am forced to guzzle yet another champagne supernova.
Has one man in the history of music fallen farther than Gordon Sumner, from the heights of the Police to the nadir of Sting? Phil Spector, maybe? The Vegas panty-clown that is now Rod Stewart? If pompousness were bullion, Sting would be the third Koch brother. Or the owner of the world’s largest bowl of soup. If clumsy, mortifyingly unsuccessful Tantric sex had a musical spokesperson, Feyd Rautha would be on every billboard west of Santa Fe. The Stinger once asked, with weapons-grade pretension, in his stirring cold war ballad “Russians,” if the Russians loved their children too. The answer can now finally be told: Yes, Sting, they do. But they hate the flute solo on your last album enough to bomb London anyway. And Putin thinks you need a new haircut. Not to mention a few years in a re-education camp in Northern Siberia.
The absolute worst purveyors of a certain post-Vedder brand of earnest baritone wheezing masquerading as vocals in a very long line of bands subsequently featuring earnest baritone wheezing masquerading as vocals. Fake Christian, fake profound, fake fake. Wearing guitars and playing makeup. Even the Lord of Babylon thinks Creed is imbued with all the spirituality of a sweaty wad of ham. Not to mention bestowed with every inch of sexiness displayed in Kid Rock home videos. Featuring lyrics that sound as if they were written by a barely sentient hard drive, tats and hair vainly trading on Red Hot Chili Peppers market share, and just enough muscle to wet gullible panties and encourage a dorm’s worth of sing-along choruses. Creed is the sort of music bitterly-permed girls crank in Hyundai Elantras while stuck in traffic, fifteen minutes late for their thong-folding shift.
10. Pearl Jam
Possibly the worst band in the history of music. In 1992 I once came very close to being beaten half to death in a seedy bar for loudly proclaiming, halfway though the third jukebox round of “Jeremy,” that I wished The Jam would immediately all die in an airplane crash. Or at the very least go down in the snowy Andes foothills and be forced to slowly eat one other until only Eddie Vedder’s marinated larynx and Stone Gossard’s finger were discovered by rescue teams. Pearl Jam is Bad Company with knit caps and better goatees, a bloated strain of Seattle-soaked cock rock pretending to bleed at the alt alter. Their dalliance with the Black Hole hole of ill-defined social concerns was barely overshadowed by a cameo in the seminal Bridget Fonda ’90s angst-fest, Singles. Pearl Jam are mumble-core that is irritating beyond measure, unearned flannel brooding and hilarious furrowed lip, all testost and no terone, every song a wash of lazy sludge that never fails to devolve into Vedder’s signature vocal move, ritualistic small mammal yowling: yeah-hah-uhhh-ah-uhhh-ooh-oh-oh-oooh-yeah-grrr-mammer-jammer-ah-hah-huh-oh-yeah-oooh-Jeremy-Jeremy-uh-uh-ooh-eah-huh-hibble-dop-deeble-dibble-dop-yeah-hah!
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