From Peter's MySpace Blog: http://www.myspace.com/petercoopermusic (links added by me) I've got this Rhapsody program, which lets me hear thousands of songs with the click of a mouse button. It's a handy thing when I'm looking up songs, as it saves me the trip upstairs to the CD room. I still don't like how music sounds in the Internet realm - too compressed, and I'd rather listen to vinyl. But it's convenient, and it helps me get research done, check lyrics, etc.
Anyway, Rhapsody has a "home page" that comes up when I first click on it, and today the page featured American Idol winners. Now, I think that Taylor Hicks guy looks more like ex-Georgia Tech basketball coach Bobby Cremmins than anyone I've ever seen, so he's okay in my book. And he's an okay singer, and I realize American Idol is about compelling television rather than great music. And I have long since given up the notion that the cream rises. It might rise, but not necessarily. Stunning artists often flounder. Brilliant songs lie unrecorded. Mediocre junk often makes millions. And if it makes somebody happy, even if it's "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" or "Yummy, Yummy Yummy I've Got Love In My Tummy," than it's doing good, not ill, for the world. More power.
All that said, I clicked on the little dealio that let me hear Taylor Hicks' version of "Takin' It To The Streets" and I got a little sad. It's nothing against him, and nothing against Michael McDonald, the song's original singer. I've had several long talks with Michael McDonald (really, he lives near Nashville) and I can say for sure that he's a very nice guy, that he's talented and that he's got enough of a sense of humor to have appeared on the South Park movie soundtrack singing a parody of himself called "Through The Eyes Of A Child." (Sample lyric: "Life is kind of gay/ But it doesn't seem that way/ Through the eyes of a child.") Hicks' version of "Takin' It To The Streets" is decent-enough karaoke. Better than I could do with that song, for sure. Repeat, for sure.
But then I started thinking about a show I saw last night at a little Nashville club, where Tim Carroll sang and Elizabeth Cook sang and Chris Richards sang and Dawn McCoy sang and Jon Byrd sang and The Wrights sang and Chelle Rose sang and Molly Thomas sang (hell, I sang with her, so that dragged her down a little) and a bunch of other people sang who weren't aping the stuff that's already out there. These folks were working on something different, on adding to the whole thing rather than just being the latest version of somebody before them who made some dough. We raised some cash for rural music education in Alabama, so it was all good.
Listen, from what I understand, there were more votes for Taylor Hicks in this American Idol thing than there were for George W. Bush in the last presidential election. Hey, another thing in this dude's favor! Again, he's not the problem. Probably a nice guy. Sings better than most of the people in your office, your school or your... well, not your church. If you go to church, I guarantee that you know someone who sings better than this fellow. But they don't look like Bobby Cremmins, do they? Do they? Answer true.
But the sad part of all this, to me, is that there are millions of people who care about the music of Taylor Hicks and there are far fewer who care about the bust-a-gut-laughing-and-then-cry stuff by Tommy Womack, the Chuck Berry-meets-Roger Miller excellence of Tim Carroll, the jaw-dropping beauty of a Julie Lee vocal performance, the genius works of Kevin Gordon, or Eric Taylor, or Kieran Kane, or David Olney, or even John Prine or Todd Snider. I mean, shed no tears for Prine or Snider. They're doing fine, and they should be. Those are two shining examples of people who have built their own sound, their own audience and their own livelihood through force of will and strength of song. I'm just saying that it's weird to me that more people have taken an active participation in rooting for Taylor Hicks than they have in checking out recent works by Kris Kristofferson or Emmylou Harris. Neil Young? Maybe even Neil Young. Dylan? God, maybe even Dylan. By the numbers, yeah. Television drama is television drama, and I can tell you FOR SURE that I watched hours of the Flava Flav stuff that's been on VH-1 (sample quote: "Operation Nothing I Can Do About It Now is now in effect!"). But once the drama stuff is over, there's music to consider, right? Right? And millions of Americans are listening to Taylor Hicks' version of "Takin' It To The Streets"? Right?
And I'm preaching to the choir, I know. And I don't want to preach at all. And this isn't sour grapes: I've got it easy, 'cause I've got a day job. My grapes are sweet as candy. And I know that musicians go into the whole deal realizing full well that just because they do something monumentally superb doesn't mean anyone will ever give a rat's ass about it. And I'd have a beer with Taylor Hicks and tell him to his face that he's a good singer. And I'll bet he won't get carded by the bartender, either. Twenty-nine? Is that right?
But I just get a little sad about it, that's all. The better you are as an insurance agent, the more money you'll make. The better you are as a journalist, the more opportunities will present themselves. The better you are as a teacher... well, forget the teacher thing. Teachers get screwed, royally. But the better you are as a musician the more you're going to knock yourself out of the real money. If you're terrible, you're probably SOL. If you're the best, you're likely struggling. Dylan wouldn't get a record deal if he was a young man today. Wanna bet? Okay, how are we gonna settle this bet? We're not? Well, then I'll take the Mavericks in the NBA championship series. $100. Shake.
Anyway, if you're doing a passable new-century version of Buffett, the Doobies, BTO or Billy Joel, you're in. If you're doing something valuable, atypical and artful... good luck. In any case, you don't know me, but I'm your brother.