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24-carat self-indulgence

After watching Troubadours (BBC4, Friday) for about ten minutes, I was close to gibbering with rage.

9 July 2011

12:00 AM

9 July 2011

12:00 AM

After watching Troubadours (BBC4, Friday) for about ten minutes, I was close to gibbering with rage. People liked this stuff? Worse, I liked it. I used to play James Taylor, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and even Carole King’s mope-a-thon album Tapestry. I played them a lot. So, by way of apologising to myself for my past, I grabbed a copy of Balsamic Dreams by Joe Queenan, a magnificent 210-page rant against the Baby Boomers — he’s talking about m’m’m’my generation.

Here’s what he says about Tapestry:

The astonishing popularity of King’s LP (it eventually sold more than 15 million copies) provided incontrovertible evidence that at heart the boomers were as sappy and corny as their parents…it introduced three themes — general lameness (‘You’ve Got A Friend’), communal nostalgia for the extremely recent past (‘So Far Away’), and incessant and incorrigible repackaging (‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ — a gruelling reworking of a hit King had co-written years earlier, now performed at catatonic speed).

Now, to be fair, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ was a great pop record, as performed by the Shirelles. King was 18 when she wrote it, and the original version is a touching and plaintive song about a teenage girl who is about to lose her virginity and is both excited and terrified. Ten years later, King’s version is gruesome, a self-pitying wail by someone complaining that their life might not be perfect and it’s someone else’s fault.

The programme was named after a club in Hollywood, where the wave of folky singer-songwriters who followed the Beatles and the Stones all fetched up, to smoke marijuana and write songs about their own inner lives, though in most cases they might have been writing about the inner life of a particularly dense hamster. I began to collect the most pretentious remarks, many of them made by Ms King and by Dave Crosby. I saw Crosby speak in the US this year, alongside the equally vacuous Graham Nash, late of the Hollies. They produced a collection of ‘war sucks’ platitudes which, so far as I could see, were unchanged since the 1960s, except that they would have seemed banal even then.

‘The rock and roll generation were worn down by the Sixties,’ Crosby mused. By what? The limitless prosperity? The freedom to do more or less whatever they pleased? Maybe it was suffering the agonies of staying out of Vietnam while the poor and the black did most of the fighting. Killing people really is a bummer, man, especially if the people being killed are white American students at Ohio State.

‘We were in a stratified, nearly dead society, and it just wasn’t moving,’ Mr Crosby continued. What on earth does that mean? Anything? Hello?

Mind you, Carole King wasn’t far behind. What was the source of her talent? ‘If one believes in the gods, or a higher power, I’ve been an instrument of that,’ a thought composed of the purest, 24-carat self-indulgence. Only artists, or artistes, can emit such stuff. Nobody would say, ‘If God has made me a superb independent financial consultant, I am happy to channel his greatness…’

Or the songs. Joni Mitchell, who admittedly gave us ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and ‘Carey’, also came up with ‘They won’t give peace a chance/ That was just a dream some of us had’. Or King, again, ‘You’ll find/ Yes, you will/ That you’re beautiful!’ No, lots of us are ugly and rather horrid. Scansion was never their strong point. The gist of their songs was, on the whole, ‘I feel miserable and blue/ My misery is mine/ But I need you to need to share it too.’ As Neil Innes (I think) said, ‘All my life I have suffered for my art. Now it’s your turn.’

We moved on to Eagles. Definitely not The Eagles, purveyors of abstruse and ultimately meaningless drivel. Thank heavens, the producers brought in a critic from the Village Voice, Robert Christgau, who analysed these lines: ‘Lighten up while you still can/ Don’t even try to understand.’ He felt ‘that for me is what is so wrong with this…more or less worthless sensibility,’ adding that the The Eagles’ — sorry, Eagles’ — notion of a struggle was having to eat burritos sometimes, and even beans; that is, not a struggle at all. Mr Christgau was rapidly put down as an envious New Yorker who didn’t understand the mellow California scene.

Or, as Steve Martin put it even more crisply, ‘How long can free love and pot exist as a cultural foundation?’

Good. Got that off my chest. Now to find and burn my special remastered CD of Tapestry. I can’t believe I played that kind of thing while I could have been listening to Mozart or Mahler, or even Kajagoogoo.

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