The Shapiro Files

Friday, January 23, 2009

Guilty Displeasures

I was just reading the always-entertaining A.V. Club website and stumbled upon a new entry in their ongoing “AVQ&A” series in which several A.V. Club staff writers each addresses the same reader-submitted question. This week’s question concerned “guilty displeasures” — that is, art that is generally critically lauded, but which staff writers have never quite been able to truly enjoy themselves.

For example, perhaps Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane has never done anything for you — despite the fact it tops just about ever “greatest films of all time” list published over the past decade. Of maybe you’ve never understood all the ballyhoo about Mozart, Shakespeare, or Picasso. Understandably, you might actually feel a little embarrased about your tastes when it comes to such otherwise praised and canonized artists.

So in that spirit, I thought it might be fun to come clean on a couple of musical artists that I’ve never quite been able to embrace despite the fact that so many others do.

The first — and this is a tough one — is Bruce Springsteen.

I know, I know. I should probably quickly clarify that I don’t necessary dislike any of his music. I just can’t bring myself to love it or even like with any degree of enthusiasm. I do admire Springsteen’s integrity and also agree with the general consensus that he’s a very dynamic performer in a live setting. It’s just that I don’t find his melodies/chord progressions particularly engaging. He’s a very talented lyricist without doubt. But unless you’re, say, Bob Dylan, whose lyrical prowess transcends the pop/rock idiom, I need a little more.

I hate to admit this because I really do want to love his music. I’ve purchased The River, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Nebraska (all considered high points in his career), and listened to them numerous times hoping they’d grow on me. But no amount of repeated listening has made the songs any more musically compelling. I should add that I also borrowed Born to Run from a friend years ago and similarly sat through repeated listenings in the effort to generate some enthusiasm that never came.

Go figure.

So there you have it. I don’t love Bruce Springsteen’s music and I’m relieved that I no longer have to hide it.

Who knows, maybe some day I’ll come around. I don’t think I’ll ever close myself off to that possibility. But either way, at least his music doesn’t irritate me or motivate me to change the station when it gets played on the radio.

No, that particular dishonor goes to my next guilty displeasure.

From the 80s to today, I’ve never been able to bring myself to enjoy the music of U2. And believe me, I really wanted to. The first time I tried in ernest was in the mid-80s. I was sitting in the back of a friend’s car while he expatiated upon the brilliance of the then-new band. I had no preconceived notions about U2 and no reason to doubt my friend’s recommendation. However, once he began playing their tape on the car radio, I was greatly dissapointed. My initial reaction was that all the songs sounded the same and that the musicianship of the performers wasn’t particularly good (bordering on amateurish).

25 years later, I still pretty much feel the same way.

While the band’s playing has improved somewhat after so many years of regular touring, I still don’t find much variety in their music. And even for all the praise bestoyed on The Edge for his unique sound, he still can’t play a guitar solo to save his life. Sure, he’s been quite innovative in his use of flanger and chorus effect pedals, but all he plays are chords or simple rhythmic patterns. The result is a rock band without a lead guitarist. That’s like a sandwich without anything between the slices of bread.

All this said, I recognize that U2 has received a considerable amount of critical and commercial acclaim over the years and appreciate their efforts to leverage their popularity in the service of charitable causes. But despite all this, I just don’t find their music interesting. In fact, their stuff mostly bores me to tears.

Whew. I’m glad I got all that off my chest. Now bring on the hate mail.


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