Exploring the crimes against blues and rock that was Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Today I heard Pride & Joy on the car radio. For some stupid reason I did not change the channel or just turn it off right away like I usually do. I guess I was feeling musically masochistic or something. I just did that to myself. The whole terrible fucking thing.
I used to have a gig working the door of a local club in Iowa City – The Green Room. One of my few regular shifts was on the night of the weekly Blues Jam. It was a super easy job. Sit at a door and take money, and get drink discounts to watch music for free. Except that Blues Jam was always a fucking musical nightmare to me. It was always the same twenty people who showed up to play the same songs. In fact, they may have only ever just played Lay Down Sally, from what I can remember. Which thanks to drink discounts – isn’t much.
After awhile of this I got so bored that one night I just straight up fell asleep in my doorman chair. The next day I was inclined to agree with the bar owners assessment that there were lots of people who would love to have my gig and, given my lack of enthusiasm, should probably be given the chance I had failed to appreciate.
You didn’t need to know that, but I thought it would be fair to admit my distaste for blues bands before shitting on a classic. My general rule so far as the blues goes is that if there is more than one performer, no. [unless Hendrix, of course] If it is peppy dance music, then it is not the blues. When listening to the blues you should be thinking about your broken spirit, the next drink or fix and possibly suicide. Not about your next dance move. Seriously.
Okay, so I am not very reasonable about this. What of it?
So yeah, today I heard Pride & Joy on the radio, and for some reason I want to make a permanent record of how much that sucks for me.
Any conversation I have ever had with a Stevie Ray Vaughn fan has gone pretty much the same. I say he is an unimaginative songwriter and performer, and in return I have to hear about what a great lead guitar player he is.
Okay, so he is definitely a decent lead guitarist – technically. He is not completely soulless. But every lick he played is so derivative that it fails to achieve any kind of catharsis or transcendence. It sounds exactly how a skilled blues player should sound. But that is far from a compliment. And he looks like Texas white trash bluesmen should look, unabashedly.
Being a great lead guitarist in a Stevie Ray Vaughn song is like being a master chef who works at McDonalds. The music in which his skills are highlighted is so mediocre and cliche, that a chimp with a theremin on lead would make it seem more interesting, too. Having killer licks and blistering solos on a song that seems constructed for no other reason than to provide a forum for killer licks and blistering solos is a deal breaker for me.
Repeat after me: A song should not just be an opportunity to display a skill, with no merit of its own.
Imagine if Van Gogh had painted passport photos just to show off his brush strokes. That is what Stevie Ray Vaughn songs sound like.
Pride & Joy has no discernible riffs or other musical embellishments or hooks. The basic song under the solos is just basic rhythm and blues fodder. The drums are repetitive, the bass a subtle afterthought, and the rhythm guitar is just a few strums repeated ad nauseum with no dynamics of its own. The lyrics are tragically stupid and misogynistic and the vocal delivery sounds more like a concession to necessity than an attempt to be creative and artful.
The song is just a canvas for the lead guitar, but that canvas is like xerography paper and the solos are a monotonous ink showing pictures of the average composite of a Texas bar drunks idea of what a BADASS song should sound like.
At this point I realize some clever reader might mistake my disdain as anti-populism and rejection of lower class entertainment, and ultimately as a statement of elitism. Listen, I grew up trailer court. Still live poor as fuck. But I don’t care who your audience is if your art is derivative shit. Some of us who grew up broke ass are tired of being defined by the cliches of art that were pinned on us by privileged industry insiders and jaded critics.
The lives of middle and upper class people are fairly mundane. My white trash upbringing is far more described by the dynamics of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Black Sabbath than by the expected mediocrity of a Stevie Ray Vaughn song. His music is a concession to the Don’t Rock the Boat lifestyles of the privileged, only in wannabe-blues form.
In all fairness, I don’t think he was as much of a ratfuck as a person as he was as a musician. He was probably a cool guy with a big heart that was in the mostly right place. But you can never enter culture as yourself.
Still, Pride & Joy is how you describe property, not another equal human being for whom your appreciation rests on your genuine love, instead of their value to your self-image. And the musical output of the late SRV sounds just as skewed and misguided as that titular lyric, and for many of the same reasons.