Loud, Shrill, Piercing, and Unpleasant

This is a weighty matter, or would be if there was the slightest possibility that it might actually happen. In my case it's complicated by the fact that I'm older than dirt, and have more than 50 years of music to choose from.

In 1950, as a geeky 13-year-old in a crew cut and a plaid bowtie, I would repair with my buddies to the hotdog and orange juice stand next to the Criterion Theater on Main Street in Oklahoma City on Friday nights, prior to viewing filmed violence. The jukebox was packed with R&B hits, and it was there I first heard "One Mint Julep" by the Clovers, and realized that there was enough good stuff in life to make it worth the trouble.

Musically, 1955 was the biggest year of my life. Louis Armstrong played at my high school graduation dance. Let me explain how this remarkable thing happened. Armstrong had played a gig in Tulsa the night before, and had one in Ft. Worth a night later. Rather than spend the evening sitting around in a hotel, smoking those funny cigarettes, they decided to play for us for half-price, which was $2000.

Then, in November, as a college freshman, I saw Elvis Presley in concert at the Oklahoma City Civic Center. He was ninth on a bill headlined by Hank Snow. But the word was out; it was Elvis we came to see.

There was no rock 'n' roll at that time. It was invented by Sam Phillips of Sun Records, right then, by the simple expedient of finding white boys who could play and sing Black music.

Elvis was the greatest sellout of my generation, and Col. Tom Parker was the Devil. Everything Elvis recorded for Sam Phillips was great; everything after that sucked. It was as though when Satan led Jesus to the top of the mountain and offered him the world if he would fall down and worship evil, Jesus replied, "Sure, cool."

Jerry Lee Lewis, on the other hand, was a terrible person, but he stayed true to the music. Contrary to his own expectations, I think he will go to heaven for that alone.

From the time Elvis left Sun until the acid rock of the '60s, rock 'n' roll had lyrics that were monuments to insipidity. That all changed while I was in Vietnam. When I left the music was pathetic. When I came back there was Dylan, the Stones, the Beatles, Lou Reed, the Moody Blues, the Steve Miller Band, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead... The list is practically endless and my God, it was wonderful!

This was not the result of genius, but of LSD.

That era phased out less than a decade later, and there was nothing much worth hearing from 1975 to the present day. At least that's what I thought. Recently I met a young man named Justin Chancellor, who is bass player for a loud but musically and lyrically tight band called Tool.

I asked Justin to turn me on to some decent tunes, and he did: the Black Keys, Jeff Buckley, Queens of the Stone Age, and, of course, Tool. There is music out there, just not on the radio.

So, out of all this, what one recording would I take to a desert island? I'm cheating a bit, 'cause it's a double CD, but I would take Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert Collection. Twenty-nine songs by the greatest songwriter of...well, ever. As Jerry Garcia said, "You can sing his lyrics without embarrassment."

As with all Dylan albums, there are performances I can do without. When whichever of the Clancy Brothers says, "Bet you never thought you'd hear Dylan with an Irish accent!" I mutter, "You right, Bubba," and hit the skip button. I can do without the preachy songs too. "The Times They Are A-Changing" and "Masters of War" are sociologically interesting, but don't move me anymore. On the other hand Lou Reed's performance of "Foot of Pride" is the best thing he's ever done. Willie Nelson's version of "What Was It You Wanted?" is the nastiest, meanest, funniest tune I've ever heard.

My favorite cut is Johnny Winter's version of "Highway 61 Revisited." Let me be clear. I do not like Johnny Winter's music. It is loud, shrill, piercing, and unpleasant, but he outdoes himself, and everybody else here. Sometimes I put the first CD in this set on my player and just play this one tune over and over. That mood has hit me periodically for over a decade now.

There are standout performances by John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Roseanne Cash, the Band, Chrissie Hynde, George Harrison, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn, Dylan himself, and many others.

Good-bye! I must play it now.

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