Trying To Get To You

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Punk Posturing

John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band has been one of my favorite albums ever since I first heard it as a teen. The first album he released after the Beatles split, it’s an unrelentingly intense album, filled with Lennon exorcising the pain he experienced losing his parents to divorce (his father left completely and his mother left him to his aunt to raise), and eventually, losing his mother again when she was hit by a car and killed when Lennon was a teen. Filled with gorgeous and simple accompaniment by Billy Preston, Ringo Starr and Klaus Voormann, the whole album is a testament to the power of musical simplicity and emotional honesty. It’s a soul album.

A couple of days ago, I saw a clip on YouTube of Green Day performing “Working Class Hero,” a song on Plastic Ono Band on American Idol. I suppose that Green Day’s performance of that song was supposed to be a “punk rock move,” as one of the key lines in the song is, “keep you doped with religion and sex and TV/and you think you’re so clever and classless and free/but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see/a working class hero is something to be.” And performing it on Idol, the country’s biggest TV show by far, and one of the few common cultural touchstones left, I guess was meant to be a “this is what’s it’s really about, you ignoramuses” moment.

I thought it sucked.

The band’s arrangement of the song was uninspired; it only proved that this is a band with limited ideas and talent. Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocal only hinted at the depth of Lennon’s anger and resentment – what we got instead was self-righteousness and an arrogant display of (what was supposed to be covert punk) superiority. And in the smugness of the moment, it conveniently neglected an important fact: John Lennon was a pop idol. “Eight Days A Week” would have been a far better choice.

It’s a testament to how fallow mainstream rock has become that Green Day, a good-but-not-that-great band, is being held as of the standard bearers for rock n’ roll. If mainstream rock can’t do much better than that, then just turn out the lights and come to grips with the fact that the party is over.

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