As I’ve mentioned previously, of all the artists that Christgau and you admire and I don’t, there is exactly one that completely flummoxes me. When I find that I don’t care about Los Campesinos/Belle and Sebastian/Chills, I’m not confused. I know what they are doing that I don’t give a hoot about. When I find that I downgrade the Rolling Stones/Sonic Youth/Neil Young compared to you, I can figure out the whys and the hows. That my hip hop tastes are hopelessly stuck in the early 1990s, and I’ve failed to move forward with Jay Z and The College Dropout and late Wu Tang and a host of crunk musicians whose names I don’t know is also something I can analyze.
Likewise with the dumber American rock that I prefer to you and Christgau — the Stevie Nickses and Tom Pettys and John Mellencamps and Billy Joels and Paul Simons, none of whom is an all-time favorite of mine but of all of whom I believe have defensible songbooks worthy of some level of respect and enthusiasm. (I know you don’t hate any of these, any more then I hate Rolling Stones/Sonic Youth/Neil Young, but it’s the difference in tone and treatment that I’m talking about; it goes without saying that the real difference between B+ and A- is incremental.) Likewise with certain acts, most obviously Graham Parker and Sleater-Kinney, where I simply care more about everything, including in Parker’s case going deeper and later with him even as his bad attitude stops being seeming so social and starts seeming like just a bad attitude; here the different increments are between A and A+.
All these things are clear to me. Only Willie Nelson — who, let me hasten to note, was also loved by all my Knoxville aesthete friends (back when I had Knoxville aesthete friends) — continues to flummox me. Obviously there is something real here; I understand that if you all claim it, it is so. Yet on two occasions in the past I have made a serious effort to listen to recommended albums and/or collections, and on both occasions I found the music at best trivial and at worst annoying as hell. I simply haven’t heard it — neither the relaxed, sour high-pitched vocals nor the songs as songs have made the slightest impact on me, and the sound has struck me as conventional, even dumb. It’s been ten years since I last tried.
Yet as you know I have the ability to change and grow. In just the last couple of years I’ve finally gotten the Go-Betweens and Paul Heaton (can Belle and Sebastian really be far behind?) I’ve made serious hay out of Sonic Youth and Neil Young and now, though they are still not all-time favorites, I have tastes and preferences and engagements with their music. I’ve loved Late Registration, even while still not caring for The College Dropout. And of course I’ve added depth and breadth to my canon of Country Music.
So now, as my friend and as a person who gets sound-not-song better then I do: if I buy the recommended 100 song One Hell of A Ride with Christgau’s caveats that it has lots of dreck on it, can you give me a playlist — minimum 20 songs, maximum 30 songs — that will exaggerate the good stuff and maximize the likelihood that I will get it? That will demonstrate the musical and/or songwriting principles that make Willie Nelson a person to admire? That will get me over this hump? It’s time for my once-a-decade try.
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