Saturday, January 23, 2016

If you don’t have anything nice to say … 

When a pioneer of rock passes on, just be thankful for the music.

And if you don’t dig the music, just zip it.

January 23, 2016

When a famous and beloved musician dies, the tributes usually begin right away. And we’ve seen that a lot in recent weeks.

Bruce Springsteen was on stage in Pittsburgh last week, saying kind words about the mutual respect he and David Bowie shared for one another and offering a fine cover of Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.” It was his tribute to The Thin White Duke. A few days later, Bruce was onstage in Chicago, offering a tasteful rendition of The Eagles’ “Take It Easy.” It was his tribute to Glenn Frey.

I also saw a clip somewhere online last week of Elton John playing a Bowie song in concert, and I saw where Paul Stanley of KISS had expressed sadness over Frey’s death, via social media, and posted a photo of he and Frey hanging out together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He called Frey a “brilliant songwriter” and, a week earlier, he had called Bowie “a pioneer in every sense.” I also saw Stanley’s bandmate, Gene Simmons, looking stunned and saddened while appearing on CNN to talk about Frey’s talents and his legacy. Those kind gestures  - because I am a fan of both Springsteen and KISS - were just some of the those that caught my attention. There were many others from other artists.

When you’ve been covering music for newspapers for a long time, and you’ve met and interviewed your share of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, other media outlets sometimes ask you to share your thoughts on a great artist when they pass on. I talked about David Bowie - who I had met and interviewed in 2004 - on a few radio stations last week, including my home base of 105 The River. And though I had never interviewed Glenn Frey, I had spoken with his longtime friend and bandmate, Don Henley, and I’d seen Frey perform with The Eagles a few times. And so, on my “Music On The Menu” page, on Facebook, I shared some thoughts on him as well. Artists such as Bowie and Frey are among the greatest musicians of our time and I’d like to think that some of their music will far outlive all of us. And thus, when you love music as much as many of us do, it only seems right to show them some respect when they pass. In the past, I’ve written commentaries on the passing of George Harrison, and on the 20th anniversary of his death, I wrote about the incredible contributions to pop music that came from Elvis Presley, and how he pretty much single-handedly changed everything. Both stories moved on the national wires and were read by many. And I was grateful for the opportunity to have shown both artists the respect they deserved.

You can hear some of my thoughts on David Bowie, on 105 The River, here:

And some of my thoughts on Glenn Frey can be found on my "Music On The Menu" page on Facebook. You can visit that page here:

The reason I’m writing about this today is because I read something this week that actually kind of blew my mind. It was a commentary that appeared in the New York Daily News only one day after Glenn Frey had passed away. And it basically said that his band, The Eagles, were horrible.

Look, everyone has their own musical tastes. That’s fine. It’s a good thing. But the logic of the column, as to why The Eagles were awful, was painfully flawed. It compared the band’s music to some of the other major rock and pop artists that were releasing successful music in the ‘70s, and – in the opinion of the writer – because The Eagles’ music was not like theirs, it wasn’t any good.

And thus it was absolutely the most ridiculous article I’ve ever read by a rock/pop music writer. And that includes some of the nonsense dished out by Rolling Stone. Prince doesn't sound like AC/DC. And Billy Joel doesn't sound like U2. And nobody really sounds like Fleetwood Mac. But that doesn't mean they're all not great, and most importantly, being true to themselves. 

You can read the strange article here:

Artists, first and foremost, write songs that they themselves like. They aren't thinking about anyone else. They take their own musical influences, and their own life’s experiences, and their own observations about the world we live in, and they turn those things into music. Some songs have commercial appeal. Others not so much.  Some artists sell millions of albums. Most do not. But music, to those that craft it, is still art.

(Unless you’re in the often horrific world of contemporary Top-40 pop, where 10 different songwriters and four different producers are all working with one often marginally talented person in an effort to try and make just one hit song.)

Music is a wonderful creative release for highly creative people. And Glenn Frey was one of those people. He was from Detroit. His biggest creative partner, Don Henley, hailed from Texas. Together, they made southern California their home, and they formed a band that released some of the biggest-selling records of all-time. The music was reflective of some of the other fine singer/songwriter music that was happening at the time, when people like Carole King and James Taylor and Jim Croce were all doing fine work. But it was also distinctly Eagles. It was a little bit rock, a little bit soul and a little bit country, sprinkled with the feel of '70s Los Angeles. It came with a distinct mood. 

I’ve never driven through the desert on a cool summer night with the window down. But, thanks to The Eagles, I kind of feel like I have.

And that is one of the band’s greatest gifts to us.

This writer, from the Los Angeles Times, commentating on Frey’s death, captured all of that well:

Take a few minutes to read both articles. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The New York Daily News piece was, to me, simply bizarre. Glenn Frey, who by most accounts was a really good guy, had just died. He was only 67. He should have had another 10, 15 or 20 years. He made a lot of music that made a lot of people happy. And for some reason, a writer took that moment to write about how thought his music sucked.


If you were not a fan, why write anything at all? I don’t write a commentary about every artist that passes on. If I admired them and loved their music, or if I had a nice personal experience with them, I do. If not, I just let it go.

Thankfully, the Springsteens of the world always get it right. They take the same approach. And it’s really not that hard. It’s something most of us, with the exception of perhaps one New York writer, understands:

“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Especially just hours after someone dies.

Here are two links to Bruce recently covering Bowie and Frey:


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pour a nice cold drink and listen to Glenn Frey’s “After The Thrill is Gone.”

He was really good. And so was his band.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in NEPA since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River)  

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