Writers can be goofy-ass people. Some of them — or us, if I include myself — are fond of making things up, attaching labels to music and musicians and other things, trying to boil down paragraphs into sentences and then into short phrases or words, and maybe getting a cheap laugh out of somebody in the process.
Over the years I’ve made up some genres to try to describe music a little better, or I’ve used other people’s descriptions that were on target. Some of them never caught on. I thought they should have. And then I’ll read some totally flaccid portmanteau like “chillwave,” which apparently was pulled out of some trust-fund fauxhemian’s buttcrack at a Williamsburg Pabsthole to impress the other slackers, and then Jon Pareles at the New York Times picked it up, and then it got added at Apple’s iTunes store, so, well, I guess my mustache isn’t ’70s-pornstar ironic enough for me to grok the essence of that coinage, so I’ll go back to Dinotown. Come to think of it, I shaved my ‘stache after somebody said it looked cop-like. Nothing against cops, but I don’t want a copstache. Do you?
Anyway, some Gawker writer got all crinkly about chillwave, so I don’t have to. But it did kinda make me think about a few decent genres that I or some of my friends came up with over the years, so here are some of the better ones.
Camaro Rock: My old Tower Records pal Dave Montes came up with that one, or that’s where I first heard it, back when we worked together at the original Citrus Heights Tower store in the late 1970s. Dave drove a 240-Z when it was a Datsun, and he had hair that looked like Eddie Van Halen, and we spent a lot of time selling loud rock — Hagar, Halen (before they joined forces), AC/DC, Nugent, Aerosmith — to dudes in Camaros and Firebirds, including Billy Haggard from the old Arden Furniture commercials with Red Murrell. Anyway, one time me and Dave, who was a Dodger fan, did a bunch of mushrooms and ended up at some disco in Old Sacramento, and I remember laughing so hard I think I broke some ribs, holding onto a pole on the dance floor. Later on, Dave moved to New York, and he was the manager of the Greenwich Village store when the Tower chain went under. A close corollary was CBS Records Satin Jacket Rock, like Journey, Starship, Nugent, REO Speedwagon and Boston, which only made sense if you went to “product presentations” at the Red Lion Inn to laugh at radio dweebs, drink free beer, hit on record store skanks and laugh at CBS sales dudes playing air guitar to Journey video clips. Good times.
Retirement Rock: Our old boss, Phil Minas, used to call that laid-back shit that Eric Clapton and James Taylor and everybody on Asylum Records except for Tom Waits was playing in the 1970s. You know, that poop that sounded like somebody marinated it in blue valium juice. I was really glad that punk rock came along when it did, because life would have been totally insufferable watching formerly incendiary performers like Clapton get all front-porch complacent to J.J. Cale and Don Williams tunes. And then there’s the whole “parrot head” thing with Jimmy Buffett and all that Hawaiian shirt shit, which really turned rock into the equivalent of trying to talk to your drunken uncle about the golden age of Las Vegas after he’s powered down 11 or 12 scotches. In theory, funny; in reality, not so much.
Dope ‘n’ Roll: My old buddies Kelly Foley and Jeff Clark from Stockton came up with this genre, which was way ahead of its time. I think they had whole parallel-universe histories of dope ‘n’ roll bands, kinda like Lester Bangs’ spurious history of the Count Five. And then, years later, there were all those shitty pothead bands like Spin Doctors and Rusted Root and a bunch of others and, come to think of it, the dope ‘n’ roll has never let up. As long as marginally talented musicians smoke pot and noodle on guitars, there will be more dope ‘n’ roll.
Poodlehead Metal: When I worked at Pulse, we had this brilliant contributor named Paul Ashby, who also was the head buyer for Tower’s import and indie division. He was the king of snark, at a time when the major labels were signing every gaggle of fluffy-haired midgets they could find in Sunset Boulevard dives, and the first time he busted out the poodlehead appellation, I fell out laughing. It was pretty funny when Guns N’ Roses suddenly hit, because overnight all these fluffy boys ditched the spandex and stopped washing their hair and got loads of ugly tats. Bubblemetal was never the same after that. And whatever happened to Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years? That needs to be a triple-length directors cut if it isn’t already.
Elroy Music, or Elroy & Judy Bands: My crazy drinking buddy Eric Dixon (cousin of Jeff Clark) coined this pejorative term for all those skinny-tie new wave bands. I remember getting tossed out of Mabuhay Gardens with that guy multiple times after we’d heckled some new wavers with impromptu drunken choruses of “Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah.” One time we landed in the jail next to Keystone Korner with some insane Malaysian who threatened to kill us all, and this angry black guy who screamed he was gonna buttrape us but Dixon got in his face and drew an imaginary line across the middle of the cell, and so we had four hours of a seriously fucked up and intense David Mamet play, until we got kicked out and we all went to the donut joint next to Clown Alley for breakfast.
Okay, so I came up with some a couple of genres, too.
Suburb & Western: Kind of like real country & western, except it stopped drinking whiskey and started driving a cleaned-up pickup truck. Later on, S&W morphed into Walmart country, which is that unlistenable poo you hear on “new country” stations. I mean, can you believe how something as great and essential as real two-fisted country (George Jones, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Sr., Lefty Frizzell, Webb Pierce, Wynn Stewart, etc., plus Dwight Yoakam) got turned into the most limp-dicked expression of erstwhile hillbilly tumescent twang? That’s shit’s totally unlistenable, man. I’d rather listen to alleycats fucking on the back fence, because at least that’s something George Jones might understand. But guys singing about Ford Trucks and Sippy Cups? Nuh, mon.
Business Jazz, or Bizjazz: Before the same mentality that coined “chillwave” came up with “smooth jazz,” I got kind of out of control describing the phenomenon in Tower Records Pulse! magazine, which can’t be accessed online, but someone put that column up here, with typos added (I’m a real stickler usually), where I went all yabba dabba doo on the bizjazz; later I went to a bizjazz concert at the Radisson with my ex-wife, and wrote about it here. You’ve got to admit that bizjazz is pretty funny, and after a few years, when people forget about how obnoxious some of it was, or all of it for some people, count on some hipsters to start rocking the Kenny G, the Spyro Gyra and the Rippingtons at tomorrow’s parties. I’m kinda surprised that hasn’t happened already.
Of course, none of these genres made it — and there are others that were really nice coinages, too, lost now to time and memory — but “chillwave” made the cut. Go figure. —Jackson Griffith