Three Snakes and One Idol
Most of what they have churned out-and Clarkson is the very, very special exception-has run the gamut from middling (Reuben Studdard) to boring (Clay Aiken) to invisible (Fantasia, where you at?) to fully awful (pick anybody who wasn’t Kelly from the first season).
As a consequence of my disdain, I pay no attention to the show –save for the curious eye I cast at it during the finals, just to see what is going to be sold to me for the next couple of months. So I tuned in the other night expecting to see the normal pap, and for the most part it was true-Vonzell Solomon and Carrie Underwood are exactly the type of wide-smiling, pleasant-sounding, uncontroversial performers that America loves to get behind, probably because unlike most musicians, they seem so remarkably average. But then I saw something that I’m pretty sure has never been on American Idol, and I’m definitely sure it hasn’t been on any sort of television for nearly a decade.
I saw Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes.
Well, actually, it was this guy Bo Bice, who’s got the hippie hair and the bellbottoms and the gypsy trinkets hanging around his neck. He seems very talented, and has a couple of tossed-off rock star poses and seems to have a relatively dynamic voice, but when I found out that not only was he going to the finals but was the odds-on favorite to win, my head started spinning. I mean, since when did America start liking the Black Crowes?
If there is one thing I’m certain of, it’s this: No one likes the Black Crowes. Sure, they sold plenty of copies of their records (most notably 1990’s Shake Your Money Maker), but can anybody really stand by them? By the time 2001’s pungent Lions rolled around, the good will that had been generated with “Hard to Handle” had long since been spent, and the band kinda, sorta imploded because of the two quarreling brothers who ran the ship. Outside of a couple of granola-boogie neo-hippies who liked them that one time they saw them at H.O.R.D.E., there wasn’t anybody shedding any tears over their departure.
But now the living embodiment of that band is back, and he’s apparently exactly what Americans want in a pop star. This is probably a tremendous leap in logic, but shouldn’t the Black Crowes see a sudden spike in album sales because of this? To my knowledge, Bo has not covered anything by the Crowes (or the Allman Brothers or the Grateful Dead), but his aesthetic is identical: Big-time ’70s-era arena rock garnished with a splash of patchouli oil and some Summer of Love good- time vibes. If the Idol audience is really seeking this, what would stop them from going out and buying Greatest Hits 1990-1999: A Tribute to a Work in Progress in droves? For argument’s sake, let’s say Bo wins the whole enchilada. Hooray! Now, if only 1.8 percent of the roughly 27 million people who watch the show on any given night were to go to a record store and buy a copy of Greatest Hits to celebrate the victory in the week following the finals, that would equal roughly a half million albums, which would easily make it the number one album in the country.
So why isn’t this happening? Why aren’t the Black Crowes getting rich?
That’s not a rhetorical question-I really want to know. The second I saw Bo, I thought about the Black Crowes, and everything he did only increased the comparison ten-fold. Do normal people (i.e. people who are not music journalists and/or aspiring music journalists) not have that same frame of reference? I suppose that’s a reasonable argument, considering the Crowes only recently reunited for a tour and haven’t had a song on the radio in almost a decade. So perhaps younger viewers are unaware of them. But what about older viewers? Even if they don’t have any recent experience with pop music, aren’t they aware of Lynyrd Skynyrd? The Band? Tom Petty? The list goes on and on.
I suppose this speaks to a larger problem with music consumption in general: Why is it that people will lap it up if it’s in one context but not in another? Are we not able to consume anything unless it is put in front of us to stare at? I run into that problem often. When Fountains of Wayne’s Welcome Interstate Managers came out, I wanted to share it with my roommate. He was unfamiliar with Fountains (he missed out on their delicious throwaway hit “Radiation Vibe”) so I played him some tracks. He rolled his eyes and went back to listening to Limp Bizkit.
Two months later, he says, “Hey, have you heard this ‘Stacy’s Mom’ song? It’s sweet.” He had seen the video, and everything was suddenly okay.
I know this is pretentious rock journalist talk. I concede that not everybody has the same kind of access to music (both new and old) that I do, and that not everybody considers listening to records as a part of his job description. But it still seems insane to me that you can like Bo Bice and still not give a damn about the original (and superior) Bo Bices. The Crowes weren’t wildly original, but what the hell?
Personally, I hope Bo wins. I think it’d be good for the show, and in some odd way, good for America. But he should promise that if he wins and starts cashing big-time checks as a result, he should toss a few bones the Crowes’ way, and if all else fails, plunk down a couple of bucks for The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. Two guys named Robinson will thank you.