Friday, June 26, 2009

Billy Bob Thornton - Profiles in Boomers Run Amok

In answer to Billy Bob Thornton, who appeared on this evening's Bill Maher show and issued a variation of the shopworn claim that "music died in [some year of personal significance to the party issuing the claim]," here are some musicians who came to fame after 1980 and who will be remembered, or will prove to be artistically influential, for decades to come -- and this list is hopelessly incomplete and completely unordered:

  • Stereolab
  • Ben Gibbard
  • The Decemberists
  • Pearl Jam
  • Nirvana
  • Soundgarden
  • Metallica
  • Liz Phair
  • Beck
  • Damnnear everything labeled hip-hop. Thornton is aware of hip-hop, right?
  • Neko Case
  • Sarah McLachlan
  • Natalie Merchant
  • Sonic Youth
  • The Pixies / Frank Black
  • The White Stripes / Jack White
  • Radiohead / Thom Yorke
  • Pavement / Stephen Malkmus
  • U2 (Thornton acknowledged this one)
  • R.E.M. (Thornton acknowledged this one)
  • Wilco / Jeff Tweedy
  • David Lowery
  • Cat Power
  • Bjork
  • PJ Harvey
  • The Smiths / Morrissey
  • The Cure
  • The Violent Femmes
  • Massive Attack
  • Portishead
  • Yo La Tengo
  • Lucinda Williams
  • Cowboy Junkies
Could I go on? Yes! Does my list overlap significantly with my own musical tastes? Yes! Would every human being my age agree with my list? No! Does my list subtract anything from the undeniable musical greatness that originated in other generations? No! In ten years' time, or possibly ten minutes' time, will I myself come to regret some of the items on my list? Yes!

These emphatic yes's and no's illustrate why these "music died after [year]" are so goddamned idiotic. So let's not, OK?

Sweet Michael Jackson's child-buggering ghost (too soon?), Billy Bob! Pull your Baby-Boomer head out of your Baby-Boomer ass! I admire your work -- really, I do -- but people named "Billy Bob" should take special precautions against sounding provincial.

We'll always have Monster's Ball and Sling-Blade; nothing can take those away, with the possible exception of overly vigorous, pushily intrusive defenses of intellectual property rights. And having just added Billy Bob Thornton's music to my Pandora profile, and not having rejected any of it after a good hour, no serious harm has been done.


Anonymous said...

I was also appalled by Thornton's Comments on music after 1980. One of the First names to immediately pop in to my head was the Band Nirvana,which I was happy to see on your list and just like yourself I began to compile a long list in my head.What I don't think Billy is taking into account is the fact that 1980 was most likely the year he stopped buying new music and retreated back into his childhood favorites collection.Not to mention every dam one of us is in love with the music from there youth, so for him to make this musical proclamation is just silly.

Naveen said...

Ha! I thought the same thing watching this last night.

Billy Bob knows hip-hop, but dismisses it like most boomers do -- the same way the previous generation raised on Sinatra and Martin dismissed that "crazy rock n roll".

If there's any way to know you're old, it's to talk about how great things were when you were young, and how everything sucks today.

I just hope when I'm in my fifties I'm not going on about how music died in 1999 or something.

Besides, he thinks he's a musician? That alone tells you how out of touch with reality he is.

Zennalathas said...

So I ended up typing out a mini-essay in response to this post, and blogger doesn't seem to allow a comment of that length (it caps at 4096 characters, apparently). I've posted it over at my little blog, and I'd be honoured if you'd come visit my site to read it. Sorry I couldn't be concise, but the subject just ran away with me...

The post is here.

Have a good one.

Benjamin said...

I am just four years younger than Billy Bob, but unlike him I am not stuck in the past. Nice list here, but you left off one of the greatest ever - Nick Cave. I would also add Tricky and Alejandro Escovedo.

Dale said...

Benjamin, those are good adds, although I have to admit I'm unfamiliar with Escovedo. Maybe I shouldn't be.

I would have placed Nick Cave in Thornton's generation, but I checked his wikipedia page, and indeed he really emerged as a performer well into the 1980s. So yes, I certainly do think he belongs on the list.

Tricky -- yes. He has been making interesting waves since he started.

Another two I was unsure about adding were David Byrne and Tom Petty -- not because I don't think they've been very interesting and will continue being influential, but because they emerged right around BBT's cutoff of 1980. Actually, quite a bit did, as that was when "Punk" was morphing into "post-Punk."

Nor would I claim that "people will be listening to these people in 150 years." Maybe, maybe not. The Gershwins, Frank Sinatra, Patsy Cline, & Billy Holliday were very influential and important in their time (and continue being so) but that's not to say they dominate much airplay or iPod playlists today.

One last qualification for anyone following the comments: I don't mean to say that everyone on this list of mine is equal.

Anonymous said...

I am a late Boomer, born two years after Billy Bob. I didn't see his list of "great and influentials" pre-1980 and would like to compare it to your list, which includes many that I admire greatly - and hold to be in the league of the all-time greats, others that I question their standing on Mt. Olympus because I know little or nothing about, despite voracious continuing reading and listening to new music since 1980. ?? next to the latter

Stereolab ??
Ben Gibbard ??
The Decemberists ??
Pearl Jam - GODS
Nirvana = Immortals
Soundgarden - greats
Metallica - Gods
Liz Phair - One great album
Beck - Genius and highly influential
Damnnear everything labeled hip-hop. Thornton is aware of hip-hop, right? - Many God-like HH artists
PE,RunDMC,NWA,Dre, Snoop, Ice-T, JayZ and many more
Neko Case - good singer but not a goddess
Sarah McLachlan - hardly
Natalie Merchant - miss one note NO
Sonic Youth - Massive influence
The Pixies / Frank Black - Ginormous influence
The White Stripes / Jack White
- best of the current breed
Radiohead / Thom Yorke - GODS
Pavement / Stephen Malkmus - influential
U2 (Thornton acknowledged this one)
R.E.M. (Thornton acknowledged this one)
Wilco / Jeff Tweedy - Demi-GODS
David Lowery - very good but not Great
Cat Power - Puhing it I think
Bjork - very unique talent but Immortal???
PJ Harvey - Love her but not up there with P Smith/C Hynde yet
The Smiths / Morrissey - Not personnaly a fan but their influence and talent is undeniable
The Cure - Top notch but pre-1980
The Violent Femmes - Ok but?
Massive Attack - never crossed the ocean enough to rank - more Searchers than Kinks
Portishead - again those in the know love them
Yo La Tengo - music writer faves
Lucinda Williams - good but?
Cowboy Junkies - good but ?

Dale said...

Anon., regarding Phair, Merchant, and McLachlan: yes, they're borderline. My fandom of them is not what it once was. But here's what I find interesting about them: I think they advance the possibilities for female singer/songwriters. They began with your basic set of skills that in previous times might have been harnessed to produce a Barbara Streisand kind of act (not that I'm bashing Barbara) but took on themes that "ladies" didn't used to sing about. That's a ridiculous oversimplification, I realize, but I stand by the idea that those three have been extremely influential and have put out some excellent work.

Certainly Chrissie Hynde and Patty Smith did much the same -- and I have nothing against them at all -- but timing is important, no?

I agree the jury is still out on Cat Power but she is definitely in the running.

Neko Case is somewhere above the gods if the world is just. Yes, her voice is a volcano, but you've taken some time with her lyrics and arrangements too, right? If you haven't, do.

Benjamin said...


Alejandro Escovedo is one of the most influential singer/songwriters in the "alt" scene. No Depression Magazine chose him as Artist of the Decade (the 90's). His album, Gravity, is a masterpiece. You definitely should familiarize yourself with his music.

Nick Cave is a GOD. 'nuff said.

Paul said...

Almost Dale - but Sarah McLachlan (NB - dubious spelling, never met a true scot with that name).... I can't listen to her without hearing those sickly sweet TV ad's urging you to donate money to end cat/dog/bornean-minuture-ant suffering........... Noble cause, but unless you electrocute the idiots causing the suffering you're not attacking the cause...

Anyway - your list was too American, no mention of punk at all..... I know most of it slipped into the 70's but some managed to drag itself into the 80's, even the Clash if I recall......


Dale said...


Plenty of good came out of the punk / new wave movement, but that all started before the magical (i.e., arbitrary) BBT cutoff date of 1980 -- The Clash, X, Ramones, Talking Heads, Sex Pistols, Blondie, too many more to list.

The cutoff date of 1980 is phony and useless, as with the broader idea that that music died or declined or started downward in year X.

Peter said...

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Dale said...

Peter, thanks for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

I think another key element here is that we don't even know if Billy Bob's favorite classic rock artists will stand the test of "100years" that he sets out as a criterion. I mean, only 30 years out, a lot of people my age (I'm 21) think Led Zeppelin is one person, even though they're music gods in my book (and many other people's). So, in another 70 years, who even knows how many people will still listen to the Beatles? Unthinkable, I know, but hey, 80 years ago it might have been unthinkable that anyone could grow up without listening to Jelly Roll Morton or Louis Armstrong. All I'm saying is, it's going out on a limb to predict that any artist, pre- or post- whatever year, will stand the test of 100 years.