It would appear that Bill O’Reilly is making a foray into music criticism.
Admittedly, O’Reilly is fish in a barrel to some extent. He’s just a loudmouth who thinks he knows about everything, including not only the things he’s actually gotten recognition for (journalism, broadcasting, punditry), but also various other things like historical fiction, television writing, and now music. He’s like a renaissance man, only he now lacks talent at any of them other than broadcasting, where he remains able to keep peoples’ attention if nothing else. He’s a know-it-all in a literal sense, and in addition to being tiresome, such people are best treated by being ignored. Still, sometimes that just isn’t possible, and this is one of those times.
I’ll admit that I’m no music expert, I’m merely a fan, and when I write about music I write about it from that perspective. Nobody is an expert in everything. Except for Bill O’Reilly, of course! O’Reilly writes a short history of post-WWII music and starts out writing exactly the sort of article on the topic you’d think he would write, a standard rockist narrative cribbed seemingly more from Time-Life documentaries about rock’n'roll than a deep connection to the music. (A taste: “In the ’50s, many young people, tired of conformity, began to rebel. The rise of Elvis Presley illuminated that rebellion.”) It’s standard pabulum celebrating the vision and chops of one white man after another (notable exceptions include Chubby Checker and Hendrix, the latter of which is rather a safe exception if you ask me). He also mentions Madonna in passing, not so much as a visionary as someone who was popular at one point. He probably could have better insulated himself from charges of sexism by paying homage to Grace Slick, but then again, she isn’t much of a fan of religion, so no dice for a traditionalist like Bill-O. His narrative is bizarrely incomplete and one gets the sense that he’s less trying to craft a narrative than take an index of music he likes, to confine the British Invasion to merely the Beatles, Stones and Animals without including The Who is baffling, only able to be explained by O’Reilly not liking The Who. Of course, The Kinks were better than all of them, and they did have a certain thread of conservatism running through their work, but being British they cut that with an incredible disdain for the rich and their empty lives and lifestyles, to an even greater extent than the Stones even did. It’s a conservatism of the working-class, not of the upper-class, which self-styled man of the people Bill O’Reilly wouldn’t know what to do with. This list is so incomplete, probably due to word constraints, that it gets comical at points. Going by this list, you’d think the Bee Gees dominated the entire ’70s rather than just a year or two near the end, and that glam rock, R&B, funk and soul never had their own moments. Presumably they’re not included because, well, gay, black, black and black respectively. That decade also saw the birth of heavy metal, a pretty popular subgenre, but Black Sabbath doesn’t get a mention because of “Satanism” no doubt.
Naturally, you might expect all this to act as an edenic prelude to the fallen world of contemporary music, and if that’s your guess you are indeed correct. After paying reverent homage to so many white men, he feels the need to slam black people (“At first, the anger-fueled [rap] recordings were confined to urban radio stations and a niche audience.”) and women, notably Jennifer Lopez and Lady GaGa. This is the original rockist sin, though it’s baffling that he feels the need to swipe at Lopez, who was last relevant for her music…actually, probably around the time that O’Reilly himself held real cultural currency. He himself is now a niche performer, albeit one with a rather large niche and $20 million a year. But note this, and note it well: whenever an older white guy starts lashing out at J-Lo, GaGa, Rihanna, and so on, they’re pining for an older, whiter, maler musical scene. Which is not to defend or damn the music at all–I personally don’t much care for Rihanna’s sex robot act, and Lopez’s music has not held up well at all–but there are all sorts of male mediocrity out there that could be mocked, and goes unmocked. People pay Jack Johnson tons of money to make glorified elevator music, but he’s a white guy. Green Day and Aerosmith have had second acts as shells of what they once were, and Rod Stewart is a shell of a shell of a shell of what he was during his Faces/”Maggie May” period (another great thing going on in the ’70s that O’Reilly has undoubtedly never heard of). This schlock goes un-slammed, while two women (one of whom is a minority) gets hit by an angry old white guy. It again begs the question.
O’Reilly also lacks a basic understanding of music history. He attributes the mainstreaming of rap music to “when Elton John sang a duet with the white rapper Eminem on a Grammy telecast [...],” when the real date was probably fifteen or so years earlier, when Aerosmith and Run-DMC gave birth to the (in retrospect unholy) genre of rap-rock. Of course, new music is only legitimized when boomer icons like Elton John give it their blessing. Complaining about rap just seems unbearably passe now, since pretty much all that remains now is pop and R&B in various forms. One would think that O’Reilly would be happy about the epic decline in rap’s popularity, since now it’s mostly confined to single sections of hit songs in those two genres, but no dice. Once again, the music itself isn’t what he cares about, or what he knows about. But there is one thing that gives him hope for the future of music, one thing that keeps him going:
The talent is still there. I heard Justin Bieber do a knockout version of Paul McCartney’s classic “Let It Be.” And Bruno Mars with his little hat was pretty good on the Grammy show this year.
Hallelujah! White men! Salvation, at long last!
The crux of it is that The Doors are lauded as “introspective” artists, while Lady GaGa is derided as an empty narcissist. Doesn’t really fit in either particular. GaGa certainly has opinions, if anything her trouble is that she doesn’t ever stop talking about her opinions, to a wearisome extent at times. Jim Morrison, though, was his generation’s Sting, a self-hating pop artist who produced a whole ton of dreck to prove how deep he was, and mainly proved the opposite. But Sting had the misfortune to be born ten years too late to be “cool” in the way Morrison was, even though his output is simply much better than Morrison’s in terms of overall quality. Bill O’Reilly thinks that a group whose output is far outpaced by The Police (and is arguably outpaced by Sting’s solo work) is one of the greatest groups in history, and what else do you need to know?
Since O’Reilly wants to write the Kinks out of the British Invasion, here’s their most anti-privilege album ever:
- Personality crisis: Balloon Juice
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