Despite the advances that the self-esteem movement has made, most people know in their hearts that what counts is not how they feel about themselves, but what they actually accomplish in the real world.Â Or asÂ two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells succinctly put it, "You are what your record says you are."
Parcells:Â "If anybody has Barry Manilow on their iPod, they're off the team!"
In the old days--byÂ which I mean when I was young--you were what your record collection said you were.Â If you moved into an apartment with three other guys and somebody found a Barry Manilow album in your stuff, you'd never live it down.Â "What was your name before you were married?" would be a typical wise-ass remark you could expect to hear.
"Dude--is this your sister's album?"
All that changed with the advent of the iPod, the portable electronic device that can hold more information than the Library of Congress and yet is smaller than a pack of cigarettes.Â Now you can keep your wussier musical cravings secret, unless you're accosted on the street by a gang of toughs who grab your iPod, turn the dial to "Shuffle" and mock you mercilessly.
"I really like 'Mandy'."
And yet there are still risks.Â Last fall, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, two of the NBA's top young stars, were found to have downloaded Barry Manilow songs onto their iPods.Â You can imagine the reaction of Zydrunas Ilguaskas, James' teammate who looks like a human pencil eraser.Â "LeBronski," one hears him saying, "Me . . .Â I am the dorky one--not you!"
Zydrunas Ilguaskas:Â High-scoring Scrabble play.
The lesson for us all is that maintaining aÂ brittle carapace of coolness 24/7 is exhausting work.Â And if young studs like LeBron and Carmelo can't keep it up, what hope is there for the rest of us?Â Sure, you've got Charlie Parker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Joe Turner in your Blues and Jazz genres, but sometimes you just want to kick back at the end of the day for a stiff shot of some really fine, white pap rock.
I'm all about full disclosure, so here is the geology of my musical world, proceeding from the tough, brown outer surface to the gooey white stuff at its molten core.
Swamp Thang, by The Soul of John Black.Â For reasons that are not entirely clear, John Bigham, a guitarist who has also played percussion with Miles Davis, adopted the nomme de funk "The Soul of John Black".Â Why not just John Black?Â What other 21st century musicianÂ has both a definite article and a preposition in his name?Â None that I can think of.Â But "Swamp Thang" is not just scary good, it's actually scary.Â If you don't want to spend a lot of money on Halloween candy, try blasting this song out your front window October 31st.Â The trick or treaters won't even come up the driveway.
Still in Love, by Kirk Franklin.Â Like most agnostics and atheists, I hedge my bets by keeping some gospel music with me at all times,Â the musical equivalent ofÂ wearing a scapular under your shirt.Â That way, if I'm hit by a Perrier truck as I step off the curb some day, as I gasp my last breath I can dial up this song, the only spiritual in the history of Western civilization that includes the phrases "I love you Jesus" and "Git your roller skates on!"
The Black Scapular of the Passion:Â Wear it--it's guaranteed to get you into heaven.
The Reggae Rockers featuring Bradley Brown, The Mighty Quinn.Â This one's a four-fer; a Bob Dylan song originally made popular by Manfred Mann, sung in reggae style by a group with an emerging personality who's recognized byÂ the designationÂ "featuring".Â Like "Paul Revere & the Raiders featuring Mark Lindsay."Â Does Bradley's expanding ego spell future trouble for the other Reggae Rockers?Â Time will tell.
Collected on this album.
A Whole New World, Peabo Bryson.Â Okay, things are starting to get squishy.Â Yes, Peabo Bryson recorded "Slow Dancin'", the sexiest song of the 80s, which is saying something.Â Â It was probably the last 45 rpm single I bought in my life, and what I used it for, well, you can guess.
But by 1992 Peabo had moved on to Disney sound tracks, and I had two young sons who wanted to go see "Aladdin on Ice".Â I bought four cheap seats at the old Boston Garden and, after our sherpa left us to return to his village, IÂ looked down to see . . .
. . . the incredible cleavage of the woman who played the role of Jasmine--Holy Playtex!Â The song that poured forth out of the P.A. system was "A Whole New World" and while I wouldn't be caught dead with an Aladdin CD in the house, it's on my iPod, under Children's Music.Â Children my male mammary glands!
"Can we grow up yet?"
All This Love, DeBarge.Â DeBarge was sort of like Santa's reindeer.Â There were eight of them, and if you ever want to win a bar bet in the category "Wimpy 80s Motown groups", you'd betterÂ know at least six.Â I keep their names on a wallet-sized card so I can sneak a peak and rattle them off when there's beer money on the line:Â Mark (a/k/a "Marty"), James, Randy, Eldra (a/k/a "El"), Bunny, Chico, Darryl and Carol, or "Peaches".Â Yes, I have "All This Love" on my iPod, and dammit, I'm going to download "Rhythm of the Night" too!
Michael Bolton, looking extremely serious.
Michael Bolton.Â Michael Bolton has become a human punch line, what with his overwrought vocals and ever-changing hair styles and apparent fantasy that there's a soul singer inside him screaming to get out.Â But I like some of his stuff--me, who once jammed on harmonica with Willie Dixon, the Poet of the Blues!
Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy
How did this happen?Â Was I possessed by the DevilÂ of Blue-Eyed Soul when I purchased not one, but two of his songs?Â There's nobody whiter than this guy, who was successfully sued for infringing the Isley Brothers' copyrights.
The Isley Brothers
Except maybe Kenny Loggins.Â
Okay, so I like "This is It".Â But that's all.