>Conversation Series – Part Two

Here now, Part Two of My Conversation Series with Ross K:


I give you an inch and you takes 10,000 words. I’ll see that and raise it. Soooo much to say…

Um, The Vines? Are you sure you remember which ones they were? The “garage rock” revival in 2001 (The Strokes, The Hives, The White Stripes, The Vines, Kings of Leon) gave us something to root for, but it played out the wrong way. The Hives and The Vines don’t really exist anymore—at least not in any relevant way—and The Strokes have been on B+ autopilot since the first record. The White Stripes, on the other hand, have proven to be so much more than a retro-garage-rock outfit and the Kings torched that whole idea a year ago.

Here’s mine:
1) John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)
2) Keith Moon (The Who)
3) Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age)
4) Jack Irons (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam)
5) Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience)


I’ve never played drums and don’t ACTUALLY know what I’m talking about. But my prerequisites are essentially the same as yours, and there’s the list. Admittedly, I’ve never listened to Rush once in my life, so I’ll take a pass on that. I think Jack Irons’ work with Pearl Jam (No Code and Yield) is some of my favorite rock drumming of all time, and merited inclusion. My only listed honorable mention is, obviously RINGO STARR.

Better question: where do you come down on Ringo? Is he, as Lester Bangs rudely put it, “incompetent,” or is he a vastly underrated song-servant? “Ticket to Ride” alone is enough to put me in the latter camp. I’ll give Ringo propers all day long. His malapropisms also gave us some great lines: “hard day’s night,” “tomorrow never knows,” etc. He was AT LEAST twice the poet Paul was.

You’re right—Nashville is bulimic. But I’d argue the motivations are different. To me, it’s not the embarrassment of talent-riches that you’re depicting. I rarely go to other local shows and feel discouraged about my own work—partly because it’s a generally positive community, and partly because I don’t hear that many good songs around town. There are a ton of remarkable musicians, but they’re all imported and exported anyway; they might be “in” Nashville, but they’re not “of” Nashville. I’d say that the passivity and blasé attitude in the scene is less about the frequency of incredible performances, and more about laziness. It’s not so much that there’s so much greatness that folks aren’t easily impressed—it’s that nobody really cares enough to be impressed in the first place.

Let’s go further—if Nashville is a rapidly aging girl with low self-esteem and a pattern of bulimia, Memphis is…what? I’ll call her a formerly gorgeous debutante with oppressively high self-esteem, long past her prime, now a mother of five, and her looks never recovered. She’s still wearing halter tops and standing next to the bowling alley jukebox. If only she wanted to look like something else, she might get back into shape and re-establish her beauty. But, for now, she’s eating at DBo’s three times a day and re-dying her hair…but her daughters are already pretty. And Louisville? A pre-teen from the other side of the tracks with unconventionally pretty features and an awkward, gangly frame? In six years she might be a supermodel, or she might just be frightening?

Also, Jerry Stiller was a joke. I was asking about FEMALE video co-stars. I’ll take Megan Fox because, uh, she seems smart.

If you learned one thing in college, what was it? What single songwriter do you admire the most? And what’s your pick for rock’s all-time Most Underrated Band?

Back in off-white,


Mr. Milam,

I don’t think Ringo incompetent; quite to the contrary. He IS a selfless song-servant, but that’s something I’ve only begun to understand and value recently. When you ask about favorite drummers, my answer is more geared toward the music I liked when I played only drums and nothing else, and was more exclusively interested in drums than in the rest of a band. You must understand that I was never into the Beatles as a teenager, when I started playing drums. I’ve only learned to appreciate them recently as I’ve studied music more thoroughly and become interested in songwriting and melodic instruments. Ringo is a songwriter’s dream, because he doesn’t step on your song. He lets the songwriter’s ego go unchallenged by the interests of the drummer, who is often the biggest affront to it. To one way of thinking, Ringo did the best thing he could do, which was stay out of the way of some great songwriters by playing as sparingly and inconspicuously as he could, with the deadest possible drum sounds. In many ways it’s a much greater challenge to stay solid in the background and be a soldier sacrificing for the rest of the band than it is to go off all the time. But the only beat he ever played that fired me up is the crash-fest at the end of Revolver (one of my favorite albums), “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

If Louisville were a girl, it would be a sixteen-year-old wannabe indie groupie with different streaks of dye in her hair who tries to initiate contact with older boys by coming up and asking for a cigarette. The kind of girl Lois Griffin was talking about when she told Chris, “Remember to find a girl who smokes. If she smokes, she pokes.” That girl who flirts with rebelliousness and attention-seeking, but inwardly craves strong limits and leadership she can respect, who wants to play out both scripts at the same time, being strong and being weak, writing her own life and leaving it up to somebody else, being free and alone and being fettered and taken care of. And who ultimately ends up pregnant in her early twenties, living an unrealized life thereafter. But this is before that part. Like a teenager, Louisville isn’t sure what its models are or what it wants to become. It has several options to choose from and hasn’t decided yet; it’s a splinter of several kinds of cities, still deciding what kind of city it wants to be and how it wants to be regarded by everybody else.

There’s a Broadway stage dancer named Susan LaMontagne who’s a sex bomb. Ideally I would feature her in my music video. Since you say you need a celebrity, however, and no one knows who Susan LaMontagne is, I would happily feature Cate Blanchett. Bear in mind, analogously, how well it worked when Axl Rose put Stephanie Seymour in those videos.

I probably admire J. S. Bach the most, because he wrote 1100 pieces of music that are all brilliant, timeless, and either stirring, soothing or rumination-friendly, and in a wide range of instrumentation—masses, solo keyboard, you name it. I sense, however, that you mean within the realm of douche bags with acoustic guitars and journals. As far as recent, pop-music type songwriters…Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Rodgers, Ledbelly. Although they were bad to their families, I admire their courage.

Rock’s Most Underrated Band…underrated by fans, musicians, by critics? This is a difficult question, because all the people we’re talking about are going to be famous regardless if they’re any good at all, and if they’re TRULY obscure, if no one at all knows them, it’s probably because they’re not good enough to be rated. I’d say the Allman Brothers, and I’m not even a rabid fan of theirs. I say underrated because I believe they get no crossover: I think that they’re stuck with a small-but-loyal jam-band cult following, and everybody else just hears “Ramblin’ Man” on the radio once a week and thinks nothing more of them. The surviving members still tour their hearts out constantly, and they’ve been playing in some incarnation or other for the better part of forty years, so I know they’re an extremely hard-working band, and you do hear about them, but I don’t know who else their fans might be besides…budding blues/jam-band guitar players. Another band I think of similarly is ZZ Top, who have been putting out album after album for a jillion years but don’t seem to show up in commercials or movies (except that “Tush” was in Dazed and Confused), they just tour the planet like clockwork and have “Legs,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’” played on classic rock radio every day of the world.

What I learned in college is that college can make many people smaller instead of bigger if they let it institutionalize them. I don’t want to be a part of its culture of over-specialization, where people feel forced into getting a doctorate in one microscopically small and irrelevant field of study and just teaching that to similarly trapped-feeling people for the rest of their lives. It leads to intellectual and creative death for the doctoral candidates/teachers and encourages professor-worship in students who then waste away in unremarkable, unoriginal adherence to trends to please everybody around them instead of pursuing their own interests and passions. There are a lot of lost kids in Arts and Sciences who seem to want to become artists, who want to transform, to live bigger, less ordinary lives. If you want to be an artist, if you want to live a bold, noble, enriched life, you won’t do it by staying in school, you’ve got to out and just start TRYING to do it. A boat is safe in a harbor, but that’s not what boats are for.

Colleges are the ones who institutionalized literary criticism as a job and an industry, and because colleges are havens for critics, they actually put criticism ahead of literature in their teaching. What this does is eliminate the enjoyment a curious, creative person gets from reading stories and displaces it with snobbery. College can take frustrated artists and knead them into bitter critics who can only teach doubt and censure. These are creative people who want to range and wander, but they no longer trust themselves.

I also learned that college has gained too much power over family dynamics and parenting styles. College as a racket and industry manipulates parents and children needlessly into debt, and is not for everybody. It might not be right for you, but you probably won’t see that till you have student loans to pay off.

More to the point about professors…they often want a guarantee on receiving the deference people give to leaders without the uncertainty and risk of exercising enough leadership to earn that special treatment. Feel me? A friend of mine who’s a writer studied leadership and group dynamics and always has sharp things to say about this; I’m really speaking in her terms there.

I end things abruptly,


Holler Here!

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