Friday, July 30, 2010


How did this happen, America?  We have been lazy, we have been indifferent, we have failed to pay attention.  And during this time, there have been forces, pernicious forces within our own borders, that have managed to do what bin Laden himself couldn't do: They've given Marc Cohn the highest-charting album of his career.

Did we learn nothing from the nineties?  Though his debut album charted modestly back in '91, its debut single, the truly awful Walking In Memphis, acted like a bland, piano-driven pod placed under the nation's collective bed, and the next morning we woke up to a world that just wasn't quite the same.

Oh, we still went to doctor's offices, sat in line waiting for driver's licenses and shopped at mid-price retail chains.  But suddenly all these unexciting yet essentially painless activities were constantly accompanied by a piano bar keyboard riff and a nondescript voice straining to sound scruffy and world-weary.  Incredibly trite lyrics--referencing Elvis, W.C. Handy and Al Green, which conjure Memphis about as evocatively as mentioning the Empire State Building and Central Park when discussing New York--filled the air, and as much as we tried to ignore the problem, it never went away.  Walking In Memphis was exactly the sort of personality-free song that would continue to be played in public areas for years and years.

As dreadful as a Michael Buble or a Jason Mraz might be, they've at least tied up the kind of "light listening" music services favored by restaurants and reception areas, and it was easy to become complacent, to think, "Well, at least we won't have to worry about hearing that Walking In Memphis guy anymore."  But we were wrong to think that, very, very wrong.  Despite having been shot in the head in 2005--bullets killed John Lennon, but they only made Marc Cohn stronger!--it seems he can't be stopped.  His new covers album, Listening Booth: 1970 (and, by the way, is there anything less creative than an album of cover songs?), drags Van Morrison and Alex Chilton down to his level, but far more ominously, it features a version of Bread's Make It With You.  Imagine the horror: an already lugubrious, desperately uninteresting David Gates ballad as run through the Marc Cohn blanderizer.  It would be formless aural mass, a musical version of The Nothing from The Neverending Story, sweeping away all memories of joy, or pain, or any human emotion whatsoever.

It happened before, America.  We survived it once, but we were stronger then.  Will we be able to survive it again?