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Monday, September 25, 2006

Death To False Cowbell

Posted By on Mon, Sep 25, 2006 at 11:41 AM

As true believers in the unmatched rock & roll power of the almighty cowbell, the Scene Music Department was so grossly offended by Jet's desperately contrived new single, "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is," that we were hard-pressed to put our rage, scorn, and wrath into words. Once the sound of authenticity, this noble object of percussion has been hijacked by the forces of irony, misappropriated by a bunch faux-androgynous Aussie rock lizards. Rather than running our yap at length about Jet's latest transgression, we went to one of Northeast Ohio's resident cowbell experts, Dropgun guitarist Paul Hooper. Unlike the pretty boys in Jet, his band puts the bell to aces use in riff-rock punk tunes like "Shoot" and "Cut Me Off." Catch them Saturday, September 30 at Chuck's Steakhouse (456 E. South St., Akron). Death To False Cowbell The cowbell is manly art. In rocknroll, the cowbell is manipulated best by swaggering cocksmen with no regard for your grandmother. An act with real cowbell action need not apologize for the testosterone spilling over onto the fans who crowd up close for a good gander at their tight trousers. Those who push to the front of a real cowbell-smashing band know the score. There's a popular newer band who is trying to create a stir with cowbell antics. This band is known as Jet. I investigated this Jet with an examination of their latest video, "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is." As I watched the video, I noticed that a cowbell was indeed being struck. A nicely toned cowbell at that. But friends, several things bothered me about this cowbell rocking. Why would a seemingly rock 'n' roll band with copious cowbell leave me with such unsettled feelings and thoughts? What the hell was wrong with this Jet band and their cowbell? All the elements of rocking seemed to be present, yet there was an emptiness surrounding this music that screamed much louder than the singer's weak falsetto. Then I remembered: This was the band that ripped off Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" a year or two ago ("Are You Gonna Be My Girl?"). Why was I unsettled? Because in this current abomination, they use a holy tool of rock -- the cowbell -- as a prop. Now, granted these young men do what their record company tells 'em to do. They have a producer and an A&R guy from the record company that tell them what to sound like and what to look like. And when they say, "We want cowbell," those boys jump on the cowbell. If they want an Iggy Pop tune, they tell 'em to rip off ol' Uncle Iggy. He's old and crazy; he won't mind. And I guess he doesn't. I guess I do. When I tell you that Jet uses the holy cowbell as a prop, I mean that it's thrown in their song to evoke a specific reaction. An actor uses a prop knife or pistol in a movie to seem like a tough fella. Jet uses the cowbell to seem like a real rockin' band. They aren't. Jet are actors portraying a rock band. They have been cultivated by the music industry for your consumption. Clint Eastwood in the movies was a .44 Magnum-toting bad-ass. In real life he's a jazz-piano playing, slightly effeminate artist. Not that there's anything wrong with that. In Jet's hands, the cowbell is that same fake-ass .44 Magnum. As I watched Jet's video, I noticed something else that bothered me about this band. My subconscious was nagging me. It took me a couple bottles of Dogfish IPA to figure it out. Jet's unshaven appearance, the aviator sunglasses, the wearing of their kid sister's jeans... Then it hit me. Jet is the modern-day incarnation of a band that annoyed the hell out me in the early 80's. Jet is the new Wham! They are the new George Michael. The same goddamn cultivated razor stubble, sunglasses, and jeans. Only instead of bright poppy '80s dance tunes and cut-up sweatshirts, they gave 'em the new flavor-of-the-month: Retro-70's shaggy haircuts, Les Paul guitars, and Marshall amps. Falsetto warbling. Girl's jeans. And cowbell. Sigh. George Michael could and maybe should be in Jet. Andrew Ridgely too, if anyone can find him. Will the boys from Jet be busted in a public men's room in 15 years performing for an audience of one vice cop? If history indeed repeats itself, the smart money is on fresh rockin' mug shots within a couple of decades. I rewound the video and watched some more Jet in action. I sliced this performance to ribbons as a forensic cowbell analyst. I'm sorry to report to you fine people that I detected a strong undercurrent of cowbell irony. Cowbells should never, ever, be used ironically. There is no taking-it-back-later or trying to claim you were being funny. It just ends up sucking. If you rock the cowbell, you must rock in earnest. "Hey, wink-wink, check out the cowbell! Just like the old days! wink-nudge-wink! Just like the SNL skit. Get it?" No. The cowbell must be used for utmost rocking of the highest order. Do you think Tommy Lee was kidding around when he punished the cowbell during Motley Crue's "Livewire?" You bet your ass he wasn't making a joke. When the cowbell rang out proudly in "Mississippi Queen" by Mountain, there was nobody laughing at the massive rock combo of cowbell and elephantine guitar riff (and guitarist). No way. Being exposed to that kind of serious rocking can change a man's life. Bad Brains wasn't trying to be hilarious with the cowbell on "Pay to Cum." That song was written to blow the top of your head off, and the cowbell holds you down while they curb-stomp the rock right into you. You don't have to dress up and pretend to be a rocker when you're the genuine article. A real band doesn't need to adopt musical affectations to try to bring to mind others who did rock with complete resolution. Jet sucks hard, and their use of cowbell is a rock 'n' roll sacrilege. Long live real rock, long live the cowbell, and death to false cowbell. -- Paul Hooper For a full musical satire of Jet and bands of their ilk, listen to the Balomai Brothers' "And Every Single Song Is Gonna Go Like This."

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