Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hardly Shiftless when 'Idol': Steven Tyler, Superstar

It was inevitable that I’d end up watching more American Idol than I ever had before this year, and the blame for that falls squarely on the shoulders of the man with the large print memoirs.  Rhea is a huge Aerosmith fan; they were her first real music geek crush, and they’re the band she always comes home to at the end of the day.  I’m a fan as well, but a bit more selective: for me, it’s much more about their catalog through and including 1985’s Done with Mirrors than it is any of their post-rehab pop material.  Regardless of one’s personal taste in the band’s material, there’s no getting around the fact that Tyler is one of rock’s most iconic front men with good reason.  But did he have the specific kind of charisma that would translate well to network television?  To be honest, my gut reaction was “no.”

To be really honest, I expected to sleep-watch most of it.  Way back in high school – right around the time I was first discovering the Aerosmith catalog, actually – I perfected the art of dozing with my eyes open.  It may be the most enduringly useful skill I acquired in high school.  My expectations for Tyler’s Idol were low; honestly, I figured I’d catch enough to tease Rhea a bit and/or answer if quizzed and doze through the rest.  Imagine my surprise when Tyler – god love or damn him, I’m not sure which – had me at hello.

Well, not exactly “hello.”  He had me at “fuck a duck.”  In one of the first two or three audition episodes, he looked at one hopeful and without hesitation uttered, loudly, the following: “Well hellfire, save matches, fuck a duck and see what hatches.”  Whether it did not occur to the man that this was unacceptable, bleeped or not, for prime time or he simply did not give half a hoot is debatable.  Either way, it made me sit up and pay far more careful attention than I’d previously intended to.

Thusly engaged, I was in it for the laughs.  Tyler delivers those by the truckload, but what really surprised me was how truly into music the man still honestly seems to be.  I think I can be forgiven my surprise with this: Aerosmith’s music became increasingly generic and rote for me as the ‘90s rolled on, culminating in the artistic nadir of 2001’s largely dreadful Just Push Play.  Tellingly, they have not released an album of new, original material since.  It was shocking, then, to watch Tyler singing and dancing along with even the contestants he didn’t pass through to the next stage of the competition.  The man seems to still absolutely adore music in a way that doesn’t seem like an actor’s put-on; his enthusiasm seems far too giddy to be studied.  My respect for him has increased ten-fold since his Idol debut; I’d never have suggested this even three months ago, but maybe it’s time for the man to think solo album.

I’ve never watched Idol beyond the train-wreck audition stage before.  I’m grateful that Rhea’s willing to watch some of it by herself at this point, Tyler notwithstanding; it’s a tribute to the prowess of his presence that I can work up any interest at all in the later phases.  Once you’ve knocked out the wilder cards from the pack, you’re left with too much vanilla for my tastes, and this year is no exception.  Rhea disagrees vehemently: indeed, the other day I had to download an album by Paul McDonald for my iTunes-challenged darling.  I hope she enjoys it muchly; I may even be bored enough while working one day to listen to it myself.  I suspect it’ll prove a little too Jack Johnson-bland for my palate, but you never know.  Still, Rhea insists that there is a lot of talent among the remaining contestants at publication time, and if your tastes run toward the poppier end of things than mine, she’s probably right on the money.

Am I currently guilty of waxing snobby?  A bit, I guess, although it’s also a taste thing: I’m not much of a pop-of-the-moment kind of guy in general.  Chest thusly beaten, the truth is that I wish McDonald and his fellow contestants all the luck in the world regardless.  This bright green ball we live on is always made better by the presence of more music and musicians, regardless of whether or not they’re really gonna knock the Mekons out of my listening rotation this week.  Above and beyond the rest, my hat is truly off to Mr. Tyler for keeping this talent show fun to watch, even if most of the music is, for me at least, nothing but the same old song and dance.

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