Steve Miller is no dummy. Somewhere back in time, when he was penning his ditties for mass consumption, he knew that residuals would be his bread and butter in old age. (Well, that and the state fair circuit.) He was also smart enough to finagle the music publishing biz by cutting single songs into two distinct titles. On his Book of Dreams record, he took the 57-second introduction to "Sacrifice," renamed it "Electro Lux Imbroglio," and added another song to his list of royalties. (He knew that distinct songs get individual publishing rights, no matter what their length.)
He was also savvy enough to write songs that would endure, much to most people's chagrin. There is no way than anyone ever needs to hear "Jet Airliner" again. Or "Fly Like an Eagle." Or "Take the Money and Run." Or "Swingtown." Okay, I will stop there. Except of course, I must add "Rock'n Me," "The Joker," and, for fuck's sake, "Jungle Love."
Every year, classic rock should have a Shirley Jacksonesque "Lottery" of sorts, wherein the tiredest crap is trotted out, thrown into a large pool, and selected at random for public stoning until it is dead.
What led me on this Steve Miller diatribe? I was sitting at the bar at the Nite Cap, minding my own business, when I heard "The Joker" come on the jukebox. "Someone played Steve Miller on purpose?" I said out loud, turning around to gape. Unfortunately, the guy who programmed it was standing right behind me, having just stepped away from the scene of the non-accident. He gave me a sheepish look bordering on defiance. He was assessing whether he should defend himself in the wake of my (admittedly) snotty comment. Seeing that I looked like someone who probably had a wealth of jerkoff opinions on the subject, he instead put his beer bottle to his lips and backed away.
I am not proud of being a music snob. Actually, anyone who likes .38 Special as much as I do can't really be a music snob. Or so I keep telling myself.
Actually, that is something I like about the Nite Cap. One minute someone will play Steve Miller, and the next someone will play Iggy Pop. I sat next to a bookish hipster and a giggly group of college girls. The Steve Miller offender was a jock. At the very ends of the bar sat the venue's older clientele; fellas who remember when this place used to scare anyone under 40. (Or, as my friend put it, a place that was "you, the drink, and the too-friendly German guy next to you.")
I was chomping on some Jolly Ranchers, and the bartender asked me to share. I was happy to. She was a bright and bubbly young woman, just the sort of person you want running your place. Guys feel flirted with and women feel welcome. We discussed the pros and cons of hard Jolly Ranchers versus the "soft" chewy ones. We are both dedicated lovers of the hard stuff. Her opinion was underscored by the corny bar sign behind her that read, "Never, but never, question the bartender's judgment."
So, back to the lecture at hand: Once Steve Miller is publicly pilloried and dies, who shall we offer up next? There are plenty of artists I can't stand listening to anymore, but who probably have some other good songs most people just haven't heard. Like Jimi Hendrix. I never need to hear "Hey Joe" again. We can go down the classic rock roster and remove all the obvious songs and replace them with B-sides. Radio stations always play the same Stones songs, and lord knows there are some great ones that don't ever reach the airwaves.
But here's the deal: The people who listen to classic rock want to hear the same shit over and over. It is their Muzak. It is their easy-listening, background brain buzz. The genre is officially old; its adherents are officially of retirement age. So many things have changed in the last 40 years, they kvetch, please don't take away "Light My Fire" and replace it with "The End." I think I can respect that.
That's why classic rock is like a good dive bar: It's predictable, comforting, stale, out of date, and has an ironic draw for hipsters.
As for the guy who played Steve Miller, he looked to be about 26. I guess I can forgive him. He is only on his 76th go-round of "Rock'n Me." Give him a few years.