Wednesday, March 6, 2013

jack lee

There’s a warm place in my heart for artists who arrive on the scene, seemingly from out of the ether, and then disappear just as quickly, but not before making an enduring statement. I’m not necessarily talking about One Hit Wonders. A hit record may or may not make a lasting impression, and an artist who makes a lasting impression may or may not have a hit with it. This gets us into dull semantics. My point here is not to make a Venn diagram but rather to say that I have a special appreciation for those who do something good and then they’re gone, and that’s it for them.  So much of my favorite music falls into this category probably because I’m a pop guy at heart, and pop lends itself to ephemerality (is this a word?), if not disposability. Jack Lee is a great example.  The Nerves made a brief appearance in the loosely-defined (pre-punk) LA pop scene of the mid 70s, and then they vanished. The band gained little if any commercial footing, yet those who heard their music became devotees, if not to the band then certainly to their brand of stripped-down guitar pop, a breath of fresh air amidst an otherwise increasingly fetid atmosphere dominated by lumbering corporate rock (said he who just got through singing the praises of UFO, Scorpions, and Boston!). And almost 40 years later, the Nerves enjoy a cult following that’s probably 500 times larger than what they had when they were a going concern. Paul Collins and Peter Case each went on to slightly bigger things after the Nerves, while Lee more or less faded into obscurity. Among those who are at all familiar with Lee, he’s best remembered as the guy who penned Hanging On the Telephone, which was initially performed by the Nerves, and later became a chart topper for Blondie as one of the singles off of the smash record, Parallel Lines.  …My favorite Jack Lee song is When You Find Out. It clocks in breezily at less than two minutes, a case study in pop economy and directness. There’s nothing spectacular about the guitar playing, but this is precisely what makes the song so great. The chord changes are minimalistic, tight and clean, just the way I like it. You don’t have to be a wanky shredder or a modal nerd to make a bold statement with the guitar. Uncomplicated song structures with great melodic hooks are all you need. It’s so simple, yet so few people pull it off, and those who do often go unappreciated.  Jack Lee figured it out.  He said what he had to say in music, and then he went away. I really admire that.

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