Indulging the annoying fan within
During a recent concert, as a few inebriated audience members barked requests at the performer, I realized: Music fans are the worst. No doubt I was doubly irked since said performer has been my favorite singer/songwriter/frontman for a decade now, but personal stakes aside, it’s never fun to watch what’s supposed to be a transcendent experience devolve into dive bar karaoke, nor witness an artist you respect bullied into becoming someone’s private jukebox.
“Play that Sinatra song!” howled one plastered fan.
The performer blushed, chuckled cynically. “Were you not here five minutes ago? We played that already.”
That guy was an idiot, but my point remains. Music fans are insufferable. They put artists in an unwinnable position, unhappy when they double down on their sound, unhappy when they try something new, and almost always disappointed with the set list. Follow your muse, ostensibly more polite fans will insist, with all the comfort and implication of a Mafioso shaking your hand.
From one angle, this type of fandom looks unhealthy. It allows people to avoid their own lives, dedicate massive amounts of attention to a mostly unidirectional relationship, and harbor unrealistic, rather ruthless, ideas about an artist’s responsibility to his or her audience.
Ignoring all that though, it’s kind of sweet, isn’t it? Whether right or wrong, spot-on or delusional, fans only want what’s best (*) for their artists. They care. And so, in the storied tradition of fans thinking they know better than their beloved musical heroes, I offer the following cover song recommendations for my favorite artists:
The nameless performer I described above, Ham has shown sterling taste with past covers, though tends to play it safe: Sinatra, Leonard Cohen, Donovan, Harry Nilsson, [insert white middle-aged sadsack singer/songwriter here]. Consequently, I chose songs that could inch him out of his comfort zone.
“I Know What I Know” — Paul Simon
More outwardly playful than anything Ham’s written, but the upscale cosmopolitan milieu fits. Can’t you hear him croon “Don’t I know you from the cinematographer’s party?”
“Hometown Blues” — Tom Petty
“Here Comes My Girl” or “I Need to Know” might be a better vocal match, but this breezy shuffle could add a much-needed jolt of fun to his live show.
“Moneytalks” — AC/DC
If only for the novelty of hearing him mimic another screamer.
“You Don’t Miss Your Water” — The Byrds
A perfect country tune, improvable only by Angel’s stirring, low-pitched, tear-your-eyes-out-sad warble.
“Hung Up On a Dream” — The Zombies
She’s successfully conflated past and present through folk, country, and 90s alternative. Why not take on a more formally complex genre in psych-pop?
“You Are Here” — John Lennon
This song was tailor-made for Mac — loving, low-key, and fringed with darkness. His rendition would be easier to digest too, what with Lennon’s record of domestic abuse.
“Fire on the Mountain” — Grateful Dead
I heard this for the first time the other day, and instantly thought of Mr. DeMarco. His hypothetical cover would’ve made for a nice entry on the National’s Day of the Dead compilation.
“Without You” — David Bowie
Annie Clark’s fusion of primal pain with clinical sheen owes a lot to the late Starman. I imagine a bracing, elegant tribute.
“Sunrise” — The Who
Two years ago, I saw her hypnotize Prospect Park with a tender, nature-accented solo performance of “Strange Mercy.” She’s well-equipped to conjure the haunted tone here and mold Pete Townshend’s knotted headspace into her own cutting take on familial repression.
“Legend of a Girl Child Linda” — Donovan
Dour Cass is my favorite Cass. Reinterpreting Donovan’s baroque spell of sadness would produce a memorable sequel to his “Lonely Doll.”
“Song for Wilde” — Mark Frye
With his affinity for both artistic tradition and underdogs, Cass would do well to promote this overlooked folk singer with his prettiest piece.
And just for good measure,
“Do You Remember Rock’N’Roll Radio?” — Ramones
How perfect would this be?