For the rest of your life
every time you hear music
it will either only be
John Mayer or John Denver.
You CANNOT commit suicide
or stop listening to music.
WHICH ONE DO YOU CHOOSE?
We can thank Joanna for this week’s edition of YOU MUST CHOOSE! It all started when she professed her deep and abiding love for John Mayer on Twitter. At a certain point it got embarrassing and I had to look away, but I’m pretty sure she suggested she’d allow all of us to drown in a septic tank if her beloved songsmith refused to quit playing “Your Body is a Wonderland” long enough for her to save us.
So we know how she’s probably voting.
Interestingly, Mayer is one of those cultural figures people know they’re not supposed to like, even though they’re only vaguely aware of what he actually does. In my case, beyond the ubiquitous “Wonderland”, I couldn’t name another one of his songs without a quick google search. Those that I have heard have a general easy listening sameness to them that seems slightly at odds with his off-stage reputation as a slightly-jerky wannabe comedian who trolls show business waters for beautiful famous women coming out of failed relationships.
Trying to think of his pop culture equivalent wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds, but then I started to think of other famous singers named John and I found one that seemed to fit.
It’s hard to imagine today just how popular John Denver was back in the 70s. Beyond his musical career, he also appeared in his own TV specials and even starred in a major hit movie–Oh, God! (which just happened to be produced by his legendary manager, Jerry Weintraub). His granny glasses, blond hair and cherubic face went hand in hand with his music, which was so nakedly sincere it almost made you feel embarrassed for him. Like Mayer, his songs were pretty and never challenging, but unlike Mayer, they so completely matched his persona they almost made sense.
So, who do I choose? Well, at the risk of angering Joanna’s musical god, I gotta go with Denver. Not just because his sugary music now tastes so much better coated in a thick layer of nostalgia, but because of something he did in 1985:
That year a group called the Parents Music Resource Center–initiated by Tipper Gore after she was horrified by the lyrics of Prince’s “Darling Nikki”–used their political leverage to hold hearings on the possibility of creating a ratings system for record albums. Among those who spoke out against this were two musicians–Dee Snider and Frank Zappa–who represented everything parents feared about modern popular music. Of course they were against a ratings system! Both of them were weirdos who liked to freak people out!
But then that nice singer John Denver spoke. You’d assume he’d be there to support the system and help protect all of the boys and girls who watched him with The Muppets. But no, his speech against the measure was just as firm and articulate as Zappa and Snider’s. In that moment, being the blandest of the bland and nicest of the nice actually meant something and though the “Tipper Sticker” did eventually end up on record albums, the fact that the late singer used his image to fight against it makes him the clear choice for me every time.