Gregg Young - Unexpurgated!*

Today's Topic: Music As Punishment

Opinion by Pete Brooks

One criticism often — and accurately — leveled at this reporter is that my personal tastes in music are too often weighted in favor of singer/songwriters; sensitive-guy poets and people who may or may not be, but certainly consider themselves geniuses.

Well, not everyone can be a genius, and I've been told it's unfair to continue to ignore those honest, hard-working musicians whose talents and aspirations seem to be no greater than to just pass time pleasantly with their work.

Which brings us to Gregg Young and the Second Street Band, and their new CD, "A Band For All Reasons."

If there's one thing anybody who's ever met Gregg Young can agree on, it's that there isn't a nicer local musician around. And Gregg's met everybody!

Thus it was that when I announced I was going to be writing about him this month, my colleagues recoiled in horror, and begged me to remember what a nice guy he is and write this column with love in my heart.

But I'm a critic. I don't have a heart.

In an interview conducted by email, Gregg described the approximately 40-member Second Street Band's "mission statement" thusly:

"Everybody is a star and will get the opportunity to shine." He then added, saying more than he probably meant to, "The music we provide is a privilege by which we all make our livings."

About that music, the first word that comes to mind and the one that lingers is "innocuous." At a recent lunch hour gig at the World Trade Center downtown, if I hadn't been there to review them, I might not have remembered there had been a band playing at all.

The title of Gregg's new CD, "A Band For All Reasons," perfectly sums up what's wrong with the music. It's Gregg's clearly stated goal to please everyone with his work, and that's not music's job. The purpose of music is to communicate; to express something -- anything! -- in a way that makes an audience either feel, think or both.

Gregg's music simply exists. It takes up space and kills time, but it doesn't communicate a damned thing. It doesn't have any new thoughts to impart, or emotions to inspire. At best, it's the kind of stuff they play really loud outside of hostage situations to coerce kidnappers to surrender, and that's about it.

And the live show... although the Second Street Band is a talented, able group of musicians, their song-selection policy seems to be, to paraphrase Frank Booth from "Blue Velvet," "Let's play! I'll play anything that mooooves!"

As long as it can be rendered innocuous.

Everything from "Crazy" to "Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay" to Little Richard's rave-up "Keep A Knockin' (But You Can't Come In)" was rendered equally elevator-ready; in that nebulous nether-realm between not bad enough to condemn nor great enough to praise. Just damned hard to remember to pay attention to.

To make matters worse: Introducing Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child," singer Andrea Palm made a few heart-felt remarks regarding society's responsibility to those too young to protect themselves, which Gregg ruined by chiming in, apropos of nothing, "I just want to say one thing: We have to stop the violence!" They then did a serviceable job of the song, which was accomplished by the band dialing it back and getting the hell out of the way and letting Ms Palm's impassioned vocal performance carry it.

I asked him about his statement, writing, "Today, you admonished the audience 'We have to stop the violence!' Are you engaged in any charitable work along those lines that you would care to have mentioned?"

"I would never be so bold as to admonish an audience," Gregg wrote back. "But it follows, if making music is a privilege, life is sacred," Gregg explained. "Life is full, abundant and what you make of it."

Riiiight. Okay then. This is what happens when someone with no opinions tries to express one (see "George Bush On The Stump" for further examples of this phenomenon).

Regarding the band's new CD of mostly original Gregg Young compositions, it's more of the same. As a songwriter, Gregg is given to clever turns of phrase along the lines of "I like Summertime, Sum Sum Summertime," followed by, "I like rock & roll, rock, rock, rock & roll" (from "I Like Summertime"). Frankly, if Gregg liked rock & roll, he wouldn't do this to it.

"I was going for a live feel on the CD," Gregg wrote me. "The manner in which we recorded it captured that vibe."

Indeed it did. Both the resulting disc and live show are characterized by a professional, crisp-sounding, shiney, twinkley polish coupled with an astonishingly blatant lack of insight and downright depressing absence of ambition.

Dammit, music should have a purpose — even if it is only to force kidnappers into surrendering. Somebody needs to put the NSA in touch with Gregg Young, before Red China gets their hands on him!

Meanwhile, "A Band For All Reasons" is available at Tower Records in Marina Pacifica, Holly's Hallmark in the Shore and at Gregg's website ( & live gigs. He's currently looking for a distribution deal.

*This column is an original, unpublished criticism, written circa 2000 and ©2004 by Pete Brooks

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