Hate is a strong word, but as a music critic, my musical beliefs and ideals have been forged over many years of writing about, reviewing, and listening to music. I know what I like, what I can tolerate, and what I'd just as soon leave behind forever.
Country artist Kenny Rogers is different. I can say I hate his music, and feel all right with that. Mostly, he's a non-entity for me; never comes to mind and I absent-mindedly switch him off on the rare moment a song of his comes up on the radio (in the rare moment I actually have a country channel playing). But lately, Kenny has been thrown in my face -- and I've had enough.
His upcoming show has been advertised since late last year and it's starting to bug me so much that every time I see his face pop up on the Salt River Casino electronic billboard off the 101, I winch. It's like a nervous twitch. There's just something about that faces that's so, well, aggravating, like he's laughing at some inside joke -- namely that he's managed a long career on little more than looks and maudlin songs that allow anyone to be a little "country."
Here are some specifics for my over-size dislike for Rogers:
I hate chicken and have not consumed it for more than 30 years. It's flavorless, and when people say, "Oh, it tastes like chicken," to me that means that food has no flavor. I have no problem with the birds themselves, and while I am not a PETA advocate, the fact that many commercial chicken farms basically breed the birds in cages stacked in warehouses does bother me. Rogers does chicken. For many years, he was the (shudder) face of a fried chicken franchise bearing his name on it: Kenny Rogers Roasters. Is there any satisfaction that it failed in the U.S. and he sold out to an overseas interest? Some, as there's less chance of unexpectedly seeing his face somewhere.
The Music: Kenny Rogers music is about as bland as chicken too. It irks me that something so plain can do so well when real country artists like Joe Ely are regulated to playing small clubs. He's not an outlaw (despite his attempt to look like one with that scraggly beard and Stetson), and there's nothing gritty, raw or edgy in the mix either. Really, there's nothing challenging in Rogers music or his message. Somewhere over the years his nothingness came to signify the worst of country music (and the music industry as a whole). He's so middle of the road -- which, sadly, works well on a commercial level -- that it's no wonder so many people like him. But I don't.
The First Edition: The only thing Kenny Rogers did that I actually liked was form the 1960s folk-psych band The First Edition. With gently swirling guitars of a twangy ilk, sweet harmonies, and poppy rhythms, the band was sort of a Byrds-lite, but still somewhat trippy. The psychedelic power-pop hit "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" is a '60s-era classic. Rogers didn't actually break up the band to pursue his mundane, albeit successful, solo career, but if the band had worked things out, he might not have had a solo career.
Every shot of Kenny Rogers looks smug, like he's pulled one over on an unassuming public. In many ways he has with his non-descript country appeal, and that seemingly contented look never changes. His beard is always just perfectly unkempt, the smile to big and perfect, the eyes vacant and calling. In some ways he's like another middle of the road country artist, Eddy Arnold, who also managed a lengthy career with a singular style and singular look.
The Grateful Dead:
Rogers has to some degree ruined one Grateful Dead song for me: "Deal." It's inexplicable, but every time I hear this Jerry Garcia singing this gambling tune, the image of Rogers on the cover of The Gambler pops into my head, effectively ruining the moment. Maybe it's because both men have beards. Maybe I need therapy.
The Non-Interview: Yes, I hold a grudge that Rogers blew me off for an interview some years back. It's ironic in that I didn't even want to do the interview (a managing editor forced the issue), but decided I would try to grill him about his coasting on that middle of the road style. When he cancelled at the last minute to talk with another publication (his only area interview), I was pissed.
Somewhere inside there's probably more Rogers' angst (really, I'm over it now), but in a few days that billboard will be history and I can drive peacefully past watching the display for other coming acts to get riled up about -- like Foreigner!
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Kenny Rogers is scheduled to perform Saturday, March 23, at Salt River Showroom at Talking Stick Resort. It's cool if you go; we won't hold it against you.