Friday, July 13, 2001

THE SMILE ALBUM: The Washington Post has theories about why rock stars never smile in photos...
• The blues: Rock bands have been channeling the jaded spirit of original bluesmen since the beginning. The Rolling Stones, for one, were heavily influenced by musicians like Little Walter, a short-tempered harmonica player who drank incessantly and died after a street fight. (There's a Little Walter song on the band's "12 X 5" album of 1964, the same year the band toured with the Chicago legend.) Bluesmen, of course, were a pretty bummed-out lot, either because their labels had bilked them of royalties or they'd been two-timed by big-legged women.

• British dental problems: There's also a very good chance that the Stones, and just about every other influential English band, simply had bad teeth.

• Bob Dylan: Dylan brought gravitas to pop music, and that gravitas wiped the grin off the faces of pop stars. Including the Beatles, who wore mostly mischievous smiles during their years of collarless suits and group bows and who gradually explored moods and shadows as they became acquainted with Dylan. "I'm a Loser" is considered the first Dylan-influenced John Lennon song, a number that, at least lyrically, U-turns from the sunniness of early hits, like "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

• The baby boomers: The baby boomers are behind every trend, demographic and otherwise, so they belong on this list just in case.

• Grunge: Under this hypothesis, the non-smile has been around for many years, but became firmly embedded in the etiquette book of rock mannerisms only after grunge arrived in the early '90s. It wasn't merely that the most famous writer and purveyor of grunge, Kurt Cobain, was depressed enough to commit suicide. The entire grunge ethic, both in fashion and attitude, countered the hair-metal notion that rock stars were somehow different; underneath Cobain's workaday flannel shirt lurked the idea that rock stars were beset by the same anxieties as their fans, who could find those same shirts in an L.L. Bean catalogue.

• Dean and Brando: Forget about Nirvana. "Everything is descended from James Dean and Marlon Brando," says Kenny Laguna, a journeyman song producer and longtime manager of Joan Jett. The lone wolf, the whiny and slouchy outsider, the archetype of the misunderstood punk, comes from these two actors, he claims, and they had enormous influence on people like Dion and Elvis Presley, whose film debut in "Love Me Tender" in 1956 was scorned by some critics as a tacky impersonation.

"It's also about menace," Laguna says. "The invisible difference between rock and pop is that menace. It's that attitude. There are a ton of bands that have menace now, but so much of it is fake. A guy like Marilyn Manson -- it's like he studied it in high school."

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