My sister was somehow texting me while working in her backyard. She wrote, “Yep it’s nice out here. All by myself. U know the song. It’s kind of a boring one. But oh so true.” That’s right, my older sister uses “U” for “you” and now she is using “K” for “okay.” What can I say? Cultural decline starts in the home. Anyway, I thought, “Oh, yeah! Eric Carmen!”
Now Eric Carmen is a very talented guy. Really. He’s an enormous talent. But I don’t much care for him. He’s always seemed a lot like Harry Nilsson, but without the charm. Still, you have to give the guy credit. He had a long and successful career writing and performing songs that if you were honest, you would admit you must have loved back then. But unlike the band America, you can still see the appeal — the craft and even the brilliance.
Like so much that is good and yet nausea producing, Carmen came out of Cleveland. As the man said, it is a city of light and magic! He got his start in the late 1960s with the popular local band Cyrus Erie. This band eventually merged with The Choir to form hugely successful Raspberries. In 1972, they had a top ten hit — With a bullet! — “Go All the Way.” Admit it: you like it more than you want to admit. But I’ll bet you don’t know that it is actually about a couple deciding to stay celibate until they marry. Oh, just kidding! It’s about exactly what it sounds like. At the end of this video is a quote from my hero Lester Bangs who wrote, “‘Go All the Way’ leaped onto the charts by stapling together stock riffs from The Who, middle Beatle-mush, and what else? I forget, but it sounded staple too. It was regurgitated and reprocessed mush. Yum.” He’s right, as usual. But it is a great compliment to be insulted so accurately by Lester Bangs.
After five years with the band, during which time they were really very dependable doing that kind of “power pop,” Eric Carmen left the group. It was always pretty clear that he was the sentimentalist of the band, even if he did have a powerful voice and had no problem writing about sex. With no one to hold him back, he got his treacle one with the number two song on the Billboard Hot 100 — With a bullet! — “All By Myself.” In it, he managed to make me hate Rachmaninoff more than I already did. It tells the story of a man who has reached maturity and self-sufficiency in life. Oh, just kidding! It’s a man whining about how he wants a girlfriend.
He continued to find success with similar songs. And then the great tragedy of popular music happened: New Wave. People have different ways of defining New Wave, but basically, it was monetized punk with all the soul ripped out of it. And even the good songs of that period are made almost un-listenable by synthesizers, most especially the Yamaha DX7. What is remarkable is that Eric Carmen managed to thrive in this environment — a third phase of his career. Here’s a shameless video for “Make Me Lose Control,” which actually references his previous hit “Hungry Eyes.” This song actually went to number one — With a bullet! — on adult contemporary. But given how bad the music was at that time, this song is kind of a triumph:
And what has Eric Carmen done since then? Not that much. And I think that’s admirable. I get sick of artists who have gobs of money continuing to put out pop dreck because they can’t think of anything better to do. In 2008, Carmen was arrested, so he is doing what I think is the number one most important thing for the rich to do: drink. He got sentence to thirty days in jail all by himself. After that, he didn’t wanna be all by himself anymore.