Tuesday, January 11, 2005

John Pareles and John Mayer: No Match

John Mayer was interviewed last night by New York Times so-called Pop Critic John Pareles, in a benefit at the Al Hirshfeld Theater in New York City.

You'd think the New York Times would have a writer capable of keeping up with the inchoate but interesting ramblings of a twenty-something Pop Star whose public persona is a lightweight, breathy kid wishing he could show those guys back in High School how he's turned out--when in fact he is an enormously talented guitarist, singer and songwriter who wants desperately to shed his current skin and take on a more sober, mature blues coloration to his music.

But no. Pareles sat there like a deer caught in headlights, mouth agape, barely able to mutter a "well, you know..." and make some trite observation, leaving Mayer to fill in the gap with his own bursting-at-the-seams-with-talent-and-conflict riffs on fame, his old stuff ("that's not where I am") and his new stuff, of which he performed one song that was worth the entire evening if merely to grasp how he approaches his craft.

The most obvious comparison here is Eric Clapton, who worshiped the blues and felt guilty enough of his success in the three-chord world of rock to dither away a decade or two on drugs as strong as heroin, before he matured into a strong, confident songwriter and guitarist who could easily swap one world for the other--and go back again, as it pleased him.

Did Pareles see the parallel? Nope--not until Mayer himself said "Well, Eric Clapton's the template" for what John Mayer has in mind about moving from pop stardom to a musical career. Towards the end of the evening Pareles entirely lost control of the event, letting one impatient audience member interrupt Mayer by shouting "Play something!" To which Mayer responded "What, am I a monkey?" before a smattering of encouraging handclaps and screams from the half-teeny bopper/half adult audience, and Pareles' ineffectual attempt to restore the dialogue, forced Mayer to pick up his guitar and deliver a stunning version of "Daughters."

Ironically, "Daughters" is the very type of John Mayer song Mayer wants to leave behind. But he sang it, knowing the audience expected it.

Our observer went to the evening with his 16 year old daughter expecting very little of John Mayer except to be disappointed by the dialogue between a mature adult music critic and a talented, spoiled, unbearable, famous-before-he's-ready kid. He came away disappointed with the adult--Pareles was completely overmatched--and impressed with the kid.

As he whispered to his daughter during one of Mayer's interludes with the guitar, "this guy has outrageous talent."