My Nightmare Tonic Ball

5 min read

Ken's Nightmare Tonic 2017

Last year, I wrote a post about my dream Tonic Ball. I also made some other solid suggestions and dropped the names of a few acts I’d rather not see covered at the annual fundraiser for our friends at Second Helpings.

This year, I decided to go a little deeper on that list. Who are the artists Tonic Ball might legitimately cover—acts that would have some support on the Tonic Ball committee and bring out the fans—that I hope to never see?

Here are my bottom five:

1. Neil diamond

It is gratifying to know that, when it comes to not loving Neil Diamond, I am not alone. Did you ever wonder why Neil Diamond appeared in The Last Waltz? So did some members of The Band. In his memoir This Wheel’s On Fire, Levon Helm wrote, “When I heard that Neil Diamond was going to play I asked, ‘What the hell does Neil Diamond have to do with us?’” That same night, Diamond allegedly walked off stage after singing “Dry Your Eyes” and challenged Dylan to “follow that.” To which Dylan allegedly replied, “What do I have to do? Go on stage and fall asleep?”

Every year, Neil Diamond is considered as an artist Tonic Ball should cover. Recently, I heard someone say, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to see Andy D cover ‘Coming To America’?” And my answer is, yes, that would be amazing. But just because I can enjoy a terrible song ironically doesn’t make it great.

I could rail against Neil Diamond’s many crimes against my ears, but I will foist only one upon you: The puddle of treacle that saddened many an AM radio session in 1974 known as “Longfellow Serenade.” Apparently, Diamond said he had once used Longfellow to seduce an older woman. We’re just going to leave that one right there.

Somebody under seventy tell me that’s not terrible. If you guys want to do a Neil Diamond stage, please wait until I’m either deaf or dead.


I understand the appeal of most bands I hate. When I think about Kiss, I can’t come up with anything past, “I thought they were cool when I was eleven.” I was fifteen when Kiss became a band, so I’m disqualified from liking them.

Why? Where even to start? They wrote lots of misogynistic songs that were also just terrible songs. They were and are terrible musicians, so they play their terrible songs terribly. Gene Simmons is an asshole. “Beth.”

The Flaming Lips‘ over-the-top shows are crazy parties. Dinosaur acts like U2 use big effects to add to the spectacle. With Kiss, the spectacle is all they’ve ever had. Take away the face paint and the stage blood and the fire and all you have left is music that’s good only for annoying your parents, and only if it’s 1983 and you haven’t hit puberty.

Case in point: Here’s Kiss sans kabuki. Don’t watch this on an empty stomach:

I hear crap like this, and I imagine Phil Lynott spinning in his grave.

3. The eagles

I don’t know how you can love both Gram Parsons and the Eagles. I don’t know how Bernie Leadon managed to play with both of them. I used to wonder why in the world Joe Walsh would join that band, except the answer is obvious: Joe Walsh is undoubtedly a brazillianaire because of the ridiculous number of records the Eagles sold.

They are all just so soulless, and I mean that in both the spiritual and musical sense. If the Eagles seemed to be self-absorbed jerks and hypocrites, it was because that’s how they portrayed themselves in their songs. They were the nadir of country influence in rock, effectively killing Cosmic American Music until Uncle Tupelo came along 15 years later and revived it.

I don’t really have to demonstrate the Eagles’ badness, do I? Will this suffice?

The Dude did not know everything, but The Dude knew the Eagles sucked. I will always be indebted to the Coen brothers for using their platform to spread the word about the terribleness of the Eagles.

4. Journey

Journey started out as kind of a jazz-prog outfit. That stuff didn’t sell. Unfortunately, the guys didn’t give up. They decided to hire Steve Perry and make a play for cheap power-ballad glory, which…they achieved?

They sure made their wallets fatter. Those crappy power ballads definitely sold. But they did not rock.

Not that not-rocking is necessarily a crime; the Moody Blues didn’t rock, either, but I sure love that vanilla smoothie of a band. Journey was something else: the definition of “corporate rock,” that stuff that seemed engineered by committee to appeal to the masses. If you actually cared about music back in the early ’80s, you probably didn’t care for Journey.

These cats could really play, and Steve Perry sings like an angel, and this is how they put their talents to use. This is not a Tonic Ball I want to hear.

5. The Dave matthews band

Just no.

You probably disagree with at least one of these. That’s okay. I invite you to make your own list.

Meanwhile…one of my wishes from last year came true. We’re covering Wilco songs at Radio Radio this year, and it is going to be big fun. See you there Friday at 10 p.m.