Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reinventing Rock, Pt. 1: "I Think Music Is Like A Marriage"

The Who--"Music Must Change" (mp3)

May I present to you a few paragraphs that may not have anything to do with each other.

It seems like there is more ukelele than there used to be. Not only are there the virtuosos like Jake Shimabukuro, but when you surf the blogs, you hear a fair number of folky ukelele players, some of them well-regarded songwriters. Is this true, or is it simply that because I bought a ukelele this year I am more conscious of it?

My brother, who over the years has led me in several important musical directions--David Bowie, Grateful Dead, King Crimson, J.J. Cale, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, --declared a few weeks ago that he is no longer interested in the newer bands. "I don't have time to discover My Morning Jacket," I think he said, or something like that. Finally, somehow, he has enough?

I think music is like a marriage. How would you finish the simile?

Part of me wants to cut loose the baggage of classic music. I did it with the Eagles. There came a moment, I think it was more than 10 years ago, when I realized that I never wanted to hear any more Eagles. Sure, I liked the hits okay, but I had heard them enough and had gotten tired of them enough that I thought, you know, I can do without this. I've got a bit of Eagles in my head and I can call on that if I ever need to, though I can't see why I would. I never liked them all that much to begin with, then got bombarded with them, and just said, no more.

Would you rather be a historian or a social visionary?

I've grown tired of collecting books. No, I haven't tired of reading; in fact, I probably love it more than ever. But I've lost the need to maintain possession of what I have read. Is a personal library intended as a monument to oneself? Wouldn't it be better to give away every book you read? Shouldn't the amount of love you have for a book determine how quickly you give it away?

For the past couple of weeks, I've been looking at "best of" lists from all over the place--Entertainment Weekly, the blogs, Time, the local paper, my own list on this site--and I've made a strange discovery. It is very unlikely that if you cross-referenced a number of different places yourself you would find anything close to the same list of songs. There simply is no great consensus out there. Maybe that's a good thing; I'm not sure. Some want to celebrate the new artists and begin to make a case for their place in the pantheon. Some, like me, tend to lean on old favorites, the Springsteens, Westerbergs, Moulds, etc.

Here's my concern though. Take a song like "White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes. It's a good enough song, and appears on more lists than most. But it's a fairly slight song, kind of a "Hazy Shade Of Winter" for the new generation? It's not a song that revolutionizes music in any way, shape, or form. At the same time, an interesting experiment like Paul Westerberg's 49:00 barely registers on the blogs of the young. It's a montage of full and partial songs that flow smoothly or jarringly into one another. No matter which way you tend, neither project is worth fighting for too much. And that's the problem.

Maybe the ghosts of the past (as well as those rock giants still with us) have become too overwhelming. Maybe we should retire that early catalog altogether and just keep it available to Kid Rock when he needs to sample some good riffs for his next hit song. Maybe if we retired the concept of Dylan, there wouldn't be the ongoing need to find the next Dylan, the next Springsteen, the next Duane Allman, the next Stevie Ray Vaughn......

I think music is like a marriage. As Woody Allen's character in Annie Hall once put it, "Relationships are like sharks, they have to keep moving forward or they die." I think the same is true of music, and so I enjoy discovering what musicians come up with each year, in fact, I see that as my obligation as a listener. But, ultimately, I see this year as a series of small successes rather than grand reassessments of the status quo.
I guess when I was actually living the year 2008, I thought it would be more. But, again, when you look through "best of" lists, the grand dramas of the year--the election, the war, the economy, the starving world, the environment, the oppression of gays and the lingering racism--are rarely, if ever, touched upon in the year's "top" songs. Maybe that is not the purpose of music.

I chalk up 2008 as an in-between year, though in between what and what, I'm not sure. Thoughts?

The Who's "Music Must Change" appears on Who Are You, available at Itunes.


john said...

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MySpace Music Player Code,Friendster Music

boyhowdy said...

I'm going to go with probably the latter, certainly worth the hiatus if not the pause button, once you have offspring you never feel young again, I think you have to have been a historian before you can be a social visionary, yes yes and yes, and maybe every year is in between something, and it's only afterwards that eras emerge in hindsight.

Do I win? Or was this a conversation?

Bob said...

Boyhowdy, good points. I'm wondering about my brother shutting out new music, which for him, doesn't mean he'll stop listening, just keep working backwards, a "historical" approach. Agreeing with your insight that now that I have offspring (almost grown), I'm no longer young, I still enjoy pushing forward and trying to figure out what's next musically, you know? Some of my friends have just gone country--that's safe and easy.

troutking said...

If you try to retire the concept of Dylan, I'll retire you!!!

But seriously, you have inspired me to get back on the new music train---starting with the best of lists. I do think there's still value to the historical approach---it's what Bob does on his Theme Time Radio Hour every week. There's a lot out there---new and old---that I haven't heard and I need to get on it. But first, one time through Born to Run ;-)

Billy said...

The "gone country" comment is interesting, since I'm inclined to believe the REM '83 era of alternative music has more in common with modern (left of the dial) country than it does with contemporary "pop" radio and "adult alternative."

While I also keep trying to keep up, my avoidance of 80% of things HipHop or R+B make my claim feel, at best, delusional.