Friday, June 19, 2009

Don't Let Your Ears Get Tired

Jenny Owen Youngs--"Led To The Sea" (mp3)
Leeroy Stagger--"Petrified World" (mp3)

I was reading a review of a new Elvis Costello cd this morning, a bluegrass effort, I believe, and it dawned on me that I'm all Elvised out, that I have been for a long time, that I don't expect to seek out anything else that he puts out, that I'm somewhat indifferent to hearing him again.

I like Costello, or liked him. Probably own or owned between 8 and 10 of his records and cds. Some of them were favorites for awhile, especially Get Happy!. But somewhere along the way I got tired of Elvis and his schtick--he writes pop songs of one sort or another that are so damned clever that at some point, for me, they outclevered themselves.

But Elvis Costello is really just an example. And he isn't the first artist that this has happened to for me. I believe I've stated on these pages before my complete disdain for the Eagles and my hope never to hear another one of their songs again. Same with the Police. Especially "Roxanne."

That makes for an interesting contrast--the Eagles were such hitmakers and all of their stuff got so overplayed that I just said enough, while Costello, more of a critic's darling, never got the excessive airplay. He just didn't continue to do enough to hold my interest. Fans of his might exclaim: "But he's always changing! He did that thing with the Kronos Quartet, he went country, he works with different bands, he did the "spin the dial to see what song we'll play" tour, Burt Bacharach duets, now he's moved into bluegrass." I certainly acknowledge that he has busted out of his original punkish mode.

But is it possible that Elvis Costello was only supposed to be an angry young man, put out 2 or 3 snotty, cynical, condescending records and then fade away before he tried to copy the lush Beatles production, before T-Bone Burnett stepped in to give him a roots sound, before he became a crooner?

Or it is possible that ears can get tired of a voice, of a stance? Certainly our taste buds get tired of eating the same foods over and over and we can hear a song too much and get sick of it.

But I think for my ears there was only so much Elvisness, in whatever genre or style he was experimenting, that I was willing to take in. I don't know if that means he's a minor artist or that I have some genetic predisposition that means I'll only be able to take so much of him. It may also simply be a factor of age--I'm pretty tired of the Rolling Stones, I listen to the Allman Brothers in cycles where I'll take several years off before I feel like hearing them again.

Which makes it pretty amazing, I think, that there are some bands that I don't get tired of. The Beatles have that gift. So does Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead. I continue to be interested in Dylan's latest stuff. I came late to the Pink Floyd party, so their less-popular stuff still sounds fresh to me. In newer generations of rock, I'm always happy to hear Bob Mould, Steve Earle, Ryan Adams, to name a few.

But I gotta tell you, more than anything, music, for me, is about moving forward, and I'm always amazed by people who reach a certain point somewhere and stop. I think it comes down to being a collector or a listener. I choose to be the latter. It's nice to have the many cds that I have, but most of what I listen to is what is coming out now. People, even I, can argue that music isn't what it once was, that the glory days of rock are over, that the 90's can't touch the 80's and this new century is even worse and all of that. It doesn't matter if you keep moving forward.

I guess that's why after waiting for years for Neil Young, arguably my favorite, to put out his extensive Archives, when Volume 1 came out a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I wasn't going to buy it. I'm not that disappointed by how much of it has been previously released in one form or another; the new versions are supposed to be sonically superior to what I have and the discs are filled with treasure troves of info about my beloved Neil. But you know what? I love Harvest, but I'm not going to listen to any more Harvest than I did before, just because it has been remastered. And I'm not going to listen to hours and hours of straight Neil either. I'm just not listening that way anymore. And so, if I bought it, I'm pretty sure it would just become part of the collection, admired and impressive, but not listened to. Neil's earliest years are undoubtedly kind of interesting, but right now I'm much more interested in what is going on right now.

I'll leave you with this simple truth: great, great music has been made over the past 5 decades of rock and folk and blues and jazz, but there is still nothing better than that new song that hits your ears for the first time, doing something a little different, a little fresh, that makes the emotions well up so that you think, yeah, this is good.

Those songs are still coming out.

Jenny Owen Youngs' songs are available at Itunes. I should know. In a flurry of activity a couple of afternoons ago, I bought all of them. Leeroy Stagger's songs are also there, but not this one, not quite yet.


John said...

Good post, Bob. Made even better by the fact that the NY Sheraton's internet feed allows me to listen to the stuff. Finally!

troutking said...

A very thought provoking post, Bob. On the one hand, I'm inclined to agree with you in theory, though it's rarely how I listen to music in practice. On the other hand, what if that new artist is really just the next Elvis Costello of whom you're going to quickly tire? Why not stick to the artists that have stood the test of time, both the ones you know and the ones you don't know yet know. That's what Bobby D seems to be doing---going back to blues and jazz songs and styles, not to mention quotes from the Canterbury Tales, Japanese poets and the Great Gatsby. Not sure where I really fall on this---I guess it's all about how the song hits you at the moment you hear it. It's maybe less important whether the song is old or new, but who you are at that moment and whether the speaks to you at that point in time. Somtimes you and a song intersect, sometimes you don't, and it's just as much the trajectory of one as the other.

Anonymous said...

Bob, in essence, this is what IPOD wars is about. I couldn't agree with you more.

jed said...

you gotta love "when I was cruel." As far as the Neil box set, i have to agree. too much, too late i guess. the artist who i can honestly say i don't get tired of is paul westerberg. i guess i have a man crush.