Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Elvis has left the building.

Eddie Money--"Wanna Be A Rock 'N Roll Star" (mp3)

After a baseball player hits a home run, everyone on his team touches him, in hopes of getting some small piece of his mojo and being like him in their next at-bats.

If you don't remember Steve Forbert, a musician who came up in the late 70's, from his hit "Romeo's Tune," let me tell you a little bit of the circumstances of his rise to semi-stardom. Forbert was simultaneously dubbed "the new Dylan" and "the new Springsteen" by various critics. A gifted lyricist, Forbert was capable of the kind of wordplay that Dylan (and Springsteen) had demonstrated. But he also had the youthful exuberance and charisma of the young versions of both, and probably because he couldn't afford a touring band, was traveling around playing his songs with just an acoustic guitar and a harmonica around his neck. Hence, the additional comparison.

One irony: when Forbert's first album came out, it was only three years since Springsteen had graced the covers of both Time and Newsweek, whatever that might mean, since Springsteen had been compared to Dylan when he burst on the scene. Of course, Springsteen had also been dubbed the "future of rock and roll."

It may be no accident that Forbert went electric and white-boy soul as soon as possible. But, dammit, he still had those sax solos, those horns. Just like Bruce.

Last week, a friend of mine sent me video from his Iphone that he had shot at a concert in Colorado. It was proof, he claimed, that he had found "the next Stevie Ray Vaughn." This is a mock-serious search that three of us have been engaged in for many years, my one friend being especially susceptible to the blues player who has complete command of the fretboard and can shred with the same authority as Stevie Ray. This has led him even to go see a 14-year-old kid in concert who was rumored to have Vaughn's chops. I burned him a CD this summer by a woman whom I dubbed, again with some humor, "the next British female Stevie Ray Vaughn."

It took my friend's wife, no particular aficionado of music, to point out that, wait a second, this kid may be fast and technically-skilled, but he wasn't the next anything. He didn't have any soul. He was just a kid. Only Ralph Macchio could be a bluesman at that age. My friend conceded that fact, in fact, has conceded it over and over during the search, but he remains more serious about his search than the rest of us.

Through a variety of phone texts that we exchanged, he and I had this exchange:

ME: I think the world only needs one.
HIM: One what?
ME: One Stevie Ray Vaughn.
HIM: We're just looking for a #2. Wouldn't there ever be another Boss?
ME: I hope not.

Just for the record, I'm not looking for the next Woody Guthrie, the next Elvis, the next Dylan, the next Janis Joplin, the next Jimi Hendrix, the next Springsteen, the next Jerry Garcia or anyone else. I don't need the new Beatles or the reconstituted Lynryd Skynyrd. I'm not interested in the reunion of Buffalo Springfield or the "half-Who." I don't care who's getting back together, who still has one original member and calls themselves the Beach Boys. I saw the Beach Boys in 1974. It was a reunion tour then. I'm not kidding.

I don't seek a president who is the reincarnation of JFK; I'm certainly not pining for the next Ronald Reagan. As I stated in a post earlier this week, I don't think that J.D. Salinger is the next J.D. Salinger. I don't think that there is another The Catcher In The Rye sitting there among his unpublished writing.

Elvis, my friends, has left the building. We shall not see his like again. The circumstances which allowed him to emerge, to create himself, to destroy himself, no longer exist, at least not in the same ways. We do not need the "new" or the "next" of anyone. But we like to enjoy the possibility that it could happen.

I think we're probably after two things here. The first is that we can't help but to enjoy familiarity, and we'd like to extend that comfort as long as possible. If Radiohead would put out variations of The Bends for the rest of their career, or if some unknown band would pick up that mantle, some of us would be very satisfied. While we might criticize R.E.M. for having too many songs that sound the same, the reality is that if we like that sound, we aren't going to complain too much.

The other thing we're after, is our own pasts, or pasts that existed before us. If only the Beatles could have reunited, then maybe we could also recapture a bit of ourselves as we were when they were around. Or what we heard it was like, because we were too young. Or, next best thing, if "the new Beatles" come along, then we can bask in that phenomenon. As it happens. Ourselves.

But, you know, nostalgia ultimately equals sadness. Much as we might want to repeat the past, eventually we realize that those bits of the past that we are able to recapture make us sad. Admittedly, it can be a kind of sweet sadness. What would really be sad, though, is if there were no record of our musical pasts. Luckily, we have ample Elvis, Beatles, Dead, Stevie Ray and the rest to nourish us whenever we need it, which allows us to move forward to the new. At least it should.

For better or for worse, Steve Forbert never became the next anything. He's still, 33 years down the road, the current Steve Forbert. And hasn't played any casinos or cruise ships that I know of.


goofytakemyhand said...

Didn't troutking just find the next Eric Clapton in Montana last week as well?

Anonymous said...

This all depends upon how it is done. The pixies, guided by voices playing today. Nostalgia? Yes. But, it's still cool, it rocks, and they are doing a good job with the original members. Unfortunately, not the same for the Who at this point, but I would be interested in the Buffalo Springfield. Same for Bruce......I guess.

Bob said...

Dear Anon, yeah, the Pixies are an anomaly, as are GBV and Phish, but I see them as having taken little holidays from themselves. It is impressive, though, how they've been able to recapture their past glory, something I'd attribute to their relative youthfulness and to their energetic music-making in the interim. When you see Buffalo Springfield onstage, it looks like Neil had to raid the nursing homes and retirement communities of Florida to get those other guys. Nor had they (except for Neil) been making music with any merit or regularity.

troutking said...

Whoever made that comment about Bruce hasn't been to a show recently or listened to Magic from 2006. Or is just trying to goad me. Same goes for Dylan. Just went to two shows on consecutive nights and he's reworking songs on a nightly basis, writing new riffs for old chestnuts like Watchtower and breaking your heart with new renditions of newer songs like Sugar Baby or Forgetful heart. There's more vibrant meaning in any Bruce or Bob show or album than in a hundred of the latest flash in the pans. Agree with you Bob about Springfield, but I saw the show and Neil still brings it. His live performance of Broken Arrow or Mr Soul is new to me and therefore it's not nostalgia. Plus it ain't nostalgia if you weren't there the first time around, and I wasn't. We won't see the likes of these guys again. There's no need for the next Neil Bruce or Bob. The old ones are still kicking ass.