When I was 16, I heard Gibby Haynes say the music scene needed a new punk moment and he hoped it was Beck. For one or two summers, it was (FEZtival ’97, I’m thinking of you). But then people my age graduated and started file-swapping and before you knew it, the Philadelphia region was the largest market in the nation without an alternative rock radio format. Mourning the death of high school preset king Y100 (“why? Because it’s good, that’s why!” said Noel Gallagher in my favorite station ID) I thought Gibby never got his wish: I didn’t seen any rejection of pop excess at the last decade’s end and a commercial reset. I didn’t see what I imagined the Clash did as the 70s waned or what coalesced as Nirvana circa 1990. As the 9’s tipped to the aughts like gasoline meters, boy bands roared back from their late 80’s exile, pop ceased being a meaningful qualifier when placed before the word music, metal ceased meaning anything when preceded by nu and grunge rather cynically faked a revival. This isn’t a full recounting, “American Pie”-style, of that era’s musical history, but eventually I came to realize that the punk moment had indeed come, that it was about distribution and choice. And hip-hop. And Wilco. But I can’t get into all of that now. I have an MFA thesis to write. And Sufjan Stevens.
I’ve been thinking lately that if the current global economic crisis is as game-changing as was the Depression, and if rock ‘n’ roll was birthed by a nascent youth culture cutting the tension of economic crisis, a few wars, and a war-fueled recovery, perhaps we’re about to see a whole new set of transforming creative moments like the 50s and 60s in Lubbock and Memphis and Detroit and Liverpool, like London and the Bronx circa 1976. Like wherever Kayne West was ten years ago. The art coming up out of those places drew from common pools, there’s a shared musical history, sure, between blues and rock and gospel and hip hip and punk, but there’s more to it than rightly cherished source code. These explosive movements came each in their own ways from conflict, from the merging of cultures, and, at their best, from a widening sense of neighbor and diminishing definitions of Other. I’m not saying music sets everything right, but there’s a reason the Clash covering Bobby Fuller is sublime, not ironic. There’s a reason Johnny Cash doing “Hurt” is better than Trent Reznor, there’s a reason everyone bought Thriller, that the Gaslight Anthem sing about Miles Davis, that the Fugees cover Don McLean and Don McLean covers Buddy Holly. That everyone covers Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, that Teddy Riley samples Bill Withers, that everyone loves the Beatles and the Temptations. There’s a reason I’m getting carried away.
This post started with the intention of getting into a discussion about books, but I’m going to table that for a few hours. Yesterday was the 52nd anniversary of the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. It happened 21 years before I was born, but it still makes me sad. Here’s to the last train for the coast.
Special thanks to Jay Trucker for his Guest Post from yesterday. Looking forward to Part II on Monday.
And to all a good night.
- The Day the Music Died (foraslanandvolstate.wordpress.com)