Post 33:08 A long incoherent ramble about Rock and Roll

Warning: This post is long, illogical, self-indulgent and lacks narrative.

I cannot remember where I heard this piece of dialog, but it haunts me. It went a little something like this:

(Sounds of ‘Hotel California’ in the background)

Dad: I grew up with The Eagles.

Son: So I grew up with The Eagles too.

Dad: So when The Eagles came to Sydney, it was great that we could share it together.

Son: We both knew all the words!

To me, this sounds like hell. So far as I am concerned, it is necessary for kids to hate the culture their parents grew up with. Frankly, if my kids want to listen to the music I listen to, they can get stuffed. I want them to grow up with the most offensive music imaginable and I want them to think I completely fail to understand it, which I almost certainly will.

Why? Well … I think most contemporary music is disposable and that is its beauty. It’s still part of the overall and fast-evolving popular music narrative. It’s just that kids get in on the narrative later than their parents did and therefore understand the newer chapters (and their relationship to older chapters) better than those of us who stopped caring (or no longer have the time to spend enough time surfing the narrative and sort crap from quality) when we hit our thirties.

So I think that imposing your own musical narrative on your kids is, I reckon, a deadly crimp on their personal development because it coagulates their values around the art that formed yours.

That’s why we try to play our kids classic rock as an example, rather than a sample. So we’ll play them some Zeppelin so they get a grounding in music that underpins so much later music, rather than because we want them to listen to Zeppelin with us.

Which brings me to last week, when my wife and I saw The Jesus and Mary Chain. For those of you who do not know the Mary Chain, they are a Scottish Band most famous for matching classic rock melodies with the kind of noise associated with dissonant punk.

The Chain are most recently famous for:

The band broke up after an on-stage dispute between the two brothers in the band, way back in 1998. Which was at least five years after their last album of any note.

Last year, all of a sudden, after both brothers had experienced very indifferent solo careers, they reformed.

I saw them in Vienna (of all places, while backpacking) in 1992. They’re on all my favorite playlists – I love their guitar sound, which is quite beautiful to me – so there was no question about me going.

Now … for some back story.

For the longest time I have felt that Rock and Roll, as a live entertainment, is a terrible rip-off.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to hear Jazz played in New Orleans at the famous Preservation Hall. What struck me about that performance was that when the singer stood up to do his thing, the rest of the band played more quietly so he could be heard.

This is, of course, impossible with live Rock and Roll. I have long felt that there is a weird amplification arms race going on with rock. Because guitars are quiet things they need amplification (also because, of course, rock is a small ensemble thing. Classical copes with amplification issues by simply having LOTS of violins all playing the same thing). Pretty soon the guitars drown out the drums, which must then be amplified.

The eventual result of all this escalation is a live experience that is an aural assault and in which nuanced musicianship becomes bloody hard to detect or appreciate. It’s Mutually Assured Destruction.

The live rock experience is also barbarous in its Spartan comforts. I’ve been going to live rock for nearly 25 years now and the basics have not changed: you stand on a hard floor and hope no-one nearby is:

  • Much taller than you
  • Dancing aggressively enough to hurt you

At the end of the night your ears are ringing, your feet are sore and you are sweaty/bruised/wondering if your toes are broken (I used to wear steel-capped boots acquired when working in a warehouse to gigs). This is in a small venue, of course. Stadia have their own complications, offering the weird chance to be in the presence of an artist but being forced to watch a large TV to have a chance to get a richer experience than is available on DVD.

The big innovation in live music I have perceived over the years is air conditioning. 15 years ago, venues were unbearably hot. One venue, the Coogee Bay Hotel, was infamous for its internal rain as sweat condensed on the ceiling and then returned to sender in the grossest way imaginable.

These days venues have passable aircon and you can avoid showering in the collective sweat of your fellow concert-goers.

Aside from that, no change. It is still oddly loud and physically uncomfortable in other ways.

Thus endeth the back story.

So … if I hate Rock and Roll so much, why do I still (occasionally) go? And at that, why go to a concert of has-beens?

For affirmation.

The Mary Chain have a very particular guitar sound. Hearing it reproduced live somehow confirms, to me, the authenticity of their art. By making it possible for me to behold, in person, the same experience I have had through recordings I feel like I am closer to understanding the things that made me care about their work to begin with (even if they patently do not care about their audience: their stage show was pitiful).

It’s worth braving the various exigencies of live rock to have that experience.

But it is not worth forcing my kids to appreciate why I appreciate that experience. There may come a day when I hear the kids playing some precedent or antecedent to the Mary Chain. At that point, I’ll send them a song or three. If they dig it, good. If not, good.

By then, however, at least the idea of going to see the Mary Chain will be laughable. The band’s principals will be in their 60s, their significance hopefully dissipated by more worthy art I don’t understand.

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Post 31:08 Feeling apprehensive about my first ever greatest hits show

For ages I have resisted the idea of going to concerts at which (often reformed) bands I grew up with play their greatest hits on their Superannuation Tours, to audiences comprised largely of forty-somethings trying to remember what it was like to be a teenager. I generally try to look forward, so have shunned this kind of exercise in the past.

This week, I’m breaking the duck to see The Jesus and Mary Chain.

I’ve listened to this band non stop for the better part of 20 years. Something about their sound (pop sung husky and quiet over a haze of feedback and power chords) has always struck me as deeply remarkable and an in some small way important part of the evolution of modern music.  I’m not alone. The band was the precursor of the shortlived “shoegazer” movement of the early 90s, which is a direct ancestor of much “emo” music, and is considered “influential.”

I listen to them cos I like them, tho, not because they demand listening to in the way that one needs to pull out some Hendrix or Led Zep from time to time, just to get back to ground zero and remind oneself of what others have built on those foundations.

Yet here J&MC  are now, towed along behind the V Festival and doing some solo shows that have utterly failed to score even a paragraph in the mainstream entertainment media, thanks to Duran Duran’s presence on the same festival bill being deemed far more important (Which, okay, it probably is). Those of us who go to see them this week know their last album of any worth came out more than a decade ago. So this is pure nostalgia.

A mate saw them at the festival, tells me they played all their Greatest Hits and, frankly, has be boyishly a-quiver with anticipation at seeing the band.

This now makes me just the kind of backward-looking, overly nostalgiac and/or sentimental oldster I rail against.

At least I am doing it before I turn forty (just).