Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Reunion Tour, and other classic rock nonsense

A Facebook friend of mine sent me an invite to a FB Event, the reunion tour of a band we used to listen to named White Heart. By "used to", I mean in the early 90s. I found a few clips of them on the YouTubes for old times' sake. Yes, I've got a half-dozen CDs, but none of them are on my mp3 player. And, that should tell you something.

There's a Classic Rock experience I've had a few times now, usually at a Five Guys or in the squat rack at the gym. This bombastic stream of early 80's MTV pop will play, followed by something like "Purple Haze" or "Bulls On Parade". Suddenly, everything prior and everything after just sounds immature and cheap. Even on the radio, one of these songs with passion and fire and raw instruments in their natural form will play, and you just want to turn your radio off afterward.

I've had that experience with the idea of this White Heart tour. They were a Christian pop-rock band in the mid-80s that finally brought in a rock producer for an '87 album titled "Freedom". "Freedom" sounded like nothing before and nothing after. It was their "Joshua Tree", in a sense. It was the most musically mature, sparsely arranged thing they had ever done. Three members left the band for successful careers of their own, but album sales were buoyed for the next 5 years. The sound of the band was never again the same as "Freedom" or anything before it.

I've wondered at times whether the appeal of Classic Rock stems from the nostalgia of our youth or from its innate artistic quality. My youth was through the 80s, and most music of the 80s just blew. I remember this pastel nightmare, punctuated in 1987 by Guns 'n Roses and "Freedom". I vaguely remember all these Christian rock bands that were our Big Deal 25 years ago, but I wouldn't sit through a full song from that era of my life today, but for a few exceptions like some tracks from "Freedom".

I also grew up largely without mainstream music until well into my 20s, so I've only been threshing out these conversations over my adult years. I believe there's a high degree of nostalgia bundled into Southern Rock, Beer, Dixie, and NASCAR. I believe there's value in much early Classic Rock because it spoke to some cultural issues of its day. I expect most of today's radio pop to be gone forever in a few years, showing up only on VH1 specials about specifically who had that one hit single in this particular year.

Most music of the 80s and early 90s that I grew up in was written for video, not so much for meditation with headphones and liner notes like the decade prior. I believe that's what makes modern revolutionaries stand out, that sense of something important to say instead of background noise. 1991 grunge railed against the lipstick travesty of the rock that preceded it. I love the quote from an interview with Tom Petty, "then Kurt (Cobain) came in and cut them down like wheat before the sickle". A few years later, Rage spoke out against... well, everything, and with a fury even they can't reproduce today in the occasional reunion show. Therein lies a sad truth about this art form. Sometimes guys play the exact same songs at 15 years older, and it just doesn't seem to matter as much.

As much as we want to call our songs timeless or intrinsically artistic, they are probably just not. Most of them are not, especially the ones tied to the dynamic live performance. Even hymns may survive for hundreds of years, but most of us wouldn't sing these tunes today outside of one specific setting. Does that reflect their diminished value as art? I've found that I migrate to this one particular band anytime I'm depressed or sentimental, because they speak that language to me. I also lift barbells to metal and kettlebells to techno. I drop whatever I'm doing when Jimi or Rage comes on the radio, but there probably isn't any band I grew up with that I would pay $20 to see today, and that's a little sad. I hope that tour goes well. I may see it if it comes nearby, but it'd have to be pretty near.

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