Giving New Music A Rest

3 Aug

57348bI’ve made an interesting discovery over the past few weeks. In what is most certainly a sign of my advancing age and maturity (HA), I’ve found that at the moment, I can’t really deal with listening to new music. Whenever I put on a record by some indie band or NY bassist, I find myself listening very carefully, pondering the creative choices made by the band, wondering what their tour schedule looks like, trying to figure out the new instruments, or the new sounds, or the production techniques, or… it’s just so exhausting. I hadn’t really realized what was happening until, on a whim, I started listening to some old Cure albums, and they just did it for me. Like, so hard.

It was “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me,” perhaps not the most celebrated of the Cure ouvre, but still a great record, and when the kind of lackadaisical drum mix, the wash-y guitar, the build to Robert Smith’s howlerific vocal entrance… it slowly dawned on me, listening to this felt so, so great. You know when, in the mid-morning, you pull your arms back and take a stretch, and out of nowhere it turns into this epic, full-body experience and all of your muscles are singing and it’s so awesome that you almost pass out? It was like that.

I found myself looking forward to the next time I could sit with my iPod and listen – no current bands up in my face (or, the ears on my face) trying to show me why they’re great, or why they’re so authentic, or trying to wow me with their backstory, or make me dance. No more singer/songwriters no one has ever heard of with amazing voices singing songs with great/terrible/cliched/creative lyrics. No more irony, no more tortured album concepts. Just music, music that already exists, is no longer current; music that has retired, or better, maybe …gone pro.

I am, of course, aware that I’m projecting – this has nothing to do with the music itself and everything to do with where my head is at. All the same, the effect that it has, that calming, stretching effect, is so great, I can’t deny it.

muswell-hillbilliesThough I’ve never really been able to articulate it, it’s a feeling that listening to old jazz has always given me, and the minute I started looking, I realized I was finding it all over the place. After “Kiss Me,” I moved on to “Paris” and through “Disintegration” (naturally), but then on to other artists… suddenly, I have found myself obsessed with The Kinks. “Muswell Hillbillies,” “Aurthur,” “Village Green,” the sounds on these records, the intimacy with which they were recorded, the relaxed flow… *stretches* aaaah!

And it’s not even as though these records were created in some halcyon time when music was music and labels respected that (and men men and children above average, etc.). It turns out that “Muswell Hillbillies” was the first record that The Kinks did for RCA, so there was all this pressure on them to do a big single – they had just had “Lola” become a huge hit, and rather than deliver a safe pop album that would be a trans-Atlantic reinvention for them, they put together “Hillbillies,” a collection of working-class tunes steeped in American blues and country music, sung with warped British/American southern accents, winking lyrics played with appalling earnestness. It was a bit of a gamble, and for whatever reason, it worked.

So, it’s not so much that the albums, in their own respective times, were any more relaxed, or had any less of the “Check Our Shit Out” vibe that I’ve been finding so exhausting while listening to current music. It’s more that those qualities have been washed away by time, and when I listen to them now, I don’t need to think about the band, the group, in any context beyond the historical.

Though I know my glasses are more than a bit rose-tinted, there’s something about the way I imagine these musicians, in their shag-covered studios with their “vintage” gear, smoking lucky strikes and talking on the telephone… almost more like they’re literary characters than musicians. It’s a phenomenon peculiar to our view of historical figures, a sort of depersonalization that happens when lore replaces experience and stories replace memories… I would think it is one of the greatest challenges a history teacher ever faces, making historical figures seem real, bringing their humanity, the actualness of their past realities home to students. It’s why we visit that prairie town in grade school, where the people dress up and act like settlers, and we chop wood and sit in the one-room schoolhouse. It’s why John Adams, it’s why historical fiction.

Dexter Gordon - ou Man In ParisJust as I know that Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz were real people who made their albums in an effort to express themselves creatively, part of me can’t “see” their realities, decades-removed as they are from my own existence. And as it turns out, the same holds true with older rock bands – even when some of the members are still alive, the music takes on a different quality, more like a scrapbook, heightening some aspects of the music beyond its original qualities. I actually think that this phenomenon is a big part of why, as we re-listen to Michael Jackson’s albums in the wake of his death, the songs sound different – clearer, truer – than they have in years. The change is neither good nor bad, it just is – the time is past, the distance has been inserted, and the music is now a part of history, fundamentally untouchable.

Admittedly, this is a pretty half-baked articulation of my thinking – I’m sort of working it out as I go along. Hazards of blogging, I guess. All I know is that, for the time being, I’m going to be digging deeper and deeper into my music library and seeking out older records, albums that comfortably exist in their place in history, requiring nothing more of me than my time and my attention. Letting me stretch out and relax.

The Kinks - Aurthur Record

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