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Vintage Love

February 27, 2009

I always start listening to ballads when I’m up half the night.  Or if not ballads, music with a pretty melody.  I keep watching this video of the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” in between churning out lines of a paper.  I’m equally charmed by the music and the slightly dazed look in John’s eyes as he tries to lip-sync.  It’s weird to hear someone sing when you know perfectly well that they’re dead.  There’s a sense of fatality to it, because you already know how the story is going to end.  I have a tendency to calculate those kinds of things; this performance took place x number of years before the person died.  I always get squirmy watching Queen’s video for “Days of Our Lives” because I know how close to death Freddie was.  Sometimes I wish I could capture the moment and keep him or John Lennon or any number of others from dying.

The more I think about it the more I realize that my music collection is full of dead musicians.  Freddie and John, Joe Strummer, 3/4 of the original Ramones, Kurt Cobain, and of course George Harrison.  That’s a pretty long list, and it isn’t even a fraction of all the musicians who have gone to their graves.  It’s sad for a number of reasons.  First, it’s just plain strange to hear a dead person’s voice in your ears, sounding vibrantly alive.  It creates a mental disconnect between what you know is true and what part of your brain wants you to think.   You can watch Joe Strummer smile and turn away from the camera, or stare at it with faint annoyance while he chews gum.  Within those moments, it seems like he’s alive again.  But step back from the video and he fades, returning to his place in punk rock lore.  Video has a funny way of both intensifying and obscuring a person’s existence.

Also, it’s sad that such a large number of great musicians have died.  I know many of them are hailed as legends when they die whether or not they deserve it.  Kurt Cobain was a cool guy, but his lyrics were complete gibberish.  On purpose.  He hated writing them and always put them off until the last minute.  Yet people go on about them as if he made some fantastic discovery about the fundamentals of human existence.  He was talking about a mosquito.

Anyway, even if some musicians’ legacies have been blown out of proportion, it’s easy to understand the reverence.  I would take Kurt Cobain and his crazy rambles over Fall Out Boy every time.  He knew how to write music.  If I had a choice between reuniting Blink 182 and reuniting the Ramones, I would take the Ramones.  No question.  (I realize Blink 182 has decided to reunite, I’m just in denial because I can’t stand them).  Faced with the junk music of recent years, the good music of the past seems that much better.  Disney pop is enough to send anyone running for cover in the magic of the Beatles.  The most recent incarnations of pop punk, who took the genius of original pop punk and turned it into sludge, make me grab wildly for the closest cd marked Screeching Weasel.  It’s discouraging how far back you often have to go to find good music.  Even Green Day has been around for 20 years, while Social Distortion and Bad Religion have been tearing up stages for ages.  In fact the only new band I can think of that I like is Glasvegas.  I also love Spinnerette, but they’re not entirely new.  I only know they exist because Brody Dalle used to front the Distillers.

So yes, it’s strange to listen to music made by people who are now dead, especially when you can see them on a screen.  There’s something inherently unnatural about it.  But I don’t mind.  It’s a small price to pay for avoiding emo.  Go on, grab some headphones and revel in this.  Isn’t it lovely?

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