Monday, November 29, 2004

Firecracker

This is in response to Ewan's comments in this thread, and yes, Caitlin, I will get around to another Star Wars post that will address your comments; don't give up hope.

I think that The Beatles break up is a key part of their legendary status. Like Seinfeld, they went out at the top of their game. Rather than dissapearing with a quiet whimper, slowly into the night, The Beatles went out with a crescendo, and a final crashing chord, not unlike the final notes in "A Day In The Life." However a part of me has always wondered what The Beatles might have done if they stayed together. I think the solo careers of Lennon and McCartney, and Harrison, were filled with further great works, and I doubt they would have become washed up, but rather I think it was a matter of those egos, esp. Lennon and McCartney, couldn't really fit into one band. They had become bigger than The Beatles.

As for Nirvana, I always wonder about that as well, and I think part of their status was that they burnt out so quickly. But the fact that they were in the spotlight for such a short time makes me wonder what we're missing. A lament for what might have been, if you will. Reminds me of the literary examples of Christopher Marlowe (Dr. Faustus, Tamburlaine) - whose plays were arguably as good as Shakespeare's - but whose plays were cut short when he was stabbed through the eye in a bar brawl. Or John Keats who died at age 24. What masterpieces did we lose when poor health cut short his amazing output? It's something I don't think we can ever know.

Then there's the further examples of Sting, Elvis Costello and Stevie Wonder. All I can do is quote Barry (Jack Black) in High Fidelity..."top five musical crimes perpetuated by Stevie Wonder in the 80s and 90s? Go... sub-question... is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins, is it better to burn out or fade away? "

And with that the example of U2 becomes curious. They are arguably doing as good work now as they were in any era. They haven't really pandered to the youth demographic, nor are they merely an adult contemporary act (ie: Sting). It's really quite amazing the more I think about it. I'm hard pressed to come up with another example of it.

--

"Well, everybody wants to go forever
I just wanna burn up hard and bright
I just wanna be your firecracker"
- Ryan Adams, "Firecracker" from the album Gold

6 Comments:

At 3:02 PM, Blogger cait said...

Okay . . . so I'm back to posting an inordinate amount of times on your blog again. Sorry ;o).

But how fitting that we speak of the Beatles on the anniversary of their best members' death (and no amount of convincing is going to make me say different than that). I agree, Anders, that the problem in the band was ego, not musicianship. Despite a few very strange ideas on the latter albums (i.e., Revolution 9), the band was getting progressively better; they were more experimental, they were opening up the musical genre of rock along with their contemporaries (i.e., the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds"). If John Lennon had decided to be a "musician" rather than a "rock star," they probably could have made really good music together for a long time; there is very little post-Beatles work by McCartney and Harrison that I DON'T like. (Lennon, well, I've always had a bit of a scunner against him for the way he treated George in the later years)

I might say the same thing of Led Zeppelin; people remember them primarily for I-IV, but I personally think Physical Graffiti is an incredible album that often surpasses their earlier works; I would pit "Ten Years Gone" against "Stairway to Heaven" any day. It's too bad that Bonzo's death cut it short.

But then of course, you've got bands like the Who, and you want to just shake Pete Townshend and say: "Stop it! Two of your members are dead! You're not the Who anymore! You stopped BEING the Who on September 7, 1978!"

Or maybe that's just me.

 
At 4:35 PM, Blogger Ewan said...

By cobbling the best tracks of Lennon's "plastic Ono Band" and Imagine, McCartney's "McCartney" and "Ram" and George's "All things must pass" and maybe Ringo's "it don't come easy" single and you may have a couple good Beatle albums (providing George Martin is at the boards). Perhaps they would have retained the sucess and relevance that U2 have managed to achieve nearly 25 years on. Although, i'm not sure here, but U2 didn't have as immediate a sucess as the Beatles. The Beatles were the world's most popular band from the get go and never let up, whereas U2 took a while to get to their perch.

Regarding Zeppelin, i always like their first 2 albums best and never really got too much into Physical Graffiti. I do own it, but it's not a cd that finds its way into my player much, unlike I or II. I guess i liked zeppelin at their tightest, most riffed based.

One more thing on Nirvana ( i just watched a special on Cobain today)- they were great, but overrated. The are remembered for leading a musical movement (like the Beatles) but mostly for Cobain's suicide and troubled life and not as much for their songs (like truly great bands). I mean really, "smells like Teen spirit" is not that great. But still, "come as you are" brings back alot of memories from the early 90s.

 
At 4:39 PM, Blogger Ewan said...

Oh, and good quote from High Fidelity. In that part i always wanted to hear what the top 5 musical crimes Stevie committed. That movie also rocks, because it ends with "I believe (when i fall in love with you it will be forever", one of the all-time great stevie wonder songs.

 
At 5:27 PM, Blogger cait said...

Finally! A music fan who doesn't deify Kurt Cobain! I can die happy . . .

I find it interesting that you prefer I & II--frankly, those are probably my least favourite. I find them too derivative of other musicians at that point; it feels as if they haven't really decided where they are going, and so are borrowing from a lot of other places. "Black Mountain Side" is just a blatant rip-off of Bert Jansch's arrangement of "Black Water Side." I DO very much like "Ramble On," but the English major in me freaks out at the way in which Robert Plant screws around with the LOTR. Personally, I don't think they really start growing as musicians until III.

 
At 3:53 AM, Blogger Eric Berlin said...

[Found this site while tooling around on the Web -- good stuff...]

My overall take on this conversation is that the burn bright/fade away argument is way overrated. Sure, a bizarre/tragic/typically rock star death (see: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain [all four in the died-at-27 club] Mama Cass, etc. etc.) can help give a career a mythic quality, but the truth is that the quality's got to be there all along.

For example, why don't we ever talk about Blind Melon or Sublime in the context of this argument? Both are solid bands with uber-potential and a nice little catalog of music to go back to (esp. Sublime). But they weren't Great or Legendary acts.

Let's face it, even if you're not a huge fan of their music, Nirvana was a Great band. If you around in the early 90s, you know how putrid the music scene was... and this was a time when accessing new music was far harder than today. Nirvana was a breath of fresh air, reality, integrity, and a captivating blend of new wave, post-punk, and angry rock. I could make the same Great argument for The Doors and Hendrix.

As for bands/musicians making music "past their prime," I say it's their right, but the painful truth is that music, and especially rock, tends to be a youthful art form. There are a few that beat this curve, but not many.

Eric Berlin
Dumpster Bust: Miracles from Mind Trash
http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/

 
At 12:58 PM, Blogger Ewan said...

One more thing, Anders. Love the Ryan Adams quote, although my favourite line is the next one: "maybe be your baby tonight".

 

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