Bye, Pop! Pop waves g’bye. So does Now take its leave of us …
Crashingbore, we had to drive five forsaken hours through dust and dirt – and at the next stop, in the little coal mining boomtown of Blackwater, Qld, between Bluff and Comet, we stocked up on water, fruit, alcohol (not for onboard consumption), chocolate and cheap CDs.
Greatest Hits are always discounted, why is that? Flicking through the thin vertical array – surely not representative of the local population – one comes across oddities and tangents: Andrea Bocelli’s fauxpera, black R&B hits of the 50s. Mostly though we have WMP, White Male Pop: Dragon’s greatest Hits (2 CDs’ worth?!), Neil Diamond’s greatest hits, Springsteen of course, Daryl Braithwaite et al. No rap, no metal, no Beyoncé, Britney or Barbra…
For reasons of central Qld atmospherics and personal nostalgia the two of us settled, separately, on an Elton John best of package; Bee Gees number one hits; Paul McCartney’s All the Best (a bad mistake, based on a hankering for Live and Let Die); and R.E.M.’s Out of Time, with its countrified tunes.
It was the dredging of these olden goldies that made me shudder. Is this what I liked? A younger popgeek friend of mine said to me, a long while back, that he had finally given up – he no longer knew the names of the bands, and could no longer follow the categories. He had lost it, he said, scrunching the hem of his band graphics t-shirt.
In the last year I had tried out some of the critics’ current darlings. It was very select as my patience was limited: Dear Science (that’s the album, I meant teh band:) TV on the Radio, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Joanna Newsom, Iron & Wine, Gurrumul Yunupingu, Andrew Bird, Girl Talk and small slices of a dozen other wouldbes. But while enjoying some of these quite a lot, one must live with the music, has to spare the precious hours, for them to become domestic familiars. Which is why, of course, it’s the young who give themselves over to the music – we lived with it, we fell in and out of love to it. We can cross back to the ever new shores of youth, but who could bear the glare and dazzle?
Once upon a time swathes of people in this country shared large sequences of the same biographical soundtrack. I doubt that applies anymore. There are touchstones – the names big enough to penetrate everyone’s consciousness (under a certain age), but that’s no guarantee they’re listened to. This meme of a coalescent figure has lately been triggered off by, yes, michaeljackson – Newsweek has a good example of it. Even in a small town in Queensland I was able to hear a radio discussion where a female presenter asked if there would ever be a single pop phenomena like mj again, someone whose music we all knew.
Later, above a trail of dust in the rearview mirror floated the dream harmonies of the Gibb brothers – the proto-emo self-absorbed practically sobbing tremble of their high note unison. This was before their inspired late 70s disco transformation. I had forgotten how needy their early songs were, and how much they must have appealed to a teenager, an age bracket the Bee Gees were not much beyond when they made the recordings.
Now, I found, that the world is round
and of course it rains everyday.
Living tomorrow, where in the world will I be tomorrow? (World)
I started to cry, which started the whole world laughing,
oh, if I’d only seen that the joke was on me.
Til I finally died, which started the whole world living,
oh, if I’d only seen that the joke was on me. (I Started a Joke)
But it is the impeccable songcraft and the sonic perfectionism of the band that allows their music onward life. If only they sang in a language you didn’t know, one of obscurer of the thousand Aboriginal languages, we could endlessly enjoy the sound without the lyrical intrusion. (Rather like opera…)
It was Samuel Johnson who said that, No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures. So, I am compelled to admit that this kind of music is what I like. In banal, conventional, cliche-calcified truth, it’s generational – because, all music preferences have their time signature. Only, the beats in the measure are noted in decades.
I love pop, and its subset, rock. But I see that it’s previous pop. My Pop’s got old. (‘Grand Daddy Cool’ – was a recent story headline about Ross Wilson, he of Eagle Rock; he’s 61.) How far back to go, to retreat? Marvin Gaye, Al Green?
I have given up on later Dylan and Neil Young; Joni Mitchell has not written a thing in ages; Prince has retreated to his private art, and Madonna is – she really is too old to be doing what she does, Madge, stop, it’s hurting. And all the Heritage Bands with their wrinkles – doesn’t wizened Keef Richards look like an addled relative of Auden’s? Well it’s done. michaeljackson is dead.
I’m reminded of my godbrother who once told me that he only read books he had read before. At my extreme reaction he explained that he knew what he liked and he was always guaranteed a good read from his finely filtered library. (See the Michael Kimmelman piece in the NYT: ‘At one time a highly educated Westerner read perhaps 100 books, all of them closely. Today we read hundreds of books, or maybe none, but rarely any with the same intensity.’)
Therefore, thank god for the Dead White Males: Beethoven, Bach & Brahms et al. We can all still thrill to the opening chords of Ludwig’s Große Fuge, the last word on quadraphonic avant gardism by the biggest rock star of his day.