While YouTube is an archive of new rock footage, classic performances live on through nostalgia.
When the lineup for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary show was first announced, I had a bit of a WTF moment. Lou Reed and Metallica? Really? Crosby, Stills and Nash and James Taylor? U2, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith? Wow.
Thanks to the magic of HBO, millions of rock fans who wish they could have been at the Garden for those two nights were able to witness what should have been one of the defining moments in pop culture history.
Instead, we got something good, not great. This made me think of something good for this column – something that would tie this to the first column I wrote about ‘90s nostalgia.
Let’s think about this: iconic performances of the 20th century. Early reports of Bob Dylan going electric all included the yell of “Judas.” Ozzy biting the head off of a live bat. Rage Against The Machine at the Democratic National Convention.
There are countless others, and this was all pre-YouTube. While some film may exist, it’s not as widely available as footage taken at the hall of fame’s 25th anniversary concerts.
Rolling Stone put out a special edition of the magazine, packed from cover to cover with information about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concerts. From reading the magazine, the concerts sound legendary. Especially compared to what was shown on HBO.
The point I’m trying to make is this: Nothing will ever be as good as it was. I don’t want to sound like some jaded misanthrope, but realistically, it makes sense.
Half the legend of rock and roll is just that, legend. This is one of the things I love most about the genre and music in general. I can’t listen to a Robert Johnson song without thinking, “That man sold his soul to the devil to be this good at playing the blues.” I can’t hear “Shout it Loud” without thinking of Paul Stanley, seductively screaming, “You’ve got to have a party,” from the stage of Cobo Hall.
The legend of rock ‘n’ roll grows over time like a good fish story. In the grand scheme of the world, does Dylan going electric mean a lot? No. I’ll be the first to admit that outside rock ‘n’ roll, this day had little effect on the world.
But within rock ‘n’ roll? It was like Christopher Columbus finding America all over again. It’s been talked about so much since then, it’s taken a life of its own. There is no way I was there, but I’m still talking about it. That is one of the most underrated aspects of rock ‘n’ roll.
Let’s go back to Almost Famous. As a writer, I love the movie. It makes the wallflower nature of observation poetic. It makes the obsession with someone else’s art seem just as necessary as the art itself. As a fan of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s the history of every band told through a fictional one. There’s a part where Jeff Bebe (played by a pre-Earl Jason Lee) says, “It’s about the buzz and the chicks and the whatever,” in an interview with the young protagonist.
Cameron Crowe got it right. Yes, the music might be “incendiary,” and the beat on the drums might not have much of the excess “whatever” – it’s just sound.
To wrap up a semester, let’s go back to the first column again. Nostalgia. I’ve been reading The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture by Nathan Rabin, head writer for the Onion’s A.V. Club.
In the book, Rabin quotes a friend who says, “The two most powerful forces in the universe are sex and nostalgia. Nostalgia is so powerful it can create profound longing for a past that never existed.”
The problem with the YouTube generation is that all we have is proof. Never again can you say, “Man! Remember that time we saw Saves the Day, and they played (insert song here),” and remember it the way you want. Instead, you’ll go to the computer and type in the song title and the band and immediately find a video shot three-people away from you.
What I’m trying to say is we need to build new legends. When I’m an old man, I want to be able to tell my kids some crazy story from my rock ‘n’ roll past and have them want more but never be able to get it. I can’t ever relive my father’s experience of walking into a dive bar in New York, and stumbling into a Ramones show, but my kids will be able to see the exact same Brand New show as I did.
Like the faux Babe Ruth said in The Sandlot, “Legends never die.”
Steve Ciccarelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.