I recently encountered a quote from the late English poet and jazz critic Philip Larkin that struck a little too close to home. Before I was born, Larkin decried modern jazz and other forms art contemporary art because they "take what was once among our pleasures, and place it among our duties."
My urge is I to repudiate the thoughts of a man who derided Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, who couldn't abide Charlie Parker, who just wanted to bob his head and tap his feet. But I understand what he meant.
When I hear Animal Collective or TV on the Radio and scratch my head, I know I'm on the wrong side of history, though I suspect that I might one day catch up. After all, it took four or five years of bemusement before I embraced OK Computer, and now it's indispensable (perhaps I'll feel the same about The King of Limbs five years from now). I don't want to be the fogey who drones about the old days, but I also won't lie: last year's Deerhunter album isn't without its charms, but I'd still rather spin Beggar's Banquet.
One of the great pleasures of my adult life has been this blog and the relationships that have grown up around it. For the first couple of years, we were on fire; the joy we got from rock and roll spilled out uncontrollably. And then one day I decided to put my email address up on the site, and it has never been the same. Since then, we've been inundated with messages and mp3s from bands and promotions people we would otherwise never have heard of. There are gems in there, but there's a whole lot of stuff I don't understand, and a ton more I never hear; this is a hobby, not a job, and there's no way I can get through it all, so eventually the inbox gets cleansed sound unheard.
Life gets busier, too, with kids and commitments and tilting at the occasional windmill, as I did in the first few months of the year. But even as I've neglected this space, I haven't given up on rock and roll, though I routinely find myself looking for comfort, not adventure. When in doubt, I always fall back on the Rolling Stones, and January was spent with my nose in Life, Keith Richards's impossibly entertaining and frequently maddening memoir, in which the man who is rock and roll to me crashes cars, starts fires, throws knives, devours drugs and then whines when Mick Jagger doesn't trust him to make business decisions. In February, I dug deep into the Darkness on the Edge of Town box set, mesmerized by video of Springsteen in his fighting-trim prime and by audio of the classic album he left on the cutting-room floor. Then March was devoted to the long-awaited reissue of Nick Lowe's Labour of Lust, an endlessly tuneful and wry record that sustained me through the nervous nights leading up to a local election. But it only reinforced my feelings of being a man-out-of-time to listen to Lowe's "Switchboard Susan," a song about a girl with a job that doesn't exist anymore.
In an effort to bring myself into the here and now, a couple of weeks ago I went to see The Arcade Fire play. I don't think I had seen another band at the same sort of creative and commercial peak since U2 in 1987. Win Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne led the eight-piece collective through a spellbinding show that crested with "Wake Up," an all-time set-closer. The band's thoroughly modern take on what is essentially folk music featured members moving from instrument to instrument, keyboards to hurdy gurdy, drums to guitar, bass to piano. I was about ten rows back in a regal old amphitheater packed to close to its 8,000-seat capacity when the crowd exploded into the wordless sing along of "Wake Up," and I felt something I hadn't felt in years, being in the center of something powerful, contemporary and seemingly without antecedent. In the moment with the band of the moment.
At show's end, as the lights came up and we began to shuffle out, Richard and Linda Thompson's "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight," a married couple's powerful reinvention of folk music, now thirty-seven years old, came over the PA, and I laughed because I had never made the connection. What's old is new again.