Sunday, August 28, 2011

Good Old Rock and Roll(ers)

Mellow-Life Crisis:

The Jaybees attended a graduation barbeque back in June, where Friend/Music Lover Peter asked what I’ve been listening to lately. Having no short term memory, I couldn’t think of any of the dozen or so CDs I’ve gotten this year so far, except Sufjan Stevens and Belle and Sebastian. This must have smacked of “mellowing” to Peter, who’s finding himself listening to harder and harder rock and roll. Our sons all love the Dropkick Murphys, but he’s gone a step further, taking to singing Blood for Blood’s “Outlaw Anthems” in his car at the top of his lungs.

Me? I’m even more all over the place than usual. But somewhere in there amongst the jazz, world music and Bob Dylan, there must have been at least some hard rock. Deerhunter has the guitars, but they’re a bit dreamy. And Pavement are just too ironic to let it all hang out. Damn it, my music has been too damned “mature” lately.

Well, there was Bossanova by the Pixies…

… which came out in 1990 – one year after “Doolittle”, which some consider the best album of the 1980s. I’d gotten it late in 1989 but found that, while there were a few great moments, there were just too many weird ones. Overrated, I decided. And since it was one of the last vinyl records I ever got, it sat un-played in my basement for years.

So although I wasn’t dying to get another Pixies record, “Bossanova” hit my radar when I heard that it smoothed over some of their rougher edges. Well, I thought, that’s all the Pixies really needed. And now with them doing reunion tours and being canonized in documentaries, all I needed was a steep discount price, which I got at Other Music, my new favorite record store. Okay, it was a used copy, but I’m okay with that. I’ve grown (even cheaper)!

And we were all getting into the full sound and punch-in-the-chest guitar of “Bossanova” when Mrs. Jaybee, who loves “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, asked where Doolittle was. In the basement, next to the washing machine, hint, hint, I said. For someone who loved his vinyl so much, she countered, I didn’t get much laundry done. She downloaded it.

And it was no contest. Like “Tonight’s The Night” coming on at a “Homegrown” listening party link, “Doolittle” kicked “Bossanova”’s ass. Doolittle was awesome!

So what’s going on here? Why is “Doolittle” so much better?

Well, on “Bossanova”, the band is loud and the sound full, though somewhat homogenized, making too many songs sound the same. On “Doolittle”, the sound is modeled to each song. And it’s not a constant barrage. Instead, instruments go in and out as needed, making everything that much more dynamic. The quiet spots make the crescendos that much more powerful.

The only time Black Francis sounds insane (just a bit upset, really) on “Bossanova” is on “Rock Music”. Elsewhere he’s just a bit strange. But on “Doolittle”, he’s eight different kinds of crazy at least. And he’s not alone. With Kim Deal singing la la la la on “Gouge Away”, it’s like the family from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “Pink Flamingos” formed a band.

Which brings me to my other big problem with “Bossanova”: where’s Kim? Oh, you occasionally hear her doing background vocals, but instead of being part of the family, here she’s just a member of the band.

As is drummer David Lovering, who, on “Doolittle” is banging that snare drum every time you think it’s time to sit back and relax. He even sings a creepy little number, adding to the family vibe.

It’s hard to fault Joey Santiago’s guitar. He’s doing everything he can to make the music strong. It’s just that the music’s a bit of a bore. So there’s very little of the almost comic book zaniness of “Doolittle”.

And yet I’d be wrong to call “Bossanova” bad. You’d think it was excellent if you never heard “Doolittle”.

It comes down to “Bossanova” beging a bit glossy. I don’t blame Black Francis for wanting to hit the big time. The howls and screeches of “Doolittle” were only going to take him so far.

I’m Younger Than That Now:

But none of this explains why “Doolittle” got to be better than “Bossanova”. The music didn’t change, but apparently we did. Why do we now prefer the screeches to the gloss?

Flashback to Thanksgiving 1988: The Jaybees are getting ready to go to the in-laws for dinner. We’re trying to prepare hors d'oeuvres and get Daughter Theresa ready. She’s a few months old and a bit colicky. It’s all very slow going, especially with me flipping vinyl every twenty minutes.

This particular day I’m playing Sonic Youth’s “Daydream Nation”. Not exactly holiday music, but great music is great music, right? It should be suitable for any occasion and be recognized by all for its greatness. Alas, it didn’t turn out that way. By the middle of side three, Mrs. Jaybee is asking me to please turn that sh*t off (as was Daughter Theresa, in her own way) – something she’d never done before. Okay, lesson learned.

It’s understandable that, with an infant, you need as little noise as possible. So, as a consequence, we were playing less loud music. Was this how it happened, I wondered? Were we now on the slippery slope to respectability? Would we one day wake up to find we no longer liked rock and roll?

After all, it’s been twenty years and one child since we first got “Doolittle”, and Mrs Jaybee liked it even less than me at the time. But somehow we didn’t follow the usual pattern – that dreaded mellowing out as you get older.

Sure, when the kids were smaller, they tended to watch a lot of TV so me and the Misses just weren’t listening to much of anything for a while. But as they grew, and we got more control over our time/energy/entertainment options, we found that, explorations of other genres aside, we’re as ready for the loud stuff as ever. Maybe even more so.

Maybe not quite as much as Friend Peter, but that’s okay.

I keep getting records, and as they pile up, I try to choose more carefully as I go. I don’t want just any record. I want a something that has the power to alter me, even as there are a thousand things conspiring to keep me the same. My own age and fears included.

“Bossanova” – as good as it is - is just any record. “Doolittle” will alter you.  And I’m looking for something vital, as I know I become a little less so every day.

And I think that’s what Friend Peter wants, too.

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