J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Notes From Underground - #12
Elvis in the ground, No beer tonight.

Despite my fascination with the film version of High Fidelity and my natural knowledge, I only ever worked in a record store one summer. I was eventually fired for being a slacker and in spite of numerous customer kudos about me to management for knowing what the hell I was talking about. Ingrates. Anyway, one evening as we were trying to close, a rather blustery looking older man and what appeared to be a sedated grandchild lumbered into the store. Store policy goes: Closing time and customers won't leave? Ask them if they need help and get them to the register and out the door. So I wander over to ask if he needs help.

"I'm looking for Elvis CDs...but you wouldn't know what Elvis meant to my generation," he practically yelled, fuming at me for the crime of being younger and therefore obviously intolerant of his nights spent watching Ed Sullivan.

I didn't argue with him, but his accusation has stuck in my mind for years. And ultimately, I agreed with him. He's right. There's no possible way I can understand what Elvis, the performer, meant to a generation that actually grew up with him alive and kicking. The man was well dead by the time I first graced this world, and the closest thing to a cultural impact Elvis had on my life was a rather boring debate about whether young or fat Elvis should end up on a postage stamp. But God help me if I ever get as curmudgeonly as that old timer and stumble around sneering at record store clerks: "You wouldn't know what [insert important musical figure of my era HERE] meant to my generation!"

That old man's anger was mis-guided. He was simply feeling misplaced by a society that once made sense to him. It happens to all of us. And increasingly, nostalgia is the true sign of becoming an adult. I started "reminiscing" about things when I was a sophomore in college. I was only 19 and being nostalgic? Was that really necessary? It's the "good ol' days" line of thinking that we all succumb to from time to time.

The other thing is that rock and roll as an art form turns on its axis by overthrowing the gods. Pantheons are hung up on the Tree of Life to make sacrifice, to make way for the next, new way of the music. I'm massively simplifying here, but the Beatles threw out Elvis. And Punk threw out the overblown rock of the early 70s. And Nirvana threw out the Hair Gods of the 80s. And so on, and so on. I grew up with a massive chip on my shoulder regarding classic rock. Like Elvis to Chuck D., it "never meant shit to me." And so sneering at the Beatles was just one of the things that came as common sense in my teenage years. Imagine my shock (and, now, years later, my great big smile) to hear a music fan 5 or 6 years younger than me denounce the Ramones a few years later. All eventually come to Yggdrasil and its loving embrace.

The re-evaluation of Nirvana has already begun and critics are lining up to take pot shots at a band that was heralded as the savior of rock and roll (kind of like the Strokes - and we saw how well that went). There's nothing wrong with this - we're all, to some extent, critics anyway. Turning our lasers on the canon is an important and necessary thing to do from time to time. It's okay to stand up and argue that White Light/White Heat is a better album than Revolver, or that Gentlemen is a better album for that matter. Prepare your reasoning, but don't back down. Elvis is in the ground, and even if he wasn't, he'd still be fair game. No art is unassailable, nor should it be.

So back to the old man. What could I tell him about my feelings about Elvis? If I could go back to that moment, what would I say? "You're right. I can't know what he meant to you. But I do know that Carl Perkins wrote way better songs, that Johnny Cash had a much better career, that Jerry Lee Lewis was a more electrifying performer and that Elvis didn't have the good sense to either retire or just die before he embarrassed himself. But, he was in the right place at the right time, and was just good enough to change the world. And I have to give him props for that." That would be an honest assessment.

Or I could say: "Old man, Elvis has left the building, and so should you. We're closed."

Man, you always think of the best comebacks way too late.



  • At 11:47 PM, August 17, 2007, Blogger Satisfied '75 said…

    how do u feel about Nevermind's production (in retrospect)?

    sounds way 'nineties' now, right? i didnt really notice until a few years ago while listening to it for the 1st time in agaes.

    i heart nirvana btw.

  • At 1:36 PM, August 18, 2007, Blogger J. Neas said…

    I agree with you. I'm a Nirvana fan as well, but when I do go back to listen to Nevermind, it has a date stamp on it that's impossible to ignore. Butch Vig's production is a big reason for that.

    As much as my favorite (and most listened to) Nirvana release is still Unplugged in New York, the proper studio LP that I return to time and time again is In Utero, which to me, doesn't sound dated at all. Feel free to challenge me on that, but I think it's their best record and stands above the murk of their early work and the shiny period production of their breakthrough.

  • At 5:32 PM, August 18, 2007, Blogger Satisfied '75 said…

    agreed. i also like the incesticide comp


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