Ok, I really need your help. You guys gotta help me figure out if I’m listening to the pop music equivalent of nearly extinct dinosaurs or if I am really hearing a vibrant revival of the music and bands of the 70’s and 80s. I need to know if it’s just me experiencing some kind of middle-aged regression to my adolescence or if there’s really a new vitality in the dinosaur bands of my youth.
In the last year, we’ve had astonishing releases from Devo, Hot Tuna, Paul Simon and as I write this, just today, the release of a new record from that most 80’s of Boston New Wave bands, The Cars. (It’s almost as if The Atlantics were playing Spit on a Saturday night and Tricia and I were getting decked out to dance off several liters of sweat.)
For the life of me, I can’t tell if I love this stuff because it’s really good or if I like it because it’s the sound of my youth. I’d like to think that I am a critical enough listener to know the difference. I’d like to think that I also listen to The Dandy Warhols, Alice in Chains, even Lady Gaga. That I am open to everything, including hip-hop (though I nearly fell out of my chair when Kanye sampled “21st Century Schizoid Man” for his track “Power”). I like bluegrass, country, even Tuvan throat-singing.
But I’ve been listening to Devo’s “Something for Everybody” for nearly a year. The music is superb, with the track “Human Rocket” among the most clever (and frightening) tracks they’ve ever written. If Devo was cool in the 80’s, why can’t they be in the 10’s? (I must admit that age has its price: I can’t stand watching Devo. Seeing 50-something guys like me with paunches doing robot dances in plastic clothes makes me feel sad and embarrassed for them.)
Yet as I listen to the The Cars’ “Blue Tip” I wonder if anyone else could wrap a commentary about media in a pop-synth beat with a final chorus you just gotta sing along with. Or if the guitar riff in “Free” could be done better by anybody in their 20’s.
I dunno — maybe I am rationalizing the whole thing — but these bands sound as vital to me 25 years on as they did when all I cared about was dancing myself into a stupor. In fact, I’d argue they are better than they were then…more mature, more cynical than they were in their earlier incarnations. Life’s knocks have only made their music even more interesting than it was when all we knew was pop narcissism.
But…still…it could be just a futile hope that these dinosaurs sound fresh and new to anyone but Boomers. Maybe it’s just the sound of an asteroid hitting Earth…the last blast before we all get blown away.