Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Confession: I never really "got" Gram Parsons. It's nice he taught the Rolling Stones about country music, but did it really take a handsome rich young hipster to make country palatable to rockers, and if so, what's up with that? I've listened to his stuff and it's never really grabbed me -- it's all "OK" -- "OK" singing, "OK" songs. But I'll vouch for his handsomeness and take the published reports of his wealth and hipness at their word.

Until now, now I've heard one I like. My friend Jay sent me a link to this video of the Flying Burrito Brothers singing a catchy pop-rock-country-flavored number called "Older Guys". The said guys "know what they're talking about" and "really got it all worked out" -- the cutely ironic song is proto-Nick-Lowe-ish in the irony, the breeziness, the hummability, and the foot-tap-ability. And a very cute video! They really are handsome, and Gram dances like a sweetie. Maybe I'll give him another chance.

* * *

The other night I mocked the Vancouver Folk Music Festival's slogan as portentous: "29 Years of Making History." Folk music is another left-liberal-identified genre, and the festival always figures topical acts into the mix, and futuristic innovators and fusionists always fit in well with traditional 3rd-world singers on the bill, usually flown in from a great distance (this year survivors of the Rwandan genocide represented ancient traditional music, and their music sailed me). In short, the festival is always ambitious, thematically and musically and, yes, in its aesthetic way, politically. Every year, introductions between musicians from opposite ends of the globe result in sound combinations never heard anywhere before.

And the audience plugs into the momentousness of it. People return year after year and devote the week-end to absorbing the sounds. Nobody mistakes the consuming of music with actual political agitation, but a large percentage of the audiences -- judging from the acquaintances and friends I run into there year after year -- devote much of the rest of the year to political agitation and/or social amelioration. The Festival is a high point on my personal religious calendar -- a High Holiday.

So, yeah, "making history" -- go for it. Simon Reynolds has been hankering for a return of the sense that music is of central, intense, utmost importance. For the folkies, it hasn't gone away.

And for the folkies, that doesn't mean -- exclusively -- old-fashioned acoustic strumming. Like I said, some of those sounds have never been made before. Old-fashioned acoustic strumming is part of it, for sure, but for me the preservationist tendencies are humane. Different modes of capitalist consumption: Only Always the New vs. the Cornucopia of the Past and the Consumerist Paradise Fantasy of Wanting to Have It All -- both extremes to me feel like nightmares, but I'm much closer to the latter -- wanting to have it all, including the present, which does not exclude the recorded past.

Only-Always-New-ism is the extreme-r neurosis. For who can tell when today's present passion will become passe?

Despite my love of hips, I've never been a hipster -- I had to laugh at myself recently when I realized that I've never bought an issue of "Spin" magazine -- it's always connoted grumpy snobby hipsterism to me, even though I've now come to know and respect many of the writers from other venues, including Blogville. The "Spin" guidebook to "Alternative" music is intellectually incoherent -- the Beatles, the most successful band ever, are "alternative"?!?!? -- and while intellectual incoherence can be stimulating and exciting, in this case it just seems a mask for consensus-style "stuff we like as we consider ourselves hip and avant," and you can't not have the Beatles in that consensus, and you can't just call it a guidebook to "cool" music, because, well, "cool" is an uncool word (and so is "alternative," by now -- which underlines my point).

Love is the answer! It's a swingin' thing! Love is the drug! (To heal a sick world.) What the world needs now is love -- sweet love, tough love, even sometimes rough love (between consenting sensualists). And if you love you that old-time music, that's great, and if you love you that new-new stuff, that's great too. (I've read enough Brecht to know that love isn't all you need -- but you need it! It's necessary! But it's not sufficient!) "Spin" magazine -- they love their music too, and that's lovely.

And . . . to get back to the wishes of Simon & the folkies -- despite the overwhelmingness of the non-musical world -- music . . . music . . . music is The Thing. That riff really does change your life, because your life is made up of a finite amount of moments, and that riff can make & shake & bake that moment, and pep your step for the coming everyday slog & drag & struggle, it can be that spoonful of sugar -- which some people scorn as cheap calories, but these calories don't lay waste your waistline, they give you warmth (the original meaning of calories) -- heat and light and dark and heavy and light, music reframes your goggle-eyes, opens your pores, pours your openings, unclogs your spirit-veins, rains your mains, re-trains your brains, soothes your chilblains, music gets under your skin, music plays you.

Music plays you.

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