Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Robert Johnson had it right

There comes a time, I guess, when every music fan reaches a crossroads.

It happens at a certain age, and there creeps upon you a change. Suddenly, new music starts to sound like old music, or, worse, new music starts to sound alien, incomprehensible somehow. The themes are changing, the language is changing with them, and there's just not the same connection as there used to be.

The alternative is far worse, though. Let me illustrate this with an example.


 

The above wandered onto the shuffle on my iPod while out this week, and suddenly I realised just how dangerous old music can be - much more dangerous than any fear of a new planet. 

You see, as soon as the above song came on, I was temporarily temporally displaced. I can track that song to a complex cluster of engrams - memory connections from between ten to fifteen years ago - that reach out with wispy tendrils and suddenly boom the past is all up in your face and wasn't it better? 

No. 

It wasn't. 

Nostalgia is never what it used to be. 

I can track the above song first to a tiny, whitewashed room in a student halls of residence - a tower block in London, the summer of 2000. A tiny tv-video combi, lucky to have that in halls (bear in mind this was resolutely analogue, trying to convince the TV to find the five channels available by making sure the aerial was connected and pointing in the right direction. I was so taken by the program that I roped a friend into watching it as pre-exit Saturday night TV - although, to be fair, he was probably being polite in marking the time off until alcohol. 

[Side note: I had to google how to spell 'aerial', it being so long since I've had to use it in a sentence.]

The program the theme above comes from was bizarre - an update of a 1960s/1970s detective show that turned it into a Reeves and Mortimer comedy - but it was, in my defence, funny. (The second season wasn't all that, but hey, what can you do.) But it had this theme - the one above, yes - that stuck in your head. And then there was CD single release, where they had Nina Persson singing over the top. The third song on the single was - and this is just strange - Vic Reeves singing (and I use the term loosely) Ain't that a kick in the head

Then there was the soundtrack album. Which is a weird enough concept in itself - a soundtrack album to the first series of a six-part BBC comedy-drama (which I almost wrote as comedrama, which is just wrong.) This concept is a bit less alien these days - soundtrack albums to TV series are probably a dime a dozen - but at the time, it was interesting to me. 

On the soundtrack is a song the internet says doesn't exist, called Jus' Tonite, by Basement Jaxx. At least, it's not on YouTube - and let's let that sink in for a moment, IT'S NOT ON YouTube, EVERYONE, PANIC ON THE STREETS OF LONDON - and an internet search shows it was released as Track Eleven on a promo single for Bingo Bango, after eleven mixes of... Well... Bingo Bango

This is where the second memory jump comes in; Jus' Tonite takes me to a summer party, at the mansion (and there's really no other way of describing it) of someone I knew at the time, lighting cigarettes (when I was still young enough to think it was cool) from garden flares, and everyone getting drunk and getting into the swimming pool at the end of the night. (And, as always, there was a girl involved.) 

You have to laugh, really. Not because it's fun, but because it's so clich├ęd, in a way; times were better when you were younger - hot summer nights and drinking and cigarettes and women and song and and and... 

Seriously. 

Confession time; for all my complaints about the rise of access being a defining factor in modern music, I don't actually know that much about how to find the new new stuff. Equally, there's the old new stuff, as in things I never got the time, chance or money together to listen to back in the day, and that's a whole ocean of old new that I don't know quite how to get to - at least, legally. 

And this is in itself dangerous, because the seductive siren's song of the older music is calling, calling, calling. 

But. There's the alternate problem that comes with being an old bastard; explaining things to younger people. Because you come up against the basic problem of trying to explain why something that happened a long time ago actually mattered - and this is tricksy, quicksand-esque ground, because all you're really doing is reminiscing and trying to conjure up something for someone who wasn't there to join in on. 

It's risky. Because you either manage to successfully conjure something up, or you come off as a deranged fool. The balance of probabilities is, in my case, more the latter rather than the former. This is the primary contradiction at the heart of music, for me; it's always changing, but there are still nodal points - personal and worldwide, in terms of historical turning points, and it's up to you which matters more. 

In some ways, it's also what has made trying to write for this blog difficult - other than work commitments and, yes, basic laziness on my part. Because there's this constant internal conflict, which I can try to sum up like this; 

Posit One:   
New music is interesting

Posit Two:   
New music makes me think of old music

Posit Three: 
Old music drags me back into the musty halls of previous lives, from which it is difficult to escape. 

So the problem - for me, at least - is that I want to go and find new ways to seek new music, but a lot of the time when I do, I end up trapped in speculation and circular thinking. Plus, I'm too old to credibly "gig" anymore, so actually leaving the house, well... But if I don't seek it out, then, basically: 

Don't you remember that time when...