Thursday, February 5, 2009

GMVW # 57: "Rust Free"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 57:  Rust Free
Song: Not Fade Away by Buddy Holly
Covered Here By: The Greatful Dead
(Songwriter: Buddy Holly)
February 5, 2009

Not many have tried to define rock ‘n’ roll.  Pete Townshend has, though.  His definition:

“If it screams for truth rather than help, if it commits itself with a courage it can’t be sure it really has, if it stands up and admits something is wrong but doesn’t insist on blood then it’s rock ‘n’ roll.”

He doesn’t touch on the fact that rock ‘n’ roll is actually music, but not bad.  It certainly states much of what I search for when I listen. 

So, if there is a definition for rock ‘n’ roll, is there also a defining song, a song that takes Townshend’s words and makes them real?  Putting aside the definition for a moment, if the sole criteria were “What rock song is covered by more bands than any other?” then I believe there is a clear winner: Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’.  What makes this song so popular for so many rock musicians to play live?  Well, I think it connects on a number of levels.  For one, it was written by a founding rocker who had his heart in the right place.  It also has a simple signature riff that many fledging guitarists learned how to play early on.   Most importantly though, the song can be interpreted in a number of powerful ways: A straight-up unabashed love song that hits home with a bulls-eye message; a way to approach life in general; a statement for rock itself.  With any of these meanings, Townshend’s definition is covered. 

It’ been 50 years since the day ‘the music died’, when the single engine plane Buddy Holly was flying in crashed in a frozen field in rural Iowa.  For a guy who died at the age of 27, he left quite a legacy, (even with just with this song alone).

I’ve seen ‘Not Fade Away’ covered admirably by many bands over the years.  There was one band, however, that captured the spirit of the song better than all others: The Grateful Dead.  They would often play it near the end of their shows, and when they the hit the phrase “I’m gonna tell you how it’s going to be!” or “My love is bigger than a Cadillac!” the vocals would reverberate through the concert hall and the stage lighting would illuminate the crowd. 
Near the end of the song, the band would stop the music (and sometimes leave the stage), letting the crowd repeat the mantra ‘Not Fade Away’ for a good 5 minutes or so before picking up the beat again with their instruments.  

This week’s Gem is a Grateful Dead version of ‘Not Fade Away’ from a late-80’s show.  They are clearly having a great time, and the camera work is right on, rotating between all 6 band members.  Following the Dead’s version are a number of other versions covered by well know acts. 

Many surviving rockers have taken the concept of ‘Not Fade Away’ to heart, now touring well into their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  Back in rock ‘n’ roll’s early days, many thought the music to be a young man’s game.  What we have witnessed, however, is that this is not necessarily true.  Neil Young is still up on stage singing ‘It’s better to burn-out than it is to rust’.  Bob Dylan continues his ‘Never Ending Tour’.  The Who have overcome the loss of another founding member and carry on. The Stones somehow keep going.  The list goes on: The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Chrissie Hynde, Elvis Costello, Cream, Roger Waters, Ray Davies.  These acts refuse to go quietly into the night, and rarely do they disappoint. In some ways, the tours are even more impressive than earlier ones because they inspire staying power, and when I catch one now, I can faintly hear a constant echo in the background.  I believe I’ve pieced it together and it goes something like this:

 “Not Fade Away! Not Fade Away!”

- Pete

Gem Music Vide of the Week
The Grateful Dead “Not Fade Away”

 The Byrds “Not Fade Away”

The Rolling Stones “Not Fade Away”

Tom Petty “Not Fade Away”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band “Not Fade Away”

Bob Dylan “Not Fade Away”


About the Video: The Greatful Dead performing Not Fade Away in the Late 80’s…. Brent Midland on piano/organ

Video Rating: 1.5 (Good, but there could possibly be a better clip out there considering how often the Dead have performed this song)

Best Feedback: Joe

Pete - good message...I think Mom and Dad live that message every day....happy birthday to Momzo today.


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