Thursday, May 21, 2009

GMVW # 72: "Catch 22"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 72:  Catch 22
Song:  Nothin’ by Townes Van Zandt
(Songwriter: Townes Van Zandt)
May 21, 2009

Although we experienced many things in common, as with any generation, there is much that divides the baby boomers. It's probably for the best, since variety is said to be the spice of life.  And yet, the range of viewpoints in the boomer generation has been striking at times.

It may have started with music, and the differences were most pronounced between the soft rock listeners and classic rockers (for lack of a better term).  You could always tell in which of the two corners someone stood by thumbing through their album collection. A collection was either dominated with albums by bands like Chicago, The Jackson Five, The Carpenters, Billy Joel, the Eagles, Air Supply, Neil Diamond, Anne Murray, Roberta Flack, and disco, or it was dominated with albums by bands like the Kinks, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, The Who, the Pretenders, the Stones, the Doors, Dylan, Hendrix, Bowie, Neil Young, and punk.  There was rarely overlap.  The musicians of both genres dabbled in the music styles of the other (take Zep’s ‘All of my Love’ for instance), but once a musician/band was associated with one of these two camps, they were branded for life. 

Me?  ‘Classic’ rock, all the way (if not yet completely obvious).  One of the big reasons for this is that I’ve always perceived classic rockers as being more honest with lyrics and emotions.  This includes a willingness of these musicians to explore (and consequently expose rather than ignore) the not-so-sunny side of life.  Several gems have already showcased this subject matter, as it has certainly been proven (at least to these ears) that many of the most brilliant, heartfelt, survive-the-test-of-time songs are downer songs.  Prime examples are the songs on Pink Floyd’s magnum opus ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.  Few albums have delved deeper into darkness (in this case, mental illness, conflict, futility) than this one.  However, the exceptional music and lyrics kept it a top selling chart album for decades (a record 741 weeks in the Billboard 200). Roger Waters has stated that one of his goals when writing the songs for the album was to show empathy with others less fortunate. Clearly, people connected: Songs to commiserate with have always been an important cornerstone of what makes rock music so great. 

Other 'downer' albums that come to mind include several of Dylan’s most recent (and excellent) albums (‘Time out of Mind’, ‘Love and Theft’, ‘Modern Times’), The Who’s ‘By Numbers’, Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, Neil Young’s ‘Tonight’s the Night’ and most anything by Lou Reed, The Clash, Richard Manuel, and ‘Rage Against the Machine’.

Success through an exploration of the darker side of human nature is nothing new:  The writing of Shakespeare, the oratory of Robespierre, the productions of Norman Lear, and the ambitions of Albert Speer are all proof of this.  I include the latter, not only for the rhyme, but to make a point.  Albert Speer was a member of Nazi Germany’s inner circle, and artistic innovation should never be attributed with that mob:  The reason being that the Nazi’s primary motivation was hatred, and nothing good can come from that emotion. Other dark emotions, including depression, can still make room for artistic creativity, but not hatred.  Like any society/individual motivated by hate, the Nazis had to beg, borrow, and steal for art, including train-loads of museum heisted paintings, and the bastardization of American Jazz (has anyone ever heard the Nazi version of ‘Bye, Bye, Blackbird’? > changing the title {‘Bye, Bye, Empire’} and the lyrics to gloat over the temporary collapse of the British Empire in the early 40’s during WWII?). 

Contrast that with this week’s Gem: The word ‘good’ in all it’s definitions can often be associated with songs in Townes Van Zandt’s catalog, including Gem # 72, “ Nothin’ ”.  It’s one of those downer songs, and certainly expresses emotions I hope to never experience, but it’s a Gem regardless.  And not simply because it a great song, but like many songs with depressing topics, it can be oddly uplifting, particularly in times of trial and tribulation. 

In the song ‘Breath’ on 'Dark Side of the Moon', there’s a line written by Waters: “Don’t be afraid to care”, and in this regard, Townes Van Zandt rarely held back. I don't pretend to be a connoisseur of his music, but what I've heard connects.

For those in that other camp (and everyone in general), I’m including for the first time in months a ‘Gem Light’ (with a third less calories than your regular Gem), Elton John’s ‘Sad Songs’….perhaps needed to recover from Van Zandt.

- Pete

Gem Video of the Week...Townes Van Zandt's Nothin’

Gem Light:  ‘Sad Songs’

About the Video:  This is labeled a Townes Van Zandt ‘Private Concert’.  He’s sitting on a couch.  It’s an excellent live version of this striking song.

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Jeff

I've stood around campfires with Townes present at Kerrville, the 3 week festival that starts today.  I have missed it many years now as other priorities interceded, but wish I could go.  I am going to a festival in western MD tomorrow, Delfest, which has a bunch of hot bluegrass stuff and others, Del McCoury, Peter Rowan, Sam Bush, Olabelle, Crooked Still, and more.

Anyway, I got to see Townes a good number of times, from little pub pass the hat type places to bigger festivals.  I have a pretty good sized collection of live recordings, 50-75 maybe, and just a couple I recorded.  Wish I could have been recording more in the 70s and 80s from the great stuff I saw in Texas.  I have a few dvds of Townes as well, one of them is pretty good quality I will try and make you one of these days.

Have a good Mem day and I will talk to you later.

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