Friday, April 15, 2011

I Think We Should See Other People

Over at NPR Music, Daoud Tyler-Ameen, fed up with Death Cab and Weezer, asks the question "When did you break up with your favorite band? It seems to me that this is the wrong question.

Your favorite band isn't like your spouse or your lover, whom you court ardently, then break up with if irreconcilable differences appear. For me, my favorite bands are like my pals who I enjoy spending time with. And over the years, while I may spend more time with one or more of them, I drift away from others. But I never really "break up" with my buds. I still like 'em just fine, and I wouldn't mind hanging out now and then. It's just, you know, I'm kinda busy, man.

I know people who see it differently. I know one guy who still hasn't forgiven Dylan for Nashville Skyline;  wrote him off, wouldn't listen to him after that. Many of my students were through with Eminem after Relapse, which even he admits kind of sucked. But I bet they were happy to go out with him again when Recovery hit the charts.

Point being, anybody can have a clunker of an album, or even a multi-year slump. But why should I write somebody off, after all the good times we've had, just because they have some new interests that I don't share? Who's to say we wouldn't want to hang out again later on? Besides, we'll always have the good times. No matter how self-parodic Elvis became, none of it detracts from the Sun Sessions.

And you know, it's nice to get to know some of your old friends better, like reconnecting with college buddies on Facebook. Delving into the back catalogue of the Kinks, the Beach Boys, the Faces shows me all kinds of interesting personality traits I'd missed when we first met. But that doesn't mean I've broken up with the Beatles and the Stones.

Likewise, there may be some bands I hang with, and then end up not really spending a lot of time with, for whatever reason. Franz Ferdinand, maybe. But I don't dislike them. I'm ready to hang out again if they show up at the party. Other artists I like just fine, but only want to see them every once in a while. Nice folks, but I'm not going out of my way to drop in at their place. I'm thinking of Morrissey, here. But nothing personal, man.

The only place the analogy holds up is that I tend to fall head over heels in love with some band every couple of years, and then I want to know everything about them. R.E.M. was like that, when I first met them circa Green. But when I say that the Dirty Projectors are my new favorite band, that doesn't mean I've lost my passion for Pavement or the Pixies. In this country, anyway, I would not be allowed to have as many wives as I do "favorite bands."

If anything, instead of discarding old pals, I tend to go in the other direction, of making peace with my enemies. I've come to appreciate aspects of artists I once disdained in my youth as too wimpy (Freddy Fender), too cocky (Zeppelin), too lunkheaded (AC/DC), or too lightweight (Fleetwood Mac).

But then there are some old friends I never see too much any more. I used to be a huge prog-rock fan, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. These days I don't carry any ELP or Yes on my iPod, but come to think of it, I don't see why not. A little smattering of the old instrumental bombast might add a little flavor to the shuffle now and then (just not too often). But the thing is, I never really broke up with them; I just started seeing other people.

But I don't burn with hatred for Tales of Topographic Oceans or Brain Salad Surgery. It's not like I changed the locks on my apartment. It's more like I moved to a new town. When I traded in my old LPs for CDs, I just never saw the need to replace them. But hey, thanks for the good times, guys.

No, the only artists I have scorn for are the bigoted and the insincere. Regarding the latter: Eddie Money and Foreigner, with their banal lyrics and forced passion, just don't connect with me. To me, it looks like they're only going through the motions, and I hate that. But whatever, they've got plenty of other friends.

I've bristled at lyrics from Axl and Em, and questioned the ideology of M.I.A. and Neil Young at times. In the end, I'm willing to cut artists a lot of slack; I try not to mistake them for the characters in their songs. And for the most part, an artist's personal life isn't a dealbreaker. Bix Beiderbecke was just as nasty offstage as any rapper, and plenty of those creepy old murder ballads were sung by creepy old murderers. It's an artist's job to interpret the human condition, and the sweet, vulnerable side of Frank Sinatra was just as real as the aggressive prick who hung out with mobsters.

Still, I draw the line at Ted Nugent. Sorry, dude, but you weren't invited to this party.

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