Monday, March 17, 2008

Rock and Roll on PBS Pledge Night

I turned on PBS the other night, discovered it was a fund raising night, and witnessed the incredibly creased likes of the Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly performing truncated versions of their respective hits. It reminded me why I've come to prefer straight ahead jazz in my later life.
Pledge Night

Let’s remember that
we’re strangers here ourselves
as we consider the years
we’ve had the same phone number,
the answering machine
is full of salesmen
stumbling over their scripts
and toll free exchanges,
get an extra room cleaned
for free and God, do I want a smoke.
None of us
who still have hair
believed our music
would age as badly
as an ice cream flavor
involving spinach and Brussels sprouts,
all the guitar licks
leave an after taste
of hashish, a stench of love beads
doused in petuli oil,
what was sleek and smooth
is now grey and creased
like paper that’s been
folded and unfolded over many years,
yes, I tell my barber,
roll down my ears;
give me a buzz
the equal of a shot and a beer.

I still listen to rock and roll, and for me the perfect road trip music is Deep Purple's Machine Head. I just don't attend all that many rock shows anymore, especially ones by the bands of my generation; the look pathetic. Jazz musicians maintain dignity as they age, since their music is about musicianship , not desperate appeals to what gets termed youth's "rebellious spirit”. But it depends on the artists; Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Lou Reed and some older bands like King Crimson or, in punk, Bad Religion are rock acts I’d consider paying money to see, since it’s the power of their songs and the genius of their musical and lyrical textures that have withstood the defanging quality of aging; the music still has a bite, and can take a leg off if you’re not careful. Contrarily, there have been a number of times when I’ve seen living jazz legends (who will remain unnamed) who seemed to sleep walk through their improvised paces; not every elder jazzbo can be a Sonny Rollins, a man who continues to challenge himself. The secret being an artist who ages gracefully is to make sure that what you’ve had to say in your medium was worth hearing in the first place.

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