Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Boomers, there’s a shadow hanging over ‘Yesterday’?

Bravo Rachel for dismantling the Boomer music myth (“Boomers, there’s a shadow hanging over ‘Yesterday’”, Washington Post, 3/2/2014) and opining that “Yesterday” “isn’t that great.” Except that maybe you didn’t. First, Yesterday is not the greatest song of the Boomer era, which by my reckoning spans from the late 50’s to the early 80’s. Rolling Stone (Boomer publication if there ever was one) has it at #13 on their top 500. The top 10 includes Bob Dylan, the Stones, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Aretha, Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles. #1 is Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which would be a little more difficult to deconstruct. Secondly, Yesterday is a pop love song. Love and logic never quite go together and many love songs have logical lapses in them that you can drive a truck through. I’m sure we can easily deconstruct some by Justin Beiber, John Mayer, Beyonce or Taylor Swift just as quickly.

However, the logical lapses and flaws that you see in Yesterday are also the product of an extremely literal and narrow interpretation of the key word: Yesterday. Even within the strict confines of your literalness, however, the day before today lasts for 24 hours, which is a really long time, as Keifer Sutherland demonstrated in the series 24. A lot can happen in 24 hours. So, even assuming that he met her in the morning, they had a torrid and deep affair of the heart that he thought was just a game, and then she left forever leaving him devastated (think Cinderella), it is possible to feel deeply and be devastated in a short period of time, especially at a young age. “Need a place to hideaway?” It’s a pretty common response after a breakup. Or perhaps you millenials are more together than we were. No need to stay in bed with the shades drawn until some friend drops by (oops, I mean texts you endlessly) to rouse you from your despair.

Songs are also not merely lyrics. They have music attached: melody, harmony, rhythm, instruments and voices. The performance matters, as anyone knows who has listened to an off-key rendition of their favorite song at karaoke night.

As Paul Simon once said, “every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.” I remember being in the kitchen at a friend’s house when I was 16 or 17 being lectured by his dad on how our music would never last, not like the music of his generation (Sinatra), oblivious to the fact that Sinatra had probably already covered Yesterday by that time and Johnny Cash was singing Dylan songs. Since, you didn’t talk about yourself and defend the music that you listen to, I have no idea what you are comparing our sacred cow to. But we don’t need to give it up and we certainly don’t have to assess it in the “harsh light of reality. Of Today.” You need to stand up for your music. Make a positive case for why we should listen to it and why it is better or more truthful than our music. We may not listen, but it makes more sense as a strategy than telling us that our music sucks.

I’m sure when the Beatles recorded Yesterday, Paul McCartney didn’t expect that it would be covered more than 1000 times by other artists or that it would still be debated 50 years later. We now live in an unprecedented era musically. With digitization, nearly everything that has ever been recorded is available 24/7/365. Satellite radio stations and Internet services make large swaths of it available anywhere all the time. This was not the case when we were growing up. Records pretty literally, had a shelf life. Aside from the transistor or car radio, music was not portable. As a result, millennial music has to compete directly with everything that has ever been recorded. You live in a world that is saturated by music (if you want it). Our music is not going away, probably not even after we are dead. It now has a life of its own and will be rediscovered by young folks just as Clapton and Richards and Page and Plant and others keep discovering the blues of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters or Chuck Berry or whoever, well known and obscure.

You may also want to blame your technology for our obsession with the past. With our ipods and smart phones we can carry the 60’s and 70’s with us wherever we go and we can drown out the noise of Lady Gaga whenever we want. Or I can listen to the Black Keys and see their connection to the Stones and Led Zeppelin and the Clash. I can enjoy the music that U2 is still making. Or I can listen to Fleet Foxes or Mumford and Sons and a dozen other nouveau folk bands and hear the echoes of the Beach Boys, CSN, the Byrds, and even a little Nirvana.

So Rachel, you shouldn’t worry about our obsession with the music of our youth. Some of us are more obsessed than others. For some of us it is purely nostalgia. But some of it is still sublime and carries with it great truth and beauty (real or imagined). And some of us recognize that music didn’t stop being created in 1970 or 1980, whether by boomers, pre-boomers, or post-boomers. And there are some, like your editor, who just aren’t that interested or appear to have grown up under a rock (but they’ll probably remember an old song within 15 seconds when it comes on the radio).