By Hans Ebert
There’s no other way to put it: We’re all going to die, some before others. And as we face mortality, we start making changes and finalising plans- the obituary, the funeral, how and where you want to lay your weary head, who you want to be beside you, what you want to leave behind, and who you want to take with you in your heart when those Bells of Rhymney start to chime- the people and those songs that have been the soundtrack to your life this time around. As Dylan wrote, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”.
This has been a weird, eerie, depressing year for music and music fans- all the losses of iconic figures whose names don’t need to be trotted out again, the passing of lesser-known, but not unimportant musicians, the accidents, the illnesses. It’s like someone taking revenge on music for what it has been allowed to become: shallow and full of conceit, deceit, and everything that has nothing to do with music… but pretending to be about music.
What has the supposed Big Love between Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton got to do with music other than the release of a pedestrian Country song that many unknown writers could cobble together in their sleep and then discard for not being good enough? But there’s that entertainment media insisting that because of this celebrity couple’s public gushing providing fodder for fawning bloggers like Perez Hilton, this dire duet is worthy of attention. Hell, Sonny and Cher singing “I Got You, Babe” ran rings around this piece of predictable crap.
Predictable crap- it’s shovelled our way everyday, and it’s why so many of us return to the songs- real SONGS- written by Tin Pan Alley writers like Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, the Brill Building songwriters like Goffin-King, Jeff Barry, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka etc, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Kinks, the Stones, Dylan, Bowie, Prince, and wonder how our lives will be shaken when we lose the very few musical icons still with us and doing what they’ve always done: Make music.
Yes, thankfully we’ll always have their music, we’ll still have our memories, but THEY won’t be here to surprise us with something new that makes us feel good while proving that there’s no substitute for experience, and that ageism should never enter the world of music.
Paul McCartney teaming up with Rihanna and Kanye West for the brilliantly understated “FourFive Seconds” proved this even though some applauded “Yeezy” for giving this “unknown”- Macca- a break. Hey, ignorance is bliss. Would this track have worked without McCartney. In an age of beats and samples and repetition, McCartney’s ability to pluck a memorable melody out of thin air was very evident on a track that fused together a number of elements coming from three very different artists- and it worked.
Someone like McCartney can work with anyone. It has to do with him being a brilliant musician and songwriter, and someone with a vast knowledge and appreciation of different types of music- same as Bowie, same as Prince. Prince, for example, would not have been outta place playing alongside Sly and the Family Stone or the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Bowie could move from making music with Brian Eno to, if he felt like it, recording with the Beatles or the Stones.
Recently, I was reminded of just how often Paul Simon is overlooked when coming across a track off his latest album “Stranger To Stranger”. This was right after listening to Disturbed’s brilliant rendition of his “The Sound Of Silence”. Write a song with melodies that soar and words that hit heart and home and they last forever. They stand the test of time. Why more people making music don’t understand this and how this can make them better than they are and maybe even resuscitate their stagnant careers is beyond me. Laziness is a crippling disease. So is whistling in the dark and pissing in the wind thinking shortcuts and just making do won’t be noticed. Again, it comes down to laziness and a warped feeling of entitlement.
What an amazing musical journey it’s been for Paul Simon- everything from his body of work with Art Garfunkel to ground-breaking solo projects like “Gracelands”, the spectacularly underrated “Hearts And Bones”and “Rhythm Of The Saints” to where he is today, all the time experimenting with different rhythms over which are always his intelligent and clever word play. Again, here’s a musician who could record with anyone because of his ability to embrace so many musical styles that’s happened through his experience and knowledge and respect for all the great music- all the different types of music- that’s come before. Each speak to us in different languages. We really should make the time to learn these languages. If not, it’s a vital part of life passing us by.
Musicians like Paul Simon, McCartney, James Taylor, Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Page, Dylan, Don Henley, Eric Clapton, they’re still here teaching us and inspiring us and offering us hope and joy and keeping us in touch with our emotions and respecting honesty in people and who to trust and who to fade to black along the way. Music is such a healer and seeker of the truth.
Along with Keith Richards and the rest of the Stones, who continue to defy the odds and remind us that it’s only rock and roll and why we should still like it, we should be embracing every great musician still out there being productive and whose personal music has, somehow, become intertwined with our lives.
We should be getting on our knees every day and thanking these and other musicians for unselfishly sharing their art with us. It’s made us better people. It’s made us prioritise our lives. Often, it’s saved us and made life worth living when you wake up in the middle of the night alone together and see only a half-empty glass. Fill that glass with music and life becomes full again. It’s often the only friend, family and lover you need.