Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It Happened Today, Not Yesterday

In my previous entry, I responded to the incoherent ramblings of one Eric Zimmermann, a fine young man who means well, he really does, but lacks the synapses necessary to compile anything resembling a cogent argument, let alone blog about it. Case in point, his latest piece -- which you can find here -- which I merely skimmed. I suggest you avoid reading it while operating heavy machinery or if weeping openly would put you in a compromising position. Also, you can download the two new R.E.M. tracks we've been discussing, Discoverer and It Happened Today, here and here, respectively.

Here is my refutation:

Dear Erin Zimmerberg,

Before we get to your latest adorable but failed attempt at music criticism, I'd like to take a moment to congratulate you on your recent bat mitzvah. By no means would I want to embarrass you, but your journey into womanhood is not to be taken lightly, and I celebrate your achievement in this holy and time-honored rite of passage. I was surprised you didn't post any photos from the synagogue on your blog; Rabbi Remnikoff said you held up very well on your torah, and I expected you to at least share the snapshots your aunt Sheila took with her new PowerShot camera.

No matter. Everyone expresses their joy in different ways. I know your Bubbe took some Flip video of you doing the Electric Slide at the reception, which I'm sure you'll put on YouTube post haste.

Moving on to the musical stylings of R.E.M. and the fantasy world your brain is whisked off to whenever said band is mentioned, I have read and ruminated upon your latest treatise. You contend that rock music is not just a young man's game, so maybe you can enlighten us as to the other rock bands that were still producing essential material into their third decade. While I can rest my case with just four words -- Get On Your Boots -- I have made a list of one band per decade that I consider in R.E.M.'s class when viewed in the context of rock music history, and looked into their output in later years.

The Beatles (1960s)
Even though you've had The Fireman album on repeat for two years now, the actual Beatles disbanded after just eight years of recording. They did release two new tracks 34 years after their first record, on their Anthology collection, but unlike the tripe you seem to think the latest R.E.M. music is, they were forced to jam in guitars, drums and bass over vocals recorded by a man dead, at the time, for more than 15 years. Michael Stipe, on the other hand, has only been dead for five, six years tops. Advantage: R.E.M.

Led Zeppelin (1970s)
A mere 42 years after Led Zeppelin was formed, Robert Plant is again thrilling Grammy voters with roots music I'm sure is just great but have absolutely no time or interest in ever actually listening to. Zeppelin lasted about ten years before their drummer kicked the bucket. Unlike R.E.M., they did not survive the death of John Bonham by producing a modern day classic like the post-Bill Berry masterpiece Up. Instead, they disbanded and Plant and Jimmy Page embarked on solo careers in the '80s only their mothers followed. Advantage: R.E.M.

U2 (1980s)
Get On Your Boots. Advantage: R.E.M.

Of course, the importance of bands and the quality of their later work is subject to interpretation, but I think my point here is clear. And that point is:

If you are still expecting R.E.M. to release flawless, A-1 quality work, essential not only within their own catalogue but, by extension, within the rock music canon, you are, my friend, delusional.

No, Discoverer and It Happened Today are not mind-blowing works of pure genius. But they're halfway decent, which gives them a slight edge on George Harrison's highly acclaimed Cloud Nine album, despite the classic first single, I've Got My Mind Set On You, which, admittedly, set the world on fire. And that gem of a record came out a mere 25 years after the Beatles first unleashed Please Please Me unto the world.



Martine said...

HM. I happen to LOVE Cloud 9.
Admitted, it's not on the level of Sgt. Pepper, but there are some really lovely songs on it. I still spin it frequently.

Matthew said...

Yeah, perhaps I shouldn't have been so harsh on Cloud Nine. But I do think its quality compared to Sgt. Pepper's represents a much greater gap than the CiN songs we've heard so far as compared to the best of R.E.M.

Jack Nance said...

Dear Mr. Marrone,

Your CiN 'quarrel' with Mr. Zimmermann is, so far, proving fun to read. It is certainly more interesting than skimming through several pages of monosyllabic threads and on a certain website that, also, has seen better days.

As a self-diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, both your and Eric's points of view co-exist in my mind. It is a painful experience, but I am used to it and it keeps me occupied.

If yours were a boxing match and I were a jury I'd say you are getting your point across more elegantly, your careful wording being R.E.M.'s best defense. You are burying your opponent effortlessly. You are a man of words, I realize. I could not have suspected that when, in an earlier incarnation of mine and on a brisky Glasweegian afternoon, I bore witness to your impromptu outdoor reading of some third-rate local poet whose name I've fortunately forgotten.

But my heart, these days, is nearer Eric's sentiments and what he is spelling out (badly, but only in the grammatical sense) for all and sundry is so blatantly obvious that even both my conflicting personas have long agreed on it. It is better to burn out than fade away.

Greetings. And you guys keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Bleargh. I was gonna ask why you left out the best enduring band of all – the Rolling Stones – but then realized that they haven’t made a great album since “Tattoo You”… 19 years after they formed in 1981. Sigh. But still.