As I listened to The Who's Quadrophenia, savoring every massive bass lick by John "The Ox" Entwistle, I got to thinking about a few friends who have on several occasions helped precipitate a twitch by offering up comments like, "I won't listen to anything after The Who Sell Out," or, "I gave up after Zeppelin II," or, "Bowie lost me after Hunky Dory." At first, I thought it was generational, as most of the comments came from people 10 to 15 years older than I was. This unpleasant parade of been there/done thats made little sense to me, and mostly just fired me up.
While I was happy for those friends who got to see the Stones in 1969, or any number of shows at the Fillmore, it didn't quite add up to me, that these music lovers who I respected, could toss off Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti or the Stones' Black and Blue, just because... well... it mattered more THEN. What was it they weren't hearing, or dubiously choosing not to hear in such spectacular records as Led Zeppelin III, or The Who by Numbers? Was I hearing a different record because my first show at the Academy Of Music in New York was after they changed the name of the place to the Palladium?
But as another friend pointed out, there are just as many who are 15 years younger, who possess that same thinking, opting for only the first three "good" R.E.M. albums, dismissing work such as Out Of Time and Automatic for the People, as if they were tossing away mealy tomatoes.
I have a buddy in a slightly famous band, a few years older than me, who I can always count on to point out how everything sucks except for the few things he loved when he was 13. The first two Cheap Trick albums, the first two Zeppelin albums, and little beyond. Whatever you bring to the table is a joke to him because it cannot compare to the first two Aerosmith albums, or the time before bands ever learned to play, write and produce. (You know, like those crazed Replacements fans who loved how the band would show up drunk for their gigs, play out of tune and barely get through any songs. Rock and roll?)
Another guy is an amazing, music-loving guitar player who's about 23 and LOVES the post-makeup era of KISS. He doesn't care that it's the part of their career where the rest of us had walked away. It's where he came in, so it's the era that feels like his own pure joy of discovery, before he got old and cynical, or knew that hack songwriters were crafting calculated hits for a floundering band. Shorn of context, he sees "Lick It Up" as classic Kiss, for the joy of his discovery it evokes. I see Gene Simmons acting in Runaway. (I'd like to add, I don't understand the people who love the Ramones but show disdain for Kiss. They both play excellent, boneheaded rock and roll. Lighten up.)
No one would see the sense in only wanting writers who hadn't learned to write, or architects whose buildings were based only on their earliest ideas. I think musicians may be exciting in their first years, and as the cliche goes, they have had their whole life to write their first album's songs. Elvis Costello is exciting on his first albums, but I'd argue that you miss out if you never even listen to the mature writing of his later work. I don't trust people who claim they love music but refuse to embrace his work with Burt Bacharach or the Brodsky Quartet, simply because neither rocks like "Pump It Up."
The Beatles and the Stones are always exceptions to everything, but I think one would be poorer if they never were open to the later work like Abbey Road, Plastic Ono Band, Some Girls, etc., where those bands had lived lives complicated enough to reflect on with maturity. (though the Stones can have Bridges to Babylon back if they'll take it.)
I think it's often false and empty to ascribe your own guesses on the motivation for people disagreeing with you about works of art. Sadly, I find myself doing that very thing, more often than I'd care to admit. But if I had to try to guess, I always felt like it's that person's own innocence and unjaded reaction to those early formative musical impacts that they fetishize, and they cannot allow themselves to like or even be open to the possibility of liking anything new, or anything that doesn't fit into that preconceived narrative they see themselves in.
I know I'm supposed to feel obligated to like Bon Iver, but I don't. I do feel obligated to go back and try again after each new 5 star review. To decide that nothing the Stones have to say after Exile or The Who after Sell Out is worth listening to in a world where the alternative is being force-fed Bon Iver, or listening to Zeppelin I and II for the rest of your life because nothing else is as pure, is losing a golden opportunity. To me, Some Girls is a demonstrably better album than either Bon Iver CD, but because it came out after we collectively decided the Stones had grown tired, we'd rather close our ears to its possibilities and circle our wagons around the music of our youth, secure in the feeling of innocence and sense memory it provides.
It's hard to not react strongly when hit with such cynicism towards anything we love, but what confounds me more, is the irrationality of it all; the way one friend could show such disgust for the first Fountains Of Wayne album, but embrace their follow-up as if it was, indeed, The Who Sell Out. They don't owe me an explanation, but boy, somedays, I'd sure like one. I've always felt that disliking something because it's popular is actually slightly worse than liking something because it IS popular. It's more trendy, and seems even more based in fear, and therefore fake. This could explain Bon Iver's popularity. It may owe more to wanting to belong, than to actually enjoying the music. (I'm talking to you too, Fleet Foxes.)
In the 1980 Louis Malle film Atlantic City, Burt Lancaster's character says to a young man who'd just seen the ocean for the first time, "It used to be really something. You shoulda seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days." That's a great actor in a great movie by a great writer-director, late in their careers, evoking that feeling, somewhere beyond nostalgia, in which we all feel the nagging feeling that something has slipped away from the world, something we seemed to see so clearly in our youth, and I think that something was our own ability to each unabashedly feel moved by these pieces of art that made us who we are. They made us feel deeply then, and they allow us to access those deep feelings today, by calling them back up within us in a song, a movie or a band before they learned to disappoint us. But I could be wrong, I first saw Atlantic City when it came out. You shoulda seen Atlantic City in those days.
(Special thanks to Harry Greenberger for his invaluable contribution.)