Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Lost Messiahs of Rock and also Roll

It's purely by coincidence that these two happened to drop by Dallas within a week of each other, and by obsession that I made sure that I saw both. These two men are both titans of a so-called "indie music scene," both often appearing in headlines on Pitchfork, both musicians with adoring fan bases, both Caucasian males.

And that is where the similarities end.

Jeff Mangum at one of his recent solo shows
Jeff Mangum is an enigma wrapped up in a mystery pancaked between a couple of Hardy Boys books, the kind of guy who writes lyrics such as, "Your father made fetuses with flesh licking ladies," and issues press releases with "from a thoracopagus dovecote of comets" in the closing line. He is a relic of the last decade in which larger-than-life personalities could grip the nation as a whole (at least as a perceived whole), a decade in which the mythic aspects of rock and roll was alive and well though threatening to follow Kurt Cobain into the grave. And it did. Eventually. In its wake, several years later, Ty Segall came on the scene, with his John Lennon-esc falsetto and his finger-blistering solos (shredding, if you will).

Yes, Rock 'n Roll is dead, and not in the way your grandfather or your father might say it's dead because they no longer play Zeppelin on the Top 40 stations and because kids these days wear pants that don't fit. Dead in the sense that it's principal philosophy no longer applies to those still touring the nation with guitars and drums in the back of their vans. Gone are the pervasive cultural icons of yesteryear, the titans of Rock who took the nation by storm and gripped the youth of that time so that they would grow up and write Rolling Stone articles celebrating the good ol' days.

Our cultural icons today don't seem to have the staying powers of those in the past. They appear to come in fads, fads that appeal to a certain demographic of people and very few outside of that target audience.

I don't mean to associate Segall and Mangum with that notion of "fads," but there is something ephemeral about the music they play.

Ty Segall
"We've come down with the plague," says a sick Segall, periodically squirting a bottle of cough syrup in his throat, "So let's get weird." And for one loose, loud hour we did get weird. Very weird. So weird, in fact, that one couple used the dance floor as a place to get their "freak" on, coming up mid-song having lost their shirts and their tact.

We all lost our tact for that brief hour, and when the last chord washed over the packed club, we staggered to our respective cars and lives, having jobs and obligations to tend to in the morning.

Mangum starts his set without words, launching straight into "Oh, Comely" after trotting onto the stage. "Are you going to sing with me?" he asks once the song is finished, knowing the answer before the rapturous applause sounds in reply. The crowd, at first reverent and silent, knows every word and bellows them out without hesitation. His voice seems untainted by the decade of reclusive-ness, perhaps even better. So much so, that as he roars through "Two-Headed Boy" you can watch the tears stream down the face of the person beside (though not yours truly, too manly to be moved).

These men attract adoring crowds, perhaps not The-Beatles-on-Ed-Sullivan level of adoration, but from the crying spectators (again not yours truly) at Mangum to the boisterous crowd at Segall, there is no doubt they've garnered their own brand of affection. We're too close to these moments to judge their historical context and cultural perseverance (if they'll even have any). Still, they carry on a new breed of "rock 'n roll," and it just may follow us into the future if we bring it with us.

Yes, in a few years time, we may have our pants waist-high trying to force our children to listen to our Neutral Milk Hotel albums and scoffing when they don't appreciate it like we do. These are the things I dream of. As well as flying...

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