Wednesday, July 15, 2009

like a distorted G chord

I often like to think of myself as a cold, hard realist, but deep down inside, I know that in doing so, I'm really just fooling myself. There's a large part of me that's more a dreamer than anything else. Usually, I'm too cynical in authority, structures, and other such cultural movers to ever believe those dreams could, in operation, come true, but not always.

Example one? I still believe in the power of rock and roll. Even when there are experiences which discourage me, bands that let me down, overall I am still hopeful.

I believe, for instance, that the only thing in the whole wide world that sounds better than a distorted G chord played at a healthy volumemight just possibly be the distorted D chord...but only when you also add the open A string. There's just something about that rush of sound that makes all right in the universe at large. Equipment can die (and it has; I've had amps that cost over $200 to retube, and currently my effects unit has forgotten what an octave is). Bands can self-destruct (and, as someone who wants nothing more than to eventually play live music for an audience, I can testify that they have; I've had bands fall apart because of dissertation freakout, drummers jumping ship to old bands, and a thousand other methods of destruction...mostly concerning drummers, though). But when that chord hits, when the individual notes combine into something with greater range and power than anything else on earth, I still believe.

I also have faith in music performers. For every band of my teenage years that's abandoned its principles (Metallica), fell into choreography (Scorpions), forgot how to write a decent song (AC/DC), or just became a commercialized laughing stock/freak show (Ozzy), there are still bands that put it out there every time, that use their music for real purposes, that never, ever forget what's important about being not just an entertainer but a musician.

When the music really hits, it generally connects to something personal. When I first heard Green Day, for instance, it was when "Basket Case" hit local radio shortly after Dookie's release...but before they became an MTV staple (yes, this was back when videos still came on the channel). I was driving across town to my new university, after having my one semester post-community college break turn into several years, and I was undergoing the recurring academic self-doubt. My head was swimming with medieval literature and Soviet history, and "Basket Case" cut through the chatter. I remember thinking that someone had finally nailed the post-punk movement, and they did it by the simple act of learning how to write songs. I bought the album, and it had that same energy and songwriting throughout...and was remarkably consistent.

My college booked Green Day to play our arena right before MTV started playing "Longview," so it was a stupidly cheap concert...student tickets were only $3, so I went with a friend. By the time of the concert, though, MTV was playing them every three minutes, and the audience at the show was, as a result, decidedly "not college"...there were lots of kids there, and it was the first show I ever went to where I felt closer in age to the parent chaperons. It was an amazingly fun time, though...a nice high energy concert.

The good friend that I took to the show and I had a falling out--he quit calling me or even talking to me once his brother turned 21 and he had another designated driver to haul him around--but Green Day was always there.

Time went on. I moved to Ohio and found myself buried in the ungodly heavy workload of a Ph.D. student. Whenever I think of that bleak first year, walking through the student ghetto to campus, adjusting to the biting cold of a northwest Ohio winter, mulling over exactly why I thought I was good enough to be a professional scholar, and contemplating the latest in a line of dating failures/disasters, I remember listening to 1997's Nimrod on my Walkman. By that time, the band's songwriting had become deeper, more layered, and just slightly more adult...and it always helped pick me up and ease the doubts.

Green Day albums continued to be markers in my life. By the release of 2000's Warning, I was both in an amazing relationship while locked into dissertation hell, and the disk's higher level of nuance and adulthood provided a good counterpoint to some of the inanities and insanities of trying to get a reading list past a dissertation committee that sported only one supportive member. 2004's American Idiot's pointed rage and frustration at a world which insisted on not making sense played me through the final year of adjunct hell, and it nicely mirrored the frustration I was feeling at my own senseless, depressing work life. I still haven't absorbed their new one, but I'm sure in ten years, 20th Century Breakdown will also be more to me than just a collection of sounds.

I'm thinking of all this now because last night was the first time I had seen Green Day perform since that 1994 university show. Much has changed. Where I got $3 tickets before, they now cost me $ about another $10 in fees, $15 in parking. I have changed; instead of being an angst and doubt-ridden college junior, I am now a full-fledged college teacher (although still angst and doubt-ridden). Green Day is no longer a scrappy band from the bay area, either...instead, they are dedicated, skilled arena rockers. But man, did they still bring the rock.

We got lotsa stuff off the latest two albums. We got hilarious false starts on Ozzy, Metallica, Kiss. We got explosions, pyro, and a neat set. We got songs from all albums. We got a Motown medley which sounded surprisingly nice. We got kids from the floor pulled up on stage, to be given the mic or (in one case) a guitar (and they were mostly pretty good). We got lifted, carried, and pummeled for almost 2 1/2 hours...and it was awesome throughout.

There is still a high kid ratio at a Green Day concert, but I've become okay with that...because I'm convinced that Green Day, as a band, will never let them down. Although they put on a much different show than they did in 1994, Green Day is still an amazing group of performers. They are also not just mindless rockers; instead, they are saying something, critiquing the media, politics, environment, and it's good to know that kids are exposed to the "question everything" mindset. And as someone who's seen hundreds of college papers on American Idiot, I know that it does prompt serious thought, and it does stick with them.

While that is definitely important, though, it wasn't even the most powerful thing I brought home with me last night. Just like that fabled distorted G chord, Green Day brought me a powerful sense of elation and fulfillment, and the idea that rock and roll can still do that is one of the most beautiful constants in life.

Post 500, by the way. Thanks for reading

No comments: