I just moved back to New York from France, and it is my 36th birthday. I say this because there is a mist of unconscious nostalgia permeating the air around me these last two weeks, which certainly influences the ideas in this blog. There is a natural result of being back in August in the States, and that is I am in my car more often going to work with partners and clients in nearby States. My European friends and family stay at beaches until the start of September. I was happy to discover that I could get XM Satellite radio in my car, which meant for me (so I thought) a chance to listen to NPR continuously, rather than surfing for new stations when between cities. I have done some of this, but listening to tales of the end of the IRAQ war for hours made me feel sad and old at the same time, which is difficult on a birthday. So I switched to music stations, and instead of listening to my favorite jazz and classical stations I listened to 80's metal and 80' rap. These stations must exist to transport people of my generation, and it has worked to do that. It has not really worked to get me out of the aging and moving funk though. The reason is that the music was so original. The contradictory crispness and saturation of Guns and Roses; the revolutionary, sad, yet hilarious raps of N.W.A. When this music came out I listened to it of course. I eventually was even a DJ and played a lot of it. The 80's and 90's were looked at as a musical cesspool, while a large portion of society looked backed to Beetles era rock, and Dylan protest music as the last throws of civil consciousness in popular culture. This made some sense, as my generation was more politically apathetic than the previous, and wars were only being fought in secret, leaving no official regime to fight. Also the economy appeared to be strong, at least as it was presented by Reagan and Bush I. Growing homelessness and the rampant spread of AIDS were mostly ignored by popular music. I feel nostalgia then not for a time of progress, but for a time where certain segments, like metal and rap, were innovating, and expressing not necessarily politically useful anger, but instead personal rage against loss, emptiness and marginalization. This made it perfect teenage music.
It seems now that perhaps contemporary serious jazz musicians and classical performers are revisiting some of this music, by deconstructing, reinterpreting, and in a sense calming the fire to find the remains of red hot embers. I have heard Vijay Iyer play M.I.A and Michael Jackson, I have heard Yaron Herman play Nirvana. I have heard Brad Mehldau play countless 80's and 90's rock, punk and rap classics his own way. The band Wake Up!, who I was proud to perform with last week, doesn't dissect directly but with full force refers to those genres , bringing us backward into the past and forward into the future at the same time. I am not sure if this is a nostalgic journey for them, but for me taking the morsels of interest from the past and finding a musically relevant voice for it gives us a history while influencing the present. This is not new of course, as Dvorak, Stravinsky, Chopin and Liszt all used folk music as a basis for the creating of a contemporary symphony. I guess the sad part is that the music of my youth is now the ruins of a time passed. It is a folk history of big hair bands with killer guitar solos, and bouncy cars with giant sub woofers. In other words, I am OLD.