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Musicology

July 19, 2011

One Saturday morning I was driving in to work listening to a local rock radio station. That particular weekend, the radio station was having a theme weekend. (That basically means the station is going to play a lot of songs that fit under a specific theme.) That weekend’s theme was Bruce Springsteen. To promote the theme, the station was running promos and bumpers featuring clips from various Bruce Springsteen songs. The bumpers would end with a voice-over saying “And now another Bruce Springsteen classic.” Me, being a Bruce Springsteen fan, waited patiently for the song to start, wondering what song it would be. This is what I heard.

Aah i’ on’ ay!
Oo ‘ive li’ a re-foo-‘ee!

For those who don’t speak Tom Petty, I’ll translate for you. That was “You see you don’t have to live like a refugee.”

The point I’m making here is that the song played wasn’t Bruce Springsteen. It was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with Tom Petty. I like Tom Petty. I like Refugee. I listened to the whole track and sang (mumbled) along where ever possible.

Back in the day, if something like this happened, it was because the disc jockey was drunk or high. Nowadays, disc jockeys don’t exist at radio stations anymore. Everything is played off a computer. Basically what happened here is the program director double-clicked the wrong file a week prior or whenever this Saturday morning playlist was programmed.

Later, on another station I heard the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Tuesday’s Gone.” The song has some traditional blues imagery about leaving on a train. Listening to that song reminded me of an issue raised recently on The Delete Bin. The imagery of current things in modern music, well, it blows.

So many old blues songs feature a train station. Who rides a train anymore? The purpose of the train or train station in those old songs was that the train was the only way out of town. Once out of town, that was the equivalent of leaving your old life behind and starting a new one.

Does the upcoming generation today have any sort of concept as to what a train station is? What it means? Take the average high school guy today. Make him listen to Let It Bleed. Will he get it?

Not too long ago, I worked at a record store. A new hire there, a young guy, couldn’t have been more than eighteen, he asked me a question.

“Who do you think is the greatest guitar player ever? Cuz I think it’s Billie Joe Armstrong.”

I deliberately rolled my eyes and sighed when he said the dude from Green Day. Then I answered his question. “Oh geez, so many, how about Robert Johnson?”

“Who?”

This guy fancied himself a guitar player and he never heard of Robert Johnson.

Every teenage boy who is into rock and roll has that blues phase. I know I had one. Mine was a more Elmore James and Stevie Ray Vaughn oriented blue phase, not so much Robert Johnson, but still, I had a blues phase.

This guy’s blues phase was Green Day’s Time of Your Life.

Trains mean nothing today. The people in our society have lost their ability to reset. They’ve lost their ability to leave their life behind. There is no more longing. Our instant gratification society has made blues impossible. Cellphones, email, texting, Facebook, Twitter; this whole social media thing has made everybody available to everybody else all the time. The blues cannot exist in that reality. Which is why my generation developed emo.

And that makes me so sad, I think I’m gonna cry.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 19, 2011 8:47 am

    For those who don’t speak Tom Petty, I’ll translate for you…
    Brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

    While I always love your music posts — and I’ve always been fond of Stevie Ray, Robert Cray and Johnny Winter — I have to admit, I was saddened to see a post without the FotD. Sounds to me like the guy who double-clicked the wrong file a week ago and lined up TP&HB instead of the Boss should get it. (Refugee is cool, too, but not when you’re expecting classic Springsteen).

    Today’s Faggot of the Day would just be the heat and humidity again. Effing heat wave!

  2. July 19, 2011 9:48 am

    Hm, I guess the nearest I ever had to a blues phase was Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You – or maybe Rocky Mountain Way if you insist on slide guitar. Sorry. I think my older brother had the blues phase for me…

    The Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You phase never went away for me. I don’t leave home without it.

    I guess FB etc does ruin those songs about spending years searching for a lost love – There she is, will she be my “Friend”?

    EXACTLY!

  3. Geoff permalink
    July 19, 2011 12:31 pm

    Mystery Train might be Elvis’s finest moment. You can almost string the titles of train songs together & come up with a whole new song: All aboard! Let it rock all down the line, Casey Jones… Springsteen’s Land of Hope & Dreams (This train carries whores & gamblers…) reminds me of People Get Ready, the train as salvation metaphor.

    My wife is fluent in Tom Petty. I bought her the Live Anthology box a couple of Christmases ago & was worried it might be overkill, boy was I wrong. Turned her into a Petty completist.

    A good read – thanks for the ping (whatever that is).

    You do me praise by stopping by, good sir. Thank you very much.

  4. July 19, 2011 1:31 pm

    My grandfather complained that since I didn’t live during WWII I wouldn’t get most of the music of that era. He was wrong. Good music is timeless. As an analogy, most of the jokes in Looney Tunes reference some pop culture event during it’s production, yet they’re still funny.

    I don’t “get” contemporary music at all. I stopped “getting it” in the late 90s. But that ol’ timey imagery works on me. I can see that train station, the devil sitting on a stump at the crossroads. For some reason, I get that more than I get anything newish.

  5. July 19, 2011 1:31 pm

    My favourite blues song:

    Not about the guitar. It’s all about the lyrics, and the delivery.

    That song features one of rock and roll’s perfect moments, “Lord, she was lovey-dubey.”

  6. July 19, 2011 6:09 pm

    I don’t generally think that the references need to stay the same to remain meaningful as used in music. That’s the power of the ‘train station’ right? It’s not a train station that’s really being sung about. It’s the idea of wandering in the wilderness, starting again with something new, or escaping something old. That’s what the blues is really about.

    If pop music can retain that sense of metaphor, the vehicle for it won’t really matter in decades to come. But, that takes good writing, aimed at an audience that is smart enough to hear it on more than one level. To me, the danger is losing that dynamic – that a song can actually have a worthwhile subtext.

    Thanks for the post – and the link, WIGSF!

    The metaphors today lack the umph, the strength of the older metaphors.

  7. Riot Kitty permalink
    July 19, 2011 7:55 pm

    Crying w/you. I don’t know how society thinks it’s going to survive without music stores and bookstores.

    Society won’t. Bring on the age of the dumblocks.

  8. July 20, 2011 7:52 am

    Stumbled across your blog and I love your writing style.

    You need to get a Followers gadget. Really.

    And I’m going to shed shameful tears the day “real” books and outdoor sports vanish from the earth. That’s what you get for inventing the computer, douche bags. (I’m a hypocrite. I spend 7 hours on my laptop every day.

    ….I’m also home schooled, so don’t judge.)

    I don’t want a followers gadget. I don’t feel the need to boast.

  9. July 21, 2011 12:33 am

    Must say, WIGSF, one of your finest music posts ever. I mean that most sincerely. Very insightful and thoughtful, and inspiring.

    I was fortunate enough to get to see Muddy Waters play live once. Awesome experience. :)

    I’m torn between Midnight Train to Georgia and Last Train to Clarksville. Train songs, and old trains, are awesome (although Clarksville isn’t really bluesy but I did grow up on it).

    Brilliant job on this.

    thank you very much

  10. July 25, 2011 8:27 pm

    Holy shit?! Green Day? Blues? What is the world coming to? Blues is a style, not just a sad song.

    Robert Johnson is roasting in Hell in vain if some douchebag from Green Day is a better guitarist.

    You don’t gotta tell me

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