Legacy: Music’s Dead Hand

In Sam Mendes’ Desert Storm movie Jarhead a helicopter flies over the protagonist playing The Doors’ Break on Through. He shouts after them “That’s Vietnam music… Can’t we get our own soundtrack?” It neatly sums up the film’s themes of legacy, most the characters in the film are the children of Vietnam veterans, and many of their commanders are hung up on their defeat in that war. This issue of legacy has reared its head again this week with the announcement of the reformed Stone Roses.

They’re a band which were split long before I started listening to music. Yet, they’re a name which has sat over British culture for twenty years. Writing for The Guardian, Sam Wolfson says this much better than me, “I wasn’t even born when the Stone Roses released their debut album in 1989 – and I’ve been reminded of the fact ever since.” And I’m torn about whether this is a good thing or not.

There’s an argument for influence. The Stone Roses spawned a generation of bands like Oasis and Blur. Bands which themselves have marked our culture. You’re hardly going to find a band that hasn’t been influenced by other music. Yes, you’ve bands that lock themselves away to avoid influence but they can’t ignore the music that inspired them to become musicians in the first place. It’s why any article for a new band, Wikipedia page, or pub conversation will at some point devolve into “They’re a bit like…”. This is no bad thing. Bands may not like to be pigeon-holed but it’s a useful practice:

Ryan Bingham: [on getting through airport security] Never get behind old people. Their bodies are littered with hidden metal and they never seem to appreciate how little time they have left. Bingo, Asians. They pack light, travel efficiently, and they have a thing for slip on shoes. Gotta love ’em.
Natalie Keener: That’s racist.
Ryan Bingham: I’m like my mother, I stereotype. It’s faster.

So, where is it that influence becomes legacy?

The moment a band is considered sacred it’s gone too far. This happens surprisingly early amongst fans – it’s why they’re short for ‘fanatics’, they’ve got the same small mindedness but when it comes to bandwagons they get the jump on full-blown fanatics – that mentality of “I can’t believe the Black Eyed Peas remixed Misirlou!” is idiotic. They aren’t desecrating the name of a band, if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. There has not been some irreversible damage done to the music.

The problem is that studios endorse fans’ fundamentalism. By licensing remix rights it is as though they are deeming what is worthy of the original tracks legacy, they imply a remix is ‘cannon’. But this isn’t the case. A licensed mash-up is no more authentic than an unlicensed one. The unlicensed versions aren’t going to change anything, there’s nothing we can do now to defame the heritage of our “hallowed” bands. After all, as said by Scroobius Pip “The Beatles, just a band.”

Heard of the Grey Album? Back before Gnarls Barkley, DJ Danger Mouse mixed Jay Z’s Black Album with The Beatles’ White Album. The result? EMI lawsuit and small minded fans dismissing it for mixing rap with their nostalgia. This response reinforces the idea that there is a right way to hear The Beatles and wrong way, whereas all EMI cared about was the fact they weren’t paid.

If nostalgia for a band is stifling current music then that band is hindering rather than helping. So with the Stone Roses back in play, let’s hope they just get down to writing some new songs. I’m getting bored of my copy of The Best Of, gimme something new.

2 thoughts on “Legacy: Music’s Dead Hand

  1. What a good heading; and ironic that The Doors are cited negatively, when the influence of Jim Morrison’s dead Keats hand is all over the music of today.

  2. Pingback: Legacy, reformation, and sober reflection | The Phonograph

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