|Photo by Gregory Bojorquez|
It happened again a few weeks ago. I was checking out Kings of Leon, a band made up of three brothers and one cousin from Tennessee who do an amazing, uptempo 70s Allmans/Faces/gospel/Southern-fried beast of a slurred boogierock & roll thing. That these guys were playing this well at 7:45 p.m. on a weeknight to a House of Blues that was at best one-quarter filled was noteworthy. That they had ballads this good and a stage presence this intriguing was special. But it was their ages (16, 18, 21 and 23) that left me in a state of mild shock. I couldnt believe how young these guys are.
Maybe I shouldnt have been so surprised. In the last year and a half, theres been a host of notable debut recordings and performances by other deep-past-influenced youngsters: Starsailor, the Coral, the Cuts, the Black Keys, Devendra Banhart, Whirlwind Heat, Entrance, Jet, Sondre Lerche young artists looking not just a few years back for inspiration, but decades, to a time before they were even born. This phenomenon seemed counterintuitive interesting work is rarely done by retro-heads, and artists chasing a strange vintage are usually older, not younger and perhaps even unprecedented. How and why are these artists, from all across the English-speaking world, arriving on the scene near-simultaneously, playing music rooted in styles templated before their births? How could a kid be so nostalgic for a non-experienced past that he shapes his own art in its image? And why is this happening to the unprecedented degree that it is right now?
The Sleepy Jackson
(Photo by Andrzej Liguz)
In those bad old days, it used to be that certain of the more eclectic pop groups had such a wide range of styles that once in a while a song might be released that the public definitely needed more of. But the originators were just so totally on one that it surely werent gonna be them who provided it . . . [Take] the Zombies 1964 epic Shes Not There, which the band themselves never even came close to revisiting but whose bass parts, drum parts, keyboard stylings and minor-key melodrama was lifted with extraordinary vision and percipient thoroughness by the Doors for a magnificent (and genuinely exploratory) six-album career of sub-Nietzschean post-Jungian pub-banter.
It had been like that for years. Teenage musicians and music fans would have memories of, at best, the previous five to eight years; everything older than that was kind of mysterious and shadowy and rumorlike. It was like this in 1987, and it had been like that in 1981, in 1977 and so on. The upshot, in rock-music-history terms, was that, generally speaking, youd get occasional stylistic or formal innovations, followed by a simplified imitation of said innovation, which would eventually fade. Then, a decade or so down the line, youd hear that style being played again: a revival played by bands making something like the music theyd grown up on; thus you got the god-awful hair-metal of the 80s, a devolution from the glam and glitter of the early to mid-70s. Sometimes these bands would be good, sometimes theyd be silly, sometimes theyd sell, sometimes they wouldnt. (Late-60s/early-70s revivalists in the late 80s to 90s, such as the Black Crowes, Lenny Kravitz or Oasis, managed to do all four of these things.) The point is that their absorption of musical ideas would be pretty much limited to the biggest-selling pop from the 20-year period prior to each bands emergence, because information about music styles earlier than that and/or less popular than that was so limited and so arbitrarily distributed. In other words: We all knew about the Beatles and the Stones, but how many of us really knew much about Tim Buckley or Love or the Raspberries or the Voidoids or Gang of Four?
Kings of Leon:
Allmans or all boys?