we're getting the band back together.

a newsletter about reunions

we're getting the band back together.

I was watching the Chronic Town 40th anniversary concert earlier this week and briefly having a bit of FOMO. I passed on going to this event when it was announced because the lineup did not thrill me, then had a panic over not going and secured tickets only to back out like a week later when I remembered that I had been traveling every few weeks since the book came out.

I would have loved to be bopping in the aisles of the Fox, doing what my dear friend and R.E.M. touring buddy Miriam used to call “Caryn’s Chronic Town dance” and that is the memory that gave me that dreaded Fear Of Missing Out. I also know that people were predicting some kind of R.E.M. reunion and I didn’t want to go looking for that because I wasn’t looking for that. But texting back and forth with friends while this was all transpiring, I did start thinking about the whole concept of the rock and roll band reunion.

This is one of the things I have walked back my stance on over the years. I now absolutely 100% believe that any band can get back together at any time and if they can sell tickets they are absolutely entitled to make some cash or have some fun or hopefully both, for as long as they want to do it. This is not how I used to feel about it, but that was in the days when bands broke up and stayed broken up and that was what was considered right and proper. If a band member died you were supposed to pack up your toys and go home and never make music again as that particular configuration, and if you did, it could only be for commercial or financial reasons, which were Evil. The example I think of here is the Who going back out after Keith Moon died; there were so very many snide comments and remarks in the media. It’s hilarious looking at it now because that 1979 tour was actually tremendous and yet if you read some of the reviews from that tour they are just so…snide.

The Beatles of course, are the platonic ideal of bands who people wanted to get back together. And it always seemed odd and weird to me because their live era was over before it began, really, and it wasn’t good for anyone. I realize that 99% of the movements to reunite the Beatles was because people saw dollar signs and not because of any unfinished promise. Even as a 14-year-old sitting at Beatlefest, I was never pining for the four of them to get back together. It would have seemed weird, and wrong. I did think that as I got older I’d have the opportunity to ‘collect’ them, seeing everyone solo, but I haven’t even seen Ringo’s All Stars, was entirely too young to have tried to see George, John never got a fucking chance. But also we need to take into account that they had all the money in the world and so they never needed to think about doing it or swallow their pride and reconcile. If that had been the case, I wonder what that would have changed in the whole tide of music history, kind of like a rock and roll butterfly effect. Like I said when I watched the Peter Jackson Get Back, I’m mostly mad that they never got to experience the joy of being a mature band onstage together having fun.

The Clash is probably the band I thought about getting back together the most and I actually saw the Clash play a fair number of times for someone who wasn’t that old in their heyday. (I really, really liked the Clash, and was both old enough that I could make it happen and determined enough that I was willing to take the hit if I got caught) When i went to Lollapalooza in 1996 (at the Gorge in Eastern Washington), I had a whole conversation with some kids who were there to see Rancid and one of them said, “Okay I get that they are derivative but we didn’t get to see the Clash and we probably never will” and that didn’t make me like Rancid any more (I think I read a book while they were onstage, I was behind the second barrier and I was just bored) but I was… less annoyed at people for liking them, I think.

I dearly wanted to get on a plane when the New York Dolls got reconstituted for Meltdown in 2004, but I was broke and couldn’t make it happen, and then they were added to the first (and only) Underground Garage festival which was at Randall’s Island, and then then Arthur Kane died. Randall’s Island is not a good place to see any live music, let alone a proper locale for the people who invented the idea of American glam rock. It was redeemed by being there with friends who very much loved them as much as I did, but if I was going to see the New York Dolls I wanted to be dressed appropriately. I could not do that standing in a field adjacent to a psychiatric hospital on an island in the middle of the East River - okay to be fair that is probably actually a decent place to see the Dolls but not on a giant revolving festival stage in a giant muddy field in the middle of the day. When they decided to make a record and play more shows I went to one show out of 3 at Irving Plaza and one at CBGB’s. It wasn’t the Dolls, it was David and Syl, and I saw David Jo live dozens of times. Dozens. I was not getting the thing I wanted to get, which was actually impossible to obtain, because it was not 1973 and the Mercer Arts Center was long gone and the music business had completely changed and punk rock happened and virginity is a one-time thing ANYWAY, which is why the whole reunion idea is problematic in the first place.

I saw 5 Replacements reunion shows, but I also saw them in their actual heyday (sorry) so that is kind of a different context. I remember thinking at the end of the last one I saw in Philadelphia that I was pretty much done at that point unless there was going to be something new because I had gone with my friends and seen the songs and felt the feelings again and what I wanted was for Paul Westerberg to write a bunch of great new songs and to step into that ‘voice of a generation’ role I always wanted for him. I didn’t need the Replacements to be the Replacements I saw at Maxwell’s and City Gardens and the Rat because it was not 1984 any more and never would be again. I liked being able to see Paul and Tommy have a shitload of fun. I did not like the fuckhead behind me at the show in St. Paul who basically moshed at an angle into my back for the entire duration of the show. It was not 1985, for fuck’s actual sake.

I very much enjoyed watching a reconstituted Afghan Whigs for that year or so in 2012 and I very much enjoy that it rekindled an active onstage working relationship between John Curley and Greg Dulli again. The Whigs are and have always been one of my favorite bands, they were literally the first band I went to see when I moved back to the States after being gone for six years. I will be honest that there really hasn’t been a point in my life where I have thought, “Gosh I wish it was the early 90s and there were a lot of drugs going around and the unhinged version of the Afghan Whigs was still available to me” because I held my breath a lot of the time back then, every musician Dulli has worked with since has been stellar and the man has never, ever, ever put on a bad live show. When I saw the recent sojourn earlier this year, someone asked Greg about that during the Q&A and his answer was along the lines of, that was fun but I don’t feel the need to do that again or play all of those songs every night any more. It is a thing I appreciate about Dulli, he cannot sing what he does not mean or feel.

I guess the last example to dissect is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and the thing here is that everyone who showed up in 1999 were just a skootch too young to have been seeing them in the 70s or 80s but they were seriously ready to do a thing they never thought they would ever get to do. It felt more like business as usual, also probably a little bit different because it wasn’t up to the band whether they were E Street or not. Yes you still have all those old dudes who want to relive 1978 but you were getting the same product when the band got back together, everyone was just older, it was less that they had broken up than they had been broken up and by the time everyone was on the same stage again it was less a breakup than just some time apart.

Full circle is me finally getting to see Roxy Music and being sad that it wasn’t the actual original thing but honestly Ferry is still weird in his own way and it couldn’t be 1973 and what I’m really honestly missing is a less commoditized rock and roll from anyone, and that’s just not possible any more. It’s not even as simple as “go to a house show”or “only go to a small club” because the bands that play at those places can’t afford to do that forever and they can barely afford to do that now, because of capitalism. Even if you move somewhere that’s affordable and has its own scene, the minute that scene gains any momentum it will also be monetized. I am okay with pining for the days when you could afford to take a chance doing something new and different, and that is what I think we are looking for when we get moony wishing our favorite band that we never got to see would get back together. We’re wishing we were born a little bit earlier. We’re wishing the world didn’t suck so much.