The Stone Roses in 2016: Remember When Is The Lowest Form of Conversation

Tickets for a show next July by The Stone Roses in Marlay Park went on sale last Friday at €75 a pop.

Marlay Park fits 30,000-odd people. The Roses have also announced three dates in the Etihad in Manchester, which means they are expecting 150,000 punters through the door. They will get them: in 2012, 220,000 tickets for their reunion shows in Heaton Park sold out in an hour, making these the fastest-selling shows in UK history.

The Stone Roses most recently released new material on December 5th 1994. A child born on the same day as Second Coming can, next month, legally fly a plane, or buy booze in the United States, though not simultaneously.

The Stone Roses’ first album, the one that inspires the perpetual pilgrimage, was released 26.5 years ago. That’s slightly older than the median age of the world’s population.

It’s quite the album! But still.

Pop music is the only art form in which record-breaking success is achieved by resting on laurels that are older than half of the people currently alive in the world.

I get nostalgia. When I was small we’d go to Westport all summer, and when, in late August, we would turn around the corner of my Granny’s lane to take the road back to Dublin, I would pine for late June. Why is it not June any more? I was a religious child and I wondered why, if faith can get a mustard tree to pull up its roots and walk into the sea, faith so insistently failed to make it June again.

In 1993, I read an interview with the Frank & Walters in the NME in which Paul Linehan, and I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly, said: “I’m not just nostalgic for the past. I’m nostalgic for now. I’m already nostalgic for this interview”. I read this at 18, and Paul had read my mind. What business has an 18 year old being nostalgic?

I still often have that feeling. Regularly, usually with my family, I love a moment so much that I already miss it; so the joy is tempered with, and sometimes bested by, sorrow. This feels daft, and I kick myself, which makes it worse, but it’s real.

It’s not just me. Zen tells us this is a universal experience. What a relief!

Sogyal Rinpoche wrote in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

Grasping is the source of all our problems.

Since impermanence to us spells anguish, we grasp on to things desperately, even though all things change. We are terrified of letting go, terrified, in fact, of living at all, since learning to live is learning to let go.

And this is the tragedy and the irony of our struggle to hold on: Not only is it impossible, but it brings us the very pain we are seeking to avoid.

Hence, as I understand it, anyway, the “-algia” in “nostalgia”.

So: we attach ourselves to musical moments from a past that we fancy was purer or freer or less burdened than now is.

I do this with The Divine Comedy, or American Music Club, or REM, or Pixies, or Tindersticks. My love for those bands is bound up so much with the intense emotions and daily revelations of that time in my teens in the late Eighties and early Nineties that I honestly couldn’t tell you how good Promenade actually is. It is part of me.

I wrote in 1999 that you could “pick holes in the songs of the Divine Comedy in the same way as you can pick holes in the personalities of your parents: it doesn’t mean you love them any less”. That’s how close we get to the music that ingrains itself in us when we’re young.

Those times, those deep early hard-wired connections, are also, later on, safer. They’re past; they don’t have any unpleasant surprises for us.

Nostalgia is not, though, on balance, OK in music.

Getting stuck in the music of lost decades is un-rock’n’roll.

You have to let go. Trust that the next thing will be better, and it will be.

And lose the belief that what has gone before is better, while what is ahead can’t live up to it. Art has to be alive; present or future tense.

Reunion tours are founded on a fundamental untruth, which is that there is something inherently better about the old stuff than the new stuff; the new stuff being produced every single day right now by artists right around the world in their rooms and going up on Soundcloud and Spotify and Bandcamp. This seems wrong for a few reasons.

The old stuff was once the new stuff, for a start. The Stone Roses wouldn’t have happened if everyone in 1989 was crowding into yet another Kinks reunion; the space The Stone Roses occupied in the NME culture of the time might never have opened up if The Smiths hadn’t honoured their art by splitting when the moment, when their Muses, demanded it.

It’s also not a fair fight: The old stuff benefits from recall bias.

Decades of mass produced music are neatly sorted – half a dozen bands per decade are essentially untouchable and no-one mentions the oceans of dross we spent so many years and millions of words sorting through. Real time is more confusing; we don’t know yet who the great ones are. (If it matters – art doesn’t have to be a hierarchy.) It’s more exhilarating too.

Thirdly, so many classics are actually pretty poor. The Sixties were just not that great. The Eighties are the subject of such adoration and imitation in the 2010s that you have to catch yourself and think – hang on; I lived through that. The 80s were awful!

So many classic hits or legendary albums don’t have the beauty or smarts or emotional heft of the better stuff from our time.

By definition (unfair in the opposite direction), songs from the Sixties or Eighties don’t have the relevance to the 2010s that they had to fifty years ago. How could they? But timeliness is a cornerstone of pop music; not everything is ageless, nor should it be.

‘Someone Great’ By LCD is completely of its late 2000s moment and emotionally completely right: “The coffee isn’t even bitter / Because, what’s the difference?” East India Youth’s ‘Carousel’ hits me somewhere no Sixties tune does. Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space’ is as good a song in its class as has existed, and I’m delighted it has had a billion views. Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie And Lowell is unmatched, by anyone, in all time. It’s just perfect. I can’t wait to hear what he does next, and it could be anything.

Musicians deserve reverence, as far as I’m concerned. Like artists in all disciplines, and at the risk of over-generalising, musicians are incredible, inspiring people. Musicians put themselves out there, making beauty from nothing but experience and craft and courage and obsessionality and vibrating air. They compulsively create new work that exposes them deeply without the slightest notion how anyone will respond to it; you can’t know, and how wounding if your labour of love is unloved?

Musicians are to be admired, and encouraged, and supported. We need them. The message should not get out there, though it already has, that endlessly replaying the dozen songs you know we like is the way to go.

NC 23/11/15


Addendum: The Stone Roses were never the be-all and end-all for me but The Pixies were. And in October 2009 I wrote this in the Irish Independent about their (to me) ill-conceived 20th anniversary Doolittle tour.

Why I would not cross the road to see the band that changed my life.

Niall Crumlish. 1st October 2009.

For the last three nights, the legendary Pixies used the Olympia as the launching pad for their keenly awaited Doolittle tour. The tour commemorates the twentieth anniversary of Doolittle, their magnum opus, the album that led music website Pitchfork to acclaim the Pixies as “the most influential alternative rock band of all time”.

At the time of writing, the shows haven’t happened, but rapture will abound. Like a handful of records of its era (Murmur, The Queen is Dead, The Stone Roses) Doolittle has acquired sacred text status. This is the first time it has been played in its entirety on stage. The Olympia is a great venue. Rock fans of a certain age are pretty excited.

And why not? Doolittle was a landmark moment, for rock and for this writer. In any list of key moments in my life, reading the Hot Press review by Graham Linehan that sent me scurrying into town for a scratched vinyl copy of the album in April 1989 is right up there.

At the time I read Graham’s piece I was just feeling my way into pop via REM, U2 and the Beatles. Doolittle completely exploded my concept of what rock music could do: the ideas a writer could address; how a singer could sound; the language that qualified as lyrics; the distance artists could and must go beyond what is considered acceptable. (‘Dead’ is barbarous.)

Right from the urgent opening bass notes of ‘Debaser’, Doolittle was an epiphany. Anyone who has obsessed about music can cite two or three records that were life-changing; I have even been known, after a couple of pints, to trace back to ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ the evolution of my entire adult personality. This is not an entirely comfortable notion.

So why not wait till after the Pixies have actually played to write about the Doolittle tour? Because I didn’t go. I couldn’t go. I love Doolittle too much to watch it being mummified.

It’s not just that the Doolittle tour is such a nakedly commercial venture. (A box set, Minotaur, is being released to coincide with the tour; that is, the Pixies’ discography is being sold to us again, but with shinier packaging and a book. A book! How lovely.)

It’s not just that there is no creative reason for the tour, although Black Francis has mentioned new material. Ever since reforming to support the Chilli Peppers in 2004, they have promised new material, as if they were a going artistic concern. None has arrived, and none will.

In fact, the Doolittle tour is part of a wider and disturbing trend in rock, particularly in independent music, which has long-laughable pretensions to being adventurous.

The last few years have seen ever more bands reforming to play shows at which they perform single classic albums years after the event. As the Pixies are doing with Doolittle, so Echo & the Bunnymen did with Ocean Rain, and even Iggy and the Stooges with Raw Power.

At the last true Stooges show in 1974, recorded on Metallic KO, Iggy roared abuse at bikers while beer bottles smashed against the amps either side of him; he ended the night in hospital. Now, he sells insurance while playing ‘Gimme Danger’, dissonance unnoticed or ignored.

There’s more to my antipathy to these reformations than disappointment with former renegades pandering to the phoney nostalgia of a now-moneyed audience that, tired of the present and wary of the future, wants to pay to relive a mythical past – though there is that.

There is the principle that bands should know when to break up. Bands should be Fawlty Towers, not Friends. They should then stay broken up. Other than ABBA and The Smiths, it’s hard to think of a band of consequence that refuses on principle to reform. That Agnetha Fältskog could have more artistic integrity than Iggy Pop would once have been shocking.

There is the stifling notion that albums should be commemorated. They are just songs, and unless they live and breathe in the present, they’re nothing. Pixies, the Bunnymen and Iggy Pop are making museum pieces of their music. It is rock’n’roll as taxidermy.

And with the best will in the world, the Doolittle shows can only provide a faint, sad echo of the Pixies at their peak; high-class karaoke, but karaoke all the same. Pixies Rock Band.

Doolittle can’t be revived in this way – how could it? It was a moment.

It was a glorious confluence when four people in one room channelled something mysterious. It was like flames descending on the heads of the apostles on Pentecost Sunday, or lightning hitting the DeLorean in Back to the Future. It would only happen once.

The Pixies couldn’t tell you how they did it; Black Francis was often asked. It happened, and the moment passed, and it was gone. You can’t ask the Pixies, twenty years on, to reproduce the unearthly unwilled wonder of Doolittle. You may as well ask them to speak in tongues.

In 2015, I stand over all of this, except what I said about Iggy.

Dismissing artists who used to have bottles thrown at them on stage and now do insurance ads is what happens when Bill Hicks indoctrinates you as a teenager with ‘Artistic Roll Call’ (“You do a commercial… Everything you say is suspect”).

But a little consistency: fortysomethings should be capable of moving on from their teenage ethics just as we should be able to move on from the bands that defined those years; Bill would have moved on by now. It’s not, as it can feel, a betrayal of our younger selves to move on; it’s just letting go. Just as those bands that we gave ourselves entirely to should be able to move on from us.

And seriously – where did I get off? Iggy doesn’t owe anyone anything.

All hail Iggy.

5 responses to “The Stone Roses in 2016: Remember When Is The Lowest Form of Conversation”

  1. Pockets of Light | Psychiatry and Songs

    […] to my piece on The Stone Roses last week got me thinking about ageing and about the ever-evolving role of […]

  2. Hope Springs Maternal: Soccer Mommy and the Purpose of Art – Psychiatry and Songs

    […] intuitive to me that music teaches you how to live; I once offended my Dad by arguing in a piece on The Pixies that ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ was responsible for the development of my […]

  3. A New Name and Start Again: Fergal Bunbury on AHOUSEISDEAD – Psychiatry and Songs

    […] A gig I did not go to was the Pixies’ 20th anniversary Doolittle show in 2009. I wrote then in the Irish Independent why I would not go and posted that as an addendum to a 2015 Psychiatry & Songs piece. […]

  4. A Glorious Confluence: Indo Piece on Pixies, 2009. – Psychiatry and Songs

    […] and AHOUSEISDEAD. In 2015, I posted this as an addendum to another post on Psych & Songs, an irritated attempted evisceration of nostalgia, but given Fergal’s energising and appreciated contribution, I thought I should pop this on a […]

  5. Not Of This Earth: The Stone Roses’ Second Coming, HP, 1994 – Psychiatry and Songs

    […] Anyway. I don’t listen to Second Coming any more and I gave out about Stone Roses nostalgia years ago. But I should pull it out: any album featuring moments on which “neither your spine nor your […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: