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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Friday, May 15, 2009

Offended by Nostalgia

In the Summer of 1991 I was seventeen years old, and I knew that there was no more vibrant and essential musical collective than YES!

Boy howdy I loved me some Yes. A potted history of the band: they started when the Beatles were ending, and played "Progressive/Prog Rock" (imagine a stew of Abbey Road, Hendrix, and grab-bag Psychedelia) throughout the Seventies. They had a lot of membership turnover, but had a rep for exciting concerts and long compositions... they broke up in the early Eighties, reformed a couple years later as a pop act with the hit song "Owner of a Lonely Heart," then broke up again. In the early Nineties (by which time I was a crazed fan of the no-longer-extant band) there were two bands consisting of former Yes members trying to put albums together. Their record company decided to rush out a Yes album with tunes by both acts on it, and send them on tour as an eight-person band (it had always been five at a time before).

And there I was at the concert in Atlanta. Trembling with excitement. I listened to Yes every day. I was in the fan club. I owned expensive coffee table books by the artists who did their album covers. I went out of my way to buy solo albums by the band members (generally not worth the effort, drummer Bill Bruford serving as a noteworthy exception). I believed Yes INVENTED music. And I was about to be only a few hundred feet away as they played live. I even had a date! For the first time! Maybe love would blossom (no)!

People were still finding their seats before the show, when out of the audience appeared a cheerful middle aged woman wearing a vintage t-shirt, faded and yellowed (the shirt, not the woman), obviously dug up for the concert (again, the shirt, not the woman). It read:


And I was irked.

I didn't mind her having the shirt. She had probably worn it to a Yes concert in the late seventies, when it would have been timely. I was a high schooler, so Sharks Vs. Jets stuff made sense to me, and I could well imagine Prog Vs. Disco strife...in the late Seventies. But her wearing the shirt in 1991 declared "This concert is a nostalgia act, prog is as dated as disco, and my presence here has more to do with memories of 1977 than with 1991." And my Yes-fixated brain, steeped in boiling pubertal hormones, wanted to shriek.

Of course I said and did nothing to her, but I haven't forgotten her and her shirt. And now I realize she was right and I was wrong.

The last time Yes made an album I really, really cared about was in 1975 when I was a toddler. Granted, a piece of music is only as old as the first time you hear it, so as far as I was concerned Yes's entire oeuvre was about four years old, which made it daisy-fresh, right? I had imagined the tour was motivated by the purest of artistic considerations, plus the love and brotherhood of the musicians, right?


Subsequent interviews showed that the musicians hated the stage-managed-by-the-record-label vibe of the reunion, wished their solo ventures were sufficiently viable to keep the bills paid, largely disliked each other, and resented having to work as Yes to sell their music... Yes WAS a nostalgia act, reunited for the most cynical reasons. Their best days as a unit were long behind them, and while some individual members were still doing interesting stuff, they were doing it outside of Yes.

Happily I enjoyed the concert anyway, and then shipped off to college, where my musical parameters expanded exponentially. I now agree with that T-Shirt woman, wherever she is, that it's fine to luxuriate in nostalgia, as long as you acknowledge it for what it is.

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