Wednesday, September 10, 2014

further thoughts on Drops Away.....

I suppose there's a difference between the waxing-and-waning of an artist / genre in terms of your own personal canon / listening habits over time.... and then the more collective and objective waxing-and-waning of figures / sounds / periods as a result of changing ideas and expectations about music, what it's for....   which has both a fashion-driven element and a more sociologically-revealing aspect....

I thought of a couple of examples after doing the first post that relate to what you could call The Drops Away... And Then Rises Back Up Again Syndrome.

Joy Division

Seems to me, going by memory but also by what new bands talked about during that period, that Joy Division's profile of relevance faded significantly during the course of the Eighties.  Partly because in a way they were still active and very much present as New Order but doing something increasingly poppy and danceable and un-JoyDiv-like, but also because of the general drift away from postpunk into the Sixties-mining approach of indie/underground rock.  Also think that certain bands can be so influential in immediate terms that they exhaust their influential-potential over the longer term....  at least until enough time has elapsed for them to come back as a reference point and source, seem fresh again.   In 80-81-82 there were so  many JoyDiv clones and heavily influenced bands, from the major (Cure circa Faith and Pornography) to minor (Red Lorry Yellow Lorry),  you could talk about Joydiv-damage.   They were a big part of the DNA of Goth (think of Bauhaus early on). So almost inevitably they had to disappear from consciousness....  Then very gradually, they crept back to assured canonical status (probably helped by the Deborah Curtis memoir). But for instance I remember Loop doing a single in 1989 or 1990 - around A Gilded Eternity, I think - and it had a marked JoyDiv flavour, and that seemed very surprising, because one had almost forgotten about Joy Division's existence. 

Bob Dylan

As I recollect, from punk through all of the first half of the Eighties, Dylan was simply not a reference point. A little prior to when I started reading the NME, Burchill & Parsons wrote an anti-Dylan screed called something like "Take This God and Stuff It"; the one I actually read at the time was the follow-up, about James Dean, called something like "Take This God and Bury It".  So that Dylan-demolition could be taken as the book end for the start of the Dylan-Drops-Away period. But Burchill & Parsons were only articulating a general feeling, or anticipating it, as journalists often do - the belief that Dylan was irrelevant in a punk-and-after context.  He had been a huge overbearing presence in Old Wave, the community of artistic likeminds that gathered for The Last Waltz - which was the wake for a whole era and its conception of what was valid and mature in rock (i.e. American roots music merged with poetic-literary lyrics, song-as-story, etc).  The book-end at the other side of the Dylan Drops Away period would be around 1985 when Nick Cave -- very strikingly at the time - spoke of his admiration for Dylan and how he saw certain parallels between his own ornery artistic path and Dylan's career. Also Costello doing the very blatantly Dylan-influenced album Blood and Chocolate.  Jason & The Scorchers doing a cover of "Absolutely Sweet Marie".  Minutemen name-checking him on "History Lesson Part II' on Double Nickels on the Dime. Perhaps even things like the new protest singer thing with Billy Bragg or the folk-country / The Band-as-model approach of the new Mekons. But between roughly '77 and '84, a good eight years or so, Dylan's stock was extremely low.  All through my formative years, the idea that you should check out his oeuvre, that this was essential listening for rock neophytes, was simply absent - something I've never quite been able to shake, in fact.  During that entire period of New Wave/postpunk/New Pop, just about the only examples of discernible Dylan influence in younger groups would have been Dire Straits and Tom Petty. Being a Dylanologist would have been an arcane pursuit for a young person.  This eclipse of eminence and centrality was obviously helped by the fact that he was making a series of shitty albums and had become a Born Again Christian. In fact now I remember it, Cave made a point of saying he really liked Slow Train Coming!


Talking of Cave, on the topic of the personal waxing-and-waning of The Birthday Party in my own rock pantheon, I remembered interviewing Ian McCulloch in 1989, during which he surprised me with the question ‘what’s your Greatest Band of the Eighties’. Probably hoping I'd say The Bunnymen! My mind went blank and I blurted "The Birthday Party", triggering much Mac scorn.  If I'd thought for a couple of seconds longer, I would have probably said The Smiths. That would have been more accurate. But The Birthday Party would have been very high up, a definite contender.  But today I'm not sure where they'd rank.  Groups that had dipped away in my consciousness in the late Eighties have risen back up subsequently - The Birthday Party would now have to jostle with The Associates, the Banshees, Scritti, Cabaret Voltaire, Meat Puppets, Blue Orchids, Husker Du, Orange Juice....