The Art and the Disaster of a Music Comeback

Merriam Webster tells us that "A Comeback" is : "A sharp or witty reply." Or, "a return to a former position or condition (as of success or prosperity) - a Revival; a Recovery."

That's pretty much just Bullshit.

2008 has been the Year of the Comeback. And I will not go into great detail about each of the individual projects, if you are wise enough to be reading music blogs then you probably already know much about this. (Probably more than you want to, really.)

Whatever their reasons are - (Cashing in seems to be the most prevalent cause,) accomplished bands from the past are showing up in recording sessions and reappearing on stages near you. It's a dicey proposition...

This is nothing new - 2008 isn't the first time that artists have returned from relative obscurity to fill our ears with new music - and to make us question the inherent value of their once pristine careers.

REPRINTED WITHOUT PERMISSION: Like Chuck Klosterman, we respect the great Jeff Gordinier, Details magazine editor, a writer for Entertainment Weekly, and author of X Saves the World. The witty writing about topics relevant to us is just very good stuff.

Gordinier wrote The Hidden Track in the March 2008 issue of Spin. It's one of my favorite reads from Spin all year long and I was meaning to tell you about it months ago. It's about Comebacks and like Klosterman, Gordinier writes from a passionate stand-point. He is a music fan and like you and me - he gets obsessed by some aspects of music and repulsed by some of the decisions made by the artists and the suits in the industry...

In this story, Gordinier tells us on how he fell in love with the Cowboy Junkies and the mesmerizing voice of Margo Timmins on the decidedly lo-fi Trinity Session recordings in 1988. (The recordings were made in a Toronto church and for many years, those haunted tracks would haunt the souls of Junkies' fans.) Gordinier writes....

The Cowboy Junkies would spend the next 20 years trying to live up to the flukey, firefly-in-a-Mason-jar magnificence of the moment. So okay, yeah, I know that the Junkies went on to product fine work - 'A Common Disaster' is on the great songs of the '90s - but I still think they should have followed up Trinity by pawning their instruments and moving to a communal farm in the wilds of Saskatchewan. That's because I subscribe to the J.D. Salinger Principle of Shooting Your Wad.

Meaning: In a media-saturated ADD era, the wisest course of action for any artist is to put out one or two things that blow everyone else away, and then bolt. Scram. Grow a beard. Become a hermit. Die, if necessary. Whatever. Just stop working."

"The way I see it, ceaseless productivity equals diminished expectations. Fogies love to bemoan the demise of 'artistic development' in the music business, but I don't think most bands are cut out for a Rolling Stones-style career track. (The Stones sure aren't.) I prefer the performer who works him or herself into a kind of full-moon fugue state for one perfect album - or song - and then face-plants..."

"Yes, comrades, I too pay my dues at the Radiohead International Brotherhood Lodge, but slogging through their body of work can get so damn exhausting. Being in love with a band on the Hall of Fame career track is like maintaining a long-term relationship with that eccentric brooder you met in college, and as we all know from Dr. Phil, marriage takes work. If you're hitched to Radiohead, that means you are committed to doing the dishes, changing the diapers, and spending quality time with Hail to the Thief - forever! If you're married to Elvis Costello, well, I understand. Elvis and I have been in couples therapy since Mighty Like a Rose. And if you happened to shack up with Ryan Adams, shoot me an e-mail -- I know a good lawyer uptown.

"Really aren't there times when you hear that your favorite band has a new album coming out, and the prospect of listening to it seems about as enticing as mapping out your tax return? Steady relationships and meticulous receipt-saving might be the hallmarks of a responsible citizenry, but that ain't what music's about. Pop music is about giving in to abandon, to the drunken swan diveoff the slippery lip of the stage. It's about flings...

For the full piece titled, "Once Only, With Feeling," check out Gordinier's Hiddden Track in the March '08 copy of Spin. His Book "X Saves the World" is available in stores.


Anonymous said…
I'm shocked that GNR didn't do a million in sales first week.

With AC/DC pulling 750,000 first week, it didn't seem like a stretch...but it was.

Makes me wonder if GNR would have done better if it had been a Wal-Mart exclusive instead of a Best Buy exclusive.

Great stuff!
Anonymous said…
Wait...people buy CDs still?
@Aaron my thoughts exactly.
Ryan Spaulding said…
ACDC's Black Ice (the review copy of which I haven't even opened up yet) will cross a million units sold in the United States before the end of the year.

The new record has already sold million copies internationally (3M in Australia alone.)

I hate to break it to you, but there are lots of people out there who are still buying records...

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