Van Halen and Misplaced Nostalgia

Eddie Van Halen Talks Tokyo Dome Live Album

I was just reading the above article about Eddie Van Halen over at Rolling Stone.  The article itself is not that great, but this last bit was interesting:

“We put out [A Different Kind of Truth] in 2012. But then you go onstage and play those new songs, and the audience looks at you like, “What’s this?” They really want to hear the classics,” Van Halen said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword… Maybe 10 years from now stuff off of A Different Kind of Truth will be considered classic and people will want to hear those.

I never understand the music fan that only wants to hear only a band’s past hits.  I’m not saying that when I see an career artist I don’t want to hear them play some of the older favorites, but a show can feel kind of tired to me if an artist is just resting on past laurels for the entire set.  I think a show needs newer material to keep it fresh.  There are always exceptions to every rule, and there are some bands that have completely lost it on newer records.  Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth is a really great record.  I had some trouble with the production as it was too compressed like so many modern records and would have been better if it had been given a little more sonic space.  However, the playing was excellent, Roth is actually a better lyricist now , and the songs were full of hooks.  (Roth actually has a ton of great wordplay on that record.  His lyrics are actually really funny at times.  It’s not that he was ever bad at doing what he does.  He was always more playful than the typical hard rocker, but he’s got even more strange ideas to throw into the mix now.)  I’m not saying I would trade it for Fair Warning, but it’s a great addition to the Van Halen catalog.  I would love to hear some of those songs live as Eddie and Alex’s interplay is ridiculous on the newest album.

I think there is always the potential for a person to develop a nostalgic attachment to certain material, that doesn’t allow them to hear new things for what they are.  I understand that the first time you hear a band it can be life changing.   I also understand sentimental nostalgia; that if you are drinking as a teenager and just discovering girls or boys for the first time, things are going to have a certain magic to them.  Sometimes that is the music, but sometimes that is the experience had while listening to the music.  Often this nostalgia as fans, and again it is occasionally deserved, stops us from receiving new things that we could enjoy.  We’ll complain that there are no new albums like so and so used to make, but our hunger for nostalgia, when sales are market driven, can actually make there be less music made that we might want.

Part of the fault of this is also the modern music business and especially modern radio.  Radio is happy to play an artist’s greatest hits 10,000 times a day, but will often never play anything new by that same artist.  Too often the market wants our art to be safe behind glass, enclosed in the past, where it can’t hurt or move us greatly.

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