Monday, July 21, 2008

Shine A Light

One good thing that comes of working in movie theatres, is hanging around all those 20-somethings, far younger than me (I'm old enough to be their...older brother) and learning what's culturally hot, and what's the latest and coolest.

What's old is new again. They're making films of "Transformers," "Get Smart," and "Charlie's Angels." These kids are buying tickets to all of them, and downloading the remixes of old Monkees tunes.

I'm not so sure they've even seen the originals. Or need to.

Some of the old culture has survived, and still survives. This is not just a triumph of marketing. It amazes me to see what's still seems relevant.

But what isn't relevant, apparently, is the Rolling Stones.

For some reason the train of cultural memory has left the Stones on the platform. The kids aren't listening to them, and have only a cursory knowledge of their greatest hits. It could be that the Stones have never been very easy to deal with when getting the rights to their songs, thereby preventing future generations from hearing them in every MTV promo, Adam Sandler film, and iPod commercial for the last decade.

It could be that the Stones stopped developing artistically after 1969 and haven't been worth listening to since then (but that's beyond the scope of this post, and this blog).

What the kids are listening to are the Beatles. Still. And they're all really into Bob Dylan.

They're not into the Doors at all. There was a film a while back, but the piqued interest was only momentary (Oliver Stone tends to do that to you.). They peaked musically after only a couple of albums, and Jim Morrison turned into some other kind of lizard cuff-link icon that had little or nothing to do with rock 'n' roll, America, or even drugs that you smoke. Their music is most identified nowadays with some Marlon Brando Vietnam movie, and who wants to watch that nowadays?

And while I see Ramones t-shirts everywhere, I've found no one's actually heard one of their songs. They've sold more t-shirts than copies of all their records combined in the last 10 years.

That's too bad. Nice logo, though.

But the Beatles and Bob Dylan have both managed to remain in the public consciousness, and their songs continue to be downloaded, mashed up, and copied and stolen by the new generations of taste-makers and consumers.

This could have something to do with how the Beatles' music (and the Beatles) have been packaged over the years, or Dylan's constant touring, but the Stones are no slouches in either department. Dylan's career arc is revealing. Every 5th or 6th record, he makes a left turn that confounds, angers, and ultimately excites critics and his audience. Coming out of his first post-folk stage, in the era of "Sgt. Pepper," he has the nerve to come out with the stripped-down country-fied "John Wesley Harding" in 1967.

Right when we all thought he was going psychedelic. Audacious and career suicide. Except that it goes platinum, as does the following "Nashville Skyline," in the midst of the the Summer of Love.

Almost 10 years later, after a run of successful albums with the Band, he enters his born-again period (which sells less records but certainly gets a lot of press). And in the '90s, after a handful of stubborn but heart-felt return-to-roots records with no production values (one mike, Dylan alone in a room; take that) and songs that are older than the hills (or Bob Dylan by that point), he accidentally hits big again with "Time Out of Mind" which reaches the top 10 (the first time in almost 20 years) and shortly thereafter "Modern Times" (certainly not a very modern-sounding record) which reaches #1.

So by the time Todd Haynes's film "He's Not There" is released, any damage it can do has been mitigated by 40 years of street cred.

Culturally, I think Mr. Dylan's recent (or continuing) resurgence has a lot to do with Scorsese's 3-hour plus "No Direction Home" for PBS in 2005. This film, comprised of archival and rare footage, much of it never seen before, revealed Dylan as a cutting edge cultural iconoclast to all the kids of the aging hippies who kept saying "See, I told you so!"; kids who began to figure out that indeed, the pumps don't work.

The release of Murray Lerner's "Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival" collection 2 years later sealed the deal.

So the Stones hire Scorsese to direct "Shine A Light," and maybe he can do the same thing for the self-proclaimed "Best Rock Band In The World." But it doesn't help their (or Scorsese's) career.

Because it's made up of new footage. It's just another concert film, like at least 5 other Stones films over the last 30 years.

No archival footage of the bad boys of rock, no retelling or revealing of some great lost anarchist mission we're relieved to be reminded the Stones stand for. No legendary or seminal concert footage, like "No Direction Home"'s Royal Albert Hall in London with the gone-electric booing. Assuming there ever was a seminal concert (Altamont notwithstanding, which was already covered by the Maysles Brothers anyway).

How cool would that have been? A real documentary on a band who's image is more cinematic and confrontational than any other band who've been around since the mid-'60s.

A film like that would have sold a lot more Rolling Stones downloads into the next couple of decades.

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