Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Future: 2000 Man

Purchase: Their Satanic Majesties Request

Ah, the future—flying cars, fully-automated homes, robot girlfriends…What a time to be alive.

When the information age really started taking off, which I calculate to be when I got my fist cell phone, I used to like to talk about how we really were living in age of The Jetsons. All those cartoon-fantastic, whiz bang inventions that made everyday life something much faster, more convenient and brought us more in tune with the wider world seemed to be coming true. Within reason, of course—I still had to sit in traffic, rather than fly over it on my way to not a pneumatic hive of prodigious industry and lightning fast tech innovations, but rather a crumbling building without air-conditioning.

But, no worry—I had a cell phone; I could talk to people while I sat in traffic. I had satellite radio, which meant I never lost the signal, unless it rained. And, as a teacher, I had this resource called the internet, so I didn’t really need to do much planning for my lectures—it was all right there for me, no trip to the library needed…

Strange how the Future ended up. I find myself often wishing for the days before I had high speed internet service and could stream and Google and text and Tweet and Snapchat and Instagram—and a whole host of other common elements of my life. Life seems to have taken not only a semantic shift of meaning, but undergone a radical revision in action and lifestyle as well. This is the information age, yes, but things change so rapidly as we trip merrily along to the future, we might as well dub it the age of Neologism, as well. We're constantly reinventing, in order to achieve this almost undefinable 'better', but we don't stay in one place long enough to think of what the better might entail...

But, let’s go back to get forward, shall we?

When I think of the theme “the Future”,  a lot of songs come immediately to mind, one because of their subject matter, but more for the sense that, when it comes to music, the future is all well and good, and I’m sure some great things are coming—but, it’s the past, the pedigree, the primordial beginnings, that make the future what it is. Rock comes from a specific well spring, a beautiful, ever-thriving gene pool that keeps replicating its DNA into new creatures, that look a little different but all come from the same family. Its like Jurassic Park—the old stuff makes the new...We never have to go travel too far into the past to find the specific root of not only the modern sense of music, but also to predict where it is headed. Rock 'n roll is very simple--it's a product of its upbringing, and damn, did it have good parents...

My song this month is The Rolling Stone’s “2000 Man”, from Their Satanic Majesties Request, their 1967 concession to psychedelia, and psychedelics (that means “drugs,” kids). It’s not a great album—even the band admits to thinking it was mess—court appearances, drug indulgences, no one to pull the strings—and it adds up to a collection of silly, flower child ditties, but overall, the album carries with the same sense of messiness that comes from over indulgence and the sense of boredom that inevitably follows said abusive behavior.

They say too much of anything that raises the senses will eventually dull them. And Request is just that: dull. And a bit silly.  Have you looked at the cover? It’s like a low-rent version of Sgt. Peppers, without the interesting subtext and treasure chest of oddities.
Even the band looks a little uncomfortable about what they are doing.  One might guess they are about 30 years early for one of those midnight Harry Potter Sales…

There are a few exceptions, such as the perfectly-pop She’s a Rainbow, and 2000 Light Years From Home, both of which listen now as not only what was good about psychedelic rock, but as a blue print for the sonic architecture of Brit Pop, and bands like Blur, The Stone Roses at their jammy best, and Oasis.

My favorite track on the album—the only other one I like, aside from the aforementioned two above is 2000 Man. Let’s be honest: it’s the standout track on the album. It starts with a country twinged guitar stutter and the chorus descends into a drum smashing, organ grind shout out, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Three Penny Opera. The breakdown is pure static, and the song reads like a mash up of a few genres, steps lively, and relies on those gorgeous twin guitar ripples that Keith and Brian Jones did so well during their brief tenure as the melody makers in the Stones.

It’s reminiscent of The Who’s  A Quick One While He’s Away or Medley, from The Beatles’ later Abbey Road  in that it is more than one song rolled into a single vinyl track. And while both of those songs are much longer in scope and more masterful in instrumentation and riskier in trying to accomplish something grandiloquent and operatic, 2000 Man makes it mark as a gesture towards taking rock music in a grandly nuanced direction.

Lyrically, which is what brought me to the song for our theme, 2000 Man is as interesting as it is nonsensical. It’s a confessional poem of sorts, delivered by a man who identifies himself as the 2000 Man and who proceeds to confess his misdeeds, his infidelity to his wife, his disconnect from his children and in a strange nod to horticulture, the strange flowers he’s growing on his window sill.

In a way, the song talks to the future in the sense that the narrator just doesn’t fit—perhaps he’s outdated, but when he says don’t you I’m a 2000 man, he seems to be saying, you don’t get me because I’m well beyond you. I am the future. When the song switches narrative perspectives and the speaker’s kids start responding to the conceited claims of their father, they simply chant:
                           “Oh daddy, proud of your planet/ Oh mummy, proud of your sun.”

It’s not necessarily done with the clearest of intentions, but it does read like a back and forth between two parties, both insisting they are  hipper, more knowledgeable,  more at home in the new paradigm. The insistence at being a 2000 man comes across as a desperate claim of relevance, which is what happens to those of us who stick around long enough to see the world change, without our help, perhaps before we’re ready.

The world morphs at a rapidly accelerating pace and it’s hard to hold steady sometimes, especially for those of us who work and have to interact cross-generationally. Nostalgia—looking back fondly, or fiercely or with bitterness—is simply a self-defense mechanism that helps us to feel relevant in a place where the only true relevancy is measured by the newness of the idea or innovation.

The future was not kind to him...
I think, though, to disparage a younger generation is somewhat pointless. Being grumpy about being 'out if it' won't get us anywhere.   And, really, the more things change, the more they stay the same…No, that’s bullshit. The more things change, the better things will alwys have been ‘back in the day’.  It will just depend on whose day it was. Bands like The Rolling Stones? It will always have been their day, their party; we were just lucky enough to get the invite.
At some point—sooner, not later—those that think we’re dinosaurs will experience the same shame of irrelevance. Such is the pace at which we are growing. Hold on to the classics—they will be everyone’s classics at some point. Because, no matter how far we grow and move on, the beginning, the fount and wellspring of greatness, the firsts—will always be the best. Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones…all that amazing rock n roll, that was the future at one point—the future with a capital F and italicized, the ideal. And, because it was first, it will always be first and won’t fade away.

And if we go back to our stubborn speaker in 2000 Man, who insists he’s not lost his hipness yet, it’s interesting to compare him to Jagger and the Stones—is there any other outfit in rock ‘n roll who has the privilege of not having to insist at all on having stayed relevant, no longer taste makers, but the creators of the taste and pretty much the judge and jury of rock ‘n roll cool and the ones who created the measure that everyone else will always have to live up to…?

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