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The Day the Music Died

Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius By

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The next time you’re at a gathering of Jazz fans, look for the guy clutching his box set of Thelonious Monk’s Complete Riverside Recordings on vinyl and refusing to talk about anything recorded after 1961. Don’t be that guy.
On one of my infrequent trips outside the 'Dome recently, I stopped at a convenience store for a cold Coke Zero when I noticed a man about my age (48. 52, in heels) driving a red 1988 Pontiac Trans Am and blasting Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" on his car stereo. He wore Zubaz workout pants that were at least twenty years out of style, a faded Def Leppard T-shirt, and sported a greying mullet. In that moment, I could imagine him waking up one morning in the late Eighties, putting on that outfit while listening to Hysteria on his cassette deck, glancing out the window at his sweet ride, and thinking, "This is absolutely as good as it gets. I have achieved the pinnacle of my existence. I will never look better than I do right now, I will never feel better than right at this moment, and music cannot possibly get any better." And he locked that moment into his mind, reliving it every single day since.

It's easy to make fun of that poor bastard, stuck in a relatively embarrassing moment in history, but he's hardly unique. Particularly when it comes to music, where more people than would care to admit it have reached a moment in their lives where they've simply decided that all the music worth hearing has already been played. Among my former high school classmates, their musical universe begins with the Sixties music their parents listened to, the Seventies music their older siblings listened to, and the Eighties pop of our high school years. Right about 1985, music just ends; everything that comes after will never measure up. It says something about where I came from that the unofficial anthem of the Class of '85 was "Born to Be Wild," a song to which many of us may have been conceived.

Jazz fans are not immune to this phenomenon, just because we tend to be smarter and hipper than average doesn't mean that we're not susceptible to closing the gates once our favorite longhorns are in the corral or reaching the end of our own personal trail and deciding that's where the last round-up will be (Sorry. I've been reading Louis L'Amour's Trailhand's Guide to Jazz lately). Anyway, pardner, there are far too many aficionados of Our Music who have simply decided that all listenable Jazz was made during a certain period and everything else is a sad substitute. I have made no secret of the fact that, even though I came to Jazz via the big band tunes I played in the high school band and the early recordings of Wynton Marsalis, Jazz for me ended in the early Sixties when the creeping rot of all Art, Abstract Expressionism, landed on Our Music with both feet. Though initially bold and provocative, like Jackson Pollack's 'No. 1' or Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come, it soon falls victim to the cognitive decay and narcissistic pretensions that kill all means of individual expression once they are unmoored from objective standards of technique or creative discipline. Pollack soon devolved into a paint-slinging hack, and Coleman never did recapture the breathtaking innovation of that original quartet.

Once arrived at that point, I could not allow myself even to consider Fusion as a viable genre. The neo-classic revival of the late Seventies and early Eighties sparked some interest, but not enough for me to pursue it past a few representative examples in my record collection so that I would appear well-rounded. It should be noted that my tastes in other genres of music have continually evolved throughout my life. I strayed off the beaten path with punk and New Wave in the late Seventies, and have continued seeking out new sounds throughout my life. I like vintage alternative and modern rock, and I have a special affinity for Little Bands That Should Have Made It But Didn't. I have CDs in my collection from bands so obscure that a couple of guys who were in the group don't remember them. But lest you think I'm some sort of over-aged hipster, relishing my knowledge of the little-known and proudly boasting that I was into something before anyone else, I should point out that I have never been one for any bandwagon, no matter how intimate and retro chic it may be. For the most part, I find modern hipster to be every bit as cloying as trend-chasing teens pumping their heads full of autotuned top forty dreck.

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