This is about the Yes album “Drama”, with a thin reference to my own high school graduation.
Thirty-five years ago today, as I was deep in final exams of my last year of high school, a friend told me that Yes had broken up, and that Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson were being replaced by Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn of the Buggles. The shock that swept over me must have been close to that felt by Red Sox fans when Babe Ruth was traded to the Yankees, or when Wayne Gretzyky was traded from Edmonton to the Los Angeles Kings. This wasn’t so much a trade as I felt it was a betrayal of my adolescent sense that nothing should change, that things I designated as “mine” would remain consistent and persistent until they were no longer such an integral part of my daily routine.
It’s easy to look back now and realize that (a) I didn’t really like Tormato, the last Yes album with the the “core five” on it, all that much, and that Jon Anderson’s pseudo-religious waxing lyrics had started to grate on me even then (b) It was a perfect time for a transition, for me to identify with the things that were constant (Howe, White, Squire) and embrace something new and (c) Drama is a rather good album.
I remember buying Drama in the midst of packing my things for college; I put it on my trusty Radio Shack turntable (which lasted another two months after school started, to be replaced by my first component stereo system) and listened to it all the way through. Once. Twice. It rocked out. It had soaring guitar solos. It had driving bass lines. And yet, I think I was terrified by it, as terrified as I was about driving 30 miles across the void between high school and college. As I sought comfort and stability, my musical family suffered a divorce, came back together with a trophy spouse of a vocalist (the Buggles had the first video played on MTV), and dared to challenge me. I am reminded, 35 years later, of something my friend Jim says about good art: “It is supposed to make you uncomfortable.” With hindsight, it was all good, and was the beginning of my decision to explore musically at WPRB-FM over the next few years.
Music is the original social network. Long before the printing press and written books, stories were carried in song, across generations and long distances. Even today, listening to the chazzan during a Shabbat service, I can make some guesses as to his or her age, seminary experience, and position on the reform-to-orthodox spectrum within three or four melodies. The networks implied in the music of our lives run very deep.
Someone recently asked me about the fascination with Facebook and Twitter, and why we’re so attuned to the mintutia of others’ lives. Facebook is interesting to us because it allows us to both create and listen to the ambient soundtrack of our daily routines. With all due respect and attribution to Paul Lansky, what the Walkman did for mundane events like walking to class Facebook does for even more quotidian parts of our lives: sitting at a desk, waiting for the kids in the parking lot, going out for dinner. Lansky claimed the attraction of the Walkman was that we could put our lives to music, creating a unique and immediate “music video” of whatever event we tuned out with the headphones. Personal music players created a personal music video environment. If we can’t be in movies, where music is married to narrative, then we can force a union of our own unwritten journals and favorite songs. It’s all about making our own stories interesting, even if to an audience of very few.
We like Facebook and Twitter for many of the same reasons: our friends and interests lay down a backbeat to a story, and we share it the way we share our latest musical discovery or first-run movie impressions.
But the whole reason MTV came into existence – to show us the music, explore “behind the music” and otherwise add context to song was that it was another channel for the music industry to promote its products. MTV was about creating a long tail for music, through obscure videos of bands playing in grassy fields, derelict car lots or in jail cells, long before we knew that we were supposed to be looking under that part of the curve for music that we liked.
Take those two functions – creating a narrative of our lives (in song or 140-character verses) and both publishing and consuming those narratives – and you have Facebook. Facebook is for the Millenials what MTV was for the late Boomers; and MTV has turned into a network of social situations.