Monday, December 31, 2007

The Last of 2007: A Doll of a Year

[Editor’s Note: Herein lies the last of our three-part “Wrapping Up 2007” series, which, to review, was one-third top-albums, one-third top songs, and one-third this. Happy New Year to all, and might the Almighty bless us in 2008 with mirth, sustenance, and the new Postal Service album.]

According to Chuck Klosterman, being post-modern means having an awareness that art is art, and engaging art in evaluation of two distinct qualities: goodness and importance. For instance, Klosterman talks about the difference between the Northeastern and Southern American demographics vis-à-vis the Allman Brothers Band. Citizens of the former, he writes, are more apt to call the Allman Brothers “important,” even if they don’t particularly care for the band’s music. The latter population, though, proffers a patently one-dimensional take on the Allmans. To paraphrase a quote from “Killing Yourself to Live,” the Southerner would probably say, “Well, I don’t know if the Allman Brothers are important, but I sure know they’re good.” The Southerner does not bifurcate his/her music into the significant and the sonorous, the objective and the subjective—music has no defining objective qualities, but merely serves to either delight or disappoint the individual listener. While the Allman Brothers might be significant insofar as one may dearly love “Midnight Rider,” the Southerner would never remove himself from his immediate experience and reflect on how universally—almost abstractly—important that song is.

Far be it from me to confirm or deny Klosterman’s rather pejorative take on Southern intellectualism. All that aside, I can verify that he is correct about the northeast. New York City is the detached music lovers’ capital, where you can practically spy concert-goers making mental notes to Wikipedia song lyrics when they get home. In the Big Apple we’re overly post-modern: we’d rather talk about why Billy Joel matters than clap and sing along at one of his concerts. If you’d break down a typical NYC audience into a pizza pie chart, seven of eight slices would be pretentious thinkers trying to out-articulate the pretentious thinker next to them; the last slice would be people who…um…came to enjoy the concert.

Rarely do these two populations intersect—but, in a liberating end to a somewhat difficult, oft-frustrating year, the seemingly impossible happened on the last Saturday night of 2007. Inside a packed Irving Plaza, The New York Dolls, 1970’s punk heroes and forebears of the CBGB’s counter-counterculture—a lineage that includes Dolls disciples the Ramones, Blondie, and the Talking Heads—continued their reunion tour in front a demonstratively nostalgic audience. The crowd was mostly middle-aged, sufferers of nearly three decades without the Dolls, with a sprinkling of younger baskers seeking an aural history lesson. There was much rock and spectacle, but there was also cognizance, a profound awareness of not just what this music sounded like, but what it was, and where it was. For the Dolls to return to New York with so much vitality was paramount to the return of an erstwhile superstar to his sports franchise.

A faction of cowboy-hatted couples venerated the Dolls from the corner, at once crying and crooning, appreciating that the Dolls were important important and good. Each person had his or her own order—for me, importance came before goodness, since I had compiled a story about the Dolls just days earlier and was taken by their place in rock ‘n roll history. For the spurred-boot-sporting, ripped-jean-wearing couples in the corner, goodness seemed to save them from thinking about importance; it was as though they had grown so weary of recounting the Dolls’ significance that this rock-your-face performance was both a reprieve from, and justification for, all that talk. Most of all, it was a revelation to finally hear music that mattered to people. In a most un-New York fashion, a crowd moved beyond thought and speech and into enjoyment. For them-for us-seeing the New York Dolls wasn’t a fashion statement, nor an opportunity to wax unmoved at yet another performance—it was the integration of quality and quantity, of subjective love and objective value.

I don't know whether this experience instantiates the whole of 2007. On the one hand, it informs our understanding of perseverance, and what it means to literally get it right at the last minute. But who knows if it’s an apt analogy for the year that's past? 2007 was trying, and I’m not sure that, as a global society, we ever got it together like we should have. Yet, I’m also not sure if we erred so badly in the first place. After all, if there’s still a place for exuberance at a New York Dolls concert—lo, for the New York Dolls themselves-then we couldn't have missed by much. What ensues in 2008 is yet untold, but on a dreary Saturday night in December, 2007 was a worthy predecessor.

Stay Safe, New York

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