Everyone hates "Things were better back in my day" grunts, in part because the crank-rant typically follows a predictably bland Top 40 pick of nostalgic hits — see every Stephen King musical reference ever; seriously, dude, dig into an album cut sometime — but also because it tends to overlook all the bad music, weak TV and lame writing, not to mention cholera, Nazis, slavery, Nixonian chicanery and the utter lack of air-conditioning before the Bama Theatre.
Or Mr. Carrier.
Our longing for things that made us laugh five, 10, 20 years ago suggests something about our relationship with art. Longevity as proof of quality, perhaps? The persistence of memory? Inflexibility attendant with aging, the dying of the night light?
When news broke this week that NASA's Voyager 2 sent back to Earth its first messages, from 12 billion miles away, my first and pretty much only thought — until reading the stories, anyway — was "SEND MORE CHUCK BERRY."
If you're my age or thereabouts, that zinger rang home, right? If not, look it up. You've got the internet in the palm of your hand, ya lazy bum.
Truth is, though, that "Saturday Night Live" — that's a hint, if you're still stuck on "SEND MORE CHUCK BERRY" — rolls merrily along, and sometimes brilliantly so. The uglier truth is our memories delete "SNL" skits from Ye Olden that ran hours, seemingly, too long, the duds and oddities and Charles Rockets, Horatio Sanzes and Mighty Favogs. Diamonds shine through the crud, but man, was there a whole pile of crud.
Even here in its 45th season, the write it, rehearse it, play it live within a week nature still yields hit-or-miss. But with a cast including the incandescent Kate McKinnon, potentially the biggest breakout star in decades, along with Cecily Strong and Kenan Thompson tied for the New Glue, it's, well, still best watched in highlights, the day after.
The old "glue" was of course the genius Phil Hartman, the kind of artist-writer-musician everyone wants on their team, capable of leading the way, stealing a scene, cementing a minor character ... the Glue. Even today's less flamboyant cast more often delivers than not. There's always solid joy from Aidy Bryant, Beck Bennett, Mikey Day, Alex Moffatt, Kyle Mooney, Chris Redd and Heidi Gardner, even if I can't make those names stick without Google.
Catch yourself when mumbling "These kids today," and "Back in the," because mostly, life's better now. May not always seem that way if you read the news, but — prep yourself for a combo platter of Mandela and backfire effects, in which facts ricochet off firmly held beliefs, and not only don't change the mind, but actually cement preconceptions — most crime, including violent, is way down. Even though health care remains outrageously overpriced, scientific advances continue to extend not only quantity but quality of life. Even the poorer among us, at least in the over-privileged U.S., usually have access to personal transportation, hand computers with the power to search the literal world — and more, thank you NASA and Vger 2 — and home entertainment systems that would rival the theaters of half a century ago.
As often lauded, TV is going through a new Golden Age, though some more precious metal seems required, given the sheer proliferation of offerings and channels. Movies, despite what old white men directors might moan, are better than ever, technically and many other ways and if the writing and direction sometimes seems staid and formulaic, well you're forgetting B-movies. Those superhero props delivering billion-dollar box office can cushion the way for other filmmakers. Whether they do or not, well, research Hollywood and its studio system. Same with publishers and the Stephen Kings; a lot of midlist authors can get a better shot thanks to the big monsters.
Yes, the 1960s was the era of the Who, the Beatles, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Tops and Temptations, girl groups and big glossy soul-pop and experimentation, but don't forget it was also the era of "Yummy Yummy Yummy (I've Got Love in my Tummy)," and its ilk. Nostalgia blinkers. We only remember fractions, and with luck, obsess over the best, not the dregs.
So OK, Sueco The Child, stopping off this weekend for some DJing gigs at UA frats, may not be my cup of poison, but that's not a condemnation of the 21st century, or of hip-hop, even of comedic, I'm guessing, hip-hop and rap. It's probably just my preference for more old-school Run DMC. But there's amazing new music out there, even for old melody-lyric farts like myself, from Billie Eilish to Lorde to Angel Olsen to Phoebe Bridgers to Brandi Carlile to the Decemberists, and on and on. When Carlile, a 40-something genius songwriter and piercing singer from Seattle, busted out on the Grammys not so long ago, I saw folks on social media asking "Why haven't I heard about her?" I don't know, dude. One of my bands was playing her "The Story" 10 or so years ago; she's had some hits. She's been written about. But you've gotta seek and go find. As I've told more than one friend who asked "Why didn't I hear about that thing?" we've tried driving around to your homes and shouting the information at you, but so far, that's not proven cost-effective.
Right here from sweet home Bamalama there's the astounding Brittany Howard, red-hot St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, and no doubt more rising, because this stuff comes from somewhere, y'all, and sometimes somewhere is here.
Yet here in town are cover bands who draw bigger crowds than Alabama Shakes used to, before national media told you to listen. Not knocking those musicians involved in cover jobs, because working that kind of side gig beats digging ditches. But if audiences won't take chances once in awhile, invest in something new that might not be as fantastic as something older — but might be — the cover bands of tomorrow will continue looking further back until all the music we're hearing is, technically, dead.
That song you love? You heard it a first time, once upon a time. And the good times? They still rock 'n' roll.
Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at email@example.com or 205-722-0201.