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Indie Rocker vs. Classic Rocker: Electric Light Orchestra’s Eldorado and No Age’s Everything in Between

Kris Collins and Kurt Garrison

CR:  Somewhere in the many convoluted peregrinations of In Search of Lost Time, aka Remembrance of Things Past, Proust, that ultimate avatar of nostalgia writes something to the effect that whenever we walk into a house, or really any space we used to inhabit, there’s a suggestion at large that we recapture the person we were way back when. He lays the blame for this erroneous belief at the feet of poets. He goes on to issue a warning that making these pilgrimages, seeking out the places demarcated in our sentimental brains as Important, as the rooms in which we lived where so-and-so happened and that is what made us who we became, is not only foolish but dangerous. And keep in mind, this is Proust talking—the great rememberer himself—so he should know a little something about it, right? In nostalgia there can be found little more than disappointment.

Poetry and pop music probably have as much in common as they have differences, but the nostalgia factor is certainly shared territory. Songs are triggers, as much as a Madeleine or the smell of tanning lotion, that willingly or no return us to long vacant rooms. The room ELO’s Eldorado returns me to is at the end of the hallway in the second floor of my grandmother’s house. I lived there with my parents until around the age of twelve when we finally moved to a new neighborhood. That room, as Jeff Lynne would have it, that I can’t get out of my head was my father’s record room which held his thousands of vinyl albums, a stereo with speakers that towered over me until I was ten or so, a dart board with more pock marks than the average Central Catholic student, and various other items of male paraphernalia that even in memory brings a whiff of stale High Life and Marlboros. Among the rock’n’roll wreckage that lay scattered upon the floor and walls, hanging from a golden cord on the mantle, jet black shiny, was an Electric Light Orchestra banner bearing the famous logo from the sleeve of New World Record.

I’m not convinced it’s possible to disconnect a song or album from one’s own memories. Or maybe it’s just me that can’t seem to manage to flip that particular switch and hear a record with fresh ears. The old man had an Achilles’ heel when it came to orchestrated rock music. Whether it was ELO, early Bee Gees records, or even Elton John’s Live in Australia lp where John performs backed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, his heavy rock nature would melt away at the sound of some big strings. The only explanation for this that I ever figured was that the Jack Nitzsche arrangements for Neil Young corrupted him, turned him downright decadent. So when I hear the thunderous zinging of the strings to the opening “Eldorado Overture,” what I really hear is my father humming the part and zipping his arms around like some freak conductor, then whipping out the old air guitar for the opening bars of “Laredo Tornado,” sliding back contentedly to the old couch to crack open a fresh beer while the funky breakdown ushers in Lynne’s vocals. This album is a journey that I have incredibly mixed feelings about, for reasons I’d rather not get into, and yeah, I guess that French fella had it right—we take the trip into the past at our own risk.


IR:  I bet Jeff Lynne would be popping a Viagra-induced hard-on right now at the idea of you name dropping Proust if he weren't so busy trying to get Bob Dylan to return his calls ("That damned Zimmerman only comes around when he wants something!")  But hey, maybe that pretentious old frog wasn't completely full of shit.  Because every time I hear these songs I think about my summers as a child at the public pool.  Yes, I remember it well: piling into our little blue Fiat, with its hotter-than-Hades vinyl seats biting at my thighs and finicky automatic transmission compromising my mother's sanity; sun-tan lotion, towels and toys at the ready.   We’d roll on down to the watering hole for swim time and Cheez-its.  And, if I was good, we’d stop off at Rakestraw’s for some ice cream on the way back.  But inevitably, that damned car would stall at an intersection or quite simply not start at all, leaving us to the fate of AAA or kind locals who found my mother's accent charming.  And while there are still some commonalties to my four-year-old self (i.e., days of listlessness punctuated by afternoon naps, as well as a child-like fascination with irresponsibility), this music does as much for me as a sunburn and high calorie snacks, which is to say, very little.

The thing is, Jeff Lynne has made a career out of hanging on the coattails—er, I mean “producing”—people more talented than him.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  It's just that I never really saw him as a serious musician—or at least as an artist who had anything important to say.  A bright, ambitious opportunist with an uncanny feel for networking?  Certainly.  Who couldn't visualize Jeff running out to the corner store to fetch George Harrison a packet of fags during the laborious production that was Cloud Nine?  This record is hardly the worst thing I've ever heard (I'll reserve that sentiment for when we finally get around to writing about that aging dinosaur Rod Stewart), but this is the kind of music woefully out-of-touch politicians trod out on stage to while running for re-election. 

However, I can now pinpoint the inspiration behind Metallica playing with the San Francisco Orchestra.  Seriously, just imagine James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich circa 1999 listening to Eldorado in Hetfield's Ranger Rover after a long day of shopping on Melrose Avenue.  Hetfield finds the strings enchanting, but Ulrich has always had a fondness for clarinets (it reminds him of his favorite tennis instructor back in Holland).  Regardless, after a rather petty argument over whether Cliff Burton would've liked iced cappuccinos, the two reach a compromise that a soprano sax would indeed fit quite smashingly in the coda of “Fade To Black.”  You can imagine it.  I know you can.  (They also agree that James does indeed look fantastic in his new Tommy Hilfiger Yacht Pants, but I'll leave such sobering critiques for the New Yinzer Fashion Column.)  This is music that you listen to while sitting in the dentist’s chair, waiting for the laughing gas to kick in.  Yeah, it’s nostalgic alright; a ride home from the pool in mum's Fiat.  It’s a temperamental import with an electrical problem.

CR:  Point taken regarding Lynne’s careerism. He made no secret about wanting to be the 6th or 7th Beatle, falling somewhere behind Murray the K and Harpo in the fabs pecking order, and really Lynne was only one Salinger novel away from knocking off Ringo to take his place as the hairiest, most coked out of the band.

Getting back to the problem of pop music and nostalgia—I’m of the opinion that by the time we reach our early 20s we’ve already heard virtually all of the records that matter in our lives. So necessarily as we age, new records and new bands rarely hit us in the same way. And this has nothing to do with the quality of the music itself. Now, the No Age platter is far and away a better, grittier rockarolla than anything ELO ever farted out in their seventies heyday. But for all the synth-drenched syrup that ELO spooged onto wax, it still touches me in ways that music like what we have on Everything In Between simply cannot.

Ultimately, does that even matter, other than in sentimental and interior ways? Maybe the greatest determiner of what we truly feel about certain music is the jukebox. Confronted by, say, our good friend the Gooski’s jukebox what would you play? And while ELO isn’t your jam, let’s replace it with Jim Croce, someone that my opinion of matches yours of Lynne and the lads. Seeing both No Age and Croce right next to each other, probably on one of those hard to read staff mixes that make their way into the juke, what would you choose? Now, that probably all comes down to the kind of night you’re having and the number of pitchers Larry and Timmy have poured you, and I don’t have a hard answer to the question, but if I’m being honest about it, I know that I’d feel a tug in the direction of “Poor Boy” over “Fever Dreaming.” Either way, though, it’s a helluva lot better than Ministry.

no age

IR:  I was somewhere between the Bedford and Breezewood exits, navigating my way through an unforgivingly boring stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, running on a sugar high that could only be achieved through the liberal consumption of candy and soft drinks, when the realization hit me: your Gooski's analogy only serves to underscore the fundamental difference in how we view music.

What I'm getting at is that I don't see a dive bar with an increasingly suspect jukebox (never mind the erratic wing recipe) as a good example for making one's point.  At least not for me.  It might prove as an example of other peoples' sad nostalgia trips, if the aforementioned Ministry is any indicator, but it's not something I buy into.  If anything (and I've said this before), a jukebox merely serves to justify my belief that giving the average joe a choice in things is, in this particular instance, a bad idea.

I prefer to look at it like a radio show.  Take, for example, my impending stint as a dj at WPTS this summer.  Yeah, I've gone through the library, thumbing through the stacks, picking old favorites like Tortoise and The Wedding Present.  I had a blast playing them.  But I also made a point to familiarize myself with new stuff; Deerhoof, Joy Formidable, and several other newer bands with new releases also made their way onto the playlist.  And y'know what?  Some of the songs were incredible.  To the point where I'm rather excited to hear them again.  To the point where 10, 20 years from now I might look at Deerhoof vs. Evil and think, "Damn, that was a great record".

So no, Collins, I wouldn't have any more desire to play "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" over "Fever Dreaming" were I confronted with the choice.  Yeah, I might play Croce just to get a rise out of you, but I'd be more inclined to dig the No Age because it's here and now and it reminds me of why I like music.  The excitement that is captured in the moment of hearing a new song; the belief that there will always be people—kids, really—to refresh your memory as to why you should even bother with this noise in the first place.  That's what I'm into, that's what I'm here for.  I'm fine with looking back, but I'm not too keen on staying there, popping in dollar after dollar, hoping to relive a past that, to be honest, probably wasn't that great the first time around.


Kristofer Collins thinks he knows something about pop music. He is wrong.
Kurt Garrison does things.