Teach Your Children
Yesterday I drove to Seattle to attend my father's retirement party. My dad worked at the same company for 33 years. I asked him to tell me what music he listened to in those years, and he named but two bands: Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and Collective Soul. Please hold while I refresh my memory of Collective Soul. Ahh--yes. I have already forgotten them again. I suppose I understand why he would name those two bands. CSNY were where his musical tastes lay in the '70s: country-tinged, harmonious, and not averse to a little cocaine (yes, he liked the Eagles too.) And the other band, Collective Soul, well, that was who brought his musical tastes into the contemporary realm; they made him aware that there were bands putting out albums in the present tense (present tense circa '94). Sure, Nirvana and Soundgarden were immeasurably better, but they weren't always easy. And they didn't have seven #1 hits, as Collective Soul did, which certainly increased the chances that my dad, or you, or anyone, would hear them on the radio.
On a side note, I wonder when the last time was that someone referenced "Collective Soul"? OK, apparently November 4th, 2007. For some reason, I was expecting a little more distance between myself and the other Collective Soul name-dropper. For more about Collective Soul being played in outer space, click here.
If someone asked me to encapsulate '90s music, I would likely say "grunge" off the top of my head. I guess I could break it down into that strange period in the early '90s where there was something called "college rock," when bands like the Lemonheads and Buffalo Tom ruled tiny airwaves, power that felt immense for the dedicated fans. Or I would think of MTV's "120 Minutes" with host Dave Kendall, clad in black with hands in pockets, as he introduced the latest videos by the Stone Roses or Inspiral Carpets. I might mention Bikini Kill, Nine Inch Nails, the Beastie Boys, Lollapalooza, or any other number of bands or events that clawed their way into our imagination. But I wouldn't mention Collective Soul. Yet that band exists, and dads mention them, and other bands of a similar ilk have come before them and will continue to arrive. They are simultaneously immense and invisible.
Or is it sheer music snobbery to say that they are invisible? Maybe it's Magnetic Fields or Wire, who might feel ubiquitous because of the accolades and the mentions, who are not big at all, but merely present. I would argue, however, that presence, not size, is what makes one band outlast another.
Who we recall a year later, or a decade later, are only a handful of the bands who exist at a given time. Yet concomitant to the relatively few timeless bands--the Pixies, the Cure, R.E.M.--are the other bands, those shadowy giants. The ones who bring about an empty nostalgia or whose songs we can neither name nor sing, whom we've heard of but never heard. So, who is today's version of Collective Soul? Or who was the Collective Soul of previous decades?
On the other hand, if my dad is onto something, and Collective Soul is the lasting band from the 90's, then I should probably start listening to Nickelback.