Bob Schwartz

Tag: The Who

Which Comes First: Evolution or Revolution?

Tea Party
The 20th century gave us two world wars and an atomic bomb, but the most interesting of the Big Events of the century may be the Russian Revolution. An inequitable and unbalanced way of life gave bloody way to abstract enlightened visions of a better world. The particular inequities ended, Russia moved into modern times, but competition for the “right” vision and ineradicable baser human natures seeking power and control led to decades of national and global troubles. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” the Who said.

The Russian Revolution was grounded in a Marxist vision, which was in turn a Christian vision: a community on earth as it is in heaven, a brotherhood of people in which suffering and want would be softened, if not alleviated, by those who have a surplus of comfort and resource. It was Lennon, not Marx, who said, “You can say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”

What went wrong?

What almost always goes wrong is that evolution and revolution are out of sync. It is easy to say that people and society should first evolve for a while, and then at some critical moment, all that’s needed is that next faster-than-evolution event to take it to the next level.

That turns out rarely to be the case.

Evolution is slow, erratic, and always engenders resistance and reaction. The cliché is that people and society fear change, but that is too easy. They fear the unknown. The expression “better the devil you know than the one you don’t” sums it up. It takes a substantial leap—you might say a leap of faith—the walk into a vision rather than remain in a lesser but familiar reality.

Revolution is both an attempt to make evolution more real and to create conditions where that evolution can continue more broadly and forcefully. But, as pointed out with the Russian experience, it doesn’t always work that way. Revolution is conflict, and conflict creates its own set of conditions sometimes antithetical to evolution. “Fighting for peace” is oxymoronic (some would say just plain moronic), but we have had to live through that. (Note the moment in Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant film Dr. Strangelove where the President scolds his arguing advisers, “Stop it. There’s no fighting in the War Room.”)

One of the exceptional examples of evolution and revolution working together is the American Revolution. It is one of the reasons it worked so well. The founders may have been the fathers of our country, but they were the children of the Enlightenment. That multi-faceted evolution—philosophical, political, economic, spiritual—had gone as far as it could go when it hit a wall. They believed that if they could break through, which did mean war, they could establish an enlightened nation. And, to an extent greater or lesser than some might like or expect, they did.

Evolution, or lack of it, is at the heart of some current American problems.

America is heir to two great evolutions, sometimes unrecognized, often distorted. Some of those obstructionists who fight today hark back to the patriots who were mad as hell and wouldn’t take it any more, and so upended a cargo of British tea. Others who claim this is a Christian nation have the idea that if alive today, Jesus would certainly choose to be an American.

Every American in these dynamic times is free to pick the evolution they aspire to. There are plenty to choose from. We do have two very big ones on the menu. If a rabid revolutionary patriot, you might choose to follow the path of a 21st century version of Enlightenment; you might even study the work of those founding Enlightenists—Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, et al.—for guidance. If a committed Christian it’s even easier. No slogging through the Federalist Papers, or even the whole Bible. Just read and read again the words of Jesus—the ones in red type—and consider just how much evolution he was asking for and expecting. Then again, maybe it’s not evolution he was talking about at all.

121212 Concert: The Music of Dorian Gray

The QuarrymenThat’s a photo of a very young McCartney and Lennon, not yet the most important musicians in modern history. It’s a picture of promise, holding out the happy hope that from small things, big things one day come.

The 121212 Concert marathon was remarkable in ways related and peripheral to the core cause of Sandy relief. None of these collateral issues—not Kanye West’s leather skirt, not out of control ticket scalpers finding insane concertgoers—compares to the epiphany that rock is not, as it turns out, forever. At least not on stage.

Jethro Tull, at one time Grammy award winners for “Best Heavy Metal Album” (you can look it up), sang: “When you’re too old to rock and roll, but you’re too young to die.”

Chris Martin of Coldplay performed a sweet acoustic set, including a rare appearance by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. But Martin’s most interesting non-musical moments were his remarks about the age of performers. First he joked about his being their instead of One Direction because the late hour was past their bedtime. But then he turned to the other end of the life cycle, suggesting that viewers donate in the amount of the age of the performers, which would raise billions.

Rock has always been about three things: how you perform musically, how you perform non-musically (dancing, stage presence), and how you look. Here, with unreserved love for the recorded music and live performances of those mentioned, are some observations about the ”veteran” rockers.

The Rolling Stones are on their 50th anniversary tour. The music sounds pretty good. Charlie Watts, the most stoic drummer ever—maybe the most stoic rock musician ever—just sits there, an older version of his younger self. Keith Richards no longer looks like junkie and instead looks like a grandmother. Mick…is scary. His singing is not what it was, but it isn’t frightening either. But he is skeletal, his face drawn, his hair of questionable ownership, and his moves jerkily frenetic enough to raise fears of his falling down. Listening is still enjoyable, but you may seriously consider closing your eyes.

The Who were better musically than the Stones. They are on tour performing the entire Quadrophenia album live, and their set included instrumentally near-perfect renditions of those songs. Pete Townsend’s guitar windmills were a little slower and less emphatic than they used to be, but we know he can still play. It has been decades, and still no one will ever replace Keith Moon (tied with John Bonham as the all-time greatest drummer). The Who did what Queen and others have done with deceased essential bandmates: showed a video performance integrated into the live show. There was the video of Moon doing his distinctive vocals from Bell Boy, microphone in one hand, sticks working in the other, and at the end, Roger Daltry saluting him from the stage. Roger Daltrey. He can’t get all the notes, but it’s still an inimitable voice. The singing, it turned out, was not the problem. For reasons still (or never) to be fathomed, Daltrey believed that billions in the audience wanted to see his chest—including the stitch-scars from heart surgery—and so he obliged by keeping his shirt open for a couple of hours. It was actually just a few songs, but it seemed much longer.

Billy Joel redeemed the old guys. He has always written great songs suited to his vocal strengths and limitations, and both his playing and singing were so enjoyable and so not embarrassing.

Which brings us back to where we began, with the cute half of Liverpool’s very young Quarrymen. Paul McCartney has had a good number of big public performances in the past months. He dropped in on Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park. He closed the Olympics. Some of what we heard was just okay, but unlike everybody else in the 121212 Concert, just okay would have been forgiven and enough because…it’s Paul. As it turns out, no apologies are needed. His own set was fun and memorable. But his fronting the one-time-only reunited Nirvana was a big moment. Kurt Cobain was a Beatles fan, and there is no doubt his unique introduction of hooky, clever melody into hard and dark rock and punk was done under their influence. At the end of the one song, Nirvana’s locomotive Dave Grohl looked down from his drum kit at McCartney, beaming, maybe amazed to be there, maybe thinking how much Cobain would have loved this.