The Song Remains the Same

As long as all of our old favorites are cheating death, by proxy, we are, too

The annals of rock and roll are full of bands that broke up, swore they'd never reunite and, then, whaddya know, did just that. The reason for this seeming hypocrisy is a secret only to those that tend to believe rock stars are overflowing with integrity. To make the reunion seem like anything less than a cash grab, they'll tie it to the anniversary of — quick, think of something! — their first recording session or, better still, a concert performance that music geeks deem historic but, really, was virtually identical to the previous hundred or so gigs.

They might even say the reunion was "really, just, ya know, an organic kind of thing." The lead singer happened to bump into the guitarist at Costco, of all places, and they got to talking, and realized all the animosity of the past, which afflicts most any long-term relationship, was just kind of petty (as in "small," rather than as in "Tom"). When, what really happened was a promoter simply posited the fissured band a common hypothetical: How much money would it take for you guys to do the last thing you'd ever want to do?

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That's why a lot of bands do it. But why do we buy overpriced tickets to see them? Is it because we missed them the first time around? Is it because our memory of the first time has faded? Is it pure social currency? All of those reasons are valid, if not slightly pathetic, but, really, there's a bigger reason why we still crave bands that exist way past their expiration dates — it staves off our own fear of death.

As long as The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, KISS — the list and road goes on forever — remain active, so do our dreams of immortality. In this day and age, we all know many bands are brands (I'm talking to you, Gene Simmons!), but what separates The Police from, say, Hot Pockets, is that Hot Pockets are comprised of Armageddon-durable ingredients and The Police are fragile human beings (although some rock critics may perhaps debate this).

You pay $250 to watch and listen to the Stones perform "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and you're essentially witnessing the same performance Meredith Hunter did before he was killed by a Hell's Angel at Altamont in 1969. For chrissakes, KISS in makeup doesn't look any different now than they did when no one knew what the hell they looked like without makeup, forty years ago. The Who concerts are an event today not just because they still play live, but because they are alive (well, half of them, anyway). And as long as all of our old favorites are cheating death, by proxy, we are, too.

One other thing: My least favorite Led Zeppelin tune happens to be my all-time favorite title: "The Song Remains the Same." Those five words are the reason our passion for music refuses to die. Memories fade, but because "Gimme Shelter," "Baba O'Riley" and "Rhiannon" sound today exactly how they sounded back then, those songs are passageways to our youth (at least until some rappers sample them and ruin the whole damn thing).

Certain songs by certain artists — the ones we'll now pay dearly to see — transport us back in time, when the car radio was on, the moon was following us and we wondered to ourselves if the Hotel California really existed, to say nothing of who was partying inside of it. That ancient memory can still make us smile. The whole road was in front of us and another song was just beginning.

Tags: music