Sunday, February 03, 2008

Nostalgia vs. Reality: a Cap'n Jazz Video

Cap'n Jazz, circa 1995 or so. This won't mean much to most people, because I think that I discovered Cap'n Jazz at a time when I realized that songs could really be from where your heart is, and that a feeling can transfer to other people through the medium of song. Because of that, it might be a "you had to be there" kind of nostalgia.

But allow me to talk about how wonderful this video is, and then I will tell you why I suspect that it might be hard for bands this weirdly great to come along in the future.

So, this song: A lot of the music that I listened to 12 years ago, I'm not that into, or when I hear it, I just think, "eww, I have certainly progressed since then." But this song in particular is still really exciting to me. Maybe it's because it never was recorded in the studio, the only versions of it floating around are live recordings. We're left with this raw, jagged version of their vision.

Seeing the video is impressive in a very different way, because the members of Cap'n Jazz are very very young. They just look like the kids that delivered your newspaper. There's Tim Kinsella, wearing a Reece's shirt, and little Davey von Bohlen, before he went bald and started that way less-cool band The Promise Ring. People always say that Cap'n Jazz was a very influential band in the formation of the emo sound, and in terms of pedigree, that is certainly true (Davey went on to do The Promise Ring, Mike Kinsella went on to do Owen, American Football, etc.), but I think that musically, their influence may have been felt, but not heard. There were hardly any bands after them sounded like they did, and certainly there were no bands that sounded as good, as weirdly and wonderfully wrong as they did. I think what really happened is that Braid was influenced by Cap'n Jazz, and lots of people ripped off Braid and The Promise Ring. Braid, The Promise Ring, etc. were not as weird and were lyrically and musically quite a bit more palpable to the cardigan-clad masses. Anyway, the point of belaboring this issue of their influence on "emo" is all but lost, since what is called "emo" these days is (musically anyway) pretty disassociated with what this style used to describe.

I think one of the main reasons that nobody really pulled off sounding like them is because these guys actually had chops. They certainly aren't just playing power chords on those guitars. The drumming is authoritative and powerful, and the singing is completely original and actually pretty in tune, despite the "pitchiness" of Tim Kinsella's voice being a major gripe of many boring fans of boring music. He's like the Tom Waits of 1995. Nobody likes Tom Waits because his voice sounds "right." He was inventing his own way of singing. I guess I really like music where they don't fully grasp what it is that they're doing. If they were to figure it out, it would all crumble up into itself in insignificance.

I read once that Cap'n Jazz really wanted to sound like this local band that they worshiped, but that it turned out that this band just was trying to sound like Dinosaur Jr. Within two "generations," there was a band that sounds nothing like Dinosaur Jr. but that sounded like something completely fresh and different. They were listening to local bands, and getting influence by local music that was happening around them. It was like a genetic mutation that resulted from musical inbreeding, but instead of it being a toothless child with blue skin, it was a really great band. I guess that's why I always kind of worried about the whole "iPod generation" thing that seems to be happening. It gets harder for real, "tribal" (in the case of Cap'n Jazz, these "tribes" were groups of kids in the suburbs of Chicago) music to come about if every kid has access to the "best" of music history on their computer. I have a hard time thinking that a band like this could be born today, that a band of such youth and originality could come along and be so surprising, just because these days it seems like being surprising is harder to pull off than "bringing back the sounds of [insert name of 'classic' band or genre here]." Part of this is the fault of music critics. So much of what I read isn't really music criticism, but is just describing what the music sounds like by comparing it to other music. That's where a lot of this uncreative referentialism comes from. Historically, rock music journalism, and record reviews in particular, were about describing how the music felt, and wasn't just a tagging exercise like it is in so much of today's music journalism.

Does this mean that kids should be cut off from hearing a lot of music so that the bands they form won't be so damn derivative? Of course not, that would be absurd. But if this true and great organic musical innovation that I am jonesin' for comes from the perfect mixture of natural aptitude PLUS musical naiveté, then maybe there's something to that. Quien sabe.

Anyway. Cap'n Jazz, they're still impressive after all this time. They kind of sound like they discovered a musical monolith from another planet, and that is exactly the way I like it.

P.S. (But really, why am I talking like this? The pattern of music that is "revolutionary" clearly shows that it comes out of nowhere despite people like me constantly declaring that rock and roll is dead once and for all. Something new and amazing will come along, don't worry. These youngsters have a knack for making that happen. I have faith.)

P.P.S. I gotta stop this late-night, multi-paragraph blogging. I wake up the next morning and worry that I wrote something totally boring or out of line.


fumiko said...

every now and again i hear the refrain from que suerte in my head but i never hear the real lyrics. it's always...

give me some puppies....

M. H. D. said...

I had COMPLETELY forgotten about that! You are a treasure, Miko.

Matt said...

Well put.

It was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that Cap'n Jazz, musically, weren't all that great. Their only full-length sounds overlapped and poorly mixed, and their live shows sound sloppy. But I also think they knew that, and didn't care, so long as they were having fun. That's why this band is so great- their imperfections give them character.