JAIMIE VERNON – Living in the Past

I guess Timeline isn’t my thing because it’s all about the past – and I’m not…” – singer-songwriter Wendy Lands.

Miss Lands’ quote might be the most profound confessional I’ve ever read on the infantile social network Facebook. She clearly articulates a differing view concerning Facebook’s new Timeline format which puts all your deepest, darkest, most embarrassing artifacts into chronological order like that long-forgotten diary stuffed between the mattress layers where you can revisit a past you just as soon forget.

Ironic, then, that the majority of other people complaining about the look and feel of the new interface – as an affront to unchanging stability in their life – are the ones most likely to be sucked into its nostalgic vortex. Wendy Lands is not one of those people. Like myself, she continues moving forward and wants to one day see the finish line…whenever that might be.

Just landed on my desk: a few copies of Jethro Tull’s ‘Thick as a Brick, Part 2’. Think I’ll celebrate tonight by scarfing down a Calgary Export Ale while watching the playoff game between the Minnesota North Stars and California Golden Seals.” – CBC Radio’s Mark Rheaume

Mark isn’t falling for it either. “It” is this insatiable urge to not just revisit the past, but to be consumed by it and continue to live there for as many hours as we can steal in a day. Daily we are faced with the prospect of getting back into our pop culture time machines driven by the flux capacitor of vinyl, VCRs, television and celluloid to reminisce and ruminate on all manner of the ‘Good Ol’ Days’. But those days are coated in pixie dust and burnished memories. Even some of the unpleasant events in our past are met with the dichotomy of the warm and fuzzies that come with them. My wife recently confessed to me that she avoided a musical reunion because the mixed emotions surrounding the original ‘happening’ were some of the worst days of her life…but she loved the music it produced. My grandmother died in her ‘90s having spent nearly 30 years retelling stories – many of them traumatic – that were all centred around events pre-1970. I loved her to death but am sad at the notion that she squandered 30 years of LIVING so she could replay every perceived slight over-and-over-and-over again in her head and to anyone in earshot . She never lived out her days happily in the present but miserably in the past.

The past is supposed to teach us about life so that we can grow up to be wizened oracles. Some, it seems, are stunted in that growth. But it’s hard to extract ourselves from who we were and what the world once was as we go screaming toward our inevitable fate. It’s easier to hide in the way-back machine than face an uncertain end. But we had to at some point, didn’t we? When, as a species, do we change gears from “God, I can’t wait to leave home and out of the clutches of my controlling parents” into “The world’s going to hell in a hand-basket?” When does the disconnect begin to creep in? When our hopes and dreams don’t come true or when they do? My personal theory is that it culminates when we create progeny. Nothing like having our own personal generation gap nipping on our heels 24/7. Children are the quickest way to gauge how far we’ve evolved personally when their actions and their language highlight our stubbornness to change who and what we are (for real or as we perceive it). My late father was a curious Baby Boomer oddity – he was very ‘meat & potatoes’ in terms of moral compass, political view or a damn good meal; There was no way you were ever going to get him to change any of those things. However, he embraced technology and the impact it had on pop culture – from quad stereo systems to stand-alone desktop computers to the internet itself. He neither battened the hatches on his past nor had face-offs against the new regime. He absolutely loved music so he was just as quick to denounce a shit Beatles tune (“Thank God they stopped all that “yeah, yeah, yeah” screaming nonsense) as he was to embrace Robert Plant or Michael Bublé. In his declining days he set up his record collection in a spare bedroom in the house with a CD burner and started transferring material to digital form – not because he was nostalgic (there were also Garth Brooks and Shania cassettes he also flipped)  but so that he’d have a library to listen to. It was the sum of all his musical preferences and the continuity of pushing that collection into the next evolving format. He also spent hours tinkering with a voice-to-text document translator and a webcam so he could keep his vocal chords exercised as Lou Gehrig’s disease slowly robbed him of speech. This was someone not living in the past but resolutely stealing one more minute from the future.

I always saw nostalgia as a Pac-Man like monster that eats pellets of the present day and ultimately shortening the amount of days we have ahead of us. It’s like a time traveling feedback loop where we can both live in the past and the present simultaneously. That is, of course, until the abstract bitch slap of reality slams it head-long into a brick wall.

The Amy Winehouse/Whitney Houston/Davy Jones death trifecta was merely the Grim Reaper’s overture. The past 10 days has brought us a Faustian pop culture landslide of those who have died, those who are now dying and others resurrected from what used to be the definitive end (Tupac Shakur’s going on tour 16 years after his death through clever and creepy holographic technology). Maybe this is the opening salvo of the Mayan Apocalypse.; take out the heroes first – it will make the true believers weak and leave them living in their mind’s eye. Many write this off as the changing of the guard. We’re getting older as a Boomer society – there’s bound to be casualties. And yet here we are in the exact time period where pop culture has grown into an industry, where the creation of music, TV, film and the refined arts shits silkworm-like by-products that are then recycled and regurgitated into McNugget sized brickettes for us to re-consume. And so, the entertainment Overlords have decreed that these McNuggets shall be christened Blu-Ray discs, CD boxed sets, YouTube and Netflix. In generations past the words ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ had mortality defining implications. Now it’s more likely to be the title of David Bowie’s next greatest hits regurgitation.

I expect we’ll be seeing a lot of roll calls over the next decade  – the last of the 50 foot tall Boomer scene makers, shakers and innovators. The audience that lived in a co-dependent universe to these giants will be completing their life cycle as well and everything that nostalgia represented will merely be museum curios to our children’s children. All that has been manufactured physically and viscerally that dominated our lives as entertainment will be as quaint to them as nickelodeons, circuses and radio’s Theatre of the Mind was to us. Until then, we will continue celebrating and mourning the last of our Pop Culture Soldiers:

Dick Clark (November 30, 1929 – April 18, 2012) – the eternal teenager and purveyor of rock and roll television through four decades of ‘American Bandstand’ and who built the buggy that MTV attached its wheels to.
When we performed on “American Bandstand”, he was gracious and totally professional. We sat in make-up with him and shot the breeze and that is where he got the topics he brought up in the on-air interview. The show was lip-synced and we played “Switchin’ to Glide” and “Don’t Let Me Know”. The other band on the show was Rockpile with Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds. I thought we blew them off the stage, which was always our intention with any band we played with. In the parking lot after I remember Dick and his wife getting in a station wagon, I think we were in our manager’s Rolls. He was a class act for sure and he shall be missed.” – John Picard, guitarist for THE KINGS (“This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide”).

Mike Wallace (May 9, 1918 – April 7, 2012) – interviewer, anchorman and correspondent most notably for investigative TV journal ’60 Minutes’ and his own 1950s interview show ‘The Mike Wallace Show’.

Levon Helm (May 26, 1940 – April 19, 2012) – drummer, singer and actor whose legacy as a member of Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks and the rebranded Hawkins-lessThe Band carved a deep groove of influence amongst Canadian and American musicians alike.
“Yet another great voice silenced too soon. I first met Levon at the old Friar’s Tavern (now the Hard Rock Cafe) when I was 14…a few years back I played a 65th birthday tribute to Ronnie Hawkins at Massey Hall…Levon was beside me on stage waiting to go on…I asked him if he would be kind enough to join me for my song but he gently declined, not wishing to “upset the apple cart”…later he ran up the hallway downstairs and I got out of his way…he stopped in front of me, put his hands on my shoulders and said, “You’re the only one that played a shuffle tonite, and I love shuffles! I’m not going to make that mistake again!’…I floated out of that venue…God speed, Levon Helm”. – Greg Godovitz, guitarist/singer for Goddo, Fludd and a late period version of Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks.

Richie Teeter (1951 – April 10, 2012) – drummer for The Dictators.

Greg Ham (1954-April 19, 2012) – saxophonist and flutist for 1980s Australian hit-makers Men At Work.

Johnathan Frid (December 2, 1924 – April 14, 2012) – a Canadian television and film actor who caught a break doing a cameo for the bizarre 1960’s vampire soap opera ‘Dark Shadows’ which he turned into the show’s most popular character. Frid’s last film role would be a cameo in Tim Burton’s upcoming camp homage to the show on the big screen. Johnny Depp plays Frid’s original role as Barnabas Collins.

Fans and pundits are also standing vigil for The Parachute Club’s Billy Bryans who is in palliative care for lung cancer and The Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb who lapsed into a pneumonia triggered coma on the back of his own battle with cancer.
“I didn’t work with the Bee Gees (but I) met them when I was about 15.  We hung out a lot in Australia and made some music and 8mm films together.  They influenced me to pursue both music and film, and as you know, I have managed to forge a career in both.  I was much closer to Maurice than Robin.  I stayed at Maurice’s house for about 4 weeks in 1971, when he was married to Lulu. It was an adventure. Robin got pissed off with me, and has never forgiven me because at age 16 I didn’t let him drive my father’s car after I let Maurice have a go. The fact was Robin couldn’t drive.  He was known for car accidents later in his life, and gave up driving all together in his 20s. Years later, when I was backstage at the Universal Amphitheater chatting with Barry and Maurice, Robin walked over and said: “Peter Foldy.  What are you doing here?  You didn’t let me drive your car and I haven’t forgiven you” or words to that effect.That was the last time we spoke.” – Peter Foldy, singer-songwriter (“Bondi Junction”) and film director.

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Listen to Jaimie when he guests this week on CFRB’s “In The Studio” 8PM EST Saturday or 10PM EST Sunday http://www.newstalk1010.com

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia available at http://www.bullseyecanada.com/encyclopedia.html and on Amazon.com  for KINDLE users.


2 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON – Living in the Past”

  1. Wow! I inspired a very cool blog…my day is made! Here’s to the futrure, Jaimie Vernon : )

  2. Jim Chisholm in Campbell River, BC Says:

    Maybe having a good balance between living in the past and looking to the future is a good way to be in the moment. Thanks for this Jaime.

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