Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sleepless nights, slashing guitars

The Buzzcocks, ca. 1978
Among the legacies of the Punk and New Wave era of the late-70s was the revival of the speed-laden, tight rock and roll performance. Hippies, use back door. The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Jam and countless bands in between, from Pub Rock to No Future, renewed the music they wrote and played with an amphetamine garage band ethos, playing short songs fast. Bands like the Buzzcocks played swift, tuneful songs, and, perhaps ironically given the punk mentality in the air, rarely neglected the pop song-craft of verse-bridge-chorus. In fact, Punk went a long way to restoring the value of the mid-60s AM radio pop song. Easy to see that, in retrospect.

One of my favorite bridges occurs in the Buzzcock's killer 1978 single "What Do I get?" All the singer wants is a lover, a friend, a caress, and/or a break—but what does he get instead? The answer, implied in the unhappy anxiety of the verses, is made explicit in the bridge:
I only get sleepless nights
Alone here in my half-empty bed
For you things, seem to turn out right
I wish they'd only happen to me instead 
Those breakneck changes in the second and fourth lines kill me every time: he's alone and miserable, awake and self-pitying, and the turmoil in his head and heart is best told, and hopefully left behind, via slashing guitars. Even an era intent on destroying the past tells old stories.

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