October 29, 2012 by NowhereButPop
At this very moment, I’m listening to the Who’s Quadrophenia, this could mean everything, or it could mean absolutely nothing. It’s ironic really because when I look back on college (it’s weird that I’m doing that now while still in college) each year is underscored by an album. That is to say that for the most part each year has its own theme that can be expressed or described by a certain album that I specifically listen to at the time. I didn’t know what album summed up freshmen year until later on that summer; sophomore year took about two months to figure out, and junior year took all of three weeks. Senior year however, has been somewhat elusive. The biggest reason for this is because I’ll only be in school for one semester, which has already led to a case of nauseating nostalgia. It’s difficult to find a whole album that is nostalgic of its history, let alone its recent history. And then I put on Quadrophenia.
Besides being a close runner up for “Andrew’s sophomore album of the year”, Quadrophenia is astonishingly nostalgic because it’s about Townshend losing touch with the past, other people and himself. The only problem though is that there is still that underlying twinge of Who patented rage and angst that doesn’t quite do fit. Then I remembered The Who By Numbers, and thought to myself “now we’re getting somewhere”, and then it hit me: I’m an old man! The album that summarizes senior year of college is going to be an old man album.
I have to clarify what exactly an old man album is; it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s the album that a band or artist puts out when they realize that they’re old and that the world has left them behind. Usually, it’s an album that they make for themselves instead of for commercial success or acclaim. Some old man albums are actually pretty good though as it is the sound of self-realization. The Who by Numbers is an old man album, Don Henley’s Building the Perfect Beast is an old man album, Graceland by Paul Simon is an old man album, albeit a more optimistic and upbeat one, In Through the Out Door is an old man album seen exclusively through hindsight. Not every band has had an old man album, but in order to maintain success it’s crucial. The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have never made an old man album. All three bands constantly have tried to maintain relevance by either trying too hard sound like their old selves, or change too much to try and appeal to the pop kids.
The Stones had Some Girls and it was amazing, but their albums after that tried too hard to recapture that sound and as a result they haven’t had a #1 record in over 30 years. They tried too hard to change with the times to the point where it came off as insincere. Aerosmith is like a cockroach; they don’t die. They hit it big in the mid-70s, had a comeback in the late-80s, came back in the early-90s, and then again in the early-00s. Now they’re trying to do it again, but at this point no one cares. They’ve done it before, simply by playing the same old kind of music. It’s good music, but the stuff that they’re doing now is exactly the same stuff they did 20, 30, and 40 years ago, it’s just not as good now as it was back then. The Chili Peppers have likewise never had an old man album. Over the past ten years they keep saying how every album they record is different from any of their other stuff, but it’s not, in fact it’s not as good. Especially with I’m With You, the Red Hot Chili Peppers sound like they’re poorly covering their own songs. They’re trying to do something new, but have in fact either been doing the same thing they’ve been doing over the past ten years, or do things that fans don’t want to hear.
The reason why no one remembers 80s Rolling Stones, 00s Aerosmith, or will remember 10s Red Hot Chili Peppers is because at one point or another all of these bands came to the opportune moment to record an old man album, one that would have confessed to what all their fans already know, but they didn’t. Instead they tried to cover it all up by trying to come back via doing the same thing or coming out of left field. The Rolling Stones old man album should have come somewhere between 1973’s Goats Head Soup and 1978s Some Girls. In the former there are slight hints that their decadent lifestyle is getting to them and by the latter they have already re-invented themselves as a relevant and trend setting rock band for the next five years. An old man album in between would have rectified the two and allowed them to put away that baggage and fear of being obsolete. But it never happened, and the band never regained their status after 1981.
Aerosmith should have made 1987’s Permanent Vacation their old man album. The preceding album Done With Mirrors, their first take at a comeback, failed horribly. To try and re-assert themselves to a new generation they should have confronted their past instead of making another proto-typical Aerosmith album. What would have done a great deal would have been if they put “Monkey on My Back” from 1989’s Pump on Permanent Vacation instead. They should have tried to rise from the ashes rather than pretend like nothing happened. The problem is that they picked up right where they left off as if the 11 years between Rocks and Permanent Vacation never happened. Once you get past the nostalgia factor surrounding their comeback, I think it’s plain to see that because they never did enough in admitting that they had changed as individuals and grown older, the fact that they played the same music wore thin rather quickly.
Out of the three bands, the Red Hot Chili Peppers came the closest to an old man album with 1999’s Californication. The only problem is that they were too young and it wasn’t enough. If Blood Sugar Sex Magik is a young man’s album, then Californication is a middle aged album. Their most recent release I’m With You should have been their old man album. They got a new guitarist, frontman Anthony Kiedis became a father, they lost some close friends, Flea began experimenting with other forms of music, and three members of the band turned 50. While some songs clearly portray a more learned and introspective Chili Peppers the overall state of the album sounds too much like a band trying to lazily remake the songs that made them famous in the first place. But, between Californication and I’m With You, there is enough to make an old man album. The factors that would have made an old man album were just spread out between twelve years that a single cohesive and mind-boggling amazing album couldn’t have been made. This is how it would have looked though:
|1) Monarchy of Roses||2) Otherside|
|3) Scar Tissue||4) Californication|
|5) Easily||6) Police Station|
|7) Quixoticelixer||8) Porcelain|
|9) Emit Remmus||10) Savior|
|11) This Velvet Glove||12) Brendan’s Death Song|
|13) Ethiopia||14) Road Trippin’|
|15) Even You Brutus?|
I think an old man album represents a sense of knowledge that the past is but prologue and that things are going to be different in the future. It’s best to tuck the past away and see it for what it was. In the right circumstances this is both a great and powerful notion to have. That’s how I feel about college, I had fun while I was here, but now I’m ready to do something else, something different. I’ve seen people who were so unable to let go of college and I think to myself, I’d rather be an old man than a pouting child. Right now I’m listening to “Ethiopia” my favorite track of I’m With You, and I think to myself “Graceland would be a nice album to summarize senior year”. Then I look up to the sky and smile to see the sun shine on my face, and I know that I can close the book on college and open the book on the rest of my life.
 Most of my comprehension and thought process now occurs vis-à-vis music or sports.
 A conundrum: is this art imitating life or life imitating art? A paradox for another time perhaps.