Dateline: early 2012 (although you’d be forgiven if it seems off). The scene: America, land of the free and home of rock and roll. Tangled up in the news: reunions of bands that are stalwarts in their own areas. And the general response? Excitement at the announcements, and a mixed bag when after the dust has settled.
Within 24 hours, Van Halen (the original line-up minus bassist Michael Anthony) released their first new single in 15 years, and Coachella announced its line-up for the 2012 festival, and there are a number of bands on the roster that haven’t played together in years, including Mazzy Star, At the Drive In, fIREHOSE, and Refused (according to the rumor-mill, Black Sabbath was set to headline with their original Ozzy-infused line-up prior to Tony Iommi’s announcement of lymphoma). Critics and fans alike are buzzing about both, to different extremes – the new Van Halen is mediocre, and who with a pulse can’t wait to see the reunion of [insert band here]?
It’s not the first time we’ve seen all this in recent years. Recent months, even — did you catch Queens of the Stone Age on tour last year, just before the new Jane’s Addiction disc hit? If you did, do you remember either? If so, is it a favorable memory?
Outside of the bands that remain broken up for rather permanent reasons — The Who, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, to name but a few — these reunions usually arrive with hype and hope. It’s exciting as hell, for me, to hear that bands that put out landmark music for me might be getting together and doing it again. Who wouldn’t hope for another Dark Side of the Moon, Paranoid, or Fair Warning? And the studios and the managers and PR machines do their jobs brilliantly, teasing and tantalizing and tempting, right up until the minute of the album release or concert… and then, the seemingly inevitable letdown. Sure, some fans are satisfied if not elated at the new tunes, but most, usually, sadly, are not.
The concert reunions, especially the one-offs (thinking now of Pink Floyd at Live8 in 2005), can be promising. But most of these are short-lived, and that small window doesn’t allow time for the old tensions and bickering and personality conflicts to reignite. Instead, you get that glowing moment of the best of what the pairing had to offer, delivered with the passion and power of freshly-uncovered memory. Given time, though, most of these reunions see the bitterness and petty problems and such creep back in, and the eventual press release is copied word-for-word from the original break up, with only dates and occasionally names updated.
Reunions are, I’m reasonably convinced, one of two things: a desperate attempt for a cash grab, or a misguided attempt to reclaim the past. In the former case, I guess it’s not all bad, and perhaps the blame for these things continuing to happen lies at the feet and wallets of the fans who continue to support them, no matter how many times they’ve already been burned. The latter — well, perhaps the same, since good occasionally comes out of it (although for the life of me, I can’t think of a single example to back up my point; I’m trying to be optimistic, though). But in this case, I think you can blame the band members — because the passion seems so genuine, and given that we all want to hope for the best, that’s just fuel for the fire that is fed by our dollars.
Think about your friends, specifically the really cute couple that was together and magical for a few years, but then broke up after things got sour. Maybe you’ve just heard they’re getting back together, and you’re managing to forget how miserable they (and everyone around them) were for the last 8 or 10 months before things finally hit the breaking point. You’ve conveniently put out of your head the stories you heard from them both about the petty arguments and irritations and other irredeemable qualities for a year afterward. “Hey,” you think, “those two always were so cute, and fun, and I’m convinced they can still make beautiful babies.”
Yeah, maybe. I want to be optimistic, just like you. But those babies are gonna have two Christmases every year before a decade passes, no matter how cute they are.
All that said, if anyone wants to put me in front of At the Drive In before it’s time for a Mars Volta reunion, I promise to be a little more hopeful. At least, publicly. Until they announce a new album…