This is what comes from reading my kid's computer gamer magazine while flying across the Atlantic.
Flying home to San Francisco from southern Africa — and God, how I loved that 22-hour, three-airplane trip — I found myself at 2 a.m. Namibian time, wide awake, and somewhere over the Atlantic.
If the Vicodin I was taking for a torn knee ligament (a boat crash on the Okavango River … it's a long story) wasn't putting me to sleep, nothing would.
I couldn't bear another aisle tour and I'd seen all the movies on the in-flight. So I put on the headphones and, while I channel-surfed the audio, also pulled my sleeping 12 year-old's PC gamer 'zine out of the pocket in front of him. The channel I finally settled upon was the best of the Everly Brothers. Thirty tracks of perfect harmonies and Boudleaux and Felice Bryant songs.
I'd spent much of the summer listening to new stuff — the Strokes, Hives and the White Stripes — some of it good, some lousy, but all of it derivative. Rock is in its decadent phase, and I don't think there's a John Fogerty or Johnny Rotten or Kurt Cobain around to save it this time.
So it was nice to listen again to the pure, first-generation stuff, when rock 'n' roll wasn't the dominant cultural establishment and all you needed was three chords and a girl to impress.
Rock critic Joel Selvin once wrote that Don Everly had the most soulful voice God ever gave a white man. I'm not sure that goes far enough.
During their famous reunion tour 15 years I ago, I watched several thousand people visibly melt during their performance of "Let It Be Me." Not only did the pair hit harmonies so pure they throbbed, but then came that amazing bridge by Don — the one that goes "Each night when we meet love/I find complete love/Without your sweet love/What would life be?" — that may be the most beautiful in pop music history.
Music Appreciation, the Vertical Way
So I sat there for more than an hour in the darkened airplane, listening to 25 years of the Everly Bros., from the impossibly young voices of "Bye-Bye Love" and "Bird Dog," through the dark years before the break-up and then the triumphant reunion at Albert Hall and the McCartney-penned "On the Wings of a Nightingale", one of the great pop songs of the 1970s.
As I listened, I was struck by the fact that this kind of vertical exploration of single artist was nearly impossible just 25 years ago. Unless you were rich and had a vast collection of LPs, you really couldn't listen to the entire trajectory of a career. Sure there were Greatest Hits collections, but they inevitably missed the great, but obscure stuff.
And that was just the artists. What if you wanted to listen to all the recordings of Bryant's songs, not just by the Everlys, but by Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell and (God forbid) Richard Chamberlain? Or how about all the recordings played on by the great Motown bassist James Jamerson?
Impossible? Not anymore, thanks to digital recordings and Web downloads. How many people avail themselves of this amazing opportunity? More than we know, especially kids.
I've watched my 12-year-old over the last couple years as, using Napster (when he could), CD-Rs from his buddies and Amazon when he could talk me into it, to burrow through the history of the Beatles, the Who, Metallica and Nirvana.