I'd have given anything to see a Pavement concert in the late-'90s. The indie group embodied quirky, catchy rock and helped shape my taste in music into the eclectic -- if not outright pretentious -- mix it is to date. That band was everything to me, and in that, I'm certain I'm not alone.
In 2010, the group reunited and embarked on a world tour that coincided with the release of a "greatest hits" record. In September, I saw them play at Chicago's Millennium Park. Far from what I'd watched in videos of their '90s performances, the band looked stiff, and almost as though they were there against their own free will. NME described the onstage atmosphere at another tour date as "icy."
By then, most of the band members were in their 40s and had clearly moved past the Pavement stage of their lives, whereas I, still in my Pavement stage of my life, was still feeling like the rebellious kid ready to "fight this generation." While it's easy to understand why a band might be willing to slap on some smiles, throw together a few rehearsals and embark on a reunion tour (money, duh), it's less clear why we, as fans and as consumers, want so badly to resurrect these musical relics from our past.
Watching a band reunite is, in theory, the closest thing a music fan can get to actually reliving their youth, but in practice, it tends to serve more as a reminder that just about anyone can be bought, and more importantly, a reminder that our youth wasn't as perfect as we'd like to remember. What happens when the band you saw a decade earlier announces a stadium tour? Yes, there's momentary gratification, but be honest: Have experiences ever actually met expectations?
In 1998, after releasing "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," indie rock band Neutral Milk Hotel called it quits, and frontman Jeff Mangum all but disappeared off the face of the earth. Rumors of his whereabouts ran wild. Did he die? Did he have a nervous breakdown? Did he join a monastery, become a monk or otherwise take a vow of silence? A 2008 Slate article referred to him as the "Salinger of indie rock."
So long as he held that recluse status, Mangum's work could never be sullied. His absence preserved his work, shrouding it in mystique and leading fans to dissect every moment of recorded music for clues as to why he disappeared as his band finally began to gain national popularity.
He and the rest of Neutral Milk Hotel reunited last year. Gone were the god-like, mysterious figures, replaced by a group of cranky, older men. In reunion, the band has been known to spend time lecturing audience members against taking cell phone pictures, and as was the case when they performed at Pitchfork Music Fest in Chicago this past weekend, requested that any video screens be shut off, all but ensuring that the majority of the crowd wouldn't be able to see them at all.
No fan wants to see their heroes age and become bitter. They want to remember the heydays: The Replacements self-destructing at The Taste of Chicago; Pavement as weird, angsty guys; and Neutral Milk Hotel as that band we weren't meant to really know.
Every reunion show I've ever been to has left me feeling less like the energetic kid I once was, and more the jaded, cynical adult I've become. I still listen to Pavement and Neutral Milk Hotel, but the sense of wonder has faded, and sadly, my appreciation for the music itself has waned.
This is what happens when you resurrect the dead, when you drag people back into a situation in which they'd already received closure.
Parker Marie Molloy is a media activist and RedEye special contributor. Parker's work has appeared in publications ranging from Rolling Stone to the New York Times to The Advocate Magazine.
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