Last week I wrote about the Covid-19 pandemic creating opportunities for musicians to reconnect and remember why they became musicians in the first place.
Remember? It’s so drummers and Billy Joel can attract women.
No, I won’t get over it.
The coronavirus shutdown may have another effect on musicians: expectations. At least from those from whom we’ve come to expect good music. This period in time is being compared in scope to 9/11, which isn’t necessarily wrong. That was the last time no one saw the previously unthinkable change day to day life, at least for a while.
But … the result to the music world was pretty amazing.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 2002 (2003 and 2004 didn’t suck either) saw some of the best work from some great artists. Not everyone was writing about terrorist attacks. But when the world slowed down, people started reflecting on what they really considered important. That kind of thing can inspire greatness among those with creative bents.
Or maybe our perception changed. Perhaps our receptors got sharpened and we were hearing music differently. Either way, the perception was there. And I’m hoping it happens again.
To be fair, when 9/11 happened, I was two months into returning to full-time music journalism, after spending six months in the role, temporarily, in 1999-2000. Then the regular guy came back, and I went back to writing about news, biding my time (plotting) until the job opened back up.
Therefore, I was in an unimaginably great place the first few years of the century. I was being paid to listen to music all day. Which didn’t suck. You could’ve hit me in the head with a flaming pipe and I would’ve been fine with it, as long as you didn’t knock off my headphones. I also had an awesome new baby, was a new homeowner, was in a band, had more years ahead of me, etc.
That aside, the evidence is there. Five reasons music was better, for a while anyway, after 9/11:
1. People stopped listening to Limp Bizkit.
Point made, thank you … good night.
OK, fine … since we’re here:
2. Bruce Springsteen made a mid-career masterpiece, The Rising, released in 2002. Much of it really was prompted by 9/11. It was an impossible task; like Springsteen decided he was responsible for speaking for everyone affected. And he did it wonderfully, making his best record since the 1970s.
3. A great band, Wilco, released its best record, Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, in 2002. They also managed to leave egg on the face of its major label, which dropped them after Wilco had the nerve to stretch its creative wings—with amazing results. Then Wilco released its record on a smaller label bankrolled by the bigger one, making the whole thing really funny.
4. Sonic Youth released Murray Street in 2002 with Jim O’Rourke as a member. Why, yes, he also mixed Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. Evidently, it was good to be Jim O’Rourke in 2002. I’ll spare you the fanboy blithering of why Sonic Youth is so much better than your favorite band. They just are and it’s my column, so …
5. Beck got introspective on 2002’s Sea Change, with results so good, he could’ve sued himself for plagiarism a dozen years later for the also-good Morning Phase.
6. Oh by the way … Sleater-Kinney, the Von Bondies, Missy Elliot, Interpol, Queens of the Stone Age, Tom Waits (twice!), Eminem (didn’t really want to like it, but I did), Neko Case, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Broken Social Scene, Norah Jones, and even Coldplay’s record was pretty good that year.
That’s not to say there wasn’t some fantastic music in 1999, 2000 and 2001. I’m not sure film has had a better year than 1999, which sort of blows my theory out of the water.
Maybe musicians are just sensitive. But the bar is set for those at home, plinking around an instrument with nothing better to do. It’s not the worse idea to dig up and old playlist and let 2002 be your guide.
Follow music critic Tony Hicks at Twitter.com/TonyBaloney1967.