Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An "Epic" Tribute to the Stones, Who and Zeppelin

Along with hearing that the Titanic sank, Pearl Harbor was attacked and Nixon resigned, I was recently made aware that many people much younger and hipper than me frequently use the word “epic” with great frequency.

As an adjective.

To express positive regard about something—such as earlier hipsters might have used “cool” or “rad” or “dope” or “awesome”—but, as has been intimated since I’ve rarely heard it from the horses’ mouths, with a preponderance of hyperbole and no obvious irony or sarcasm.

Such as in, “that was an epic sandwich” or “Mr. Smith is such an epic teacher” or “Breaking Dawn was so epic.” I’m also told “epic” is commonly followed by either “win” or “fail,” as in: “I got a B on my mid-term; epic win.”

Funny thing is, although I have rarely ever used it, I like the word epic as an adjective. However, my connotation would be one that expresses not only that something is great, but rather grandiose in size and/or scope and shown to possess enduring brilliance over a considerable length of time.

“Citizen Kane is an epic film” or “Igor Stravinsky was an epic pianist and composer.”

I like to believe my concept of epic comes closer to the dictionary definition—per heroic; majestic; impressively great; interestingly, the Webster’s on my desk (from 1988) doesn’t define epic as a verb, only a noun.

But not only do I not have first-hand knowledge—merely hearsay and the Urban Dictionary entries—that the average person in or below their mid-20s is rampantly using the word epic erroneously, I’m admittedly unclear about the following distinction:

Is epic being adjectified to praise things the quarterians (those 25 and under; yes, I made it up) truly believe to be epic in the way I’d define it—i.e. is the word being used correctly, just about the wrong things?—or are they nonchalantly using it about things they think are good, but not necessarily extraordinary or historic?

My guess would be the latter. So while I can’t necessarily blame anyone (of a youthful age) for not knowing—or appreciating—the Beatles, Akira Kurosawa or Pablo Picasso, I can blame them for incessantly bestowing “epic” status on individuals, works and things that do not merit it (if what I’ve heard and suspect is indeed true).

Now, I think it’s been well-established that this is not an epic blog post, but all this blathering is essentially just self-justification for me to say the following without feeling like an epic cad:
The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin are three of the most epic rock bands to ever exist, as I have recently had reinforced.
“Well, duh,” you should retort, as I elaborate on what prompted such an epically obvious statement.

The Rolling Stones
I did not go to London for the first two of their 50th Anniversary celebration concerts and I won’t be getting to any of the three in New York. If they opt to tour next year and hit Chicago, I would intend to see them once again but have already done so numerous times. And thanks to the magic of YouTube, I have seen a number of songs performed at London’s O2 arena on Sunday night. Say what you want about them being geezers, but 50 years down the road, the Stones are still much better than most bands half their age. Not just historically—though their legacy is infinitely impressive—but now. Even pushing 70 or having surpassed it (as in Charlie Watts’ case, and that of original bassist Bill Wyman, who played on a couple of songs at the O2), as I believe this clip illustrates:

The Who
I am seeing the Who on Thursday night in Rosemont. The bulk of the show will be devoted to playing Quadrophenia in full. I expect it to be good, but am a little concerned that Roger Daltrey’s voice has declined considerably from the fine instrument it was even 10 years ago (the video below from a recent show seems to substantiate my fears, but reviews I've seen have been positive).

So admittedly, my attendance (in the cheap seats) will be more out of reverence for what the Who once were—when John Entwistle and Keith Moon were still alive— than with expectations that they are still truly outstanding now. I’ll review the show itself, but even though I’ve only seen the Who since 1989 (this will be my 8th time), when they were already well past their prime, I nonetheless consider them one of the best bands of all time (they rank #9 on this list).

And on Monday night, I got the thrill of briefly speaking with, shaking hands with, photographing and getting an autobiography signed by Pete Townshend at Barnes & Noble in Old Orchard. Considering that he pretty much wrote all the early singles, The Who Sell Out, Tommy, Who’s Next, Quadrophenia and more all by himself, I think it is fair to say that it was an epic encounter.

Led Zeppelin
As much as I love the Stones and the Who, and also the Beatles, the Kinks, The Clash, U2 and other epic bands, I don’t think any of them would want to take a concert stage after Led Zeppelin. Not only is their stature truly, well you know, but their new Celebration Day DVD—documenting a one-off reunion show in 2007—is easily the best concert film released in 2012.

Although Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones had not played a full concert together since 1980—the year John Bonham’s death brought an end to the band—they were still truly phenomenal. With Jason Bonham taking over for his father on drums, the band (with no additional musicians) raged through songs like "Good Times, Bad Times," "Black Dog," "Stairway to Heaven," "Kashmir" (video below) and "Rock ’n Roll" every bit as good as you could hope. That the band was even that much better back in the day—as well documented on their 2003 self-titled DVD and How the West Was Won CD—only goes to show how epic they truly were.

If you're wondering what the point of this blog post is, so am I. So on the word epic, I'll leave you with these words: "You want it all but you can't have it; it's in your face but you can't grab it." Now that's an "Epic" ending.

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