Thursday, February 25, 2010

YouTube Clips That Live Up To My Expectations

What a wonderful tool today's bored rock historian has at his disposal! When unlimited access to mp3s simply isn't cutting it, there's unlimited access to old video clips. And not just videos, but concert footage, fan-made films, even the occasional interview excerpt. A small minority of these clips are a waste of time. The overall majority are interesting, but nothing you'd want to watch more than once or twice. But then there are those certain clips that perfectly manage to capture everything you love about that song, or that band, or that song coming from that band at that particular time and place. These are what I would call "YouTube clips that live up to my expectations."

Although the combination of music and video has been popular for a long time, I've generally felt that music videos are a let-down. They tend not to match the more interesting images in my head. Unlike my fellow blogger Zrbo, I did not grow up with MTV. In most cases I have spent at least a decade or two becoming intimately familiar with the recording of a song while having no knowledge of its video. Perhaps part of my lack of enthusiasm for the art of video is simply based on my previous lack of access to it, i.e. "Well, I can't watch the video, but it probably sucks anyway so hopefully I'm not missing out on anything too good."

Well those days are over. Now that I've started watching many of the videos I may have missed, though, I have to say I don't think I was too far off in my judgment. But every once in a while, there are exceptions. A great band treats a video as simply another extension of their art, the way that they treat album covers, liner notes, and interviews. It becomes part of their image. Sometimes a band really manages to just nail it. I will see a clip and think, "This is everything I hoped it would be and more."

For example: R.E.M.'s "Radio Free Europe" (embedding is disabled so I have to link it; it's also mislabeled as "Driver 8" but ignore that). For me this video perfectly encapsulates what makes early R.E.M. so unique and distinctive. College. The South. Jangly things. Like Murmur, it's brooding and moody and yet so indecipherable it retains an odd, humorous touch. I can really imagine some kid up late at night in his dorm room in 1983 catching this clip on TV and thinking, "Who the hell are these guys?," and yet wanting to know the answer. "It's not quite mainstream rock, but it's not quite underground punk. It's not Toto, and it's not Minor Threat. What is it?" In other words, I think, my friends, that they nailed it.

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