Monday, 16 April 2012

Knockin' on Heavens stage door...

This passing weekend at California’s Coachella festival fans of hip hop, and music as a whole, were amazed to see Tupac Shakur share the stage with old friends Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as they ripped through their hits one by one. For those of you not aware of the significance of this, let me explain. Tupac has been dead for 15 years! Not in the creative ‘I’m trying something different/ going progressive/ writing my life story/ living in a commune’ dead but actually DEAD. This feat of technology deserves a Grammy in itself as even on repeat viewings I can’t see ‘the wires’, it’s phenomenal work by all those involved and spine tingling when he first appears to the screams of the fans it both inspires and confuses on both sides of the fence.

The questions being asked all over the internet are whether it is right to include people that are no longer living in events that they may or may not have even participated in should they have been alive. In the past we have had John Lennon reunited with The Beatles when the Anthology was released while artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Tupac himself have been offering a steady flow of ‘new’ material year after year, even Heath Ledger has appeared in films after his own tragic death.

The live show this weekend with Tupac, Dre and Snoop definitely shows that when this type of thing works it really works. Far from being an image cut and paste into a film by fancy CGI effects or using footage on a big screen and mixing the audio together with live instrumentation like the recent Zappa Plays Zappa tour (where Frank takes the guitar solo in unison with Dweezil on a nightly basis). This ‘live’ on stage idea seems to cross the final barrier and bring the fans closer to their idol one last time and to show those who aren’t aware why he was so important within the hip hop and pop culture.

Do these albums, films and live gigs lack authenticity and just simply pull on the heart strings of the fans in a ruse to squeeze a little more money from the now defunct cash cow? Or are they crossing new horizons and bringing old footage and memories to life once again and bringing the talents to a new generation in the cyber face to face?

For Hendrix there has been many, many, many recordings released since his death in 1970 and although not every note is a classic piece of work there are definitely reams of diamonds in this mine of post mortality output. Considering he only saw 3 releases in his own lifetime it is amazing that due to his own capabilities, as a recording artist and musician, he was able to squirrel away so much quality material in a very short space of time.

I do believe that it can go too far as executives and keepers of the estate in the past have pushed good taste to the limit. Jimi Hendrix red wine, golf balls and cringe worthy Gibson signature guitars designed to look like his iconic Fender Stratocaster but sold through Gibson as they out-bid Fender as it’s clearly “what Jimi would have wanted”… On the other hand I’m sure that record labels are rubbing their hands at the thought of being able to resurrect old acts and get them ‘touring’ again without having to foot hotel bills and deal with hissy diva behaviour. Will we have Billie Holiday and John Coltrane playing the Apollo Theatre in Harlem once again or even watch a gig in New York and see the Andy Warhol era Velvet Underground in all their glory? It could even be used as a runner up to new material by aging acts, maybe just let the older musicians handle the studio output and send the longer versions of themselves on the road i.e. send out The Rolling Stones 1972 version on the road and keep the 2012 version in the studio?

It’s all down to personal preference I guess and although this could be seen to be a tip of the iceberg when it comes to possibilities regarding deceased artists, the real fan will always prefer something real and different from what they can find on YouTube any day of the week. One of the best things about attending a live show is the interaction between the stage and the audience and considering these ‘concerts’ are made up of previously released footage from older gigs they are still from a different time and place. As exciting as it would be seeing The Beatles at Shea Stadium show transported to the O2 Arena in 2012 I’m sure it would tire by the time it had been toured year after year until the crowd just wised up to the fact that they were watching a £10.99 DVD of the gig projected onto the stage and simply stopped coming back. The technology is here, who'll be the first to pick up the baton and run with it? Bowie? Todd Rundgren? Kraftwerk? (God I hope not)

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