So there really isn’t much comparison between these two bands. They have no similarity musically, lyrically, stylistically, or even geographically. Yet I see these two one day being mentioned in the same breath from a relevance standpoint.
Consider what Pink Floyd meant to the 70s. They were very much different from anything else being produced. Almost an enigma from a publishing agent’s view. There was very little commercially marketable material on any of their albums, and their concerts weren’t exactly full of anthems. They sang about big ideas and not the typical sex, drugs, and partying. So how did such an odd band make it to sell more than a couple of albums? The fan base was grown from a certain type of listener. It wasn’t an effort of making the music palatable to the masses, it was making the music the way they heard it and hoping that it made its way to the ‘right’ kind of people. This strategy has been the launching pad for a lot of great artists, not just in music but in every other medium in which people can express themselves. It doesn’t always work. I wonder how much greatness was lost from those who really couldn’t find an outlet for themselves. But when art is uncompromised to the whims of the dollar, it can become a new genre unto itself. Others then want to imitate you. With Pink Floyd, their style changed throughout the years, but they always kept a unique sound that makes you feel the meaning in your core.
In the 90s several bands made me feel this same way. In particular, Nirvana. It was very odd to me to watch a band which no one in this area liked until they started getting airplay on the radio become something so huge that this generation thinks they must always have been popular. NIN was the same way. There was a time when I couldn’t get any of the rock stations in this area to even play Head Like A Hole because industrial music was in it’s infancy and yet to be popular. When I listen to those original, groundbreaking albums, I still don’t hear anything marketable…yet occasionally I’ll hear some deep track on the commercial radio. Last generation’s underground becomes this generation’s pop.
[Of course, there’s a ton of stuff I could write on the Aussie eco-band Midnight OIl. I’ll save that for another post.]
Now for the tie-in with Tool. A student asked me this week if I listen to them. I surprised and confused him with the response, “Well, I liked Lateralus better than the current album because it had less marketable material on it.” Then I explained…There was a great hard-rock band back in the 80s called Living Colour. They were three black guys with more talent than just about any band out at the time. Their music really spoke to me, but their great downfall was the inability to get any of it on the radio. Their albums had to be listened to almost like an epic with one song bleeding into the next. Technically, it was difficult to listen to. They were just too good to be enjoyed by the masses, who like music you can whistle to. They could have simply played what everyone wanted to hear and could’ve made a good living at that for the rest of the decade, but I’m glad they didn’t because my music library is richer because of them. Tool is like that. They’re too good. Yet somehow that hasn’t reduced their popularity. Much of their material still can’t get airplay, but a surprising amount does. Now, I am not a Tool fan. I can listen to their bass player for hours, but overall I really don’t like the purpose behind much of their lyrics, so I don’t listen to the band that much. I’ve never seen them in concert, even given ample opportunity.
But I can see their relevance. They have stayed true through the years to a unique style. A style that is now being imitated by a dozen other up-and-comers. A style that had to find an audience to survive, and survive it has. They continue to sell albums and ignore the masses. The right people found them. 30 years from now, those people will look at their music collections and shift through the stuff they were suckered into buying by some friend or movie soundtrack and they’ll find something they really want to listen to. Something with meaning. Something you have to pay attention to when its playing. Will they chose Pink Floyd, Nirvana, or Tool? Doesn’t matter. Because by then it’ll all be on the Classic station and the current generation will think that everyone must have listened to that when their parents were kids.
This generation’s underground becomes the next generation’s pop.