If recent reunions by Soundgarden and Faith No More haven’t dispelled the myth of permanent disbandment, announcements by Refused and At the Drive-In (made even more recently) should serve as the pry bar to future rock ‘n’ roll coffins.
Former band members reuniting in a ritual of harmonic necromancy is nothing you’d call fresh. We often forget how common the practice really is when our favorite bands “call it quits” but, if you hold on long enough (especially in this new ease-of-information age), some kind of reunion is the odds on favorite. Don Henley, after The Eagles broke up in 1980, slayed hopeful janitors everywhere when he proclaimed the band would play together again “when Hell freezes over”. Fourteen years later, icebergs formed on the river Styx and brimstone cooled to a rather pleasant, lukewarm asphalt. The Rumours line-up of Fleetwood Mac, after years of incestuous scrogging and subsequent marathon treatments of silence, swallowed sixteen Cialis, shoved upwards the diaphragms, and reunited in 1997. David Gilmour recently joined his fratricidal band mate Roger Waters on stage during a tour of The Wall and even the bros Van Halen finally caved to the weekly voicemails left by one DAVID LEE ROTH, OW!!!! I think Weezer’s broken up six or seven times and I’ll put a wrinkled Jackson on an REM reunion within the next ten years.
I’m not going to attribute reunions to ego and the successes of days gone by, although that’s part of it. Doing so however, typecasting the musicians as fame starved husks, implies a negative connotation and the assumption that we wouldn’t seek out the glory days ourselves. A rare talented few get to live the rock dream, living out of the backs of automobiles that are older than they are between sets in Amarillo and Austin. It’s a modest independence but it’s independence all the same, a debt-less existence. Financially poor but existentially wealthy. All of us long for a life doing what we love. Who, having experienced that, wouldn’t pine for a return; wouldn’t hock dignity and integrity equally for even a low dosage? Of course, an even smaller percentage of musicians are known by the masses, relevant on the tongues of the majority. Us commoners can only dream of a temptation so real and grotesque. Imagine the completion of your purpose, the greatest contribution you could make, with half of your life left. Every elongated second of each empty day would beg at your loins for a fraction of the significance they once held. No hobby or second career would suffice. All that remains is a sun-faded rear view mirror.
Unfortunately, the sequels of such greatness rarely recapture that youthful focus, that vision which made Blur, the Pixies, and the Police innovations of their time. But then again, sometimes reunited bands aren’t looking to continue a legacy. Sometimes, as Pavement singer Stephen Malkmus once said, you’re just looking for a paycheck: “If you’re 40, and you leave your family and fly to Australia to do shows, and you’re doing it for the art, that seems kind of weird. If you’re doing it for the art, stay home with your family.” This sentiment would seemingly apply to many of the aforementioned bands, including Faith No More, the Pixies, and Rage Against the Machine who too seem content to cash big money festival checks rather than make new music.
It’s too early to see if we’ll get new albums from Refused or At the Drive-In but their reconciliations should serve as a reminder to us all that when bands break up, they’re only doing just that. As long as the Tyrannosaurus heart of Ted Nugent still beats, there’s always hope of a Damn Yankees reunion and as St. John Lennon once replied to a young Maureen Cleaver, “Oh, definitely. Once this chick kicks, we’re gettin’ the band on.”