30 May 2009

YouTube Charm: A Few (thousand) Views Later

This is easy to say: I'm a fan of YouTube.

When I can, I search YouTube for music videos. Not necessarily the MTV/VH1/BET/etc. kind of music videos, but the videos which COULD be used in those applications, as well as videos of musical groups taken by professionals and amateurs who have found a "gem" performance by an individual or group. A "gem" to me also means that the music is good quality, or at least good enough to hear a wide range of things: high hat on a drum set, for example, as well as the depth of the bass, the vocals of everyone in a group setting, and so forth. See, although I'm not technically called an audiophile, I am rather picky about what I hear on these videos, which leads me to listen to literally thousands of video files on YouTube. And it is interesting how widely varied the songs and performances I have found.

Given that I am a fan of different genres of music, there is no shortage in finding something different every day. Last night (although this has been going on for days), I was sitting and going through dozens of videos of the band Chicago [and a few of The Buckinghams and The Beach Boys]. Chicago's been around for about 42 years --- no small feat in the world of music --- and they recently stopped in St. Louis for a concert on their latest tour. Sorry to say, I still have yet to hear them in concert. I'll have to wipe that one off the TO DO LIST sometime soon, I suppose...although the current lineup has been static for more than a decade, with original members Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider and Robert Lamm, and longtime members Bill Champlin (a man who has been writing hits almost as long as Chicago has been performing), Jason Scheff (he's the man who had to fill the role of bassist Peter Cetera when the latter left for a solo career in the 1980s), Tris Imboden (he's the poor sap who eventually took over from legendary drummer Danny Saraphine when DS was given the boot for creative differences), and guitarist Keith Howland.

I'm not the big fan of Chicago that some are, but I do see the history of this band for what it is: lengthy, storied --- both good and not so good, and sincerely super because of great songs which both hit the charts and simply became legendary tunes. But the videos on YouTube are what has drawn me into their history even more over the past several weeks. I mean I already have been listening to a couple of different "Greatest Hits" compilations by Chicago over the last 15 years, so I already know there are vastly different recordings available to fans --- but YouTube has made me a bigger fan AND made me want to tell some other fans to shut their typing fingers up unless they have something other than the same old "Terry Kath is rolling over in his grave" posts in the comments columns on some of the videos. Terry Kath has been dead for 31 years and the band went on without him. As a musician and fan I will admit that claims of Kath's being the "soul" of Chicago in their early years bears noting: clearly he had a rock/soul style that fit into the band and helped transform it from a group of young guys in the Chicago area to a worldwide phenomenon. But that doesn't mean the group had to die when he died. That would be like saying the U.S.A. had to die when Warren G. Harding died in office: people move past troubled times in history, and Chicago the band did just that.
The fact that there has been historical evidence that Kath was not as pleased with the direction of the band during its most successful period is nothing new. All bands evolve, rock or otherwise. I play in a band with a 46-year history. We have one original member left performing: we don't disband our group because the original members are dying off --- we still perform the songs they performed in the 1960s and 1970s because that's what the listeners demand. And just because our original singer isn't part of the mix these days (he decided to retire from performing...and he comes to our performances at least a couple of times each year...and rarely will he actually get up on stage with us to sing) doesn't mean the band has to go to the pile of groups which no longer exist. And the same should be said about Chicago: they are musicians, each with their own soul. They decided that the death of one member was not going to keep them from performing. Another member left...they fired another member...they changed lineups, and in fact it is an evolutionary process that one can see by watching the videos of Chicago in "live" performances as documented on YouTube. In fact, you'll notice videos where Lee Loughnane or Walt Parazaider are not part of the lineup --- this shouldn't surprise anyone because they are human and would likely want some time away with family, or as some have suggested may have health concerns and not make some dates. This gives other musicians the opportunity to play with a legendary group and fill-in for one of those legends --- a feat many musicians would give their left kneecap to accomplish just once.

It's a great media form such as YouTube that gives us all the opportunity to take a look into the greater depths of things --- such as the performing history of a band such as Chicago, a kid playing ukulele, or a video of a family reunion in which you can almost smell the barbecue.

There are millions of things to do on the internet: I find YouTube gives me a sense of yesterday and today. YouTube is one website I will gladly use regularly as long as it exists.

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