Robert Plant is on the phone. He just called from somewhere in the U.K. to talk about his new record, Carry Fire, and the conversation is going as expected. A few minutes into the conversation, we broaden the topic to rock music, which eventually leads to the Led Zeppelin comparisons of newcomers Greta Van Fleet. Suddenly, I’m in dangerous territory, breaking one of my own rules of not talking about the distant past life of an artist, especially one that’s been mined to death. But as we drift toward the topic of Zep’s 50th anniversary, which is this year, it’s looking inevitable. I’m going to be the latest asshole in a long line of assholes to ask Robert Plant that question. In a last-second judgment, I decided to at least alter it a little bit and not use the R word. “Can you ever see yourself working with Jimmy Page again?” Sure, it means the same thing — and of course, he downplayed the idea of a reunion— but maybe I’ll be able to save a little face, given the timing of it all.
Three days later, I’m back in the same boat, but this time with Tony Banks of Genesis, who has been prepping a new orchestral record. We trace the line between classical and prog rock, which of course hearkens back to the early version of Genesis, the one die-hard fans have been begging for a reunion for decades. I know what this road looks like now. I’ve still got the dirt on me from last time. “Now that Phil Collins is back, will it happen?” With amazing timing, his old bandmate Steve Hackett is also on my call list, and since he’s promoting a live album of Genesis songs… well, this water is starting to get comfortable. And suddenly, for a second anyway, I’m the reunion guy.
It does get me thinking though. Why is it that we want old bands to get back together? What do we really think we’ll get out of it? The easy answer is nostalgia. Don’t fool yourself by saying that it’s because you loved their combined work. That might be true, but we all know that exact magic doesn’t exist these days. At best, it’ll be a new beast altogether, and, at worst, they’ll be a cover band of themselves. Our desire for reunions is because we’re looking to jump back into our own time machine, thinking maybe it’s a chance to turn that clock back, even for just two hours.
I’ve seen it work, too.
When the Psychedelic Furs played the Mercury Ballroom, the place was packed with fans who graduated high school in the mid-to-late ‘80s. And they were having the time of their lives. Don’t look too closely, and you’ll see that youth is in their eyes, in their smiles and in the drunken high fives on the opening chords of “Pretty In Pink.” More recently, The Jesus and Mary Chain played Headliners. Drop the age group by a decade, but the results are still basically the same. We’re all transported back to the time of “The Crow” soundtrack and Lollapalooza ‘92.
It’s worth pointing out that I seriously loved JAMC’s comeback record last year. Because it sounded like old Mary Chain. Just the same, I’ve loved everything I’ve heard from the new Belly LP and it doesn’t really sound anything like their early work. Could they have done that same work individually? Possibly, but the paycheck is a helluva lot better when you can stamp the past onto the marquee. I can’t blame any band for getting back together and I can’t blame any band for staying apart. I couldn’t be more thrilled to see Belly back on the stage with new tunes and old classics in hand, but truth be told, I have no real interest in another Led Zeppelin reunion. I would absolutely go see if it were to happen, but it’s just not on my wish list. They’ve done it a few times, and it’s all documented. How many times do we really need to go there? The answer, of course, lies in your age — and mine.
So who would I have that same passion for? R.E.M. without a doubt. In fact, I’ll dismiss everything I’ve said here because I truly believe that band could have something new to offer any day they please. And given the opportunity, I’d happily be the asshole who asked Michael Stipe about a reunion.