Chesterton said that tradition is the democracy of the dead, and YouTube is that idea in action. As Teachout notes, it is particularly wonderful at brining to life long-gone musicians. Interested in Duke Ellington or Ella Fitzgerald? Plug in their names under “search” on the YT site, and there they are, in action. After an hour or so of finding this stuff it becomes more than an exercise in cheap nostalgia to say that pop music has largely lost charm, sex appeal and imagination today. Seriously, is there anything on this earth more dull than turning on MTV and seeing some illiterate rapper gesticulating threateningly, absurd chains dragging down his neck, as he talks about bitches and hos (now that’s new ground) over the same pounding hip-hop jackhammer beat they’ve used 10,000 times before? Isn’t this played out yet? This isn’t a conservative who doesn’t get it: I want to be startled, exhilarated, confronted with talent. I’m sorry, Justin Timberlake trying to be black just doesn’t do it. You can see the flop sweat on Beyonce as she tries to connect with the audience, but her songs are weak. Ditto the punk bands - copies of copies of copies, without the satirical skill of the Sex Pistols or talent of the Clash. Country has been a cliche-fest for years.
On YouTube, the old stuff often is fresher and more exciting than the new. At one point I came across the video for the song “The Drowners” by the now-defunct British band Suede. It was - is - electrifying, never mind being more than 15 years old. Forget Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Alan Jackson, Green Day, who all try way to hard and don’t deliver (guys, forget the 72-minute cd - just try and cobble together, say 7 good songs in a row). Hell, forget U2, who even in their “ironic” phase took themselves far to seriously. YouTube offers rock and roll at its best: glamorous, vaunting, a bit-self-deprecating, and witty. And fun. It manages to slay you with a wink. “And so we drown/Sir we drown/You’re talking me over.” Brilliant.