Friday, March 6, 2009

This might make you cry

In the my world of music, where the original songwriter's version is almost always best (e.g. Pancho and Lefty, among many many others), there is a rare occasion when a cover version takes on a meaning even greater than the original. Let me acknowledge one frequent exception, Dylan, which barely counts because his hundreds of songs have been covered hundreds, if not thousands, of times, and it turns out there are quite a few Dylan covers that are better, in my opinion, than the original.

Beyond Bobby Zimmerman though, I think the "good cover" category becomes very very limited. One widely recognized exception is "Hurt" an amazing and intensely personal song by Trent Reznor, which Johnny Cash did more than just make his own. In fact, Cash did all but use manifest destiny to take the songwriting rights away from Reznor altogether. But we're all aware of this.

This next example I'm sure plenty of you are aware of too, but probably not enough of you. The video for "Fix You" by Coldplay, has received over 16 million views, while this version has just over 8 thousand.

Now, if you're cooler than me, you haven't listened to Coldplay since early copies of Parachutes leaked on the internet, and now you refuse to listen to them, considering them a pop ripoff of Radiohead. If you're less "cool" than me, which probably isn't possible, Coldplay is probably your favorite band in the whole world. I fall somewhere in between the two perspectives, in that I don't listen to Coldplay much, but I admittedly like a good Coldplay song as much as any 18 year-old when it's at the right time.

So, if you're totally unfamiliar with this version, Young @Heart is a documentary about a senior citizen chorus group, and while I haven't seen the movie, the general idea is it follows the characters and a performance they give (horrible summary, sorry).

While this video can't be embedded in the blog, due to various copyright issues I guess, you should follow this link to watch the video, because after all, you've gotten this far in the post, so you might as well finish it. Here's the link again if you just missed it.

Disagree if you like, but this version of the song takes on a meaning and power that the original version doesn't have. I often try to avoid what I feel are unnecessary references to the emotion of music (dude, that Dave Matthews show got me on such a spiritual level), but I honestly think this performance reaches a level that gets harder and harder to find in the current music business, where emotion is commercialized 3 times before breakfast every day. Record execs just can't manufacture the emotion that this performance conveys. Unfortunately, I read that Fred Knittle, the performer in the video, passed away earlier this year. A sad reality that maybe was somewhat inevitable with this documentary, but for what it's worth, he made quite a lasting mark on many people with this performance. I hope you like it.

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