Friday, September 28, 2012


Imprinting is a funny thing. When DT and I were in high school, every year there'd be ducks that would come and nest and lay eggs and raise little ducklings. You'd be trying and failing to concentrate on, say, trigonometry because there'd be a momma duck leading a row of ducklings around the courtyard right outside the window and how on earth could trig compete with that?

(Also, you lost all respect for your very nice trig teacher when she mentioned that René Descartes was not only a mathematician but a philosopher and his most famous insight was the saying, "I exist, therefore I am," and you looked around the room, slack-jawed, and saw all the other students writing that down and wondered if you were the only one who'd watched Monty Python sing "The Philosopher Song" and how was it possible that Monty Python were a more reliable teacher than the very nice woman who was paid to teach trig at your high school and yet the evidence was inescapable?)

Every year there were strict warnings, more from the fellow students than the teachers or administrators, not to touch the ducklings, no matter how adorbs they were, as if you did, the mother would from that point on refuse to have anything to do with the duckling, as the slightest touch of a human would embue it with the human's stench forever and ever and it would die a horrible death of starvation and neglect. Years later, I was told that such a horrific scenario was not, in fact, true. Be that as it may, the result was that no one, as far as I know, ever did actually touch one of the ducklings. (Although, yes, it is possible one young jackass jumped out the chemistry window and tried to catch a duckling but found the little bugger too fast and yes he was kinda relieved to fail at least that one time.)

We've all seen the videos of ducklings or goslings or whatever having imprinted upon a creature that's clearly not its mother—another kind of bird or a deer or a person or a scooter or whatever. It's a real thing, something which isn't news to most music fans.

Hey! Hey! DT! Check it out! A new live Bruce album! Yeah, another one! I know! Isn't it great?! Let's go get! Oh, wait, I think it's over here! No, no, it's over here! It's over there now!

What we first liked or at least first heard tends to have a long and lasting impression upon us. Even if we later grow out of our, say, Barry Manilow phase, there's often a lingering fondness for his fluffy cheese (ew) that never quite dissipates entirely. Or we find ourselves so sick of and turned off by an early love (hello, Doors!) that you very much run in the other direction. Either way, those earliest impressions make a big impact on us and our development.

Which can make objective listening a difficult thing. A good friend, hearing some later Elvis alternate takes without the huge backing choirs and strings, wondered why he always preferred hearing songs stripped down. Part of it, maybe most of it, I think, is the simple novelty factor of hearing something as familiar as "Suspicious Minds" in a new way (and also too, admittedly, much as I love the official release, more and clearer Elvis does tend to be better Elvis to my ears).

This is why I often prefer hearing R.E.M.'s "Finest Worksong" in one of its alternate mixes, with the cool guitar intro and horns. Meaning, if we only knew the barebones version of "In the Ghetto," would the full orchestral version be spine-tingling or would it seem hopelessly overwrought? (I love both but if forced to choose would instead eat a downy little baby duckling.)

And so "Talent Show" by the Replacements. I loved the official release from the first and all these decades later still love it. But it's hard to deny the power of the original studio demo. The question I can't answer is, if this was the version I'd imprinted on, would the official version seem terribly soft or would it feel as though a rough masterpiece had finally been brought to completion.

As the boys themselves said on the previous album, I don't know. I understand why they did what they did and I think, conventional wisdom be damned, it was a fine idea and done quite well indeed, commercial failure aside. But it's hard not to feel something was lost in the process and impossible to know how I'd feel if the order had been reversed.

No comments:

Post a Comment