Here’s Why We Love Bands The Most After They’re Gone
2019 felt like the year of the triumphant return. Rock’s biggest stories all seemed to surround bands coming home to new, revitalized legions of diehard fans, with any perceived sins of the past forgiven. My Chemical Romance were hailed as returning kings of all things rock with little to no emo-bashing, and Mötley Crüe giving up on their businesslike farewell tour contract was quickly forgiven under the hype surrounding The Dirt. Faith No More and Rage Against The Machine announced plans to reclaim the stage, while Slipknot and Tool dropped albums people had been slavering over for years. Nu-metal stars like Static‑X revealed a new album and relentless touring schedule to widespread support, while Chester Bennington’s first band Grey Daze have recently become a promising new presence in rock with their upcoming record featuring the late singer’s vocals.
It seems that right now, a band can do nothing better for their career than re-emerge. But have these bands really gotten better? Why is it that we can only admit how much bands mean to us when they’re gone, and why are so many of them returning at once to such massive excitement?
The obvious explanation as to why bands become more important when they’re gone is that fans are given a chance to realize what they had. When a musician or artist is active, their every action and opinion seem to carry weight. Everything from how they dress to how they vote bears some meaning upon their ongoing career. But once the band is broken up or the artist steps out of the limelight, it’s as though a period was put at the end of their creative statement. Suddenly, many of the minor issues fans had with a musician, like choosing to experiment with clean vocals or adding industrial beats to that one album, don’t seem to matter as much. The power of the music is what shines through.
Another reason bands make hearts grow fonder in their absence is simply the generational shift. The rhythm is usually that trends become popular to almost ridiculous degrees with a brand of young listener. As they get older, those same listeners look back on some of the more elaborate excesses of their scene of choice with embarrassment because they associate it with being young and reckless and/or ignorant. What they aren’t realizing is that this very guilty-pleasurization is just as immature as wearing whatever outfit is hot at the time, and so in their next level of maturation they remember the awesome purity of a scene they loved before they worried about being a grown-up.
Meanwhile, armies of young music fans who don’t have the same genre hang-ups discover these bands and recognize them only for what makes them cool, rather than all the window dressing with which those fans who initially lived through them burden that genre. This mixture of nostalgia and fresh sets of ears breathes new life into scenes that never really died in fans’ hearts. A good example is nu-metal: everyone loved it, then it was uncool and everyone hated it, and now both young bands like Code Orange and older heads too old to give a fuck about anyone else’s opinions can celebrate how gnarly those bounce riffs were.
This is also a beautiful way for bands and albums to finally get their due, even if they don’t embark on a massive comeback tour. Last year showed how many thousands of fans were interested in bands who didn’t get the respect they deserved, or bands who wouldn’t be here without the now-nostalgic platform of MySpace, or nu-metal bands you probably don’t remember. More than anything, these lists celebrate the memories that rock fans have of even those bands who never achieved mainstream stardom. Being part of a musical movement is rarely about those huge artists who surpass it, but rather the smaller acts and standalone albums that fans loved more than anyone else, and which made them feel uniquely less alone.
But maybe the true reason we love bands more when they’re gone is because it makes for a better story. If an artist has a career of unparalleled success, it’s simply not that compelling or identifiable, because they feel detached from the everyday experiences of their listeners. But artists who experience both the heights of fame and plummet into obscurity remind people of their own highs and lows, and those who return years later to reclaim their throne provide a from-the-ashes narrative that everyone hopes to someday achieve. That extra bit of poetry provides a certain credence to their art, even if it was once looked down on. Say what you want about the Insane Clown Posse, but their ability to stick to their guns has earned them a broad legitimacy that few could have predicted.
Musicians dying provides a specific viewpoint into this concept. Death often sanctifies our favorite artists, giving their entire lives a storyline we can follow to their end and a moral we can take from them. That said, death also reveals a level of honesty that not every band gets simply by taking a hiatus. When one’s favorite band is simply out of the picture, there’s always still hope of reclaiming that glory, creating a form of FOMO that leads fans only to see the silver lining of their possible return. But when an artist’s life has been completed, we can acknowledge both their strengths and weakness, their virtues and their demons, and learn from them respectively. With Chester Benington’s passing, fans could recognize how his brilliance and talent were intertwined with his addiction and personal struggles; with the Rage Against The Machine reunion, people are mostly hoping they’ll play Bombtrack.
So why are we seeing such a resurgence of all of our favorite bands’ careers now? For one, there’s a new emphasis on the power of youth in today’s culture, meaning that artists who young contemporary listeners consider “classic rock” are experiencing renewed interest. Another is that longtime projects celebrating these acts are finally coming to fruition, The Dirt being a perfect example. But most of all, as the decade changes, there seems to finally be a slowdown in the serial scene monogamy of modern music. Rather than try to layer new music cultures over the old ones to hide the shame at its most recent fashionable haircut, the rock world is allowing itself to look back and recognize the last time it was truly breathless over a song.
One might say we should appreciate those bands making new music now, rather than wait until they disappear to hail them. But the problem is that we don’t know if some of these acts will be legends or not. Their legacies are still in the making, and they could be one awful album or unnecessary political comment away from changing them forever. It’s only when a band has stood the test of time — when they’ve left us hanging, and thus revealed to us what we should have known ages ago — that we can truly love them more than we ever knew.
On paper, it might seem unfair that we only display our true appreciation for bands and musicians after they break up or leave the industry. But it’s also perfectly natural, and can be great for some artists in the long run. Sure, every band would love to make millions off of their first three records and never have to work again. But that hard time in a scene and distance from the zeitgeist that often made launched their career possible can turn them from part of boom to legends over time.
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