Youtube is a Time Machine of Gestures
I love looking at old music on Youtube. There’s a great video of Vanilla Fudge doing their classic “You Keep Me Hanging On.” That was a song I knew as a child only as an aural phenomenon. Thanks to the retrospective possibilities of Youtube, I am now enjoying it as though these specific humans with their specific gestures were always a part of it. And yet, they weren’t.
These particular faces don’t fit the song I once knew. They are too specific–too much like the actual people who sing and play the song rather than the icons I imagined.
But Youtube doesn’t care about my metaphysical hang ups. These are the dudes and this is their song.
Like it or not, there’s a young Alton Brown before the Food Network on bass. And the lead singer behind the organ is inventing jazz hands–waaaaaayyyyy before their time. No one remembers Eric Estrada’s cousin on lead guitar? Every kid who ever dreamed of garage band success knows his legacy intuitively. In the fingery muscles of rock stardom, he’s still there, lingering at the knuckle like a wart, waiting for us on Youtube to make him real again.
None of this business with Alton Brown and company is as dramatic as that moment in the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down.” You might even see an angel of history winking back at you when John forgets the lyrics to a song they’ve just put words to minutes before donning fur coats and taking to London’s rooftops like chimney-sweeping pimps. John looks at Paul and begins the forgotten verse with ludic confidence: “Doobly doo boo goo tu blah-dee-blah.”
The look that passes between them is a fan’s orgy of affect. It’s a look of spring-loaded, double-barreled emotion. It erases all the interpersonal ugliness that will divide them only weeks after this moment, supplanting that future with the velocity of Marty McFly’s Delorean and swapping bitterness for a brotherly love you can feel. This look is a souvenir that only fellow travelers along the narrow hallway of historical genius can share between them. Until now. Until Youtube.
Youtube loves history. And it loves its history promiscuously.
Want to see irrefutable evidence of a precursor to Michael Jackson’s percussive exhalations? Check out Mick Jagger at minute 3:15 doing “Under My Thumb” in 1966 on “Ready, Steady Go.” Can’t make it? Never mind. Youtube is like TeeVo for the past. 1966 is waiting for you there.
Want to remember exactly how Steven Tyler responds–facially–after his wall-breaking interruption of Run and crew in “Walk This Way“? Don’t worry. The wrinkly exactitude of that paisley-silked scream awaits your scrutiny at minute 1:41.
Want to crack the code of that strange animal that we glimpse in subliminal flashes behind the rare promo clip of a young Van Morrison and T.H.E.M. doing “Gloria“? No problem. Youtube has your curiosity covered. But beware. Though you arrive to push pause where appropriate and laugh at the bovine secret disclosed in playback, other revelations vie for your attention.
Like the inexplicable stiffness of young Van M. and how similar he is to a young Ian Curtis, epileptic stiff at the center of a Joy Division promo for “Love Will Tear Us Apart“. Don’t fuss over the ahistorical cross-over. You don’t want to be that guy who knows all the references in The Simpsons or Family Guy (even though you are and Youtube wants you to achieve your destiny).
‘Cause there it all is for you to catch and knowingly enjoy. History in all of its Faulknerian and Kurt Vonnegattian mish-mashed splendor. It’s full of gestures that saturate all the corpselike nooks of the past. It’s a reanimation machine that runs on nostalgia and (what else?) love. It doesn’t matter who you love, be it JFK or Run DMC or little Billy Faulkner who made it big at writin’ down at Ol’Miss. If you’ve got emotional skin in the game, Youtube has all the skin and game you can handle, enough to make Buffalo Bill scream a million times: “It puts its lotion in the basket!”
Real Youtube aficionados will appreciate the jarring after effect of that last reference. Hoisting up the basket without skipping a beat, they move to other rooms where history’s skin is parchment thin and in need of ever richer lathers.