Thursday, July 28, 2005


Oh, hilarious, Arye. Good one! The Bee Gees! Ha, ha. The irony! The sweet, sweet irony!

Well...umm...I'm actually serious. Listening to the Bee Gees, throughout their career (even the disco era), brings an unprecedented smile to my soul's face. There's no sound as heartwarming as the angelic, quivering harmonies of the brothers Gibb. In fact, the other night, while I was in a non-descript dive bar on the Lower East Side, I boldly picked two Bee Gees songs from the jukebox, "Night Fever" and "How Deep Is Your Love" (the latter being one of my favorite songs of all time). Walking back to my table, I expected a sneer or two but instead was met with approval in the form of feet tapping. The bartender even thanked me. "Man, we were watching this Motley Crue special on VH1," she said in her masculine tone, "but I'm glad it was interrupted by the Bee Gees. Thanks for putting this on."
Just doing my job, I said back.
I expected a free drink but didn't get one. Oh, well.

Unfortunately, most of the uninformed associate the Bee Gees with the white vinyl jumpsuits of Saturday Night Fever but in reality, Barry, Robin and Maurice were supremely tight songwriters. A reputable critic once said that the Bee Gees' "melodies are catchy, the hooks are deathless, and the vocals convey emotion over meaning." In other words, it may be weightless but it's polished.

But before the Bee Gees were staying alive, they were pop masters creating orchestrated chamber pop akin to the Zombies and the Left Banke. The early material begs for inclusion on a Wes Anderson soundtrack--"Holiday" with its earnest vocals and xylophone drops carries the perfect somber potency for a reconciliation scene. "I Started A Joke" is such a wonderful and graceful ballad complete with the uncanny, bittersweet lyrical content ("I finally died/which got the whole world living...the joke was on me") and the earliest single "New York Mining Disaster 1941" could even be a Kinks outtake. The Bee Gees first phase was definitively rife with classics and there was nary a falsetto to be found.

And then the re-invention; Let me just say that there's nothing horrific at all about three white boys singing like castration victims. It totally works. Moreover, consider this: the Bee Gees are more badass than you or anyone you know. I found out just recently while discussing the band with a friend that Barry and Robin were criminals and delinquents as children, torching buildings and stealing cars. Oh, and they were 8 and 11 respectively. The Gibb brothers caused such trouble that they were asked to leave Manchester and move to Australia in order to avoid a prison sentence. If that doesn't allow them to sing as high as they want, I don't know what will. I'm pretty sure that their whole catalogue takes on a unprecedented heft now that you know the Bee Gees were just as thug as 50 Cent. Listen to the joy of "Nights On Broadway" with its funky goodness, process "More Than a Woman" into the part of your brain that appreciates mirror balls and flashing strobe lights. There's nothing guilty about it--it's all pleasure, baby. By denying yourself of the enjoyment of the Bee Gees' second phase, your life-light is essentially fasting, denying itself of nourishment.

Now here we are: the final and current phase of the Bee Gees. Besides the awful, untimely passing of their younger brother Andy Gibb, a popstar in his own right, the Bee Gees suffered from a slight decline in popularity. I, for one, can't figure out why. The songs in the third phase are just as solid as the previous two. "You Win Again" and "One" are as joyous and melodic as anything the Gees have ever done. I remember as a child, sitting in my very brown den watching the Prince's Trust concert on PBS (an all-star concert featuring Eric Clapton, Elton John and others). I set up our portable stereo in front of the speaker so I could record the whole thing--all two hours. Diligently, I listened for the tape to pop when it finished with its side and then switched over the Radio Shack cassette as quickly as possible. Strangely, I recall the Bee Gees' performance the clearest. I remember hearing "You Win Again" and thinking, this is the best song I have ever heard. After the show was over, I listened to that particular song over and over again. I played it so often that my sister, who listened peripherally, even found a place in her heart for the song. She would sometimes even ask me to play it. The thudding opener of the programmed drums, the gleaming cheesiness of the synthesizers--magnificent. The vocal inter-twining of Maurice, Barry, and Robin works in a sublime, calming effect. Now that I listen to it, I'm still sure "You Win Again" is still one of the best songs ever written.

Their last album of studio material, This Is Where I Come Inis a wonderful and temporary final note to the history of the Bee Gees. The 28th (yes, 28th!) record of original material is a time travel to their early sound. The songs are real songs with real guitars and real drums. In fact, on the title song, Barry plays an acoustic guitar that John Lennon gave him years previous. When I sent this song over Instant Messenger to Shana, she listened but couldn't believe it was the Bee Gees' latest version. Also recently, I interviewed Britt Daniel from the indie-rock group Spoon about the music that shaped his life and one band kept popping up more often than the others. The Bee Gees, Daniel told me, actually inspired him to be a musician. He expected me to be suprised. I told him I wasn't.

Ahh, the Bee Gees. Truly inspiring, always glorious.


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