Wherein middle-aged men assess the music of middle-aged men. Past Prime is a series of conversations about the music that artists make after their youthful peak. Middle age can be like an inverse puberty for Rock stars. Do they all “lose it”? Can they rediscover it? Will they ever be great again? Often these albums are flaccid. Sometimes they are just sad. But, every once in a while they can be glorious. And so, we keep on listening. Join middle-aged dads, Matty Wishnow and Steve Collins as they consider albums by Lou Reed, James Taylor, Van Morrison and many more.
Van Morrison "What's It Gonna Take?"
57:03On episode 25 of Past Prime, we travel through The Mystic to the other side, where, in 2022, lockdown Van was consumed with "the data," Bill Gates and Klaus Schwab (head of the World Economic Forum). In Van's hard to explain new phase, however, Matty and Steve discover an unexpected new frontier -- Past Past Prime. Past Past Prime Van Morrison is part freedom fighter, part scientist and part Don Quixote. Steve, who believes that Van is his "twin flame," wonders if there is radical honesty and vulnerability in these curious songs. Matty (and the rest of the world) is less convinced. "What's It Gonna Take" sold poorly and was alternately ignored or reviled by critics. In this -- our twenty-fifth episode -- we return to the artist who inspired our Past Prime project way back when. Van's forty-third studio album is confounding, infuriating, trolling and -- yes -- daring. It may be performance art. It may be dangerous. But, for avowed fans, it cannot be ignored. This is the work we do. To read more about Van Morrison's "What's It Gonna Take?", check out the full essay at Past Prime.
The National "Sleep Well Beast"
54:21On episode 24 of Past Prime, we go full “Sad Dad.” In 2017, after a decade being carried in the arms of cheerleaders, The National were disoriented. Their unexpected stardom was bumping up against their middle-aged domesticity. There was the scary new President. Members of the band even dared to leave Brooklyn for “the ru-burbs.” “Sleep Well Beast” was the band anxiously experimenting their way through the malaise of middle-age complacency. In this episode we discuss the contemporary compulsion for change (“Kid A Syndrome”), modern farmhouse architecture & the fine line between anxiety & depression in The National’s seventh studio album. To read more about The National, check out the full essay at Past Prime.
Michael Jackson "HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I"
1:01:15On episode 23 of Past Prime, Steve and Matty revisit The King of Pop's penultimate album, which was really a double album, consisting of one greatest hits record and one lavish, eighty minute, fifteen track selection of new songs. "HIStory" was made while Jackson was being investigated by the Santa Barbara District Attorney for child abuse & endangerment, while he was also in the midst of his brief, mind-exploding marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, and while every aspect of his public and private persona was being obsessed over by paparazzi, headlines and gossip. Suffice it to say, it's a lot. The credits for "HIStory" name 260 individuals, including R. Kelly, Janet Jackson, Quincy Jones, Notorious BIG, David Foster, Shaquille O'Neil and Elizabeth Taylor. It features defiant New Jack Swing, goopy ballads and thinly veiled defenses and threats. But, most of all, it features the most famous man on the planet assuring us that he could never hurt a child because he is the true victim and the true savior. Though it's perhaps the saddest, angriest and least relatable album Michael ever made, it is also luxurious in its arrangements and quite fierce in its rhythms. There will never be anything else like it and while Matty cowers from its tawdriness, Steve is more than a little fascinated by its psychological thrills. Buckle up -- Wacko Jacko is Backo. To read more about "HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I," check out the full essay at Past Prime.
39:50On episode 22 of Past Prime, and with the passing of Tom Verlaine still very much a recent event, Steve and Matty return to the third (and final) album from New York proto-punk legends, Television. Released in 1992, fourteen years after the band had broken up, but just before the world wide web became a source for instant information, "Television" arrived as a titanic surprise to fans of the band but as a non-event for the other 7.8 billion people on planet Earth. Matty, an avowed devotee, and Steve, a reluctant victim of his co-host's aesthetic intimidation, reflect on the merits of the album and the enduring significance of its elusive frontman. Though Television soldiered on right up until Verlaine's death (albeit without Richard Lloyd for many of those years) and though Tom Verlaine released two modest solo albums in the Aughts, "Television" is the band's swan song. Whereas Matty received this arrival breathlessly, eager to decode its poetry, its noir and its horror, Steve found it to be a "Low T," tossed off fade out. Where Matty heard beauty, Steve heard depression. Where Matty noticed invention and precision, Steve saw a bunch of middle-aged guys dozing off. This album that united two friends decades ago as college freshman, threatens to divide them decades later. Will they find common ground? Will they resolve the mystery of Tom Verlaine? Stay tuned for another episode of Past Prime! To read more about Television's self-titled reunion album, check out the full essay at Past Prime.
Tin Machine "II"
45:00On episode 21 of Past Prime, Steve and Matty put on their dayglo, double-breasted suits and grab their headless guitars to fully absorb the proto-Alt noise of Tin Machine "II," the second album from David Bowie's alleged band of equals. Alongside Staten Island everyman, Reeves Gabrels, and two of Soupy Sales kiddos, the once Thin White Duke maintained he was just one fourth of a middle-aged band that was obsessed with The Pixies, but who also might have predicted Grunge. Our co-hosts tackle everything from the album's de-phallused cover, to their one great hit, to the contributions of drummer, Hunt Sales, who liked to perform in his underwear and who wrestled the mic away from Bowie for the album's most bombastic, least defensible moments. "II" (1991) was the band's final studio album. After a world tour that spawned a live album ("Oy Vey Baby"), Bowie married Iman, pulled Gabrels aside and said farewell to the Sales brothers. Though for years he insisted that Tin Machine would return, it never came to be. They survive primarily as the butt of jokes about middle-aged rock star missteps and as an awkward transition from Bowie's dry period to his less dry turn towards Trent Reznor. "II" is not available on most streaming services. It wants to be forgotten, but our co-hosts won't let that happen because middle age comes for everyone -- even Ziggy Stardust. To read more about Tin Machine's "II" check out the full essay at Past Prime.
Billy Joel "Storm Front"
58:13On episode 20 of Past Prime, Steve and Matty hoist a nautical distress signal and recount every headline of the second half of the twentieth century, including "Belgians in the Congo," as they try to figure out who, exactly, started that fire. They bravely confront the middle-aged storm that was Billy Joel's eleventh studio album, a song cycle about supermodels, Long Island fisherman, Russian clowns and being "totally cool." In the process, they manage to unmask the most complicated, commercially beloved, critically reviled singer-songwriter of his generation. "Storm Front" (1989) was the second to last Pop album the Piano Man recorded. Though massively popular in its day, "Storm Front" is ultimately a strange, shrill record that grunts a lot without ever really saying all that much. And so, our co-hosts have to dig deep to figure out the enigma that is Billy Joel. Is he a misunderstood genius? An overqualified Paul Shaffer? Why was he so upset all the time? What was that fire and was Billy really trying to fight it? To read more about Billy Joel's "Storm Front" check out the full essay at Past Prime.
Genesis "Calling All Stations"
57:50On episode 19 of Past Prime, Steve and Matty bravely slog their way through "Calling All Stations," the fifteenth studio album from Prog Rock turned Stadium Pop legends, Genesis, and one of the most infamously awful last gasps in the history of Rock and Roll. In 1986, a decade after Peter Gabriel left them behind, Phil, Tony & Mike reached the top of the charts with "Invisible Touch." But one decade later, with Phil Sussudio-ing his way around the world as a solo act, Tony and Mike were left searching for a new lead singer. They found their hot, new guy in twenty-eight year old, Scotsman Ray Wilson, who was asked to make tedious middle-aged ennui sound young and exciting. Very few people in the world have ever listened to "Calling All Stations" all the way through. Those who did either blocked it our who or came to seriously regret it. For Steve, who went deep into the abyss, this pod was a chance to share his profound knowledge and personal torment with a friend. For Matty, it represented an opportunity to delve into Steve's curious, youthful fascination with early, proggy Genesis and to test out his theory that Prog Rock, in general, and early Genesis, in particular, is music for cult leaders. To read more about Genesis' "Calling All Stations" check out the full essay at Past Prime.
Dave Matthews Band "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King"
1:02:52On episode 18 of Past Prime, Steve and Matty confront their demons which, as it turns out, do not look like Jam Bands. Nor do they resemble hacky sackers or fratty teens drinking Zimas and smoking joints in the parking lot. No, Matty and Steve come face to face with the most insidious of fiends -- their own biases. The problem apparently was not with Dave. The problem was with our co-hosts and their pretensions. So, after decades rolling their eyes, making snarky asides and generally avoiding the subject, they immerse themselves in "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King," the seventh studio album from the Dave Matthews Band, released in 2009. Following the death of saxophonist LeRoi Moore, DMB made a sprawling, celebratory album for their legions of fraternity and sorority alums. In middle age, Dave, Carter and the band were among the biggest rock bands in the world and in full control of the "GrooGrux" -- a nickname for their musical "flow" or "juju." As with their previous albums, there are a couple tender ballads, some B- middle school poetry, and the unlikely combination of lite, worldly Jazz and athletic Funk. There are still songs with numbers for titles, lots of sex talk and several of references to monkeys doing things. But, in the end, Matty and Steve have to admit the thing they tens of millions of fans already knew: Dave Matthews Band aren't so bad. In fact, they're pretty impressive. Spoiler alert: Matty even loved one of the songs on this one. Not liked. Loved. To read more about Dave Matthews Band's "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King," check out the full essay at Past Prime.
Kevin Mitchell "All In"
52:04Episode 17 is another edition of Past Prime Pastime, wherein Matty and Past Prime baseball correspondent, Kevin Blake, try to explain the unexplainable career of Giant (and Met and Mariner and Padre and Red and Daiei Hawk) great, Kevin Mitchell. In 1989, Mitchell was on pace to break Roger Maris' coveted single season home run record. The man who was previously the twelfth best player on the 1986 Mets and who was allegedly traded because he freaked out Darryl and Doc (two men who were hard to freak out), came out of nowhere to capture the imagination of baseball fans everywhere. One of those fans was eleven year old Kevin Blake, who traded in every piece of baseball memorabilia he owned, plus every birthday card check and government bond, to corner the market on Mitchell rookie cards. Suffice it to say, Mitchell did not hit sixty two home runs and our co-host's card collection is now functionally worthless. But we will always have 1989 -- the year when Kevin Mitchell made "the catch" and won the NL MVP award and when Kevin Blake was certain that he was living through baseball history. Join Matty and Kevin as they try to piece together what happened. What was the deal with Kevin Mitchell and Will Clark? Did Mitchell, as Doc Gooden once allege, really decapitate a cat? Was Mitchell really an elite high school water polo player? And, most importantly, just how bad was Kevin's investment in those Mitchell rookie cards? So, get out your Beckett baseball card guide. Start taking some Creatine. And get ready to go "All In." To read more about Kevin Mitchell, check out the full essay at Past Prime.
Lindsey Buckingham "Under the Skin"
50:31On episode 16 of Past Prime, Steve and Matty comb through the voluminous hair, pick at the long fingernails and revisit the rumors of an elusive stadium Rock star who spent his adulthood feeling miscast and misunderstood. Steve is a lifelong Fleetwood Mac fan, enamored equally of Stevie and Lindsey, but perhaps more "Buck-curious." So curious, in fact, that he'd traveled down the wormhole of Buckingham-Nicks erotic fan fiction. Matty is more of a neophyte, familiar with the canonical Mac releases but generally unaware of and confused by Buckingham's solo career. Together, they return to "Under the Skin," Buckingham's fourth solo album, released in 2006. As he approached sixty, Buckingham was a relative newlywed, a new (old) dad and still at odds with his former girlfriend and bandmate. Circumstances led to him making a very hushed, insular solo album, full of diary confessions and his trademark finger picking. He plays nearly every instrument, quietly harmonizes with himself, and manages to sound a good deal like Iron & Wine or Jose Gonzalez. If he were thirty and Swedish, "Under the Skin" would likely have been hailed by Pitchfork. In middle age, however, his ennui, though delivered quietly, sounds loud, clear and decidedly less "hip." During the conversation, our hosts cover everything from Art Garfunkel to "What About Bob?" Both of which, it turns out, have something to do with "Under the Skin." To read more about Lindsey Buckingham's "Under the Skin," check out the full essay at Past Prime.