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The other day, I was watching a new TV series about separated couples who’ve been unsuccessful in signing the divorce papers. The basic idea of the show was that these individuals, some of them stuck in their own indecision for years, were brought together to work with therapists, social workers and lawyers to put it all to rest. It was all pretty captivating stuff but what really caught my attention in the show were the therapy sessions.

Some of these estranged couples hated each other with a vengeance. At the beginning of each session, the therapists advised everyone not to lose their cool, to act normal regardless of what was being said. Of course, each and every couple lost their cool at some point, which reminded me of how hard it is not to get provoked when you are forced to deal with a person who pushes all the wrong buttons.

I’m afraid suffering fools gladly is not the easiest thing in the world. The program also reminded me of how difficult starting over with someone truly is. Once you’ve become convinced that the other person does not have your best interest in mind, it is extremely hard to act relaxed and natural around them. And as we all know, tension usually results in a series of nasty fights. This unfortunate vicious circle that couples with issues can’t break free from made me think of a track I listened to a few months ago, “Altamont” by The Modern World.

The Modern World is a band I came across for the first time about six months ago when I reviewed their debut single. Impressed by their sound that mixes elements of the early eighties and late seventies, I’ve been keeping an eye on their releases…and “Altamont” does not disappoint.

It’s punchy and energetic and once again, displays the type of musicianship and melodic aptitude that will resonate especially with the more mature listener. The thing about this group is that their arrangements work really well. Do yourself a favor and listen to the interplay between the drums, bass and guitar and you’ll find yourself thinking, “And this is how it’s done.” I’ve stated this before about this group but there’s no harm in repeating it: This is real music for those listeners who appreciate music that’s performed on real instruments by musicians honing their craft eyeball-to-eyeball, feeding off of one another.

“Altamont” is an interesting track lyrically. Much more esoteric than The Modern World’s two previous singles, it appears to be dealing with two things simultaneously: a relationship that’s reached what I call the “melt-down stage” (a stage where nothing is really working anymore and all you do is fight) and the end of the sixties.

I could run until I’m out of your sight
Or wait around all night
And fight with the storm in your eye
That keeps you in that endless night

Please don’t go away to Altamont
If I could find a way to walk away
Ain’t no crime to say your mind has changed
Please don’t go away to Altamont

Says Oli James of The Modern World when asked to elaborate on the lyrics:

About the track, there’s a similar narrative to our first single, of coming and going, leaving but not quite being able to. The chorus is part of my ongoing dialogue with 20th century America. For me, ‘Altamont’ taps into a lot of the culture from the 60s that I’ve always been fascinated by. You’ve got the Altamont Freeway Concert in 69, the end of the sixties, the Rolling Stones, Hunter S. Thompson. I guess for a lot of people it’s symbolic of the dream dying. I tried to tap into that.

And it works. The relationship issues are neatly woven into the issues of one of the most famous eras in recent history. Just like any burgeoning relationship, the sixties also began with hopes, dreams and convictions of a new and better dawn. Sadly, after the murders of JFK, RFK, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King as well as the atrocities of Vietnam War, it was becoming clear to everyone that the new dawn wasn’t that different from the old dawn, perhaps slightly worse. And by the time, the infamous Altamont Freeway Concert turned violent and bloody in 1969, most of the generation forgot Woodstock’s three days of peace and love, packed up their bell-bottoms, flower shirts and beads and went home. And when you think about it, this is not that different from what happens to relationships. Once some time has gone by, we have pretty much figured out that the person we are with isn’t as spectacular as we had hoped.

Going back to the reoccurring theme of leaving, or rather the difficulty of leaving a bad relationship, that seems to be ever-present in James’s songs, I want to stress that it is very important to know when to call it a day. I’ve never been an advocate for quitting but nowadays, I’ve come to understand that life is short and you shouldn’t waste it on people or things that make you miserable.

And about the Altamont Freeway concert, if you organize an outdoor concert that has an audience of 300 000 people but no seating, water or bathrooms and put the Hell’s Angels in charge of the security, is it really all that surprising that it goes to hell in a hand basket? And who organized the concert? Well, who else but the Stones. The Beatles might have given birth to the summer of love with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but the Stones sure brought that summer to an end at Altamont. The dream was over as quickly as it had been born.

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About the curator - Tommi Tikka

Tommi Tikka - Music to Curator

Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.