At first I treated YouTube like a primitive Tivo and used it for time shuffling. Since I haven’t had cable in a decade, and am way out of the TV-land loop, I was more inclined to tap YouTube for information than for outright entertainment. During the election, I got in the habit of a morning YouTube session in tandem with The New York Times online to check out the latest gaffes, or Jon Stewart making fun of the latest gaffes.
Then I moved into the territory that Chuck Klosterman explores in “Surfing with the Alien” , and began to employ YouTube as a rock and roll archive
(Esquire, 30 November 2006).
I don’t go in for jazz the way he does, but I watched Mick Ronson’s guitar solo in “Moonage Daydream”, and Neil Young and Pearl Jam blasting their way through “Rockin’ In The Free World” at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1993.
I jumped to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at Big Sur in 1969, and to their ominous, angular version of “Down By the River”. There was Mimi Farina, girls in red robes grooving like lost Tibetan monks, and someone who I thought was Grace Slick in a background shot.
I ended up knee-deep in the strange apocalyptic hopefulness of Jefferson Airplane’s “We Can Be Together”, the one with the lyrics borrowed from the profanely named UAW/MF Lower East Side-based anarchists’ collective.
I was nearly home, at least geographically, but ‘home’ was the New York City of 40 years ago, and I was momentarily freaked out that I was stuck in the afterglow of The Summer of Love for so long, but I trusted it, went with the synaptic flow, and discovered YouTube’s true power. The power not just of the archival, but of verisimilitude and recall— both of real lived, and of somehow fallaciously familiar experiences.
My trip was part the stylized ‘80s flying phone booth of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), and part the infinitely referential, memory-made-physical of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (1961). It captured the bright colors, bad hair, and primitive digital beauty of the ‘80s, but also the desperate phantom longing of memory as illusive, fragmentary, and reminiscent of the best science fiction.
The YouTube experience brings to mind the “wall jackers” of Bruce McAllister’s “The Girl Who Loved Animals”, a short story that I read in Strange Days (1995), where Ralph Fiennes fights his way through a millennial apocalypse where people trade in a black market of other people’s memories.