This song has been on my mind partly because I've been listening to 90125 lately, and partly because I note a resurgence of '80's fashion in the 22 and younger crowd. So I might as well anticipate the trend: bouffant, bleached-blonde mullet, acid washed jeans, stirrup pants. Ack, no! Make it stop.
I lived through this once, already.
Since we're talking about recycling, let's look beneath the surface of Max Graham's 2005 video version of the song. What has changed in society & music since the original 1983 version was recorded?
1. The ability to manipulate sound as easily as if it were text or a visual image. Notice the tempo (speed) of the remix is much faster, yet the pitch (high/low) of Jon Anderson's voice is unaffected. Computers. Digital audio. In 1983 music was recorded on analog tape, and the ability to condense or stretch time without altering pitch existed only in imagination. Now, the software tools are so powerful, our creative limit is our own imagination. In media, there is no longer any such thing as "reality."
QUESTION: As you listen to music today, do you think current creativity reflects the unlimited sound design possibilities our tools offer? If so, where are you hearing creativity?
2. One human with a computer is equal to the collective output of a massive creative team. Not better. Not worse. Just equal...in terms of ability to reach an audience. The 1983 version required five immensely skilled and practiced specialist musicians (thanks guys), a producer, recording engineers, mix & mastering engineers, assistants, transporation, studio facilities, etc. Max Graham could have done everything for the 2005 version on his laptop. At home. Including distributing the song to his audience online. For a tiny fraction of the cost. And his musical "status" is equal to Yes again, in terms of audience.
QUESTION: Now that those possibilities are in the hands of...anyone...everyone...are you hearing great art? If so, where? Who?
3. The remix is a deconstruction of someone else's original art. A recirculation — not reinterpretation — of someone else's original creative thought, intellectual property, or even identity: for profit. The tempo is much faster. The beat is metronome mechanical, precise, inflexible, in a way only sample accurate quantizing can produce. The nuances of the guitars, bass, and (particularly) drums are gone, replaced by repeated "cut & paste" fragments. Lyric edits, most notably missing, "sooner or later each conclusion/will decide the lonely heart..." ostensibly remove the possibility of failure, and downplay the role of personal responsibility.
QUESTION: How would you interpret those changes? If the purpose of art is to teach us about ourselves, what did you learn?
4. Women will trade their sexuality for material gain. Even barely pubescent boys know this, reinforced by both the story-line content of the video (girls "auditioning" for boys), and the complicity of the actual performers who performed in the video.
QUESTION: Has the role or status of women changed since 1983? If so, how?
5. Global political tensions remain high. "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" was written at a time of tense uncertainty between the Soviet Union and the West. Threats of a nuclear missile war. Miscommunication and distrust. Building upon #4 above, is a series of nude photographs of a Russian woman born ca. 1983. Here stripped, literally, of cultural identity, so you can see her as a fellow naked ape. She is now of child-bearing age, and thus represents Russia's future. And she would have been — is — our "enemy" if you believe politicians.
Some might be unsettled by her nudity and choose to label the images "pornography." But I see her as a powerful visual symbol representing all points outlined above.