(This page last updated: 10 May, 2013)
Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, 1991
Gunnar & Matthew Nelson name banner

I suppose I'd best start this essay off with a warning: I was 15 when Nelson came out with their debut album, and I thought everything about that period of their careers was wonderful. If that makes you roll your eyes, then I'd suggest you stop reading here, head back out to the index, and find another page to look at.

I have never, ever understood why these guys were the target of so much hatred and abuse--well, okay, maybe I understand it, but I certainly don't agree with it. They're hardly the first band in music history to start out as teen pinups, and they weren't guilty of any of the fakery that they were accused of, either. They formed their band all on their own, were perfectly capable of playing live shows, wrote their own songs, and--fer cryin' out loud, folks!--the hair was REAL. They didn't bleach, they didn't wear hair extensions. And nothing was handed to them; if you think that being the sons of their father made their lives easy, think again. As far as I'm concerned, Nelson had more substance and honesty than a dozen other bands of their time, and they deserved every bit of success they ever achieved. If they way they looked is what defines an "image problem," I could wish more artists had the same problem!

And somebody must have liked them, given the way their debut album After the Rain took off. The very first single, "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection," went #1, and the video was one of the most-requested on MTV--and also my own first exposure to the band. Given the usual fare of music videos at that point, "Love and Affection" was arrestingly different. The song itself was wonderful, and the video was full of color and camera tricks--remember the guitar solo recorded in reverse and the snow that falls up at the end? And as for the Nelsons themselves... well, let's just say that my appetite had been whetted, and I wanted more.

And I got more, in the form of their second video, "After the Rain"--and that, I think, was what truly cemented their place in my heart forever. I'm a fan of music videos as an art form, and I especially like ones that tell stories; straight performance clips are fun, but not usually terribly memorable. "AtR," however, was anything but unmemorable. The thread of the storyline follows the experience of a young man with an abusive alcoholic father, and who has nothing but his "worthless" dreams to sustain him. Those dreams, however, take on a whole new meaning one stormy night when, after an angry confrontation with his father, the young hero has a kind of dream/vision wherein Matthew and Gunnar Nelson take him before a Native American shaman. The shaman possesses a feather with apparently magical powers, for when the Nelsons touch it, they vanish. He then offers the feather to the young man, but fades into nothingness before he can accept it. Cast adrift, our hero finds his way out of the shaman's cave and discovers a stage, where Nelson perform their song before a cheering crowd. The dream fades away just as the song ends, but when our hero wakes, sun is pouring in through his window and birds are singing outside--and he finds a feather sitting on his bedside table.

Obviously, the whole thing positively oozes symbolism, though it's only been fairly recently that I've been able to actually make my own analysis of it; it took me that long to find my own copy of the entire video. Boiled down to an essential, the "moral of the story" is that every triumph begins as a dream. Others may call your dreams silly, but if you believe in them strongly enough, you can make them real. This video was Matthew and Gunnar sending out the message that, "Hey, we were once a couple of kids with nothing but dreams, too."

It might have taken me this long to consciously put all the pieces together, but I think I always had a sort of instinctive understanding of that message; I knew from the first time I saw "AtR" that it spoke to me on a very deep level. The fact that I was just 15 when it first came out, though, may well have been what kept me from being able to articulate exactly why I loved this video so much, as the Nelsons themselves were enough to send my hormones into overdrive and rational thought right out through the window. I was crushing so hard on Jareth and Per Gessle at that point that anyone else had trouble even getting my attention, but Matthew and Gunnar surely managed it. I mean, they're gorgeous; there's just no other word for it. And they didn't dress like any other rock stars I had ever seen--they favored white, bright colors, and even pastels over black, and while leather had a place in their wardrobes, they didn't wear it to the exclusion of all else. Quite frankly, if there was ever anyone whose dress sense epitomized my idea of "rock fantasy," Matthew and Gunnar Nelson were it. They wore tailcoats and tank tops, their shirts were always open halfway down (or missing altogether) and they must have supported a whole tribe of Native American artisans with all the hand-hammered silver jewelry and accessories they were always sporting. Taken altogether--the clothes, their handsome faces and beautiful tanned bodies (which they were not at all shy about showing off, I might add ::fans self:: ) and those magnificent sweeps of blond hair--they seemed to be creatures of air and light rather than darkness, a true rarity in the world of rock. Combine that with a generous portion of talent and some truly lovely singing voices, and I was lost.

And as time has gone on, I've grown to respect them more and more as people, and as artists. Even though I'm not as big a fan of their more recent work as I was of the debut album, you've got to admire their persistence, if nothing else. After the towering success of After the Rain, Murphy's Law stepped in with a vengeance--everything that could possibly have gone wrong with the followup, did. Grunge happened, and melodic rock went by the wayside. Their record company refused to release Imaginator, a concept album about the too-pervasive influence of TV and the media, and instead forced them to go back into the studio and make a whole other album, the ill-fated 1993 release Because They Can. I was a pretty big Nelson fan, but I never knew about that second album until long after the fact--they dropped so far out of sight that for years I assumed they had broken up. Imagine my surprise, a couple of years back, to learn that they had released half a dozen more albums, all on their own label!

Mattew and Gunnar might never have achieved mega-hit status again, but personally, I think the fact that they've been able to carry on at all, and without once descending into the madness of substance abuse that so often dogs struggling musicians, is pretty damned impressive. Rock on, guys.

Favorite Songs & Videos
After The Rain is the one Nelson album I'm most familiar with; I own most of the others (Silence Is Broken is the only one I'm having trouble locating a copy of) but some of them are very recent acquisitions and others just didn't grab me too hard on a first listen. Because They Can is a decent album, but everything on it sounds mournful, even the tracks that are supposed to be upbeat. And Imaginator is a fascinating piece of work, but not a very friendly one--I just can't listen to it over and over. And I'm not a huge country fan, so it's hard to listen to Brother Harmony a lot without longing for the days when they were playing more straight-up rock. So, having said that--
Favorite Songs: "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection"
Still one of my favorites. I wonder if Matthew still has his crush on Cindy Crawford?
"After The Rain"
Beautiful song, and a beautiful message.
"Only Time Will Tell"
Lovely harmonies on this.
Favorite Videos: "After the Rain"
To this day, this is one of my all-time favorite music videos.
Favorite Nelson Quotes
Matthew Gunnar
"The reason that the world is in such a mess is that people can't get along--and politicians can't change it. Change is up to entertainers and we're really going to try to say or do something that will enable people to take our songs into the world and make themselves better." "The world's dark enough as it is without being bitter. It's time to shed a little light. Too many people draw their energy from the negative side of things; they become takers instead of givers. But music's always been our inspiration. That we're still standing after all we've been through is a matter of hope and trust and the power of music."
"...We stand for something. We stand for passion, and vitality, and color, and vibrancy, and feeling. It's something we really believe in. We feel like we're kicking ass and taking down names--but we're doing it in a different way." "We might as well be ourselves, and part of that is lots of color, an American Indian influence, spirituality, a larger than life, Wizard of Oz philosophy. That's what we're about. The only great rock'n'roll comes from artists who know who they are and aren't afraid of being that."
"From an artistic standpoint, you have to satisfy your own integrity because if you don't, you'll compromise the purity of your statement." [On his interest in martial arts] "I always find time to train. It's good for my mind and I find I need it for my peace of mind. I'll have a total anxiety attack if I don't hit something every day."
"Gunnar and I get our hair pulled quite a bit. They don't want to just touch you, they want to take a piece of you home, literally."

shocked emoticon Yikes! I mean, sure, I loved their hair (and had plenty of fantasies about getting my fingers into it) but that's going a weensy bit far, gals!

"We don't do drugs, we don't drink, but we have one vice: women. We're very sexual."

Oh, help me... I think I'm melting... melting emoticon

The Nelsons' Astrological Sign

Date of Birth: 20 September, 1967

Western Zodiac: Virgo (Earth)
Chinese Zodiac: Goat (Earth)

A lot of my favorite musicians seem to be on the cusp between signs, and the Nelsons are no exception; they're only three days away from being Libras, and I think they both show some influence from that sign--certainly they seem to be more laid-back than typical Virgoans. But on the Eastern side, they definitely fit the Goat mold, with their general altruism, tenacity, creativity, and ability to work as a team.

The Chord & Sorcery Angle

If the Nelsons were characters in a fantasy novel, they would be:

Mages, I think. Gunnar would be the one with all the talent at combat-magic, and Matthew would do the ritual spellwork; he has the patience for it.

The fantasy/period outfit I would most like to see the Nelsons model is:

Oh, that's a tough one... maybe "warrior mage" getups--bits of armor over robes, maybe topped off with billowing cloaks...

Like this page?
Sign the site guestbook and tell me so, or
check out the C&S message board!

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional Valid CSS