As I’ve been thinking about this a lot, it seems to me that today’s music industry is made up of people who are good at being famous.  Many artists from the past were not so.  They were disenfranchised with the whole celebrity lifestyle and society in general. 

Recently I saw an interview with Bob Dylan which showed his dissatisfaction with just about everything.  A life in the spotlight seems to have made Bob a bitter man, who can’t understand why people obsess over his songs to the extent they do.

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So many artists spring to mind, but Dylan and Kurt Cobain would have to be the two most mainstream examples that seriously tried to jeopardise their fame by subliminally targeting the very industry that was employing them, (or it could be argued, exploiting them).  The press would hound Dylan and ask stupid questions, he’d give stupid answers, though his craft was always serious, and his songs spoke words with conviction.  As for Kurt Cobain, it’s common    knowledge now that In Utero, Nirvana’s third album was deliberately made with the intention of steering away the mainstream following that the band had gained following the success of Nevermind.  This doesn’t mean it wasn’t as good, though it wasn’t made with the intention of emulating success.                                                                                                                                          

Music has always been business, but today the business is greedy, and the artists that could speak up, be angry, and give society a chance to look at itself in the mirror aren’t being given the chance to.  Rather the ones that value money and fame are now the most successful, because being famous, rich and pretty is what sells music now.  

But it’s not just the industry’s fault, it’s your fault as well.  Yes, you the listener.  People would rather stick their heads in the sand and ignore the problems going on by drowning them out with some feel good dance music.  But the problems are still there; they don’t just go away. 

People can claim that music changes with time and we should embrace that.  I can hack that even though I might not like it, but music has lost its self reflective, artistic touch.  Art is about making a statement that challenges thinking, but more importantly helps us to find direction.  I’m sorry but a film clip with some over rated pop star licking a sledge hammer is not challenging us.  The sexual revolution happened 50 years ago people.  What I’m talking about is music that says, stop buying pointless shit, stop burning petrol, stop listening to what some idiot says on TV and wake up to your ignorance. 

Music needs to act as a mirror for society to see all its flaws.  That’s what art is about.

What is it about the past that gets people so infatuated?  The Music of the mid 20th century is often considered the greatest of all time, yet it’s had 50 years to get better with age.   Certain songs and artists are surrounded by a certain level of mystique.  For example, when I was a kid, I was convinced that there was some kind of divine intervention in the creation of Stairway to Heaven.

Now people will always argue that music changes with time.  You can either embrace it or hate it, yet isn’t it funny how so often, what we consider to be the best is already behind us? 

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So on the eve of Australia’s great race, the Bathurst 1000, it’s fitting to take a look at the history of the race and how everyone who follows seems so obsessive over the past.  The ‘good old days’ was a time when the drivers were larrikins and the cars were relatively stock standard and dangerously fast.  There was enough diversity to keep any race punter entertained with more makes than you could poke a stick at.

These days all the cars are identical, and the racing is closer than ever.   I like the old days but if 2013 turns out  to be a repeat of Peter Brock’s six lap annihilation of 1979, I’ll be very disappointed. People can reminisce, but the last 5 years of Bathurst have been the most exciting in its long history.

It’s funny how the gift of hindsight makes us see the world differently.  People have such a longing for the past to the point that they remember things as being better than they really were.  We tend to romanticise about past events and people creating a false sense of them. 

John Lennon seems to have suffered this fate as has Elvis.  In death they’ve become such symbols of pop culture and remembered so fondly by so many people.  But have their legacies been blown out of proportion?  If they came back would they laugh at the way people still idolise and adore them?  

So if we fast forward to today’s pop stars, with their mass following, it’s interesting to contemplate how they might be viewed in 20 years.  Are we going to look back on this time in music history with fondness a say ‘That Justin Beiber sure was a legend’  or ‘Gee I miss Miley Cyrus, she was such a good advocate for women’s rights.’ 

 Are we going to remember this time in music history as being better than it really was?

What do you guys think?

Posted: October 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

foo fighters

Photo: ‘Foo Fighters Dave Grohl by Razvan Orendovici http://www.flickr.com/photos/24468935@N03/6182899748

Licence at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

where did it go wrong

Did you know that many of today’s pop stars are employed by the government? 

Actually that’s a lie, but you could be forgiven for thinking they were after I’m finished with this post.

The problem I have with the whole situation is the loss of integrity that music once had in the mainstream.  As I’ve spoken about in previous posts, the 60’s were a political time in music, which gifted the world many great songs.  Artists were the voice of the people, and Bob Dylan was considered the voice of a generation even though he might not have seen it that way. 

Today however, music is sexualised, and it reeks of the consumerist ideology.  The mainstream music of today is not dealing with the problems our society is facing; rather it has become a part of the problem.  Film clips, with rappers preaching about how much money they have, driving around in Lamborghini’s whilst practically naked women dance like they’re some kind of domesticated pet.

These are the ideals set forth, which are taken on board by young people.  You just have to look around and see the ignorance of the society we live in to grasp an appreciation for the depth of the problem.  Perhaps I’m a pessimist, yet I see an overwhelming majority following suit, accepting such ideals set forth as the ‘right way’.  People are obsessed with body image.  They’re obsessed with buying more, consuming more as we’re all led to believe that ‘bigger is better’.   In the meantime our world is facing the dire consequences of excessive consumption, and music which I believe to be one of the most powerful mediums in shaping the beliefs of young people is saying, lets consume more, lets sexualise and lets breed.

At the end of the day, this is what governments and corporations want.  They want populations to grow and people to consume more, because this is what’s powering our economy.  Meanwhile all the so called ‘cool’ pop stars out there are seen as rebels in the eyes of young people.  But these pop stars are not rebels, what they are is a bunch of shallow sell outs who are conforming to the manufactured structure of our society set forth by a ruling class.  They are selling to the next generation a bunch of ideals that will encourage them to follow a life dictated by monetary gain.  These pop stars are glorifying the very things which are leading to the human race’s downfall.

Posted: October 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

WE DONT SELL OUT

Photo: ‘Neil Young’ by Man Alive! http://www.flickr.com/photos/24365773@N03/8079956933
Licence at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

EverybodyKnowsThisIsNowhereWell not really. I’m an iPod addict that has come to love the idea of carting my music library around everywhere I go. MP3 players have seriously changed the way we consume music, and perhaps even music itself. MP3 is the format for the 21st century, yet it’s fair to say that the advances it affords listeners has also led to a number of drawbacks.
The key drawback is quality, which I am convinced, is a major cause for the decline in artistic quality of music across the board. Most of the music I listen to on MP3 format I also have on vinyl, and let me tell you, there is a difference. The quality of a vinyl recording is not a myth, it’s legit. Listening to a song on vinyl can be a revelation, especially since the quality often leads to the discovery of certain hidden elements that you just don’t hear on a MP3 track. I would say that overall, the music just has a whole lot more depth, and is therefore a whole lot more dynamic when heard the old fashioned way.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love my iPod, but I do think that many younger people have been brought up on iPods, and have their taste in music shaped by a misunderstanding. They’re simply uniformed on how good, good music really sounds.
A few months ago, I casually walked into a second hand book store to find a collection of vinyl for sale. A bargain it was with many original Pink Floyd pressings going for under twenty bucks. I grabbed the lot and headed for home to try out my new found gems. Interestingly, my favourite find of the day was a copy of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, an album which I already had on CD. The tattered old copy cost me eight bucks, but once I heard the crackle as the stylus hit the disc, I knew I was in for a treat.
Hearing the song’s I knew for the first time on vinyl was like hearing them again for the first time. I think it has something to do with the music sounding more imperfect; the crackling of an aged record, the music just sounds more real, more alive.
It’s no coincidence then, that vinyl is seeing resurgence, with music retailers, once again stocking it. It’s a collector’s thing, with pressings in limited numbers targeting a niche market of old farts who want to reminisce, and young hipsters who’ve raided their parent’s collection, and are now looking to start their own. I for one am glad to see a resurgence, yet I doubt whether it will ever kill the compact disc to become the musical medium again. These days’ people just crave convenience over quality, but really who cares. If you haven’t discovered vinyl yet, you’re just missing out.

Rock and roll is dead

Posted: October 2, 2013 in Music, Uncategorized

Why Evolution Is True

This is the second installment in the “Hey kids, get off of my lawn!” series.

I woke up this morning and, during desultory browsing of the internet, found an announcement of Avril Lavigne’s latest song, “Rock”. Have a listen, if you can stand it.

Here’s what’s wrong with this song, and with many rock songs and videos these days:

  • Blatant product placement
  • No musicality: shouting
  • Song shows no signs of creativity; sounds like many other songs on the air. Tune (if there is one) is dull; words forgettable.
  • Attempt to cover up lack of creativity with shock value: cursing; girl-on-girl kiss featuring Danica McKellar (think Katy Perry); superheroes; and even a shark beheaded by a buzzsaw. Other recent music videos have covered up the lack of interesting music with unclad women.
  • AUTOTUNING (voices are adjusted electronically): the curse of modern rock.  Who had that bad idea, which is grossly overused?

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It’s the emotional climax that has defined so many classic songs.  The guitar solo has been responsible for turning many a musician into a legend.  In the 60’s Clapton was God, until Hendrix showed why he was the greatest of all time.   Jimi Hendrix playing guitar is a mesmerising experience.  Perhaps not as technically accomplished as others who followed, Hendrix free spirited creativity made up for that two fold, his hands seamlessly flowing across the neck.  It’s like he hadn’t learnt how to play; he was just born to play.

Jimi Hendrix was like so many others performers of the twentieth century; talented beyond comprehension and full of passion and soul that poured out through their music.  The versatility of the guitar itself had afforded so many musicians throughout history, the ability to carve their own unique sound to the point where a style of playing is as individual as the sound of a singer’s voice.

 But it’s fair to say that today; the popular performers are rarely seen with a guitar.  Actually, they probably can’t even play one or any instrument for that matter.  Today it’s more about dance moves or how raunchy a film clip can be.

 But the one thing that saddens me more than anything is the demise of the guitar solo (and saxophone solo for that matter).  It’s been replaced in most pop songs by a rapper with poor grammar speaking  mundane lyrics most probably with a choice of profanities thrown in for good measure.   But then again, even for the rock bands I’ve heard on commercial radio, there seems to be a lack of soulful guitar playing.  It’s as if a guitar solo is seen as excessive or something. Perhaps even uncool, or too 1980’s.

 It’s not like people aren’t playing instruments anymore.  There is undeniably loads of talented musicians out there, but for some reason, the music industry for the most part is favouring watered down trash.  It’s not just guitars; all instruments are being oppressed in the face of what I call digitised music.  Saxophone solos of passion are long gone, the dreamscapes Pink Floyd painted with a lap steal are reserved for the past and the mesmerising drums of Soul Sacrifice seem a distant memory of Woodstock.

 It’s the beauty of music that allows a song without words to somehow find a way to say the things words can’t say at all.  Music would be all the more powerful in today’s world if people would only look beyond the words and image to appreciate the most important part; the music.

As a biased lover of music, I’ll try hard here to not offend others choice of music.  I accept that everyone has the choice to listen to what they want, and everyone has the choice to watch the X Factor if they want to.  For the average person, such a program offers reasonable entertainment value, especially at the beginning of a series when it’s fair to say, the quality makes for a good laugh. 

Viewers sit glued to the box in anticipation of the next young talent deemed to have the ‘X factor’ by the panel of ‘capable’ judges.  But as a very casual viewer of this program, it leads me to question the authority of judges to choose who becomes the next pop star.  Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl has publicly criticised such programs for undermining the important values of music. He argues that music is really about friends getting together and learning to play instruments whilst sounding like shit.  Lets face it, all bands sound like shit at first, it takes time for musicians to find their feet and get comfortable playing with other musicians.  But this learning process is what creates originality. 

Back to X Factor, and we see a kid turn up as a no body. He’s deemed by a pop star to be industry relevant, and then nurtured and coached by the judges and other industry leaders.  Given a few months the kid’s now a pop sensation.  Now of course it’s all a bit of fun for the kid, and commercial television networks are loving the ratings, but for the population of younger viewers (and many older viewers who should know better), what they watch then gives them a false impression of what’s really important in music.

As I feel my personal taste get in the way of a balanced argument here I’ll try to scale it back a little.  Yes I’m biased, but I think that one of the most important, universal qualities of music which has been forgotten is sincerity and honesty.  That is the ability for the artist to perform as themselves, not as something manufactured.  As a lover of good music, no matter what it is, the thing I appreciate more than anything is when you can tell that the artist means what they sing.  Whether it’s about a personal experience, or an issue that’s pissed them off, music that’s made with conviction is always good music.  It may not align with my tastes, and it might not align with yours, let’s face it everyone has their own taste and that’s certainly a good thing.  But sooner or later someone’s got to stand up and put a stop to this shallow trend in music.

I guess the only saving grace, is that most contestants fail to forge a lasting career in music.  After the show ends, so too does their 5 minutes of fame.  Sure it was a bit of fun while it lasted, but really, I’m yet to see any television music competition like the X Factor produce a talent that makes my jaw drop.

746px-Eric__slowhand__ClaptonIf you asked a group of kids under the age of 20, most would say who cares.  Unfortunately in the Internet driven world of the 21st century music like all media has become diversified and subsequently targeted to very niche markets.  So perhaps Rock isn’t dead, but still the musical landscape today is not what it was 20 years ago.

 In my opinion, Rock music as a mainstream genre died with Kurt Cobain almost 20 years ago, yet I’d still concur that rock is not dead; not while the troubles of the Earth still compromise peace, not while humans still feel suffering and pain.  For me, rock music has its roots in the blues, the music of suffering.  What’s happened in the last 20 years is the rapid dematerialisation of music, as artists push further away from the simple influence of popular music’s forefathers to seek influence from more cotemporary sources. 

When I say forefathers of popular music I don’t mean Michael Jackson, or John Lennon.  The roots of pop stem back to the Mississippi Delta, to the original blues legend, Robert Johnson.  In the 50’s the likes of Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins and Howlin Wolf would have a profound impact on the British blues boom, which gave birth to bands like The Beatles, The Stones, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.  The golden age of rock and roll, really does have the blues to thank for its existence.

But the influence didn’t end there in the 60’s.  Heavy Metal too was forged on the blues and as late as the nineties, the bands of the time were still obsessed with the blues no mater how far from the genre they may have been perceived.  Kurt Cobain’s love for the music of Lead Belly became evident to all during his cover of Where Did You Sleep Last Night at Nirvana’s famous unplugged in New York session, whilst Nirvana’s grunge counterparts Pearl Jam have cited 80’s blues immortal Stevie Ray Vaughan as a massive influence.

But today’s bands don’t seem to have the same direction.  The lines have blurred too much, to a point where rock music is confused and watered down.  Bands lack originality in my opinion because they’re working from influences that have already exploited ideas.  It’s like taking an already well painted piece of canvas and trying to paint a completely different picture.  From the 50’s to the 90’s the formula was simple, simple chords, simple riff and a unique melody.   The blues was like an empty canvas for artists to work off and develop their own unique sound.

So no, rock isn’t dead, it’s just a bit ill.  But that’s nothing a good dose of the blues can’t fix