by David Stanowski
The other night, I was watching The History Channel, and their take on Elvis' effect on American culture, and the birth of Rock & Roll. At one point, there was a discussion about how each group of young people, since the birth of Rock & Roll, tends to think that the music that was created when they were 15-25 years old is better than what came before it, and better than what came later. In other words, many people believe that there are no objective standards by which to judge Rock & Roll, and everyone is prejudiced towards the music of their "own era"!
I have heard this argument before, and I have always rejected this piece of Conventional Wisdom! Music reflects the time in history when it is created, and first performed, and it should be obvious that there are tremendous differences between many historical periods. Was life more fun in the 1920s or 1930s? Well the music of those two decades reflected that difference!
My article, Bands That Changed The World, argued that the early Rock & Roll of the 1950s, and early 1960s, reflected the happy, prosperous mood of those times, and featured mostly vocal groups with upbeat love songs, where the instruments played a secondary role. However, when this positive mood peaked around 1965, the British Invasion introduced a new guitar-driven Rock & Roll that was heavily influenced by the edgy, angst laden American Blues music. It gave musicians and songwriters a new way to express the feelings of those who had experienced one of the most prosperous periods in American history, but were now forced to cope with a deteriorating society, and decaying culture; which has only gotten worse as time passed!
It is my theory that those who had to find a way to deal with the loss of the real "American Dream" developed a very unique kind of music as their remedy. I think that this period lasted roughly from 1965 to 1974, and the music was so extraordinary that it represents The Golden Age of Rock and Roll. With my current view of where the country is headed, it could easily be decades, if not 100 years or more, before such a Golden Age is seen again.
There have certainly been very talented song writers and musicians since 1974, but they have only experienced the down side of this historical cycle, so they can not incorporate the more positive feelings, from earlier times, into their work. Certainly, nothing comes closer to expressing a totally negative world view than Hip Hop. No similar genre even existed prior to 1974.
I know I'm not the only person who appreciates the amazing quality, and quantity, of music produced between 1965 and 1974? The current sales of music from that decade strongly supports my case, but most people who write about the current music scene are invested in promoting what is currently being churned out by the music industry, so they don't say much about it. This is why it was so interesting to find the following post on the musician's forum, from The Golden Triangle, this morning. It is very illuminating to see what "Stick" has to say about this topic!
"Last night I checked out the second disc from the DVD of the original Woodstock concert. I'd seen a lot of the performances before but not all of them.
It was an eye-opener. Watching this footage in 2006, it occurred to me, rather depressingly, that the sheer intensity of the playing, and the raw soul that burned incandescently off those musicians in 1969 is something that is all but extinct today.
The level of talent, vision, fearlessness, and commitment exhibited by those bands was staggering. I mean, the bass player -- the BASS player -- from Alvin Lee's Ten Years After dug into "I'm Going Home" with more all-or-nothing fury than all of the members of Maroon 5, Matchbox 20, Sum 41, and Blink 182 combined. And nobody even knows that guy's name!
Jimi Hendrix's apocalyptic rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," without saying a single word, delivers a more poignant, and affecting anti-war protest than the entire lyric sheet of Green Day's well-intentioned American Idiot album. I'm not knocking Green Day at all, either. It's just that watching Hendrix do what he does in that performance makes your blood run cold.
Hearing Janis Joplin tear her heart out onstage with a naked passion, and near-desperation that almost makes you embarrassed to be watching her makes you wonder how people like Beyonce and Alicia Keys can summon the nerve to call themselves "soul" singers. A thimbleful of Janis is more potent and intense than a year's worth of MTV. By today's standards, she's almost too much to bear.
I don't understand why anyone's showing up for today's top-selling artists. Is the produced-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life, minor key blandness of Evanescence as close as we're gonna get to "angst"? And how can anyone stay awake long enough to make it through one Coldplay song, let alone an album? These guys are selling out stadiums?!
Is the singer from nu-wave hacks The Killers supposed to be the epitome of bad boy rock star androgyny in the 00's? He looks like the Class President with a splash of eyeliner and a skinny tie. A very nice boy you can bring home to mother. Yawn.
I'm not saying there aren't great artists out there today. There are, of course. I'm just asking, why are we crowding around such a tepid lot? Fall Out Boy? Avril Levigne? How did we get duped this badly? Why are King's X still struggling to put food on the table? How come no one's heard of Nellie McKay? And why does Nickelback still have a job?
Most of today's mainstream rock music is like a bootlegged copy, seven or eight generations down, of something that was once good in its original form. It's like Xeroxes of Xeroxes of Xeroxes; the colors are all faded, the nuances gone. You keep adding water to it every year; and every year it tastes a little blander.
In the new millennium, the shortcomings of untalented singers are easily patched up by Auto-Tuner, the hardest working software in showbiz. The incompetence of the rhythm section is neatly ironed out in the Pro-Tools quantizing. It gets easier and easier to be a rock star every day.
And what's the difference, anyway? It's only music; it's not worth anything anymore. You download a few songs onto your IPod, or have your friend burn you the disc, which you then add to your collection of generic CD-Rs, which stand in unmarked stacks around your apartment. You don't even know what the artwork is supposed to look like for most of these albums.
What did you say? You don't know what an album is? Well, an album is what musicians used to make back in the olden times when people still considered music to be valuable, and would pay good money to own it, and to support artists they believed in. Back in the time when the songs you listened to were written by the same people who appeared on the album cover and the posters.
What? You don't know what a song is? Well, nowadays we just call them ringtones."
"Wow, that's deeper than your average wet spot. Allow me to concur, Coldplay sucks. The entire music industry can be summed up with a quote from one of my customers. He sold water purification systems, and we were discussing bottled water. He said something to the effect of:
"If you have enough on the ball to get water into a bottle - whether it is Houston tap water, melted Siberian glaciers, or nothing more than two hydrogen molecules for every oxygen molecule - there is a certain percentage of people that will think it is the best tasting water they ever had, and they will buy it like crazy."
I feel like this adequately explains the Killers."
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About the Author
David Stanowski is the owner and publisher of Galveston Music Scene, a web site with coverage of and commentary on the live music business, with an emphasis on the local music scene in Galveston, Texas.