A Musical Revolution

A musical revolution

How many groups are out there that you like but don’t connect with because the machine points another way?

A musical revolution

I?am dreaming. I’m dreaming of a world where the shitty, shallow, shamefully empty music that dominates the moron spheres of pop radio and music television will fall aside, so many burnth ashes falling from the incendiary forces that have taken fire to the rotten kingdoms of the record companies.

I am dreaming of people being able to download an entire album onto a CD at the click of a button and not have to endure malls or mega-stores, dazzled with their images that both insult and tempt. I’m dreaming of corporate magazines and radio stations losing their cash ponies and having to resort to employing deejays and writers who have taste. Imagine turning on the radio and getting music that wasn’t corrupted by the greedy hands of the hit-making machine from someplace other than your favourite deejay at your local station? Imagine reading high-circulation magazines that were more concerned with talent than with haircuts? Thanks to the potential of internet technology, I think this world is rapidly approaching fruitition.

The record companies are aware of what’s at stake. Their taste-making abilities, their cash-coffers, are all in danger because of the proliferation of file-sharing software that might make them obsolete soon. We’ve all heard the argument that this is piracy and it takes away from the artists as well as from the companies who paid to produce their albums. Even though that’s true it should be ignored. Which musician has been the most vocal opponent of file sharing?

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Look no further than Lars Urlich of Metallica, a band that sprang out of the counterculture they now seem so inclined to thwart. But that’s what happens when a group of musicians lose their youth and their muse and become savvy enough to really start to value the millions they’ve acquired selling rage and angst to the never-ending pimply-faced legions that make up their fan-base. I wonder if the irony is lost on Lars Urlich that the same corporate interests that keep his pockets obscenely fat are the same ones that generally keep their fan base in a cycle of poverty and hence produce rage and rebellion in their youth, which Metallica, of course, caters to. Anybody involved with music knows that musicians make their living playing live.

So why is Mettalica so upset about some poor telemarketer in India, who earns just $1.50 cents an hour, downloading their latest stupid song onto his work computer? A hint: It’s the same reason bands like Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones still put out albums. No, not ego but close. Greed. The Black Crowes are a band that lets people record their live shows. One would think they are ready for the next step of having people download their albums.

They tour constantly and you know they live well. Should we feel bad for millionaires who are deprived of a few more millions? I know I don’t. Some might say that a band might not be inclined to record an album if they don’t have the big payoff in the future but I say this is wrong as well. The record companies usually pay for the recording so lets ask ourselves what we would lose if a band has to finance an album on their own. The answer is not much. With technology where it is today a great majority of successful musicians have home studios capable of doing what big studios can do and bands are constantly putting out their own self-financed albums before getting signed. Time will only make it cheaper.

Maybe some albums that are so overwhelming overproduced (the Gun’s N’ Rose’s album Use Your Illusion comes to mind) would be more stripped down and that would probably be a better thing as well. Would any body miss some lawyer from the record company popping his beak in on the recording session to see how things are going? Won’t any self-respecting musician want to still create albums, create art that is timeless, part of the pantheon of music?

That’s a large part of what this is about: real musicians making music for people who like music. How much longer do we have to stand the next Brittany Spears, her little vixen-b*tch-tease act (“Oops! I did it again!”, she pouts in her little belly-shirt while the media follows her every sexual move…), fueling the jerk-off fantasies of teen-age boys and the bulimic-rage-depressions of their teenage classmates? How much longer do we have to be inundated with boy bands that can’t sing and are the carefully scripted creations of evil public relations executives bent on a big payoff?

Some shrug it off and say they don’t listen to the radio, that they don’t watch that channel, that they don’t buy those albums, so who cares? We should all care for a few reasons. First is that too much money is being given to people with no talent, intelligence or capability to understand just how much they suck. That should be a problem for anyone. Secondly, the cultural imperialism globally that America is leading is real and it’s frightening.

Sitting in the resort town of Gumbet, on the lovely Aegean Coast of Turkey, I was trying to have lunch but a giant TV screen with MTV’s “Top 40 Hits of this year” was screaming in my face. In the hour I was in this restaurant, as the teenage Turkish hawker-fashion victim goaded the porcine masses of package-tourists from the U.K. into his gaudy lair, I was bombarded by the cultural detritus of today.

Particularly appalling was the repulsive boy-group called “Five” and their collaboration with Queen on We will rock you, not only for the quality of the song but for the shameful sellout of a once respectable rock band. It was played three times while I was there. I finally pulled the Turk from the door, his eyes flashing the blood of the kill and sugar-sweet taste of the West, and asked him if he could change the awful music.

He looked at me curiously, as if now noticing something that he hadn’t seen before in my face. “Where are you from?” he said, as if it had to be somewhere not of this earth. I could only put my face down into my kebab. He couldn’t imagine why I didn’t like what was being played. Unlike our fashionable Americans in Singapore, the Turk hasn’t grown up in the middle of the cultural swirl and been fortunate enough to gain a foothold and make a choice.

His choice comes beamed to him from MTV or the local radio station and he figures its Western, it’s new, so therefore its cool. It’s often the same case here in Singapore. I started subtly complaining a little more after this experience, especially in smaller, nicer places that were playing techno or ugly pop. I asked them to put on some Turkish music and, though at first they seemed hesitant, after they saw I enjoyed it, it almost seemed to give them license to enjoy it as well. I asked myself: Do these people like pop music? Do they just accept it? Do they not like it but feel that they should listen to it just to be “in”? Its time to take back music from the cum-guzzling no-talents who suck and screw their way to the top, trafficking on their looks and connections.

Its time to take back music from the connections that are already rich and fat from what should be art for the people. How rich will they be if they continue to dictate to the rest of the world what’s “in” at this critical crossroads of humanity? The scary thought is how far will these forces marginalize real music? Already, how many musicians have been swallowed up by the machine? How many groups are out there that you like but don’t connect with because the machine points another way? Right now it’s a race against time.

I’ve downloaded as much music as I could before the vested interests shut down the humble Napster site, after all just a mechanism for sharing, and I am now starting to download music off some of the other sites that offer services similar to Napster. Hopefully the record company will realize that when they press down on one of these sites it just makes others pop up. Perhaps we can fantasize about them going broke trying to extinguish this threat. But I imagine they will simply raise the price of CDs and produce a few more hot little chickens like Christine Aguliera.

I think, and some I’ve talked to agree with me, that you can’t keep this kind of technology down. But consider the electric car and alternative sources of energy that the oil companies have swallowed up. Finally, a friend says to me, “People need to be told what to like”. I agree with this sad fact. But my question, and I say this imploringly, is why can’t it be with taste? Why can’t we have mainstream magazines and radio stations with no ulterior motives than to help us navigate a large but beautiful world of music and expression? Why can’t we pull music farther away from the corrupting world of money?