Monday, November 9, 2009

A tale of woe.

I used to love music. I went to a lot of shows and bought a lot of records. Yes, records. Now, not so much.
In those days - we're talking about the mid 70's to early 80's - music was adventurous, exciting and interesting. I think it's because none of us knew what money was or how to make it.
Bands like Gentle Giant, Focus, Manfred Mann's Earth Band and Emerson, Lake and Palmer played big houses and sold lots of records. Enough, at least, to keep them in business and earn money for their record companies. It was enough to be artistically interesting, sell-out a venue like the 3,600 seat Tower Theater and sell some records; even though their music didn't get played on mainstream radio stations. In fact, the idea that their music wasn't played on mainstream radio was a badge of honor.
We would peruse local record stores in search of the next interesting band. We'd trace their family trees to see who left which band and where they landed. Bill Bruford left Yes to join King Crimson. Buy the next Crimson record. Peter Banks left Yes to form Flash. Check out Flash. Keith Emerson was quoted in the latest issue of Circus magazine saying that Genesis was his favorite band. Buy a few Genesis albums and find out why. That's how we heard stuff like "Lark's Tongues in Aspic," "Small Beginnings" and "Supper's Ready," the 22-minute epic that for some reason I can recite the lyrics to. Probably because I've listened to it so many times it's etched in my brain like musical Mount Rushmore.
All of those people are either in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or settled nicely into retirement. The days of experimental rock music are gone. They're gone because experimental rock music doesn't earn any money. All it does is make musicians happy, and that's not profitable.
Now, we manufacture stars on television. We group them into marketable icons and parade them in front of an audience who presumably votes on their favorites. The most marketable ones are thrust upon us like the flu, and we're powerless to resist. It's music disguised as a big marketing machine. If Keith Emerson was dead he'd be rolling over in his grave.
As for me, I've chosen to ignore the big marketing machines, as I did when I was young. It's a consistent behavior that I am proud to say I've grown into as an older adult. Some things need to stay with you. There are a handful of bands like Umphrey's McGee, Gov't Mule and The Derek Trucks Band that sell their wares on the road playing for tiny houses in front of devoted fans with little or no radio play, but the sense of adventure is gone. Maybe I don't have the energy for it or maybe it no longer exists. Either way, music ain't what it used to be - which is something I can say for a lot of things.
For one thing, we don't have record stores any more. What few big-time music chains still exist are selling the television stars and radio exposed artists because they can't afford to stock CDs that might sell a piddly ten thousand copies. It's all about the bottom line.
That's the sad part. Music has become a corporate venture. No longer can people like Kate Bush, Peter Hammill or Focus get a recording contract, and if you can't get a deal you probably can't afford to continue. So, bands are left to market their own music, and that requires a lot more work on the part of the listener and even more on the part of the artist. They're fighting against a huge machine that starts with television.
Like a lot of things, it isn't going to be what it was, and people like me are left with the memories of picking through records looking for the next interesting thing. Something to stimulate me and make me think - two qualities that seem to be sadly lacking in the world of corporate music. It's a shame that an entire generation of music-loving people will be denied the simple pleasure of finding a gem among the rubble, because the musical family tree now consists of the audition for the television show, followed by the marketing campaign that produces the album that is thrust on us by the machine that produced the television show.
That isn't art. It's just marketing.


susan said...

What I wouldn't give for my old LP of Court of the Crimson King.


junior alien said...

I don't mind the musical "evolution" so much, because I make music myself.

Do you like jazz, by the way?

Kcoz said...

I'm proud to say that I was one of the few who bought the first release Black Sabbath album back in the day.(the one with the witch on the cover)
We also hated the bubblegum, pop crap the radio was playing and discovered Sabbath by word of mouth, without any airplay...and that album eventually sold well.