Monday, October 03, 2005

The Pop Music Manifesto

This one was my very first livejournal entry, posted about a year ago now. Initially, I had hoped to make my LJ a music-only blog. That lasted maybe two weeks, until I realized I couldn't really write about music. What follows was my opening salvo in a very short war. It's still real fun to read though.


Modern pop music is in a state of disarray. Between MTV fashion-is-music flavor-of-the-week; VH1 safe-house of the over-the-hill major-label-elite; freeware file-sharing distribution debates, corporately-funded across-the-board uninspired-monotony, and underground hyper-nostalgic hearken-back to days of hipster yore; I have nothing left. I can't stand Clear Channel's rape of the airwaves, can't stand the elitist attitudes of the indie rock/underground scene, can't find an artist that doesn't just rip off someone else who came before them (and probably did it ten times better).

This unregulated music media industry where bigger-than-life corporations monopolize record labels, radio stations, music venues and distribution centers, makes for one sorry state of pop music. Even in the Information Age, new and exciting stuff gets harder to find, and stands little chance of continued existence if artists fail to bow to the pressure of their own commercial interests. In order to live (and oftentimes live comfortably), commerce supercedes art. And good music dies with it.

I hate the scene. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please, go back to your Nickleback-utopia and thank your lucky stars. If you do, I don't need to really explain it. What good is a subculture if it's just as homogeneous as pop culture? What good are those fucking retarded wallet-chains, black t-shirts, studded belts, and buddy holly glasses when you can't pick out one scenster from another? Why wear the Che Guevara shirt when you don't have a clue who the man actually was? And don't you dare have that vintage Clash poster hanging up in your room if you're just another run-of-the-mill Hot Topic capitalist-consumer. A good friend of mine once told me that he thought it impossible to truly be a Buddhist and live in America. I think the same idea could apply to punk rock. I hate the scene.

Why do I like Denison Witmer so much? Because Jacksone Browne has sucked since 1976. Why can't I get enough of the current garage rock revival? Because popular rock'n'roll has pretty much sucked in recent years, and I can't time travel back to the 60s and see the Rolling Stones before they imploded, churning out faux-disco hits and continuing to tour even though they haven't had an original thought since Richard Nixon was president. The only genre to truly have broken any ground in the last ten years is the rap scene, yet as we speak the hip-hop generation grows stale due to over-exposed crass-commercialization (reference retread rhymes from 50-Cent and the recent precipitous decline of the fabulous Roots band). As soon as executives get ahold of something, it crumbles to dust under the weight of its own marketing strategy -- which in general, is to flood the market with whatever pap it is they're peddling (until the market gets sick of it), making as much money as possible in as short a time as possible. Then rinse, repeat, and the cycle begins again.

I am the industry's bitch, and am as much to blame for the sorry state of affairs as they are. Music as art, music as newness and innovation, music as rebellion, is going extinct because of me.

The last album I heard that made me want to weep in public by just thinking about it was the Ágætis Byrjun. And even then, it was only new because of my general lack of knowledge concerning 20th Century avant-garde. Can we even create new things anymore? Will there ever be another Ray Charles, another Little Richard, another Lennon/McCartney or Lou Reed? Not if things keep to the course they seem to be following.

Stop whining about it. What you say doesn't matter. What you download doesn't matter. What you fucking write on the fucking internet does not matter one fucking iota. The revolution will not be blogged. It will be bought. What matters is what you purchase, or what you refuse to purchase. But alone, even that doesn't matter. Revolution cannot happen when a half-dozen people boycott the local Sam Goody. What we need is an army.

So I give up. I can't continue buying modern pop music, grumbling half-heartedly about all this crap until the day I die. I want to be moved. I want pop music to matter. I want it to influence public policy, not in a "oh-yeah-Sheryl-Crow-is-against-human-rights-violitions-in-Bosnia" kind of way, but in a "Woody Guthrie brought to light the plight of 1930s Dust-Bowl refugees with just a voice and a guitar" kind of way. Modern pop music is in a state of disarray. Let's just cut our losses and let it die. In the meantime, I'm going to advocate a return to pop music's roots. Even though my money will still find it's way to EMI, BMG, or Sony Music, I won't be spending it on new releases. I'm gonna buy, beg, borrow, and steal the old stuff. And find out what used to matter. What still matters. What might matter in years to come.

So let's go back to the beginning, when rock music meant rebellion. When good music was popular because it was different and revolutionary, not because MTV, Clear Channel, Pitchfork and Paste say it's good. The following is an account of one spoiled American's travels into rock-n-roll's rich, dynamic past. I might still be a consumer, but I refuse to buy like a typical 24-year-old. Pete Seeger and Bo Diddley can be the shit again. Not because Rolling Stone tells me so, but because I say so. Because we say so.

It begins.

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