Essay # 1
MUSIC: WHERE THE HELL IS IT HEADING TO TODAY?
Lately I have been receiving much feedback to my Superstition #1, all of them rather negative (thankfully, in a polite and informative way). Not that I haven't been expecting them: I knew perfectly well that, even if I'm not totally alone on the idea that Sixties' rock is essentially superior to everything that came after, I might just as well be. At least, among the younger generation, that is.
To a large extent, this is my own fault. After all, how can one successfully show such an important and untrivial idea in just five lines of text without sounding stupid and pretentious? To tell you the truth, I've grown a bit dissatisfied with my musical creed page myself: while I still uphold most of the ideas expressed there, I see now that it was rushed out far too quickly and had left my conceptions a bit obscure. Nevertheless, I'm leaving it as it is, since, on one hand, it's interesting to watch the site in its historic development, on the other hand, it has already accumulated a lot of reader comments which I don't have the right nor the wish to discard. So, in order to set everything straight, I'm dedicating my first essay on this new, tentative, and, of course, completely self-indulgent (how could one doubt that?) page to a more detailed explanation of my Superstition # 1: 'Sixties (and early Seventies) rock music is far more essential and important par excellence than all of its later extensions'.
First of all, let me prelude this with a disclaimer. I do not want, and never intended to, insult any of my worthy readers' favourite bands. The fact that I do not like the Clash, or Ultravox, or Depeche Mode, or Nirvana, or Marilyn Manson, or the Spice Girls (yeah, I've thrown them all together intentionally - you know how many people have different tastes?), should not bother you if any of these bands happen to be your favourite ones. What I certainly never intended to say was that none of these bands are enjoyable. One can enjoy anything - hell, if millions of people in this world happen to enjoy Beavis and Butthead, how can one object to enjoying the Clash? The big problem, on the other hand, would be with setting one's priorities straight: are the Clash more enjoyable than the Who? Are Styx more enjoyable than Genesis? Are the Fall more enjoyable than the Kinks? Are Radiohead more enjoyable than Pink Floyd? The list goes ad infinitum...
No-one will probably argue with me when I speak of the Sixties as a 'revolutionary' period in popular music, aw, what the heck, in music as it is. The decade brought in a virtually new type of music, and with it, a new type of mentality. Yes, the original beginnings of rock'n'roll go back to the Fifties - after all, it wasn't the Beatles or the Rolling Stones who started rock music: Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and Buddy Holly all came before them. But in the Fifties, rock'n'roll was just a new type of popular music, teenage-oriented dance ditties that were catchy, groovy, and certainly innovative, but also dismissed by the 'serious' public as just a passing fashion trend of appeal exclusively to the dumb hordes of rebellious teens. Nobody could predict Sgt Pepper back in 1956 or 1958.
What the Beatles and their worthy contemporaries and followers, such as the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Who, etc., made, was, for the first time in man's history, and I stick to this, build a solid bridge between mass culture and 'serious art'. There had always been 'serious' music in this world as opposed to 'pop' music; it's a serious misconception that 'mass culture' only originated in the 20th century. J. S. Bach as opposed to a boozy street minstrel, or the Confucius- approved musical styles vs. workingman field songs in China, are the direct equivalents to the opposition Stravinsky/Chuck Berry in the Fifties.
The Beatles and Co. broke this stereotype: while the process of their work's 'serious' recognition in the late Sixties and later on has been relatively slow, it has worked. There aren't too many musical points in this world on which lovers of Bach and Tchaikowsky, on one hand, and lovers of Chuck Berry (or the Clash), on the other hand, could agree, and the Beatles happen to be the most important.
One could argue saying that there are other examples of 'bridging the serious and the lightweight' - jazz music, for instance, that started out as the rough equivalent to Fifties' rock'n'roll, only under the more restricted social conditions in an even more conservative world, and ended up being fully accepted as 'serious' music by the thinking elite. However, the evolution of jazz and its interpretations differ seriously from the Beatles and their work. In the hearts and minds of the simpler, or, speaking with enough political correctness, 'unpretentious' people, jazz has been completely replaced by rock'n'roll - and since then, it's been completely replaced by punk, metal, hip-hop or grunge (if you're on the rebellious side), or disco, synth-pop, and gospel-pop (if you're on the mainstreamy side). Jazz audiences today are limited, and there's no denying that. And how many jazz bands play in your average working-class pub today? They've all moved to expensive restaurants visited by snobby people who think listening to jazz is 'cool' even if they wouldn't recognize Armstrong from Charlie Parker under threat of death. The Beatles, on the other side, are listened to by everybody - I mean, by everybody who hasn't got a perverse taste and says the Beatles are too poppy and simplistic, or, vice versa, that the Beatles are too pretentious and unhip (whereas, say, Iron Maiden is completely hip).
Anyway, like I said, I don't think that too many people will argue with me when I say that the Beatles and Co. provided us with the most important musical revolution in the 20th century or, in fact, with one of the most important musical and cultural revolutions ever. The big problem is: so what? The Beatles are the biggest, right, but where did this revolution lead us? What happened later, and was there anything really serious done in pop music after the Beatles?
To answer that question, one has to ponder upon the tricky question of what is a musical revolution and what are normally its reasons and its consequences. A musical revolution represents an essential turning point that brings in a completely different musical style: not just a new instrument or a new time signature or a new approach to singing, but a certain change in musical conscience. Of course, a musical revolution has nothing to do with political revolutions (at least, not usually), and its very nature is of an entirely different kind: musical revolutions do not happen in a day or a year. Roughly (very roughly) speaking, there have been three important musical revolutions over the course of the last few centuries - the Classical Revolution of the XVIIIth century, the Jazz Revolution of the early 1900's, and the Rock Revolution of the 1960's. The first one established a new type of music - music for the sake of art, music that had to be listened to as a self-estimated value, not devoted entirely to church or festival or other applied necessities. The second one was a crucial point in toppling the old, bearded values of Classical: music was rejuvenating, throwing off the shackles of the obsolete European style and going back into the masses. And the third one was even more important in that it was a blistering, successful attempt at reconciliating everything: old values with new ones, 'elite' with 'working class', and protest audiences with conservatives. Come to think of it, what is rock music? Out of all the known genres, it is probably the hardest to define. If one takes Dylan's 'Mr Tambourine Man', the Clash's debut album, and Yes' Close To The Edge, all of which are normally considered to be 'rock', one can see that such enormous gaps as exist between the three can hardly be found in any other type of music.
In other words, what I'm essentially trying to do here is to demonstrate the complete accordance of this rough musical theory with Hegel's dialectics: Jazz is taken as a backlash to Classical, after which comes Rock and reconciliates all the three. Not bad, eh?
Now the problem is: when and how does a new musical revolution occur? The obvious answer is - when the previous musical genre has exhausted its possibilities. While a certain genre is new and fresh, its supporters are many and its new creations are welcome. But sooner or later, it inevitably dies down - simply because no type of art is limitless. Classical music was given two centuries to flourish, after which it withered down and, let's admit it, died a miserable death. How many important classical composers do we know in the 20th century? One can probably count a handful, but even these won't really be able to compete with masters of the Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin or Tchaikowsky species. And it's no big surprise that the most accepted 'classical' composers of the 20th century were much more 'experimental' or 'avant-garde', rather than purely 'classical', like Stravinsky or Schnitke.
Jazz was given even fewer time: about half a century. Again, jazz is not completely dead today, but who has superated or even come close to Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, etc., etc.? Nobody. Jazz is exhausted as a genre, and today's jazz is an esoteric and almost perverse affair enjoyable only by complete jazzmaniacs.
Why the hell does that happen? People will tell you about the lack of brains, the corruption of our time, the conservatism, the need to grow... rubbish. It all happens simply because the 'pool of ideas' has become shallow. Like I said, nothing is limitless. After all, music is not magic, at least in the process of being composed. Music consists of notes played by people on instruments. The number of notes is limited. The number of instruments is limited. The number of note combinations is huge, but, first of all, not all of these combinations are pleasant to the ear, second, even this number is limited, too. No matter how long you are able to create good music using a given pattern, you won't be able to do it forever - even if you're the greatest genius on Earth.
The fact that jazz became exhausted in much fewer time than classical (and, in my opinion, the fact that rock became exhausted in much fewer time than jazz, though I'm running a bit ahead) does not, of course, mean that jazz is a more limited or 'primitive' genre than Classical. This has a lot to do with human progress in general: much more people were able to compose jazz music in their time than there were, or could have been, classical composers in their time. And, of course, with rock standards, when practically anybody in the world had a chance to form his own band and write his own music without any damn musical education whatsoever, it is only natural that the 'pool of ideas' was exhausted in fifteen or twenty years.
How did rock music occur? It had to do with a lot of factors, of course, but the two most important ones are the general degradation of music by the beginning of the Fifties, and the invention of electric instruments - primarily the guitar, of course. The point is clear: on one hand, you have such bloated, obsolete, immobile, conservative genres as Jazz or Classical, struggling to produce something new but failing. On the other hand, you have all the 'technical' conditions for a new genre - a public hungry for innovation and a set of new technological possibilities for creating the type of sound unheard before. Thus, rock music was inevitable, and it happened, bringing with it, like I said, both a new type of conscience and an entirely new sound. And when put into the hands of brilliant, experimentative geniuses like the Beatles, the Stones and the Who, it proved to be some of the best music produced in at least about a whole century.
Virtually every more or less important band of the Sixties brought something new into rock - there was so much territory left unploughed. Which, of course, left 'pure rock' exhausted in no time - by 1966, the happy marriage of black music with electric instruments was over. However, during the next ten years rock musicians were still left undaunted - they sought new ways to marry electric instruments and rock material with already existent genres; a thing that led to some of the most unprecedented musical experimentation in history. Come to think of it, the 1966-75 period in rock music was the most proliferous at least in terms of experimentation: rock was securing its ties to classical, jazz, folk, blues, bluegrass, country, even tribal and primitive music. And the arrival of synthesizers, a cardinally new type of instrument, also provided rock with a few blossoming years, when Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Brian Eno and company were among the most well-known composers and innovators of the day.
Yes, I realize that, from an entirely strict position, the combination 'rock' + 'an older musical genre' isn't particularly innovative. But it's still better than any of these elements taken separately, isn't it? And, after all, it's the natural point of development for every musical genre.
Now this is where I come to the most controversial point: the punk 'revolution'. For many people, true rock music died somewhere around 1970-71 and was resuscitated only in 1977, with the arrival of acts like the Sex Pistols or the Clash or, a little bit earlier, the Ramones, who presumably returned rock to its essence and saved it from the bloatedness and pretentiousness of progressive acts and stuff like that.
This is a point that, to me, seems entirely wrong and even perverse. First of all, punk rock is by no means a 'revolution'. Punk rock never brought anything new with it. From a technical point, it had no advantages over 'classic rock'n'roll'. Punk rock does not use any new type of instruments, on the other hand, it mostly sticks to plain guitar, refuting synths and anything else. Punk rock does not mean finding a new type of harmony or a new approach to melody: it returns us to the famous 'three chords'. Okay, some punk bands may be a bit more experimental and even employ some keyboards and stuff, but that still doesn't mean they're innovative. From a 'social conscience' point, they never did that much either, except reprising the old Who anthem about how society treats them bad and recreating it on a less musically interesting, but more aggressive level. By all accounts, 'punk' was a retread, and a harmful retread at that.
Prog rock, on the other hand, was a highly experimental, innovative genre. It's true that its creators didn't often care about the actual 'enjoyability' of their music, but then again, neither did the majority of classical composers who put their creative inspiration ahead of the public's tastes. It's even more amazing how prog rock could really captivate the mass public's attention in the early Seventies - events such as Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick being sent to the top of the charts remains, and will definitely remain, one of the most astonishing examples of 'ordinary people' showing exceptionally good taste.
The fact that punk overthrew prog as the prevailing genre in the late Seventies does not speak of prog's failure as a genre - that's the mistake commonly made by quite a few 'critics' who deny prog-rock, art-rock, whatever, the very right of existence. The real problem is that, with so many competing prog-rock bands around, even their creative approach had been exhausted by 1975 or 1976. Later arrivals on the scene by such ridiculous prog-parodists like Styx, Journey, Kansas, etc., etc., only worsened the blow: these guys thought that the essence of prog lied in being as pretentious and snobby as possible while leaving writing of solid melodies to other people, something which is called 'mannerism' in art. Prog had to go - not because it was bad by itself, but rather because it had exhausted its possibilities. Even the better second- and third-generation prog artists simply din't have that much new to say to anybody who wasn't a hardcore prog-and-prog-only devotee.
And here we are left with the biggest question. The fact that prog has been replaced by punk is, by all means, either a historical error, or a historical tragedy. Previously, when an old genre was becoming extinct, it was being replaced with something really new - Classical with Jazz, Jazz with Rock, etc. Within rock itself, Rockabilly grew into Rock'n'Roll, Rock'n'Roll grew into Art Rock, Heavy Rock, etc., etc. - all new genres, with something original to offer to their listeners. Punk offered nothing new and never wanted to offer anything new - on the other hand, its battlecry was - 'let us get back into the past!'
So what's the conclusion? If you think that punk was a liberation movement, don't fool yourselves. The 'punk revolution' was in fact a conservative, throwback counter-revolution - an intentional try to drive the music back, not just to its roots, but to its primitive roots. The claim that 'art needs rejuvenation by returning to its roots' is ridiculous in this context. Punk wasn't a rejuvenation of rock music, it was its archaization; and the comparison of the Sex Pistols in rock music with Picasso in art does not work for obvious reasons.
This brings us to the claim that punk inspired New Wave - a movement that's pretty hard to define. Basically, the expression 'New Wave' unifies all the late Seventies/early Eighties bands and artists who once again set out on the path of experimentation and, well, progress. (It's a pretty curious fact, by the way, that the best, most notorious punk bands either eliminated themselves quickly, like the Sex Pistols, or went on to quite different things, like the Clash). New Wave might have been the last gasp of brilliance, but it really can't hope to be compared with the cultural impact of the British Invasion and early classic art-rock. Most of New Wavers went in two different directions. The first was to continue the path of the Beatles by searching new genres they could marry rock music to - not that there were many left, but still... This accounts, for instance, for reggae-rock of the Police and UB40, or for the world-music-rock of Peter Gabriel (not that Peter was a New Waver, but he was one of the most adaptable persons in the industry). It was all interesting and vaguely groundbreaking, but how much groundbreaking? Not too much. The Police, in fact, hold the same position in rock as Stravinsky does in classical: painfully trying to keep the old values afloat by sacrificing some of them and adding some superficially 'new' elements. An analogy that's as true as it is dangerous: Stravinsky was one of the last classical composers of any importance.The second direction that the New Wave took was even more harmful: electronic music. Now this could probably be the start of a new musical era, and in a certain sense, it was. There were conditions for the 'electronic revolution', both social and technical - the world needed new music, and the world had accumulated enough knowledge to permit the construction of a virtually new type of musical instrument - computers and hi-tech synthesizers. The Eighties passed under the sign of electronic music as if it were the Real Future... but it turned out that this time, one more revolution was one too many. Electronic music ended up sucking all life, emotions, sincerity, and, finally, enjoyability out of music. Not to mention that the involvement of humans in creating this music was diminishing - after all, isn't it easier when you get a computer to write your music for you? Luckily, the Nineties saw electronic music retread out of the camp of the 'serious public' and steadily take its place among the uncultured pop schlock and techno-beat listeners.
The musical processes that happen now may be interesting to some, but they're so tiny, pudgety and midgety as compared to the global cultural revolution of 1966-75, that I'm not really interested. It is true that I do not, and cannot, observe much of the things happening in the States, or, in fact, anywhere in the world except Russia, but after all, isn't Russia part of the world? Here, we have the definite rule of recycled, brainless pop music; the few good bands that are in existence are mostly unknown to the general record-buying public, and have no hope of becoming known someday. But are these 'few good bands' really good? Answer is - they're... okay. There are some bands who I don't mind listening to; some bands that have interesting melodies I ain't never heard before; some bands that I'd really like to see in concert, etc. But there are no bands of which I'd say: 'well, this is definitive modern Russian rock!' Russian rock also passed its heyday, by the mid-Eighties it was already half-dead, and now it is struggling, but less and less and weaker and weaker....
Which brings me to my final, and decisive point. Rock music is dead. The few interesting bands that are still in circulation today can be fun and entertaining (even if 99% of them can only be found in the Underground), but overall they are mostly conservative - bringing up and fostering the old values of the same Beatles, or Yes, or Mott the Hoople, or the Police, but not coming up with ideas that would be essentially new. The widespread idea that rock is alive and well and the only problem with it is that it needs to be saved from corporate greed and greedy, murky managers that only feel the need to stuff the public with all that brainwashing crap like Alanis Morrisette or Puff Daddy or Marilyn Manson, is a myth. It is a myth created by people who simply do not want to face the obvious: there will never be another Beatles, or another Doors, or another Jethro Tull, in rock music. There will be amusing, entertaining bands that'll go in and come out and be forgotten, but that's not it. Rock is dead. We do need another Beatles - but these new Beatles, if ever they are bound to appear (and I do hope for it, since I'm an optimist), will not be an element of rock music. They will create another type of music - I don't know what's it gonna be called, nor what instruments or harmonies it is bound to exploit, but it's gonna be something different. Something totally different from rock - rock that died, just like jazz and classical died before it. Do not try to deceive yourself and say, 'oh no, you're wrong, it's all the fault of our commercialized and greedy recording industry'. Recording industry was always commercialized and greedy - yet it let out the Beatles. Do you think today's recording industry would miss another Beatles if it saw 'em? They sure could bring even bigger bucks!
Well, that's my opinion, in a nutshell. I do not claim this essay to be the ultimate truth - by no means, in fact, I would be very glad if it could be the start of a discussion. So far, nobody has been able to convince me of the opposite. Most of the time, people keep saying, 'oh no, no, just take a look at this band, and this, and this, and this - they were so original, so good, so clever! Why do you think they're worse than the Beatles?' Well, I still do. First of all, it's a funny thing that everybody mentions different bands - apart from one or two exceptions like Elvis Costello (indeed, one of the worthiest representatives of the New Wave and one of the last brilliant songwriters of the epoch; but exceptions only confirm the rule), on which most people agree, some say 'Sloan', others say 'Radiohead', others say 'Nurse With Wound', etc., etc., all according to their personal taste. Again, I never said these bands aren't enjoyable. I only said they add little or nothing to the main, most treasurable bulk of the rock'n'roll legacy, that stabilized itself somewhere in the mid-Seventies.
Second, I do not say that this 'most treasurable bulk' was fully original. Of course not - rock music owns a great deal to previous genres (I think I said that before already). But that's just the thing - while 'classic rock music' owned a great deal to previous genres, modern rock music owns a great deal to... classic rock music. Recycling the recycled, are we? Flirtation with other genres is actually a very good thing by itself, and extremely useful for both of the styles that are getting 'married'. That's why I respect the Rolling Stones as the real fathers of blues-rock, Bob Dylan as the real father of folk-rock, the Nice as the real father of prog-rock, and the Police as the real father of reggae-rock. But modern rock, I repeat, has exhausted its possibilities of genre-combining, innumerous as they seemed. The days of truly creative, impressive and original experimentation are over.
And finally, I fully agree that mainstream radio and mass-media are to be blamed heavily for the current situation - they do nothing to improve it, only worsen it by convincing poor people that the crap they send on the radio is real art. But, like I said, this is not the main problem. Real art is not to be defeated. Give me just one thing. Give me an underground band that has so much talent, innovation, originality, inspiration, etc., that its popularity overgrows its underground and really spreads across the planet - like it happened with the Beatles. Do not forget that the Beatles were an underground band, too. They weren't born with a Grammy in their hands. Give me such a band, and I will accept my defeat. Until then - rock is dead, and I will stick around listening to 'dated' bands such as Procol Harum or the Animals until I find something that really refreshes me.
Well at least now we finally have the written magnum opus on the whole "Starostin vs. the Post-‘60s" ongoing battle! I do listen to a ton of music made after the ‘70s, but not the most commercially-successful music of its time—- see, that’s where you have your argument. In the ‘60s, pop music was actually good and represented the great changes happening to music at the time, while starting with the Velvet Underground, basically the first band considered important today not to receive recognition in their time, pop music began to become more and more worthless until we reached the state in which music is in today. Puff Daddy. 98 Degrees. N’Sync. Britney Spears. Matchbox 20. Awful, awful crap! I do admit that I think that a few pop bands today are okay, such as the New Radicals, but even bands like that are nothing more than "okay," radio-ready ear candy which I’ll probably forget about in a year. Even I can see the derivativeness; the opening track on their album sounds like a rewrite of "I’ll Be There" by the Jackson 5, which was not a very original song in the first place.
But you seem to have an animosity towards basically ALL music made after the ‘60s, unless it was created by a "classic" band like King Crimson or the Stones or the like. That’s where we differ. See, I realize that music of the ‘60s is highly productive and original, but you have to think about the circumstances! Back then, there were loads of chords which hadn’t even been put to tape! These days, every conventional chord has been played by at least twenty bands each, with at least half of the unconventional chords played by the numerous prog bands over the years. Rock simply couldn’t progress without repeating itself. So why not just stop music at the ‘60s? Because then it’d be boring! We’d only have the same albums to listen to and eventually, we’d be tired of all of them!
This is where someone says "So? Newer music is just the same chords anyway, so wouldn’t it be boring too?" Nope! The thing about bands which I like is despite the "unoriginality" which you state they all have, they’re all interesting as hell because of their distinctive approaches to the staked claim mapped out by bands of the ‘60s. Elvis Costello’s first three albums are amazing despite the fact that they consist of nothing but energetic reworkings of ‘50s and ‘60s songwriting techniques, simply because he does it with such energy and no ‘60s singer had his distinctive pinched voice. XTC took rock sensibilities to a jerky, nervy extreme on their early albums and to a lush, produced extreme on their later ones, always adding a touch of British eccentricness to the mix. Talking Heads basically banged around with sequences which weren’t even so much chord sequences as they were messes of jumpy synthesizers, but their albums nevertheless had a startling cohesiveness to them, particularly 1980’s "Remain In Light." And R.E.M. made sure that no individual band member stood out (at least, on their early albums, before Michael Stipe became the obvious center of the mix), resulting in murky college rock masterpieces.
Chances are that you hate each of those bands, and that’s just how opinions work! You probably see what I’m saying but you just see the "approaches" to the already-done material as "dressing up" the material for repackaging and reconsumption. Fact of the matter is, there are two kinds of music fans; those who notice the melodies right away and those who’re more taken in by the feeling or the atmosphere of the recording. If you’re the first type, you’ll only like ‘60s rock and despite anything else, and if you’re the second type, any music will do. Except manufactured Backstreet Boys/Spice Girls crap, of course. That’s where the unlisted third type of music fan comes in: teenyboppers.
Anyway, that’s my two cents (or maybe more like two dollars). I’m not trying to change your opinion at all since you’ve obviously done your research and checked out most of the bands which people online seem to love and formed your (mostly negative) opinions on each of them—- I’m just adding my opinion to the melting pot. And in all fairness, I’m not much of a "synth fan," as bands like Depeche Mode and Duran Duran are usually only passive listens to me and neither are among my favorite bands. Of course, my favorite band is They Might Be Giants (oh please be kind to me people and realize how godly the Johns are) and their early records are ALL synths and guitar, but....umm.....umm......shut up!......I suppose I’m done.
George Starostin Replies:
Rich is basically right here, I think. The problem is, his objections do not really contradict the opinions stated above. Essentially, one of his main points is: 'if we can't make anything better, why should we nevertheless be content with simply re-listening to the old records over and over again? That's boring!'
I agree, of course. Not everybody can be, in fact, nobody needn't be a freak like me, who's quite content of re-listening to the same 'golden oldies' over and over again, because I just can't get enough of 'em. (Actually, my personal opinion is that there are enough 'golden oldies' in rock'n'roll to satisfy a person for his entire life, but that's a different matter). And I'll be the last to admit that there's absolutely nothing going on for the past twenty years - every now and then, somebody like Elvis Costello jumps out, and, while he's definitely not groundbreaking, still has an interesting identity that doesn't necessarily just rehash the older standards so that you could say, 'well, this is thirty percent Beatles, thirty percent Stones, ten percent Dylan, etc., etc.', leaving 'zero percent Costello'. No. That's not true.
Rich is also right when he says that it doesn't always matter whether the melodies are original - it's the atmosphere that matters. I agree here, too. If I didn't take atmosphere into account, I would probably have dismissed such a magnificent talent as Dylan, because original melody-making is not his forte. And in the Seventies, there are such interesting bands as Free or the Faces that also have a unique atmosphere of their own (well, Free turned to crap after just two or three albums, but they had it going for a couple of years nevertheless). The big problem here, though, is that everybody has atmosphere. Doesn't Britney Spears have an atmosphere? She sure does, only everybody knows what atmosphere it is - the marketed, insincere take on passion and 'soul' (oh God, I hafta go to the bathroom...) This is a very tricky question, and this is where tastes, good, bad, undefined, whatever, step in. For instance, I used to really enjoy R.E.M.'s 'Losing My Religion'; at one time, it was my all-favourite Eighties (was it Eighties?) song. Just because of the atmosphere, of course: even now, I don't remember if it really had a distinctive melody, probably not. But then I lost interest - simply because this 'atmosphere' began to seem rather banal and not particularly attractive to me.
'Rock has to repeat itself to progress', Rich says, a contradictory, but not meaningless phrase. Maybe it does. But see, Rich, there's the rub. For instance, we all believe that classical music is dead, don't we? At least, we the rock'n'roll fans. I mean, I respect classical music and I enjoy it a lot (though I don't listen to it all that much), but there's no denying that it's not just in a state of crisis - now, at the end of the 20th century, it basically stinks. However, if you try and mention this to any classical music fan in existence, he'll probably attack you with foam at the mouth. He'll charge you with treason, name you a list of three hundred modern composers you never even heard about, and end his flaming speech with the statement that 'yeah, we don't have the quality of Beethoven or Bach any more, but we live in hard times'. Simply because he lives on this music and he'll never admit it's come to an end.
Same goes with rock music - rock fans are always in desperate search of something new, fresh, exciting, some recent record to add to their collection. And it's also shameful to admit that your favourite music genre has managed to last for twenty or thirty years, not more, whereas Classical, for instance, had about two centuries (although I think I explained the reasons in the main section). Modern good rock bands are on the same level with modern classical and jazz composers - keeping the genre on artificial breath, squeezing out the last creative ideas possible. But I hold the opinion that in about twenty years, the last rock bands will be forever extinguished, and rock, just like classical music, will contend itself to replaying the old standards. I mean, when you go to a classical concert, you'd rather hear your favourite XIXth century composer than some modern avant-gardist freak, right? (Normally). In the 21st century, when you go to a rock concert, you'll be shouting for aptly done Beatles and Stones covers.
Oh, of course I forgot one important thing. Rock'n'roll is music for the young people - at least, it was when it was young itself. That's the thing that separates it from everything else. But do not think that rock'n'roll is so special in that respect. Mozart's music, or Armstrong's music were also considered music for the young and rebellious - now they're long-bearded classics. You may not believe it, but I think a situation is possible when punk concerts will be only attended by people over 50 or 60, while youngsters will find themselves a new crappy form of entertainment to vent their frustration. Why not?
As I read this lengthy and superbly detailed essay on the state of modern music, I couldn't help but feel sad. Why sad? Well, my feelings were likely close to the feelings of one of the initial readers of Nikolai Gogol's initial version of "Dead Souls" - he said that Gogol had somehow managed to say it all, to tell the whole truth where others had only told half truths. And the truth turned out to be harsh and horrible - it made the man miserable to think that this was the true state of Russia at the time, but he could not deny the truth of it all. So you have told us the truth about the state of music. What is there to deny? You are of course correct in your basic points, and those basic points are essentially irrefutable. You have allowed no traces of idealism to contaminate the truth - you have spared no one's feelings.But the primary reason why most people have not come around to your state of mind is precisely because of their idealism. They do not want to believe that rock'n'roll is dead. Who wants to? It is not a good thing! They don't want to believe that there can't still be good rock'n'roll bands around now, so they listen to some of the many good, but disposable bands that are still active and consider this proof of the continued existence of rock'n'roll. But I think you are correct - rock and roll as a musical form has run its course. Quite frankly, all the various offspring of rock'n'roll have run their course as well - punk, alternative, metal...they've ALL seen their best days already, and a majority of what's around now is a rehash of what has already been heard. A band like the Pixies, for example, can record a number of very fine records that are very enjoyable to listen to, but at the end of the day those records, those songs are basically disposable. They're nice when you hear them, but what do they mean? Very little - they're post-modern ear candy, pleasant enough but unimportant in the larger scheme of things, which is what critics are supposed to be obsessed with. Still, I would say that there are exceptions to what we say here - I suspect there are still a few creative bands out there that have just started(it's hard to learn about bands that have JUST started, you know, it takes a few years for their reputation to go through the loop till it reaches your ears), but I don't think the "class of 1996 and 1997" bands we're now becoming more and more familiar with are terribly creative or interesting when compared to even the 80s bands. Remember, the 1980s marked the peak of alternative rock, and there were still a few good punk groups floating about(though nothing like the Ramones/Television in the late 70s). The direction modern music will take is yet a mystery. Electronica has been searing on the edges for such a long time now, and it has become, like metal, so fragmented into tiny sub-genres that mean nothing that I seriously doubt it will ever become truly mainstream. What WILL become mainstream? Nobody can tell - who could forecast the rise of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, who created a new form of jazz in the 1950s using an instrument, the saxophone, which had only been created in the 19th century by Adolphe Sax? Who knows what new instruments may be created to create new forms of music? The electric guitar created rock, but now instruments like the violin and banjo have also been electrified, and they too sound radically different from their acoustic counterparts. Well, who knows what we'll see or won't see, hear or not hear? Maybe this next new great revolution of music will occur after all us measly critics are long dead and buried...or maybe it will happen next year.
George Starostin Replies:
Actually, there's little to reply here - it's just soothing to hear someone get right down to the essence of all that crap I put down.
The only thing I'd want to add here is: let's all hope the future of music is not necessarily tied into the whole computer-autoprocessing business. Half of modern music is written by computers (I'm pretty sure of that), and the further it gets the easier it becomes...
Hmmm.... This sounds like commie talk to me....
Just kidding, of course. That was meant not to mock Russians, but narrow minded Americans. You know, the kind who like anything that the radio desires to play. And believe me, there are a lot of them.
But you are wrong about several things, George. First of all, I think that you are underestimating the fact that there are still revolutionary artists coming up with new ways of using music - XTC, Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, and Elvis Costello, for example - but they aren't considered "revolutionary" because they don't have a wide enough fan base to cause a musical revolution. But they are still great, and plenty original. And you can argue all you want that they are influenced by the Beatles and Stones, but remember that the Beatles and Stones were influenced by Chuck Berry and Motown, and they still created a sound completely of their own. Which is exactly what a lot of groups do.
Also, you made a mistake in saying that "punk killed art-rock." Progressive rock was long dead commercially before 1977 - Disco and 70's Metal destroyed it. And most prog groups (Genesis) had become a part of the commercial mainstream by the time that "Never Mind The Bollocks" became a hit. Also remember that the Ramones were a punk group early in the seventies, at around the same time that Pink Floyd were just bringing the genre into mass acceptance. And, while I couldn't care less about most punk, I cannot comprehend how an intelligent individual lke yourself could dislike the Clash.
And - as much as I love the Beatles - they were not nessescarily the only group to start musical genres. I mean, just in that same decade, you had the Kinks, who started metal, punk, and britpop, the Stones, who pioneered blues-rock, the Byrds, who came up with folk rock and psychadelia, and another group who I though of but then forgot. Later on, Led Zeppelin started hard rock, no matter how many times people claim it was the Stones, and Bob Marley took reggae and made it mainstream - not too dissimilar from what Dylan did with American folk. Then, Pink Floyd brought prog rock into the mainstream, and Queen (who I can't believe you don't like, bastard!) pretty much invented the idea of the anthem. Then the Pistols (who I hate) and the Clash (who I love) broke through with punk, followed by Talking Heads' release of the first real new wave album. And, in the past decade, we had Nirvana, who gave us "alternative" and "grunge" rock - not that we should be thanking them, but we should at least recognize that they were revoloutionaries.
So there are new musical ideas coming up all the time! Those were only the ones in the mainstream! As for your claim that a new musical revolution would have to be a completely new form of music, and not rock - well, that's like saying that the Beatles weren't revoloutionary because they were influenced by those around them. I agree with you that sixties rock just may be the best, but it doesn't HAVE to be that way. It is not unimaginable for a new rock artist to emerge, and be just as groundbreaking as the fab four were in their heyday! No, the problem IS that the music companies are corrupt, and won't play real powerful music, contrary to what you said. And that a lot of bands are just imitating what they've seen before. Not just Beatles ripoffs, but Cure and Nirvana ripoffs as well. But you need to recognize that hope IS NOT lost - there is a chance that a complete musical original will pop out of the shadows as soon as we hit the new millenium.
Anyway, that's all I have. I'm spent. I hope that makes you think, and realize that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, to misquote some famous, overrated guy.
George Starostin Replies:
Okay, I was expecting that, too. Particularly from Ben - I would be thoroughly surprised if he tried to agree with me here, as he usually disagrees with me even about things that seem obvious and commonplace to me.
The funny thing is that Ben's objections, at least as stated above, contradict my opinions, expressed in the essay, no more than do the objections of Rich, or, even, the minor objections of Bryan. Basically, he expresses the same ideas, only draping them in pathos: he says 'you're wrong' when in fact his commentary only says 'you're right', no matter how hard he tries to show himself as an opponent. Let me try to deal with his points here, then, one by one.
First of all, I never denied the fact that from time to time some talented individual is still able to come up with some new idea that hasn't been tried before, and yes, Peter Gabriel and Elvis Costello are among them - even if their peak happened to fall on, relatively, early Seventies (yes, Ben, no matter what you say, Peter Gabriel's greatest donation to rock were his early Genesis works), and late Seventies/early Eighties. The problem here is more statistical than absolute: the Sixties produced great, innovative bands as a rule - the Eighties and Nineties produce them as exceptions. That is not to say, of course, that I regard every Sixties group as a great one by definition, of course not. There was a great deal of crap written in the Sixties as well. But certainly less than in our times, when crap is regarded as norm and good bands regarded as exceptions. And even so, if you take the minor bands of the Sixties, like the San Francisco bands, minor folk-rock groups like Pentangle, more generic blues-rock bands like the Taste, etc., could you say they are just as crappy as today's Marilyn Manson or Tino & Tarantula?
Anyway, this is the last time I'm gonna state this argument: I'm just getting tired of having to repeat it over and over again. I say: 'There were lots of good bands back then, there are few good bands now'. You say: 'no, no, what about this, and this, and this? (Full stop)'. There are. Good bands. Nowadays. A few. Not too many. One. Two. Three. Okay. Twenty!!!! That is still not enough. The overall quality of modern music sucks badly. And even out of these twenty, only maybe three or four produce truly innovative music. (By the way, would you like to say that Peter Gabriel's Us is an innovative album?)
Next. I quote: "You made a mistake in saying 'punk killed art-rock'". I didn't make this mistake. It is you who made a mistake, Ben, by misquoting me, unless you found this phrase in any of my other reviews, in which case I apologize. I said: "punk replaced art-rock", which is an entirely different matter. Not to mention that (a) I regard 'prog-rock' and 'art-rock' as two different terms - Roxy Music, for instance, was 'art-rock' while not being 'prog-rock', and (b) your phrase 'prog rock was long dead before disco and metal destroyed it' is a little contradictory. Prog-rock, indeed, had no need to be killed - it died its own death because it had exhausted its possibilities. As for punk, it took the place of art-rock as the 'leading genre' for the 'thinking public', including the musical press; you cannot say that disco or metal shared the same benign fate.
I do not, in fact, understand, what you wished to say in that paragraph. If your point was to prove that punk had always existed (since you say the Ramones and Pink Floyd were contemporaries), why not remember the Who who were also a punk band? I, personally, was speaking of the epoch when punk openly came out of its closet onto the main stage - a thing that, indeed, happened only with the arrival of the Sex Pistols. This is the reason for which the Sex Pistols hold such an important place in rock history, not the fact that they were the first punk band (which they weren't). Again, I accept everything but the first two sentences in that paragraph, the first one of which is a misquotation and the second is a contradiction. As for my feelings towards the Clash, I dislike their debut album, when they were still a punk band, for the same reasons that I dislike the Sex Pistols and your average punk album in general (figure these out for yourself). Later on, they did metamorphose into a decent classic rock band, although highly derivative and certainly not groundbreaking.
Your next paragraph only makes me believe that you have not read the essay carefully, because most of the things you state there as supposed 'objections' to my supposed 'statement' that 'the Beatles were not the only group to start musical genres' (which I did not make), well, most of these things were either stated in the essay itself where I talked about the Beatles and their worthy followers - followers in the sense that the Beatles started the whole business (you can't deny it) and showed the way for other innovators. Of course, the Stones started blues-rock, the Kinks and the Who (not Led Zep) started hard rock, the Byrds started folk rock (although not psychedelia; Dylan started psychedelia), etc., etc. I also talked about punk and, I think, said a lot of things about both punk and New Wave. As for Nirvana, this is a special matter - I don't consider Nirvana groundbreaking at all, its only merit was in bringing a little bit of sincerity and 'true musical flavour' into fresh air, but basically, Nirvana were 'revolutionaries' in the social sense of the word, definitely not in the musical sense. But that's another story.
So this is what your comment boils down to, Ben:
(a) You 'object' that the Beatles aren't everything - I agree, and made it obvious from the essay myself;
(b) You say that there are revolutionaries coming out all of the time and name a tiny handful of individuals without even giving your reasons for considering them revolutionary - I say 'maybe' and repeat that this is primarily a statistical matter;
(c) You find tiny objections for some details, while omitting the main points (Ramones vs. the 'punk revolution');
(d) You misquote me;
(e) You haven't read the essay carefully;
(f) You spent too few time at your computer trying to come up with some good objections, and, consequently,
(g) You haven't responded directly to anything I said, bringing up the usual 'arguments' that are either essence-less or not related to the subject at all.
Finally, just one question: why are the music companies so corrupt today and why weren't they so corrupt in the Sixties? Why have they let out the Beatles and why don't they let out, say, the Fall or Nomeansno or anything else from the 'Underground'? Primarily because they're Dumphuks, of course; but also, because they believe (and I believe, too) that none of these guys have enough guts to become the next Beatles. Do you really think (I repeat from my essay, an argument that's essential but which you didn't bother to find an objection to) that if there were some new Beatles coming up, modern recording companies would have missed the chance to make some enormous bucks by marketing them? After all, there's quite a lot of recording companies in the world. And do not forget that the Beatles had humble beginnings, too. They had to break their way through - they started on Parlophone, a tiny EMI sub-label that never even thought of seriously marketing them. The Beatles began to be marketed only after securing their success in both Britain and America. If the Fall, or any Underground band that you happen to like (I don't know your tastes), are really as good as the Beatles, they'll have to get through by the very strength of their art. Which is lacking.
Of course, you may think that today 'strength of one's art' is not a valid argument for commercial success at all. In which case, Ben, you're an even bigger pessimist than I. 'Nuff said.
Ben Greenstein Fights Back Again (and George Starostin Insists):
First of all, I've never heard the Fall, so now you know at least one thing about my tastes.[G.S.: To tell you the truth, I ain't heard 'em either - just taking Mark Prindle's word for 'em. Maybe they're better than the Beatles? Check 'em out for me!]
Also, I don't see how Dylan "started psychadelia." You could argue that it's present in his lyrics, but musically, there's as little trippiness as possible. And the byrds may not have started psychadelia, but they did begin its comercial sucess with "Eight Miles High."[G.S.: First of all, that's 'psychEdelia', Ben: I know because I checked it after writing 'psychOdelia' for months, based on the Russian spelling. And 'Eight Miles High' wasn't even a trippy song by destination - it's all about the fear of flying. If we take the rough way and count the beginnings of psychedelia in smoking pot, then Dylan is its father without any doubt. Musically, okay, he might not be there, but why not the Kinks with their Indian stylizations in 'See My Friends'? And anyway, I really don't care who started 'psychadelia', as long as it was started in the Sixties.]
The reason that the industry of record making is more corrupt now relies on several facts - the companies are bigger, and they've come up with more tricks for selling records. They don't draft a "new Beatles" into the spotlight, because they know they can make more money (for a time, at least) off of a manufactered group aimed specifically at teenagers. And they were corrupt in the sixties, but back then, they weren't huge corporations bent solely on money making, as opposed to now, when there is no concern for anything other than big dollars. In the sixties, anyone could pay a studio, rent a producer, and make a record, which would gladly be distributed by the record company. If it didn't chart, the group didn't make money, but were free to make another one if they had the cash. Nowadays, however, anyone who wishes to use a nice studio needs to have a "record contract," most of which are designed to decieve and rip-off the artist, and many producers will resort to dirty tricks like remixing songs without artist permission or forcing members out of the band. I've done my research, this stuff really goes on.[G.S.: I don't know, really, why today's corporations like Virgin or Capitol should be more interested in making money than thirty years ago - the only difference is that the world has grown, and there's more money to make. And what do you mean by 'gladly distributed by the record company'? Do you know how much time and effort it cost the Beatles to get signed to a more or less significant record label? And I don't know about America, really, but in Russia anybody who has got the cash can pay a studio and make a record; releasing it, of course, will be a much harder task, but quite comparable to the one in the Sixties. And finally, today there's the Web: anybody can record their songs, put them in MP3 and bring them into free circulation. There was no such thing in the Sixties or Seventies. As for 'record contracts', how many intriguing stories have we read about huge bands like the Beatles, the Kinks, the Stones, and the Who signing contracts that were designed to deceive and rip-off artists? This led to such things as the Who releasing a minimum share of albums in the Sixties (because the dough mainly went to Shel Talmy), and the Stones still unable to put together a decent boxset or, in fact, putting their back catalog in order. No, Ben, the truth is that The Boss has always been the Boss, greedy and profit-oriented. Don't tell me that Brian Epstein signed up the Beatles because of love for art - he signed them up because they would bring him money.]
Also, I don't think that the Beatles invented modern rock music. Sure, they were the first, and as you would argue, only group to be recognized as revoloutionaries, but there were creative rock artists before that. Buddy Holly was remarkably unique for his time. Everyone copied Chuck Berry for a good ten years or so. In retrospect, though, none of them seem close to the Beatles, and with good cause. They weren't. The Beatles were great, and one of the best groups ever. But they should not be seen as the first musical pioneers in rock. They weren't.[G.S.: This is, once again, the result of failing to read the essay carefully: I think I did explain the difference between Chuck Berry and the Beatles in the main text, and I'm not going to repeat it once again.]
And there were loads of bad groups in the sixties! In all honesty, I couldn't think of over twenty good groups from that era that I'd call really important! Sure, there were probably more great groups on average then, but keep in mind that there are also MORE GROUPS NOW.[G.S.: If I put together the twenty most important bands of the Sixties (okay, of 1965-75), I can't think of twenty newer bands from 1975-99 that could even hope to match these in quality. And if there are more groups now, according to your logic, this should result in more great bands today, not yesterday.]
In response to your claim that the Stones and Kinks invented hard rock - no, no, no! Groups that make "hard rock" do not, on average, listen to Beggars Banquet. They listen to Zeppelin. And that's the truth, like it or not.[G.S.: Again, a misquotation - it was you who said 'the Stones are said to invent hard rock', not me. How can you accuse me of something I haven't said? And the Kinks did invent hard rock, like it or not. If you're confusing the terms 'invented' and 'were the best in the genre', that's not my fault.]
And who are Tino & Tarantula? Never heard of them.[G.S.: Aw, some kind of shitty MTV duet that was just playing its crap behind my back while I taped this response. Not that I often watch MTV, mind you.]
Anyway, that's all I can muster right now. I have an awful toothache, and just took painkillers for the first time ever. So I'm getting very, very sleeeeeeeepy. And I'll admit that I didn't read your essay as closely as I should have, but I have ADD, which makes it very hard to follow your writing when there are no spaces between paragraphs. Gotta go now - getting woozy.[G.S.: Toothache is a horrible thing. I usually use Blend-a-Med, it helps. Don't know whether it would help everybody, though. And I apologize - I really should have cared about my readers eyes, five or six pages without breaks is painful indeed. I already corrected this mistake, so you're invited to re-read the text, Ben.]
Ben Greenstein Makes A Conclusion (and George Starostin Makes His, 'Cause He's Much Too Crabby Not To Have The Last Word):
Okay, I'm just tired of the whole argumnent for now. Which is not saying I'm "giving up," and am defenitely not admitting I've been wrong. I guess that my point was always that it's wrong to say that "there will never be another breakthrough in rock music," because, for all we know, there could be. There is no breakthrough coming around now, but that's not to say that there could (and should) be one near the beginning of next century. Also, if you're going to argue that "another breakthrough would have to be a completely different kind of music, and not rock," you might as well say that gangster rap was a musical breakthrough. It wasn't around before the late eighties, and has become incredibly successful and imitated. And it's not rock (though it does steal from it).
Not that I'm saying that I like rap. But if our next revolution will take place over something that isn't rock, it might has well have been hip-hop. And you might say that it will die soon, which would not make it a real revolution. And I'd say - "hey, you yourself said that rock died (or is bound to die), and yet is still a real revolution." What's the difference between a reign of thirty years, and a riegn of ten?
Anyway, I'm just sick of the whole thing. But I still think that you are WRONG, and a revolution in rock will save us. Because, when you think about it, our defenition of rock music has become so huge, that it encompasses everything that we could possibly come up with. Frank Zappa's "Hot Rats" is considered rock, and so is Talking Heads' "Remain In Light." Both should not be considered rock by anyone's defenition. But they are - and no matter what the next breakthrough in contemporary music is, it will be labelled as a form of rock. And that's what it will be, because it will basically come from the same musical forms that have existed for fifty years.
That's all for now. Pennecillin is, for some reason, making me very lightheaded. So I must go. Please post this comment - I think it stresses my basic point very well.
[G.S.: It also makes Ben more tight-minded - for the first time, I see some interesting arguments here. Hmm, maybe he's right about the hip-hop revolution? Which would just make me feel even more sorrowful at the sight of what's music turned to - if hip-hop makes for a revolution, it's not the end of 'rock' we're speaking about here, it's the end of art. Fortunately, hip-hop can't be a revolution, because it's much too restricted, limited and conservative a genre - kinda like why we can't speak of a 'blues revolution', because blues, while it was perfect in itself (a thing I would never say about hip-hop), just didn't have the inner 'development' potential that early rock'n'roll turned out to have. Can you tell all these gangsta rappers one from another? If you can, you're a fan but didn't know it...
As for the revolution in rock - well, let us wait and see. Although I do not understand Ben's self-assuredness when he says 'it will basically come from the same musical forms that have existed'. Did Jazz come out of Classical, and did Rock come out of Jazz? In the first case, we have the mixture of European and African cultures, in the second case we have a mixture of Jazz and, well, further African music, so it's kinda like three-quarters African, one-quarter European. Rock will never be further revolutionized unless it draws something cardinally new into it. If there is anything cardinally new left in the world, that is.
Why should future music be 'labelled as a form of rock'? Invention of new instruments could lead to a brand new genre that nobody will call 'rock'. There can be some radically new types of harmonies invented that were never dreamt of by rock musicians. Don't be so restricted and limited - why should we rummage among all this Nineties' dreck to fish out a few dubious pearls and say 'hey, now this is great'! The problem of modern bands is that they are anything but truly creative, all working within the limits of the rock genre, that only seemed inexhaustible before but are evidently narrowing and narrowing. Instead of directing their talents in search of new forms of (un)popular music, they prefer to squeeze the last drops of sour, yellowish milk from the half-dead cow which you eagerly put away and demonstrate here as proof that rock is not dead. Why do you feel this urgent need to stick to the word 'rock' when it has so discredited itself in the past fifteen or twenty years? Why not move forward?]
Homer: "You wouldn't understand, Dad, you're not With IT."Abe: "I used to be With IT. But then they changed what IT was. Now what I'm with isn't IT, and what's IT seems scary and wierd." - Abe and Homer, (The Simpsons)
Rock is dead, Paul is Dead, Greatful Dead, George, rock will never be dead as long as your alive and introducing people to bands they may have never taken the time to listen to or appreciate.
Just because Bach is'nt around to disappoint us with crap he put out and then quickly got rid of because it was inferior to his other work does not make him less great or Classical music a mute medium. Take a quick listen to Phillip Glass, or Vangelis, or that guy that does the soundtracks for Star Wars and you'll find living breathing people doing orchestrated music in new and diverse ways that may one day be respected as highly.
True : there simply were more quality bands doing similar styles of music in the 60's and early 70's seems more indicative of the limitations that those bands had to distribute and play their music than today. Simply put, I think as the medium got more available to everyone financially, more people did not cow tow to the great gods of the record industry and adjust there styles and sounds for mass distribution.
In other words if we talk of Rock music, I do not think of punk as being in a different group than prog or metal. So I do not think of electronic and industrial as being different either. Art Rock was as supported by the same Prog Rock people as Metal was supported by the Punk people. Electronic just weirded out everybody till Bowie showed the way. I could reference allot of groups who are very hard to codify because of the flexibilities within the defined groups. They could go either way, was Pink Floyd, Art, Prog, or Heavy Metal, how about Psychadelic Metal? Man quick it's a snake eating it's own tail, where will it end? Make it stop mommy.
Rock is not dead, it's dancing till 4 in the morning at 120 beats a second and coming home smelling like shit. I just got the new Chemical Brothers album, they are sampling metal guitar licks and speeding up some wonderful hard rock guitar solos into some juicy danceable beats. Sacrilige, Blasphomy, Stone the sinners, oh well, you can't stop the music. (that's a very bad movie, starring the Village People, Blaaah)
Anyway, were just going to see things get more diverse guy's, it's the era of MP3's and thank god. Now we can argue about music and mail each other audible proof.
Curse or blessing? Who can tell but I will say that people will be able to listen to anything they want at anytime, as long as your connected and online.
I will close by saying George is that it is people like you and Ben and Bryan who are going to keep Rock around for at least a little while longer. Anyone who can write this much on the subject of musical philosphy can't be that bad or that sane either but's lets not get into that. Boy, I'm pooped. and I'm not even getting paid for this. Man, how do you do it George?
"And now for today's hymn, entitled 'In the Garden of Eden' by I-ron Butterfly."- Reverend Lovejoy (The Simpsons)
George Starostin Replies:
Great epigraph, Dick!
Truly, I knew that you were preparing an answer, but never thought it would be so interesting (even if I do have trouble following your grammar from time to time). Somehow, you manage to turn all the discussion into another direction - the one that's much more optimistic and, well, non-pointless, as opposed to our battle with Ben. Yes, you're mighty right - in a certain sense, rock will never die as long as we (or anybody else) are here to discuss it. This, in fact, is why I put up this here site - maybe it'll outlive me and carry the message to the future generations (gee, I'm getting romantic here... sniff...) In fact, every reviewer or fan who puts up his site dedicated to his favourite band(s) has only one purpose - to let his favourite music live longer through his efforts. That's why they make all these 'my humble tribute to the Beatles' sites, right, even if ninety-nine percent of these sites will probably get at maximum a dozen visitors per year because they add nothing to other sites already in existence? But it's nice, and you can always say, hey, now there's n+1 sites dedicated to the Beatles! Ain't it groovy?
And, of course, there will always (at least, for a long time) be enjoyable, pleasant bands that'll keep that live beat and energy for you whenever you need it. They'll be conservative, derivative, anti-progressive, but who cares? They'll keep rock alive and a-floatin'!
The only thing about this is that I never meant 'dead' as 'forgotten'. Following your logics, Homer, Shakespeare and Rembrandt are alive today, because there are people, and quite a bit of them, who enjoy their works today - and that's right, of course. In that sense, they're alive. Not dead by any means. But anyway, why do I care? Why do I really care whether rock is dead or alive today? Basically, I just wanted an excuse for not putting Eighties or Nineties' bands on this site - that's why I wrote this bunch of controversial crap. You can just ignore it and picture all these non-existent reviews on this site in your imagination - then the image will be complete. Lord bless the Smashing Pumpkins and XTC, and may Sting continue putting out loads of trash until the 22nd century! Maybe I'll even buy them someday, after all, he once was great.
P. S. From Richard C. Dickison:
I just read your Ben fights back where you state exactly the same things I said.
Damn it George, stop that, anyway I see this as a potential to reinvent Rock and not as a death knell for it's decline. I honestly think it's great that you can fall in love with a band and then turn other people on to them and the chances are now even greater that they have not heard them before.
Man, the power to start your own trend, and voice your opinion to people on the WWW, now theirs an idea. Oh, I'm doing that right now. Damn and I was going to start a company with that idea. Back to the drawing board. I got to keep working on that idea to blow up spamming sites by piping Yoko Ono albums to them through Real Audio. Oh the havoc I shall reap. Scream you capitalist pig mongers Scream I say. I don't care about who Dotty is doing dirty just leave me alone. Have some more Yoko and a free sample of that Billy Joel, Attila album, AH HA HA, I fart in your general direction.
I hated your essay. I hated it cause it's the truth. Rock music is dead. You proved to me, without a doubt, something that I've been trying to deny for a long time. Unfortunately, I'm less optimistic than you. I just can't see the day when the radio decides to play something different. Something that ain't pop, ain't rock, ain't metal, etc. People are afraid of what's different. In the 60's the media was not as influential as it is today. T.V. didn't have the impact it does today. Can you see MTV playing something that's absolutely different from anything ever heard before? As Pete said: Rock is Dead-Long Live Rock!
I've been thinking a lot about how exactly answer your essay #1 with my own opinion on this issue. Let's just say it's one of those things where I don't totally agree with what you've written, and I don't disagree either - it's one of those understandably neutral things I guess. Your assessment has brought up some VERY valid points but some other weak areas. Let's just say, though, the more music I hear from the period you call 'rock's highpoint', the more I agree with the general opinion of how tremendously important it is. Most of it still sounds completely amazing and fresh even today, and I think in Prindle's Pink Floyd review section he puts it best saying (and I paraphase), "One of the reasons bands from the 60s still sound so fresh and innovative today is that their main influence was not rock. Rock was too new to be a major influence." So can all, or even most of, the great music from the 60s (or any decade after) really be called rock at all? I say, "Who gives a shit?" As long as it sounds great to me and has feeling and power, it is, as far as I'm concerned. I listen to a lot of different music in the "rock" sphere, and even a bit of "non-rock" stuff. One of the worst things that has ever happened to rock music is the categorization and labeling of genres. It divides so many music fans and prevents them from listening to a lot of stuff that could potentially be mind-blowing. Listeners have gotten a lot more fickle lately as well, which is the main reason why rock is absolutely dead in the industry.[G.S.: I disagree that categorization is indeed "one of the worst things that has ever happened to rock music". First of all, categorization is simply inevitable - everything on this planet gets categorized sooner or later, so there's no need to complain about it. Second, while quite a few bands are indeed diverse enough to the point where it's hard to label them as anything, most bands aren't. There exists such a thing as a 'pure heavy metal band', or a 'pure country rock band', or a 'pure blues band' - small combos that can sometimes play something different but mostly stick to formula. Without categorization, it would simply be impossible to get through the whole rock forest.]
Let me also bring up that I am a heavy listener of music from this here rock decade - I mean, I grew up with it, and even after hearing a lot of historically influential music and really digging them a lot, my taste for what I like in modern times hasn't diminished one bit. Even though, I have my own review site (which is currently under construction, being heavily expanded and should be up in its' final version in maybe a month or two), and there have been some point downgrades to certain more recent releases, that's only because the amount of albums has more than doubled since I started with 200 reviews, but I still love my favorite 80s and 90s bands as much as I probably ever have, and they've never come off as recycled music that adds little to the classic rock legacy to me - it's not completely original, then again, neither was 60s or early 70s music, or as groundbreaking (which is to be expected, since when a great deal of bands you hold on a pedestal were recording when there were so many possibilities for the new music that hadn't been tried yet), but the best rock in the 90s has its' own sound and feeling (and contrary to your belief, not all of it is owed totally to classic rock), which makes it sound very fresh and exciting in my mind, and only sounds derivative if you really analyze it to death looking for what inspired it (which isn't really healthy to do, it's enjoying the music that counts).
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying music of today is better or worse than what came before it, but I think there are a good amount of very worthwhile bands still combining their influences and creating new ideas to make high quality music that doesn't sound stale or heavily derived (again, not unless you completely look through its' origins) - they do, in my opinion, expand upon the founding fathers while still throwing in their own tricks. The best bands playing now are the ones whose influences aren't made so obvious, and their sound is attractive. I'll give you a few examples of bands that have come out in the last 5-15 years that are doing some worthwhile, and unique, things:
Radiohead has done some wild things in a three guitar lineup (tones, tricks, textures - the three basic T's of sound!), that have to my knowledge not been done before. Yeah, Pink Floyd was a catalyst for it, but there are also jazz and classical influences that were a catalyst for Floyd as well. And plus, I can't think of many frontmen that have been as highly cryptic and downright mesmerizing in their lyrics, while at the same time highly emotional with gutwrenchingly beautiful and angry feeling, as Thom Yorke.
Faith No More took the two volatile opposite genres of metal and rap music, combined them, and used them as a starting point for more insane eclectism. Combining their instruments alone gave them a unique sound - the atmospheric and airy keyboards of Roddy Bottum, the heavy metal riffing of Jim Martin, the slap-bass style playing of Bill Gould, and the most unbelievably diverse vocalist in rock that I have yet heard (and I've heard a ton of 'em) in Mike Patton, who can literally sing any genre of music you tell him too. Go ahead.
King's X can be categorized as either progressive rock, heavy metal, Christian music, or funk rock, but the way they combine all these genres is simply astonishing. Doug Pinnick is a great soulful vocalist with a 12 string bass-playing style that rides as low as hell, and Ty Tabor came up with some striking riffs and captured such a magical sound on his guitar that I'm wondering how it was accomplished (and I'm not a huge expert on that kind of thing). The lyrics in the early days were spiritual and uplifting (often inspired by Christianity), and often heavily cryptic open for interpretation. And their three part harmonies are dead-perfect and absolutely inspiring.
Type O Negative took on traditional dark and gothic subjects in the lyrics, but they go a bit farther than that. Their vocalist and main songwriter in Pete Steele has the freakin' lowest voice I've ever heard, often done in vampire style, and added strong pop sensibilities to go with his distorted bass sound, and combined Josh Silver's church organ style keyboards and Kenny Hickey's Sabbath-ish metal riffs for a very striking sound. It may not sound that special from my description, but I'm convinced of their uniqueness from their cover versions I've heard on their albums - specifically of Seal And Crofts' "Summer Breeze", Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" and a Beatles medley of "Day Tripper", "If I Needed Someone", and "She's So Heavy". These covers sound EXACTLY like prototypical Type O songs because of it, and are absolutely nothing like the originals.
Although I only have one of their albums, the Brazilian band Angra created one of the most dynamic and expertly crafted albums I've yet to hear in Holy Land. They combine elements of their native land with rock music (mostly in the rhythms) - namely, progressive style. Some of it is more thrashy and heavy and other tracks have a more intimate ballad feel, but it all blends in masterfully with that sound, creating some incredibly rich textures. Those are just a few examples that I can think of off the top of my head that I enjoy myself (there are probably other highly unique bands out there also, as well a few others I haven't mentioned). These bands are not as high in numbers nor as historically important as earlier rock (although the influence of the best music of any era always grows higher with time), and not totally original or groundbreaking as of yet but they are still highly impressive, to my ears, a somewhat fresh and unique listen, and are a convincing example that rock is from exhausted or stale as a quality creative art (the possibilities haven't QUITE been drained yet).[G.S.: Once again, these are exceptions. No, wait, okay, maybe NOT exceptions. Once again, I reiterate: ask any classical fan or jazz fan how he feels about these genres today and he'll cram you with even more examples of 'prolific' composers. I agree that possibililities haven't QUITE been drained yet, but what the bands are really doing is picking up crumbs from the floor after the dinner has finished. Sometimes the process of picking up crumbs lasts far longer than the actual dinner - it is perfectly understandable. Brian Burks once said that the Sixties were undeniably greater in terms of major acts, but if it's 'minor' good groups you're looking for, the Eighties and Nineties are your bet. (I hope I remember that right). He has a point - but to me, that's certainly denigrating the Eighties and Nineties. While I can steadily enjoy these 'minor' groups, I certainly will not take any of their stuff with me on a desert island - not to mention the 21st century. AND: in any case, let us even assume that rock music is still not dead. But the question was: Where Is It Heading To? The bands that you have mentioned are not bands who pull rock music out of stagnation and lead it to new glorious heights. No, they are bands who take great pains (and indeed must be praised for that) to find new and new ways that can still be used to make something new in rock music - finding the few styles, faces and chord progressions that have not yet been used. Okay, maybe rock is not dead. But if it is not dead, it is certainly dying: the number of innovative, or 'trying to be innovative' rock bands is only decreasing. In the next decade there will be even fewer bands of this type, and I'm totally sure that twenty years on you won't even have any good examples. Unless, of course, a totally new musical genre is thought of, which will NOT be rock.]
I'm not saying most of the 90s bands are high quality work, in fact, I side with the opinion of serious music fans that most of mainstream music is utter crap, almost all of it very much lacking fresh ideas or inspiration. These kind of bands that simply come and go are quickly forgotten, like Matchbox 20, Better Than Ezra, Lit (a most recent example), Nada Surf, etc.. the list is endless. I don't even wanna think about the horrible (which is too nice a word for it) manufactured dog shit (soulless stuff like Britney Spears, N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, etc.) that is actually being categorized as rock as well.
Even a good amount of the more talented and enjoyable, commercially accepted artists like Lenny Kravitz have obvious influences - his Storytellers segment incidentally came up on VH1, and for "Are You Gonna Go My Way?", he should have told this story: "I was listening to the Jimi Hendrix 'Rainy Day Dream Away Suite' and heard an amazing riff which was kinda hidden in the background. I figured, 'Hey, this could be a seriously good song. No one will notice it's a ripoff.' So that's how the song came about."
I agree that rock music is dead... in the industry. There have been so many awful generic bands (and soulless acts that are being sold solely on their own image - especially looks) that listeners have come to accept as good, they've gotten a lot more fickle in accepting basic crap, so that it's now practically unthinkable to hear a high quality creative band on the radio. Just think, serious PROGRESSIVE bands like Emerson, Lake And Palmer, Rush, and Yes got radio airplay back in the 70s (something I very much wish for a few very very powerful progressive bands playing today that I love - namely, Queensryche, Dream Theater and Savatage). Practically all the bands you've reviewed on the site have also had at least some form of commercial success, and are only played on the classic rock stations today, for listeners to reminisce, 'Those were indeed the days'.
I'm ultimately not sure how the hell rock music is gonna progress outside the underground - the industry and tastes of the general public are so far from decent that it really is gonna take some band of Beatles caliber to wake everyone the hell up (well, maybe not THAT high - it seems unthinkable anyone could top the Beatles, but it has to be something at least VERY culturally significant) that's commercially appealing at the same time. It's a depressing thought, but there's really no complaint from me the way things are going in the underground so far, so I'll grudgingly accept the fact bands like The Tea Party haven't broken through. As long as there continues to be interesting music in this scene, which again, I don't know how long that can happen.
Speaking of the lack of critical acclaim for great bands, that reminds me, it sure doesn't help that critics are seriously misguided about what exactly quality music and isn't. I mean, come on, Rolling Stone bashes Black Sabbath (and only made Paranoid the exception because it's impossible to deny it's significance), but praises Blur, which is a band HEAVILY inspired by the Kinks - at least in the early days they were, but now they've moved on to being influenced by Pavement, who incidentally are another very original band... they created a new GENRE in the 90s (lo-fi). How many bands can you say that about? They also praise Oasis (the most shameful Beatles ripoff in history), Beck (who combines every genre he can but is definitely a serious throwback to the past, and as my friend Casey - a huge classic rock fan who also enjoys certain modern rock bands - points out, his Mutations album sounds like it could have come out of the 60s) and Green Day (generic alternative pop-punk). There are also certain bands that seem to be the 'sacred cows' (a term Brian Burks used in describing the Velvet Underground's acclaim) in rock critique that are supposedly groundbreaking and god-like, so any band or artist that sounds even remotely like these so-called bands. Led Zeppelin is probably the major one, which is of course heavily ironic, because at the core of their sound, they were a shameless ripoff of old blues. I love Zeppelin, and happen to think they were tremendously important in bringing that sound to a heavier extreme, but there are other bands far more deserving of that title. The above-mentioned Tea Party is one of those Zep ripoffs, according to critics, on account of the Eastern influence they incorporate into their music. For the most part, though, that band does far more with the sound than Zep ever did, and creates amazingly well-crafted, breathtaking and epic experience with their albums.
Another point I want to make is that, from the naked ear even classic rock doesn't seem that great to someone who hasn't listened to anything before 1980. Like it or not, it would be a serious chore for that person to sit through an hour of that music, and it's the opposite for classic rock fans that aren't quite acquainted with modern rock tendencies. And I know this to be a fact because I was in that same situation when I first got into music - I honestly didn't see anything special or impressive about it because the sound seemed cold to my ears. I wasn't used to the vibes, songwriting tendencies, production values, and the like. Once I was, though, I could really appreciate the genius there, and I really believe that's the case for people who aren't completely educated in music AFTER 1980.[G.S.: The difference is that I'm LIVING in the Eighties and Nineties, and that makes it impossible to just ignore the music that's going on around me. I, and people of my generation, do not need to get used to the vibes and songwriting tendencies - it's all in our ears. If I represented the generation of our fathers, that would be one thing (my father, for instance, still does not believe that there was any great music made after 1970, and I understand his opinion, but it's a bit... eh... 'ageist', you could say). But I don't. Of course, I don't have as good a pedigree in Eighties' and Nineties' rock as you have, but I do know SOME things, and what I know does not inspire me that much.]
Yup... as painful as it is to say it, unless some drastic changes come into play, quality, critically accepted rock music that counts as creative art (although there is still a good amount of it in the underground), is by all means dead among the bulk of the average listener. I doubt most people who listen to it even appreciate the power and inspiration of it all - most people just want something to dance to or a good-looking pin up boy to drool over, and more than ever it's gotten to be like that. It's sickening. Absolutely sickening.
Bringing up your point about musical processess happening now being interesting to some, but so tiny, pudgety and midgety as compared to the global cultural revolution of 1966-75, that I'm not really interested, you have a point there, as music in the last 25 years could never hope to be that significant, but if you really appreciate rock music for its' best qualities, that really shouldn't matter. As far as the best of what goes on in music now, that is only my opinion, but a good amount of your reviews make me highly doubt whether or not you are really a serious music fan or just another critic who tries desperately to find significant fault with practically every album reviewed.[G.S.: To this I'll reply - every good reviewer needs to have a bit of fan and a bit of critic within him. You just need to find the 'golden middle': I'm not sure whether I have actually found it, but I'm trying. Sometimes it's my fan side that takes control (Beatles), sometimes it's the critic side (Yes), but I hope that I usually combine both. If you're too much of a critic you become dry and formulaic; if you're too much of a fan you become exciting, funny and entertaining, but also somewhat pointless. I do not want just to state my opinion - I want to back it up, too, and for that, I need a critical side for myself. And anyway, I'm not a professional critic. I don't get paid for this, dammit! (Although I sure wish somebody WOULD pay me). And I really appreciate rock music for its best qualities. Truth is, I don't find derivativeness a 'best quality'. If I hear something that instantly reminds me of something else I just prefer to go back to the source, and that's it.]
Even on your more highly rated bands, I see huge weaknesses being pointed out on numerous occasions in your reviews, and in many cases a review of 12 or 13, for example, seems to be little more than a compromise between the legendary status of an album and your opinion that you didn't particularly care for it. A great deal of times the rating doesn't seem to match the very opinion you expressed on it. I also see an endless amount of contradictions here - you commend a number of bands for being hugely important acts that have something new to offer, and yet 'derivative' is a word still found often when I'm reading them, and I'm not sure I completely understand your position at times. Lately you seem to have toned down this aspect of your reviewing, which is to be commended, but even though you are EXCELLENT at persistently arguing a point convincingly (which makes me hard pressed to say anything back sometimes, and I definitely understand why you will never be convinced of things differently - it's like trying to push down a huge wall of stone that cannot be moved in your stance), I still find the aspects of some of your views questionable. This is a very to the point essay you have here, though, and in many ways these things you point out are definitely a sad truth. In my view everything expressed here in your essay is not completely accurate, but it is a hell of a convincing opinion.[G.S.: Hey, now this is personal already! Okay, you will be probably surprised to know that I follow exactly the opposite principle - I try to find significant MERITS of every album reviewed. If sometimes the rating does not match the opinion (which is in fact rare - what cases do you mean?), well, everybody has his own technical flaws. Even Prindle's ratings are not always justified by his reviews. And that reminds me: I just do not want to share the position that most music fans hold - 'if I don't like it, it's crap'. I'm perfectly willing to admit that there is some great music that I just cannot get into. If I find out that I see nothing particularly spectacular in a presumed 'classic', I only put it down when I can (or I think I can) find out the reason WHY this album has been so overrated. Otherwise, I just issue a 'warning': 'supposed to be great, but I fail to see its greatness'. I can see, for instance, why a record like Close To The Edge might be overrated by fans; but I can't see why they would tend to overrate, say, Diamond Dogs. So I give Diamond Dogs an eight although I personally feel it to be closer to a seven - let us call this, for instance, 'rating records in advance'. I cannot really answer the other remarks, because you give no examples. Okay, so even innovative bands may be derivative in some aspects - in the early stages of their career, for instance. What examples do you mean? Please tell me more about that, because general statements like that just kinda bug me. As for me, I have personally checked all my 5-star and 4-star bands for the word 'derivative', and have only found it in a few disjointed cases where it either applies to what other people think about them or to several aspects. If I say that Keith Richards' soloing in the early Sixties was 'derivative', I don't think anybody's going to argue with me about that. Not even Keith himself.]
Nick Karn Replies (20.09.99):
Very insightful and informative response here. Let me just say a few final thoughts about this issue, including on what you've written back.
First off, as far as my original comment about the categorization thing. I stand by my opinion that it is one of the worst things that could have happen, because there is no denying it divides music fans and makes them more fickle, like a certain fan could say, "I hate so and so because it's in the punk category" or, "I hate them because they're snobby prog musicians" or, "They're supposed to be a corny pop band... why should I bother?" I agree that it's an inevitable thing, so I also should have added the phrase "necessary evil", in that categorization does more bad than it does good, but it's unfortunately essential for the business aspect of it. It also disappoints me that record companies and executives have so much damn control over things, and while it's always been that way and will never change, it's still disheartening to see, considering without the musicians that part of it would be non-existent.
I also agree that the bands I've mentioned before are exceptions, although there are a good amount more of these bands and artists around than you might think, and I'm not the only one saying this. The fact that I know very very few classical or jazz fans but a great deal of rock fans (many of them even share the same attitudes I do about underground and mainstream music) I think, says a lot. It says to me that there are still fans out there who are capable of digging a bit deeper and finding bands around today doing some interesting and creative things. Everything these bands do is not innovative from a musical or historical standpoint, I certainly agree, but it is still more substantial than just picking up crumbs from the floor. I think the main point that we don't see eye to eye on here is the emphasis on the fact the 60s and early 70s were a more rapid period of cultural revolution - you seem to think it's the most essential part of it, and I personally don't, so that's exactly why your stone wall will never come down. Rock's pool of ideas will certainly be drained eventually (maybe as soon as the next 10-20 years... in fact, I have to admit it's been probably at least five years that I can recall a substantially creative debut coming out... so I guess that says something as well), but for now, there are still enough good acts out there to keep things going, and it will last a bit longer. Burks is right when the 80s and 90s are your best bet for minor good groups, but in my opinion that's not denigrating the quality of modern music at all. After all, probably 90 to 95 percent of the most highly rated bands since the late 70s got their start in the underground, and are still there. Also, as much as you try to deny their originality, the impact of bands in the last 20 years like The Clash, R.E.M., Metallica, and Nirvana just is hard for me to deny (again, these bands don't have the numbers or progress of the great classic rock bands, but they are still substantially significant enough).
True, the idea of "punk rock", which is what the Clash played on their first album (but even that's not entirely accurate, as there are noticeable forays into reggae, and the musicianship is impressive for a band that was supposedly "couldn't play" - particularly the bass work), is not exactly original, as it recalls rock and roll's rebellious roots of the 50s, but their extreme of harsh, hate-filled lyrically and sonically direct music had never been done before. And I'll even agree that R.E.M. (one of my 3 favorite bands ever), is not original at the core of their sound, very inspired by The Byrds and The Velvet Underground in particular, but their aura of murky mysteriousness, lyrical and vocal obscurity, and their impressive rhythm section, makes them early work in particular very unique and influential.
Like you said in your review of Black Sabbath's Sabotage I believe it was, there'd be no Metallica without the speed metal influence there, and while I agree with this, they are still a groundbreaking band because, while Sabbath had the first hints of it, Metallica perfected it by adding a touch of hardcore punk influence to their sound inspired by bands like Diamond Head and Venom. There has probably not been a more culturally significant thrash band in history.
And Nirvana, who I in fact to have a bit of a bone to pick with because they are considered rock legends on account of the fact they woke the establishment up in the early 90s (something a good deal of bands could have done, plus the groundwork was already there in the late 80s with the Pixies and Husker Du and stuff like that) and there are bands like Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains in the same genre who I think are more skilled in songwriting talent, Nirvana is still tremendously important for finding hauntingly beautiful aspects (mostly in the melodies) of their music even among when Kurt Cobain was screaming his guts out and singing nasty things and the backing music often matched it. I don't think it's any coincidence that a few skilled musicians themselves like Andy Summers of the Police (who certainly has his connections with classic rock) cite Nirvana as one of the best power trios in history. They're not one of my favorite bands, but I still recognize their importance. If you'll never be taking any of these bands (and the ones I mentioned earlier) with you on your desert island, that's your loss, I guess, but you are entitled to your own opinion of course.
As far as your questioning your reviewing techniques goes, let me just say I hope it didn't come off as a personal attack finding your review style or your appreciation of music questionable. I realize you try to find siginificant merits of every album reviewed, but it just still seems to me that a lot of them come off as too critical. I apologize for not naming specific examples, but it was a bit late when I was writing my original response, and I didn't realize the things I was saying were indeed general statements.
One example was starting off a sentence, "I HATE PINK FLOYD" on that page and yet still giving them a 4 was a bit of a sour first impression, and after your opening paragraph, it seemed a bit more convincing, but not totally justified. The ratings on that page in particular seemed to rely on their influence and not on the quality of their work (particuarly Dark Side Of The Moon, where you listed a great amount of serious flaws and not a whole lot of good points that would justify it getting a 13. It's also strange how the opinions on your reader comments for those albums on other sites differ greatly. By your views on Animals there in particular, it certainly doesn't sound like it's deserving of a 14 on your scale, even by the toned down review on your own site. The Led Zeppelin and Yes pages (especially the review for IV - from your review it seemed like you believed more than half the songs were seriously flawed) are the same way. I realize you're not a fan of those bands and try to rate them in a way that satisfies everyone (the 1 rating for Black Sabbath is also still a curious things for me, despite the disaster of their later career). There are other examples around the site, but I don't feel like going through everything and pointing them out. And about the 'derivative' references I'll say the same thing - there are so many instances where you say (paraphasing again), 'This melody and this riff sounds very suspiciously like so and so.', and there are a number of instances I'm not saying this style is horrible, in fact a lot of your reviews are informative and enjoyable.
I agree that every reviewer has their significant flaws - on my site, I review albums for the fun of it and my 9 or 10 rated albums are not necessarily "the most seriously important works of art of all time", although they have to have a good amount of redeeming qualities. I'm simply saying with those high ratings, "Hey, I was extremely impressed by this album's power. I very much recommend this release as an essential for anyone interested in the genre." My main fault is that these ratings are based first and foremost on my opinion and how excellent and consistent the album is and how much it inspires me to create music of my own (which unfortunately sucks), and only occasionally does the influence of the album really factor in (although with the later released albums it's impossible to tell). The only reason I'm pointing the "rating matches what you've written about the album" thing is that I'm a big supporter of this, and I'm puzzled by the amount of reviewers who just throw high ratings out of the sky (particularly The All Music Guide, which is so laughably uninformative, biased and misguided), even when pointing out some highly obvious flaws, so in order to avoid these mistakes, I feel the review should have as much supportive information to back up my rating (good or bad) as possible. I don't exactly know how accurate I am at doing this, but only time will tell. This is my final word on all this. Thanks for putting up with all of my arguments, opinions, and stupid ramblings.
Daniel Streb Comments (27.09.99):
Having read your essay on the state of music today, I still don't understand why you believe that if a particular artist has appeared after the 1960s then you automatically dislike them (bullshit. I never said that - G. S.). Like them or not, rap, punk, techno, and "alternative" (including all their subgenres) were invented post-1970. According to your musical creed page, you simply write those genres off (eg "I don't like rap, cos all of it sounds the same.") How many rap albums have you heard in your life? To say that the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique sounds the same as, say, All Eyez on Me by 2Pac Shakur is just ridiculous.
Also you accuse rock as being "dead". "The days of truly creative, impressive and original experimentation are over." I disagree. Negativland have made an entire career of experimentation through found sound. Oh here's a good one: Ever heard of a band called the Flaming Lips? They've just released one of the most ground breaking and experimental releases ever called Zaireeka. It's a four CD set in which all four CDs are meant to be played at the same time (check it out on Mark Prindle's Record Review Site). On the front cover in big huge letters it says clearly: "EXPERIMENT: This is a unique recording. These eight compositions are to be played using as many as four compact disc players, and have synchronized start times... EXPERIMENT with multiple sound sources, listener participation and new dimension of sound." That's not ground-breaking??? That's been done before??? That's not experimental???
"Give me just one thing. Give me an underground band that has so much talent, innovation, originality, inspiration, etc., that its popularity overgrows its underground and really spreads across the planet - like it happened with the Beatles... Give me such a band, and I will accept my defeat. Until then - rock is dead..."
Hmmmm... Hasn't happened yet. I sure wish my beloved Replacements became stars, but oh well... Nirvana perhaps? Just because a band isn't popular doesn't mean that they can't save rock [and roll]. Look what the Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, The Fugs, and Pavement have done, also the above-mentioned. There's obviously countless other important "cult" bands that I haven't mentioned. You just write these bands off because they're not popular? If selling records is all you care about then To The Extreme must be the fifth greatest album of all-time, right?
And lastly, what are you going to listen to when you run out of sixties albums? You can't listen to The Beatles/Stones all your life. My sixties phase ran only about a couple years and that was when I was like six! Oh well...
George Starostin Replies:
Same old thing, same old thing, Dan. Here are my answers to you - point-by-point, and I'll try to answer everything directly:
a) Punk was not invented post-1970; punk as a style of music, like I think I said earlier, is just a revitalizing of the old garage classics and 'My Generation'. It brought nothing new to music. "Alternative" is not a music genre AT ALL; it is a term that's rather appliable to the social status of a certain musical composition or band. Can you define "alternative" as a music genre? I'd like to hear you do that... And I'm sorry, but if you are going to take the invention of rap and techno as a merit of the Eighties/Nineties, well, the defence rests its case.
b) I never heard Zaireeka (and I don't have four CD players, so I'll probably just have to pass), but what you have just described as 'ground-breaking' is actually just a gimmick and not related to creating new musical textures, new genres, or new sensations. It's not going to be the start of a new musical revolution, that's for sure. It's interesting and probably entertaining, but I never said there's no entertaining music that's being made today. As for Negativland, let's just wait and see, okay? Nirvana have been hailed as revolutionaries, but are they really anywhere as big as the Beatles or the Stones? The music they created was just another little step down the ladder: the last agony of poor old dying rock'n'roll.
c) I don't write the bands off because they don't sell records; I don't actually write them off completely, I just try to point out their right position - at the bottom of the stairs, whereas Sixties' and Seventies' bands stand at the top. Of course, if in twenty years Negativland will be respected and praised as much as the Velvet Underground, I'll have to admit I was beaten. Let's wait.
d) I don't think I'll ever run out of sixties albums. What do you mean, 'run out of sixties albums'? Do you only listen to an album once or twice? I have listened to Beatles and Beatles only for three entire years, and every following time I was finding something new in them. And currently I have about fifty more bands on this site! If you really think you have assimilated most of the 'oldies' by the age of six, I can only feel sorry for you. Take my advice: pull out your trusty (and probably rusty) copies of these classics, run through them again and compare them to Negativland. If you're not convinced... good day to you.
Also, I do NOT say that it is impossible or useless or harmful or not recommendable to listen to some of the better modern music. Like I said, much of it can be highly entertaining, in the good sense of the word; but 'entertaining' does not mean that the music will really hold up over time. Derivative, second-hand music usually doesn't.
Rich Bunnell Comments (02.07.2000):
For the record, even though the Flaming Lips' "Zaireeka" album doesn't create really any new musical textures and probably won't be simulated in the future by new artists, I really don't think it can be called a "gimmick." It would be a gimmick if the band poured loads of money into promotion for the album and sold it heavily in big-name retail stores, but the album got absolutely zero promotion, and only 5,000 copies were printed in total (and the friggin' thing's going on Ebay for more moola than I can fathom)!
I do agree that there really isn't any territory left to explore in rock music, but stuff like that is at least interesting. I'd recommend the Lips, but I'm not sure how much you'd be able to stand them (personally, I find them to be one of the most interesting bands I've ever come across, but different people, different tastes, etc.).
I've been putting off reading your essays due to their length, but I finally printed them out and started reading them. I must say your thoughts on the direction of pop music these days couldn't have been explianed any better, and it certainly says what needs to be said about music in general. Anyway, as far as music revolutions are concerned, there has been at least one extremely important event or revolution in rock evey decade. Elvis and the whole rock craze in the 50s, the Beatles and The Stones in the 60s, Led Zeppelin and The Sex Pistols in the 70s, Madonna and the Clash in the 80s, and Nirvana in the 90s. I don't necessarily like The Clash or The Pistols, but a revolution is a revolution. However, as far as Nirvana is concerned, they did introduce a new sound called "grunge", but it's basically just a hard edge rock sound. I'm not saying that Kurt Cobain is a bad songwriter, in fact, I think he's the best songwriter to emerge from the 90s, but that was a lame revolution, and rock has most certainly lost any originality. After the Beatles, rock hit the pits. Another aspect of pop music is the fact that the record companies don’t look for any original artists anymore, they just believe in the fact that they’ll only make money and sell albums from artists whom people want to hear, such as teen idols like ‘N Sync, Britanny Spears and Backstreet Boys. They never give the others a chance. It’s almost as though they purposely prevent important revolutionary event from happening. It’s seems also to be an ongoing dilemma that modern music puts too much emphasis on fashion rather than on music itself. I think that it is a pathetic fact that they (the record companies) had to have Cher make a disco hit, and try to get tenny boppers to think that it is cool. I think that’s sad. I have nothing against Cher, but give me a break. As far as group as 98 Degrees and such are concerned, I pay little attention, because, if you think about it, there have always been groups like that singing bubble gum songs for a long time, people like The Osmonds and The Jackson Five for example. It’s almost like a genre in its own right. And do you hate artists like Brandy and Monica? Don't you think that The Supremes were the originators of that type of music? So in a way, modern music isn't all that new. If you think about it, music like that has been around for quite a while. Hmm. Something to think about.
I must admit, even though modern music is in a state of crisis, the music video age makes up for all the crap. Many of today’s videos are very interesting and worthy of a viewing or two. Ever seen the video for Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity?” Awesome video, even though I hate the song. And another thing that I would like to say is that not all modern music is bad. Unfortunetly, most of the better bands have had some success, but only frivolous. Artists like Bjork, and even Radiohead often restore my limited faith in 90s pop music. And if I may add a revolution of my own, I think that TLC has revolutionized pop music. If you listen, you may be interested in hearing that they were the first to combine hip hop sounds with rock and roll, and rap sounds. No matter what side your on, the end of the millenium is just about here, so we can only hope that new music life will be restored, and that we’ll see the light of popular music in 2000. And hey, what sucks to us, may be outstanding to someone else, and with so many genres of music that exist, it’s practically impossible to determine who’s right and who’s wrong. And as the quote says, time will tell.
Look, music is music and where rock ends and other forms begin is quite nebulous. Just try to listen to what pleases your ear regardless of preconceptions. To pidgeonhole your tastes to one ten-year period and proclaim it as superior in innocence and creativity is stifled and immature. Innovation and originality are not without influence and experience. These evolutions are transient and limitless. The music of the 60's was not created in a vacuum. I admire your opinions and staunch yet you admirably beg respose and criticism. I am no expert on music but I trust my ears more than any historical placement to sooth my soul. Keep on.
George Starostin Replies:
I'm getting somewhat tired of all these replies that mostly repeat the same things over and over, but then again, they're directed at my readers' comments that repeat the same arguments over and over. And anyway, a discussion is a discussion (guess that's how I earned the title of 'obsessive prick' from one of Mark Prindle's commentators). So here goes:
I understand and respect your opinion, but to me phrases like these sound rather vague and deconstructive. I'm not exactly pidgeonholing music, yet musical classification and musical analysis are a must if we want our musical discussions to be really serious and not just resemble the pointless blah-blah of musical forums where people spend days and weeks trying to determine the 'best band in the world' by doing nothing other than naming it.
And by the way: I never denied the enormous influence of previous musical genres on 'classic' rock'n'roll. I give them their due as well as anybody. But see it this way: are we not able to speak of the art of the epoch of Renaissance as revolutionary, innovative and entirely groundbreaking (as we always do) and yet admit that, to a large extent, Renaissance was a regeneration of the old values of Antiquity? We are. Influences are one thing, and new creative values are another. And I also disagree with the phrase 'where rock ends and other forms begin is quite nebulous'. This is just a way of saying 'stop discussing music, just listen'. Well, my site is for discussing music; if it were otherwise, I'd have to switch my reviews for MP3 files. We all know where classical music ends and jazz begins, don't we? We know, of course, that everything influences everything, and we know that there are multiple 'hybrids' in the world of art, but that's no reason to give up all our rants and cease trying to analyze the processes going on in the music world. As 'nebulous' and extended as rock music is, it still has some general things about it.
Lastly, I repeat one more time that I have no 'preconceptions' about rock. If I never heard any Seventies' or Eighties' or Nineties' music at all, I wouldn't have written that essay. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I have. I do like a lot of Seventies' and Eighties' and even some Nineties' music, but what I hear never inspires me as much as the main stuff that came before it. The conception I have developed is not a 'preconception', buHanzDaBird@aol.comt a 'postconception'.
Nevertheless, it is great that you 'trust your ears' rather than any 'historical placement'. This is, of course, the only true way of enjoying music. This is, however, NOT the only true way of UNDERSTANDING music, which is a slightly different thing.
Wow..I actually got so bored that I forced myself to read one of your essay.. :) I read the first one, and it sure did depress me. I totally agree that rock is pretty much dead...I just don't like to admit it. As a musician in a 'rock' band it doesn't give me much hope for my historical future. Oh well. I think the problem with all of these people who point to bands like Radiohead (who I think are great), Nirvana (somewhat overrated), Bjork, REM, etc... is that they don't understand 'originality'. And you are completely right (as much as I hate to admit it), these bands are just recycling a gender that's already recycled material. Sure, these artist may SOUND new and original...but a lot of that has to do with 90's production techniques (digital, 100-track studios for one thing) and a listeners' lack of familiarity with 60's rock. I mean, look today's album critics for proof. As revolutionary as these bands may sound, every review of their music compares then to something that's gone before. Found in the reviews of today's best artists you will find phrases like 'Beatle-esque melodies', 'Floydian-atomosphere', 'Zeppelin-esqe riffs', or 'Roxy Music-like camp'. The list goes on and on. True originality is the inability to label or package a style or sound. Many 90's bands are great....but they sound like the past. And that is what makes them great.....
George, cut the Marxist crap! It's just that to say that a musical genre starts, develops to its maximum, then completely exhausts itself. The idea that music develops from Classical to Jazz to Rock, then dies is preposterous. Various musical genres live nowadays, and feel OK, actually. The fact that you don't "enjoy" some of the music doesn't make it bad. Of course, each genre influences each other. And, 60s are not Golden Age, they actually suck. There was nothing original about them. The Beatles and the Stones brought nothing new. The Beatles before "Revolver' were pretty mediocre cutie-ditty band for teens (similar to all the boy bands now, actually), the Stones -it's obvious: a speeded-up rip-off of their blues idols. With "Revolver" and "Pepper" - the Beatles just included some loose melody, jazzy chord changes, and drugs-related imagery that was introduced by their San Fransisco pals a bit earlier. I was surprised to see that you're 23-24 y.o. I first thought that all this balderdash was written by some tunnel-visioned Soviet hippy in his 40s. I can understand certain pre-occupation with the 60s from former flower children, they just can't get off from the trip they started then.
George Starostin Replies:
I suppose I'll just leave the remarks about the Beatles and the Stones bringing nothing new on the conscience of the commenting person (if that is really the case, we apparently come from different planets). I just want to say that all this crap is not 'Marxist' in essence - it's rather Hegelian, and after all, we all know that 'Marx brought nothing new', his philosophy being mostly a social interpretation of Hegel's universalist rational theory.
I do not see what sort of 'preposterous' conclusions one may draw from the fact that musical genres exhaust themselves. Everything in this world exhausts itself sooner or later. Is it preposterous that people die? Maybe it is... And when you say that various musical genres 'live' nowadays, you apparently put a different meaning into the word 'live' than I do. If it is in the sense of 'Shakespeare still keeps living today', I actually agree.
Two more remarks. First, I thoroughly agree that if I do not "enjoy" some of the music, it doesn't make it bad. However, the point of the essay, if you read it carefully, was NEVER to say that NONE of today's music in various genres is actually enjoyable. No, the point was that "enjoyable" does not mean "fresh" or "innovative" or "inventive"; that is, there is virtually very little in today's bands that I couldn't find in the bands whose peak happened twenty or thirty years ago. I do enjoy some REM or some Blur, for instance; the problem is, are these bands taking rock music to new, previously unexplored heights or are they actually struggling to keep up the status quo? You know which of the answers I will choose. Think about it.
Second (briefly): if you equal the music of the Sixties with the flower power movement and nothing else... well, talk about tunnel-visioned.
Lee Miller Comments (06.06.2000):
1. You write about the lack of new ideas in rock music and how formulaic and boring it is. Now, a great percentage of the people who listen to the shite nowadays have no idea what happened in the 60's, for all they care Britney Spears is a musical groundbreaker and innovator of near genius proportions. This is a general malaise amongst the record buying public - for the great part they are ignorant. Most of the reasons why we dont have music as good as the 60's are due to a massive change in the age of the record buying public with a shift towards pre-pubescent girls (damn their hormones!) The audience has a great effect on the music produced.
2. The rabid search for novelty is something which has spawned many bands professing themselves to be "strange" or "out there" and are quite frankly shite. The synthesis needed is between melody and innovation. Radiohead is a prime example. The great new genre of which you speak may not be allied to rock, or may be greatly detatched from it. Genres can become exhausted, and thus any innovator in the field of rock who can be melodic, innovative, and relevant should be warmly applauded. Stop thinking that good music is only born of innovation. It isn't.
3. The public are afraid of innovation. Not like the 60's when people were ready to embrace anything risky and strange (people apparently waltzed away to 40 minute renditions of 'Interstellar Overdrive')
4. You totally dismiss Electronic music as "sucking all life, emotions, sincerity, and, finally, enjoyability out of music". Now, of all things I had never expected such ignorant, opinionated nonsense from you.This is utter bollocks and I cannot stress that enough. If you want to have such a bigoted opinion all your life then be my guest, but you are definitely missing out on one of the most innovative musical genres of the 90's. I find your views somewhat distressing since I have often bought albums on the strength of your reviews, and we have often agreed on my favourite bands (The Doors, Pink Floyd, King Crimson) but I cannot stand such an ignorant statement. Redeem yourself by buying Orbital's Insides right now.
5. It is only more ignorance which has lead you to say "isn't it easier when you get a computer to write your music for you?". A computer cannot write music, this is nonsense. You cannot key in "i'd like a nice, bouncy tune today please." and out pops the platonic form of the nice, bouncy tune. Making music on a computer takes time, effort, skill, knowledge and expertise - wait a minute - aren't those the things it takes to make a normal song? Why, yes, of course. You know what I'm getting at.
I apologise for the level of invective, but this is the kind of ignorance that leads to, say, a hard rocker dismissing the Beatles as "pop crap". You'd be annoyed if someone did that, wouldn't you?
George Starostin Replies:
1. (Points are points, so let's hold on to points). The first three points don't actually contradict the essay in any way - except that I fully agree that innovation always needs to find a compromise with melody, and that's what I actively state when it comes to reviewing such 'weird' bands like Soft Machine and artists like Captain Beefheart. And again, like I said, good music is not always born of innovation; great music is. I'd be sorry, for instance, if Elvis Costello were to fade away completely after a couple more generations - he is a good musician and clever songwriter. But there never was any real innovation in his music, and I seriously fear that his role in history will soon be limited to the 'that guy who played like a punk and looked like Buddy Holly' idea or something even more limited.
2. I apologize for offending Electronic music - actually, I was referring mainly to the techno and the synth-pop dreck (which is dreck no matter how you look at it). I have nothing against pioneers of Electronics, like the Krautrock scene or Brian Eno, and I deeply respect Vangelis and some other things. But for all my life I could never understand how it has become 'one of the most innovative genres of the Nineties'. Since the early Eighties, there hasn't really been any serious innovation in that kind of music, period.
3. As for writing music on a computer, it's one thing when you approach the computer as a tool, and another is when you simply program it so that it finds the necessary beats for you yourself. Don't pretend you don't know of the numerous music-making software out there today. You actually can key in 'I'd like a nice bouncy tune', except that you have to key it in in a slightly different way, setting the tonality, tempo, etc. I'm sorry, that's just the way it is. Music has gone that far.
Man, your essay nailed it! Rock music has been dead since the mid-70s, there ARE new bands coming up with variations on the theme (check out Jellyfish in the 90s) but it's just retreads, and it becomes more obvious as time goes by. The revolution in the 60s was spent in 15 years or so, as every combination was tried. There will possibly be a NEW type of music - but it won't be rock by definition. Rock was unexpected in the 60s, but I too have not heard a record since the 'new wave' movement that was not completely, obviously derivative. (actually, it was big country's 1983 debut album, which had enough new twists to be memorable) You could argue that the focus is now on video and image, and this will certainly prevent real talent from emerging, possibly since this technology is more accessible to to common man, we'll see some new stuff (translation - janet jackson could afford computer technology so she had the 'new' sound in the late 80s unfortunately she used the computer to do 'shortcuts' and merely recreate previous sounds more quickly. if a genius had a computer at his technology, it might be used to do really innovative things, not just 'write songs for you'. It's not the technology, it's how it's used, and often, who can afford it) The main thing is though, as a cultural movement, rock is spent, to make something genuinely fresh and innovative, something else will have to be invented. Glad to see that someone else can see the sad state of things, the 60s music was superior because it innovated and had this freshness to it, but you can't squeeze blood out of a stone and you can only have so many retreads of the beatles and associates before it seems a bit lame. I don't agree with the particulars of your musical assessments but it's clear that (1) you actually listen to the music and (2) are articulate about what you observe.
Hello! I just read your essay "Music: Where The Hell Is It Heading To Today?" and here's what you said. Ahem.
"Give me an underground band that has so much talent, innovation, originality, inspiration, etc., that its popularity overgrows its underground and really spreads across the planet - like it happened with the Beatles. Do not forget that the Beatles were an underground band, too. They weren't born with a Grammy in their hands..."
Well did you know that the Beatles did NOT become popular because of their awesome talent/innovation/originality/inspiration etc? They got popular because their manager Brian Epstein single-handedly bought all 10,000 or so copies of the band's first single "Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You" so that "his boys" would appear on the charts and have an instant debut best seller! Perfect publicity! At least I THINK that's what happened...
Say! I don't think that anybody's mentioned the fact that today chart success is nowhere near as important as it was in the sixties. Way back in the sixties and the seventies basically all the great cult bands of the time like the Velvet Underground, Big Star, and the MC5 broke up because they couldn't get a hit. Nick Drake even allegedly killed himself because of his depression due to lack of fame. Well today there are about five million underground bands like Pavement, They Might Be Giants, and Belle & Sebastian that are perfectly happy staying in the underground making music for their cult audiences. XTC have been doing it for like twenty years.
George Starostin Replies:
1. I don't know about the Epstein debacle, but I do know that "Love Me Do" only went as far as No. 17 on the charts. Lots of one-hit wonders penetrated the charts at even higher positions and then went on to disappear without a trace.
2. Chart success is certainly not too important today - but this only goes to show that rock music has degenerated into an "elitist club" and every new more or less significant trend is only of interest to selected, limited groups of people. Didn't the same thing happen to classical music and jazz years before?
George - you wrote a very long but nevertheless stimlating essay on why the 60s were so great and why so much of today's stuff is generally derivative - and actually pertty dire I think.... take 'House', 'Garage' or 'End-of-the-drive or whatever it's called this week .. Techno is it?
A man operating a pneumatic drill generally has more musical content .. at least he can alternatively loosen and tighten his grip - to vary the pitch of the 'instrument' , thereby producing a melody ..of sorts ...(Music = harmony, rhythm and melody.)
Basically though, I think it boils down to this .. there is ONLY SO MUCH you can do with the three/four-minute pop song format (if you want more turn to the classics or jazz) .. and the FABs did it all --- no room for anything else was left - apart from a few Brian Wilson classics MAYBE ...
But of course each generation needs new heroes of its own - so it doesn't much matter how dire the CDs are -they will always sell - so maybe a space can be found for my man with the pneumatic drill soon- (esp if he is cute and has a nice haricut ..... )
So in conclusion .... POP Music ..er yeah well . it was the Beatles wasn't it ? ..... oh .... were there other groups too?
I have to say that I agree with most everything that you said. I am a 22 year old American who is sadened by the state of rock music, especialy in the States. We are bombarded by music made for Teens (N-Sync, Britany Spears, Backstreet Boys), or this horrible, horrible combination of hardcore white rap, and what today passes for heavy metal (Limp Bizcuit, Rage Against the Machine).
Now let me say that I was destined to be a "classic rock" fan. I was born during a Rollings Stones concert at Folsom Field in Boulder Colorado in 1978 (Some Girls tour). My father refused to let me and my brothers listen to anything but Oldies and Classic Rock growing up, and I thank him for it. Without that imput, I would never had recived fantastic records like Long Player by the Faces, and Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones. I wish the new bands comming up today had listened to them as well.
Where are the Rod Stewarts of the world, with their mandolin driven songs? Where is the brilliant lyrics of Robert Zimmerman? Where is the musical perfection of Lennon / McCartney? Well, they got old like the rest of them, and were washed up in a sea of corperate gutter slime. The people who followed these, and other brilliant innovators of Rock and Folk music, didn't know how to expand, but from their limited musical experiance were able to immitate, and reduce what these innovators did. Nothing startles anymore. It's been done, and whats more, they've been reduced to a genre of music that's past it's prime. Rock and Roll.
Well, this is one of the few times I've agreed with you George. I still think Zeppelin is better than you give them credit for....but that's a small quarrel isn't it?
It's really very simple what your hang-up is: you think too damn much. Who CARES if something is "original" or not? Why is that so darn important to you? I'm not going to play the "examples of post-60's original music" game with you, because ANYTHING can be shot down with a "so-and-so did it first". Can't you just ENJOY music without ponderously philosophizing about its origins? Don't you ever listen to a song and think "man, those drums sound wicked!"? Does music mean anything to you, or is it just a convenient conduit for your masters thesis? It's really odd to me that you don't mention lyrics at all. Doesn't a clever turn of phrase ever make you think, make you feel? Sure, maybe every chord progression has already been mined to death, but people are still coming up with new things to say, and new ways to say it. Music is SO much more than innovation or originality. Have FUN with it, for God's sake! Shut down that overworked brain of yours and open up your HEART and SOUL a little bit. A great song is a great song, regardless of whether or not someone else did something similar before it.
P.S. Okay, just came across your "plans" page, where you address the issues I raised in my previous email (in your "Complaint #2"). The explanation doesn't really satisfy me, but such is life. I still say that you could enjoy newer music a LOT more if you dropped the analytical approach. I could make specific recommendations, but I fear they'd go under your head (besides being hard to find in Russia).
George Starostin Replies:
Maybe that explanation didn't satisfy Martin, but it sure satisfies me (here it is). And the day I drop my analytical approach (which I'm perfectly able to combine with using my heart and soul, thank you), I will shut down this site for good, because it will lose any possible meaning. Music review sites without an analytical approach are no better than the endless "classic rock forums" where people waste their lives posting useless "best-of" lists (of which each person, naturally, has his own, and most never even bother to compare his list with his neighbour's to draw at least one interesting conclusion) and engaging in all kinds of mindless activities that I always thought were a good way to kill time in class during a particularly boring biology lesson (I have whole archives of such stuff in my notebooks, but I never actually thought about posting it on the site).If the analytical approach doesn't suit you, just get the frig out o' the ol' site. Who the heck cares about your own personal, "heartfelt" opinion (like: "The Velvet Underground is freakin' AWESOME, dude!") if everybody has a personal, "heartfelt" opinion of his own. Of course, if that opinion is "The Velvet Underground suck donkey's ass, dude!", there's a good reason to kick somebody's balls and vent your frustration, but that's not exactly what I'm looking for here. What I'm trying to do is to find objective criteria for rating music and rate it according to objective criteria. I am certainly wrong about MANY things (that's why I ask everybody to mail their ideas - intelligent comments often help to broaden the horizons and get a different perspective), but I'm NEVER going to change the approach. Yes, the site often judges bands according to their originality (though, as you might have seen, it is far from the ONLY criterium - otherwise, there's no way such derivative bands as CCR or Fleetwood Mac would have gotten high ratings). And the main point here is pretty simple: an original approach is always better than an unoriginal one. Thus, a band using an original approach is better than a band using an unoriginal approach. And if a great song has a very similar prototype that was done better earlier, it's not a great song - just a GOOD song. Its prototype will go down in history, and the sequel will not.
I've just read your essay on the current state of popular music. Dystopic but true, you've got it spot on. I've been thinking about this for a couple of years, while the released output of pop/rock music has steadily detoriated. Your essay made me think even more, and I thought I would share some of my thoughts :
In line with the academical decadence over the last hundred years or so, postmodern (now that's a silly semantic bastardization) classical composers have forgot the craftsmanship of composition, or rather: it cannot be used for what they want to achieve. I think this is what has happened also with popular music over the last 20 years. As you've pointed out, the few good bands out there are merely playing retrograde academic exercises, albeit The Beatles or The Who rather than Fux and Palestrina. One might think that there should be a plethora of possible dialectics today, looking back at a great history of diverse pop/rock music (After all, my beloved progressive rock movement is a hell of a dialectic cocktail). Well, people don't want to, they haven't even got time to keep up with the latest albums, let alone search out the classics. Many people of our age (I'm also born in the summer of 1976) will live happily all their lives without knowing about the groundbreaking works on which their favorite contemporary albums are modeled. We are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of (Gentle;-) giants believing to be giants standing on the shoulders of dwarves.
There is also a Hegelian aspect to the present state of popular music: there is a severely disturbed balance between 'will', 'can', 'know' and 'must'. there are very few bands around that play what they want. Most of them play what they can, and there is still a strong 'will' element in most music.'Know' is basically at nought level, much because of the anathema of sequencing techniques. It's amazing how many of these bands that doesn't seem to have a 'can' or 'know' impulse at all. Two examples :
Yes did what they wanted to do. They knew how it could be achieved, they managed to do it, but there was never a 'must' element in their music.
Oasis are doing what they can do. They don't know exactly what it's going to be or what else could be achieved, and there is a strong element of must: 'we must be different from, say Blur'. Their will is down to the level of 'We want to be rock musicians and record albums'.
Today, the successful mainstream pop/rock musician resembles the XII and XIV century minstrels in central Europe : (These were also rather provincial and uncultivated in their musical outlook) they carry out the task that most serious musicians consider below their dignity, Since they make a lot of money out of so doing, the situation is not likely to change, so contrary to your beliefs I think that the music industry has got some part in this miserable situation.
Some of the commentators on this page, blamed the categorization and labeling for the problem, but I think we all must acknowledge these as necessary tools for analysis, or even discussion. I am sure you, being a linguist, realize their importance as semiotical carriers of universal (well, sort of. There seems to be some ambiguity in the term 'art-rock') information. Nevertheless, I think the categorization might BE part of the problem, since the impulse of our time is pluralist: 'keep with the mainstream and be succesful OR try to be as different from it (this has, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with originality) as possible, and be successful. "I am a D.J. I am what I play" is the motto for many 'music-lovers' of today. Attitude has never done music any good, after all it was the very impulse of punk (the three-minute pop-song with attitude, is its own reason behind so many of us preferring the thirty minute pop-song without ditto. More music, it is as simple as that). It takes the emphasis away from the music, and could be seen as the polar opposite to the self-indulgent impulse of prog. Still it is attitude that counts today, and Marilyn Manson (is that how it's spelled ?) will never be more than the John Cage of popular music.
I'm so glad there are people like you, George. In your refusal to "be what you listen to" you can speak almost objectively about music, and I can't see why people could take offence of your essay, even if they grew up with contemporary pop music.
When I finished reading all of this lengthy and quite monotonous page (not your fault at all) I said to myself: "What a waste of intelligence. What a pity".You know, most of you guys are brilliant and intelligent and all, but I think, and forgive me if it's pretentious, you all miss the point. The point is that music is an ART. And art is made by individuals, cooperating or not. The whole idea of dubbing artists as "rock", "celtic jazz" or "garage" is a misconception. Don't get me wrong, it is useful when talking in general terms, but it has absolutely no attinence with reality. Sure, every artist is influenced more by some specific genre of music, and a whole bunch of groups can share the same fans and zines and stuff, but that comes after the music. One of the ideas we both share is that music should be original. Well, you should know (and you do) far better than me that a poet can be original and creative without using new words, or innovative rhytm, or new groundbreaking contents, or strange catchy metric. What makes an artist worthy is what he got inside that nobody else, that note combination or particular arrangement. From that point of view, that I strongly believe true, which genre an artist is categorised in doesn't matter at all. I'll go further, genres doesn't matter at all; where there's originality, the etiquette cage breaks down; where there's originality, music becomes pleasant (or not so pleasant) ear, mind or body activity. What I'm trying to say, even though unclearly, is that saying that 'rock'n'roll is dead' have no meaning, 'cause rock'n'roll never existed, except in a symbolic o fashion meaning. No sense in talking about rock or jazz, in a site dedicated exclusively to muzak! Contemporary figurative art sucks, and it's difficult you'll find in some Contemporary museum something good, but woudn't you be very surprised if in the last 10 years no good painter out of 6 billions people has born? For music it's the same. What I willfully admit is that in 1971 experimentation and originality were what the public was looking for. The only revolution is that what was elite became mainstream, and so many more artists began to experiment. Nowadays, artist are strongly discouraged in creating something new both by public and producers.That can't stop art, it can only slow it. What use in saying rock music is dead? The boozy minstrel lives on, just like Ipponatte does. Look away from the top chart and you'll find, sooner or later, something great, original and deeply moving.
I have been browsing your site for these last 2 weeks and I must say that it has been an amazing journey, though this is much more because of its informative content than for your opinions and the way you express them. I have been through all its sections and since it offers space for music lovers to express their views, I decided to post this to you to share my musical tastes with the people of good music tastes out there.
First of all, I must say that although I perfectly agree with you that after the post punk generation Rock music was dead and that today’s music sucks and suck big time, still I cannot agree with most of your reviews and nasty comments you passed regarding certain bands. Though like you I am a great fan of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for example, I am mostly into Progressive/Art Rock and I just could do not stand much of what you said about bands like Yes, ELP, Van Graaf Generator, Rush and Tangerine Dream to name a few. Unarguably, these bands had the greatest musicians that the Rock scene has ever saw, and as opposed to your accusations of pretentiousness and mannerism, their talent can never be denied or even doubted. Certainly most of their music was, an exercise in self-indulgence, but why should we mock them for that? Virtually, all of the music of that fall into the progressive category could be said to have achieved a cathartic effect; including of course Camel who contrary of what you said they had all the genius and talent of the first generation progressive rock groups.
Suffice for me to tell you that had I not been into such bands I would have never been able to appreciate bands like The Moody Blues or Procol Harum. I do not think that I would rate as highly as you do albums like Days of Future Passed and Sgt. Peppers had I did not listened and eventually fell in love with albums like Pawn Hearts, Tales from Topographic Oceans (I would definitely put these two in your never to be topped section of your ‘list of albums in rating order’) and Brian Salad Surgery (I would put this in the simply excellent section). In my opinion, though the former certainly have great musical quality in themselves, it is their influential nature that makes these albums so important. I have nothing against valuing musicians and their musical productions – I also do this myself and one day be sure I’ll have a site as great as yours – but I do have something against the way you assess them. As a scientific and mechanistic rating scale, your method of assessment involves reductionism - a positivist philosophical stance based strictly on a rigid scientific method. That method didn’t really turned out to work quite well for philosophers like Rene Descartes, and I feel that it doesn’t work out in your general assessment scheme either. You tend to stress a lot on accessibility and on the axiom that music must please – and this is a wrong yardstick to measure such brilliant masterpieces. Like Mozart and Bach, Progressive Rock bands never really gave a damn about accessibility and that’s what I love about them the most. These musicians held the motto ‘Make art for the sake of art’, and this is what perhaps could have brought them in advance of the tastes of the masses. I cannot see how a band can seriously intrigue its followers if its not intriguing by itself. Historically speaking, all the revolutionary albums in Rock history were intriguing. Perhaps even Little Richard was back in the 1950s.
This is not to say, however, that their music did not make its way to the general public; Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick, for example, went very good in the charts both in the UK and in USA. But its popularity was not deliberate, and perhaps the album that followed it proved further that Ian Anderson & Friends, at least in those days, were not much interested in writing music for the average listener. As a matter of fact, virtually all the progressive bands that had the misfortune to fall in the trap of becoming accessible produced nothing but disasters. Ironically, Ian Anderson, later on in his career, had to be one of the best examples of what happens when an avant-garde band or musician begins to discard his or their loyal cult following in favour of mass acceptance. Of course there are other examples. Just listen to what a certain very talented band ended up playing for nearly two decades after having released some outstanding gems like ‘The March of the Black Queen’ and ‘The Prophet’s Song’ during its creative hey days. I guess that you have guessed to who I am referring.
If we had to apply your argument on accessibility to other forms of art, I wonder what how we would be able to appreciate the genius of painters like Dali and Picasso or of poets like Pablo Neruda. And not to elaborate a lot on Van Gogh, who in his days was regarded as a mad man primarily because of his ‘progressive’ expressionism. Just listen to what Don McLean had to tell him some decades later. Your rating scale is very good to assess bands like The Hollies and Simon & Garfunkel, but when applied to bands like Gentle Giant or Tangerine Dream it is highly misguiding. Yes and Creedence Clearwater Revival, to name two stylistically different bands, assigned to and promoted different values to their music and consequently, their relationship with the music critics and listeners was radically different. I see little logical sense in stating, for example, that Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited is a better album than Tangerine Dream’s Phedra; just as much as I perceive it unfair to regard Rush’s 2112 as a better album than The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. All of these albums, at least for me, are interesting to say the least, but each one of them requires a different perspective on which to be judged. If we disregard this principle, our sense of esthetical philosophy would be incomplete and miserably poor. When art criticism and appreciation is concerned, that is perhaps the greatest danger of being categorical. Try to compare the works of Pablo Picasso with those of Leonardo Da Vinci by using identical criteria, and you’ll understand clearly what I mean.
I really found interesting your theory of Rock reconciling classical music and jazz, which you intelligently brought forward with Hegelian dialectics. But I cannot see how the tension between the thesis (Classical music) and the anti-thesis (Jazz being the backlash to Classical), could have ever materialized into a synthesis (reconciliation of Classical and Jazz through Rock) had the Progressive Rock and Fusion bands never existed. Gentle Giant, Yes and Camel support the dynamics of this dialectic far better than The Moody Blues, Procol Harum and The Beatles.
Your “Pseudo-Enlightened Prophets” list seems incomplete to me. There is not even one single Italian Progressive Rock band in your site, and this might reflect bad on you because as a Rock critic you should know that at times some bands like Premiata Forneria Marconi and Le Orme managed to surpass even Genesis or King Crimson with their outstanding talents. The same can be said about the artists of the Krautrock movement in Germany, and most particularly with reference to Tangerine Dream. I think Bowie and Eno owe a lot to those Teutonic Wizards. I noticed other serious omissions. Few examples are The Band, Blue Oyster Cult, Whether Report, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, Iron Maiden, Marillion, Joy Division and Barclays James Harvest; but I’m sure there are others. Not that I am a fan of all of these, but I do believe that almost all of them had and still have strong following and that some of them were unequivocally highly influential. I hope you won’t be another of those critics who accuse them of being rip-offs bands that were best in ‘licking the boots of their precursors’, because for the most part of them it was not the case. But even if it was the case, I think you agree with me that for any historical account of Rock Music, I think these bands are quite essential. I suggest you to review them as much as I beg you to not underrate most of them as you tragically did to Eagles, Alan Parsons Project, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Supertramp to name a few.
Regarding the Vintage Rock bands, I also regard your ideas on Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin as highly unjust to say the least. I can comfortably accept that Led Zeppelin were better than Black Sabbath and I have no serious objection on your opinion that Deep Purple were the best from these three. To certain extent, in heavy metal even Rainbow were better than Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. So far so good. But nevertheless, you’re giving me a very hard time to make sense out of most of your ratings, especially for the 1970s Coverdale releases. Sometimes, believe it or not, as a vocalist I prefer Coverdale even more than Gillan. Coverdale was not a “lameass singer”, far from it. I cannot conceive, not even by any stretch of imagination, how Deep Purple can ever deserve less than a 4. I believe you were not as much as lucky as me to have the occasion of seeing Deep Purple performing live. Perhaps, had you saw them live on stage you would have rated them much more highly than you did.
I agree with you that Led Zeppelin were able to compete with the other progressive groups, and for that alone they deserve at least a 4 star rating. Few progressive drummers surpassed Bonham, less were those who had the intelligence of John Paul Jones, almost no one had the versatility of Jimmy Page, and Plant was quite a gifted vocalist as well. That is what makes your assertion of Led Zeppelin having “creative limitations” or of sometimes being “a banal cock rock band” stupidity plain and simple. Furthermore, I can’t find any grounds on which to call them ‘satanic, brutal monsters’ either, just as much as I can’t see where Led Zeppelin II is Satanic. Furthermore, I feel that you underrated some of their albums, especially Led Zeppelin III which I happen to like so much. I believe that Jimmy Page had a million good reasons to be proud of it as he was with the Led Zeppelin’s first two albums. I can’t even agree with you neither on Bonham’s “vulgur drumming style” nor with your description of Plant's lovely voice as a “whiny pretentious cock-rocking intonation”. They had, mind you, some bad points against them, but all in all I think that you severely underrated them. And it makes me wonder.
Regarding Black Sabbath, they might have released a lot of dull albums in the eighties and nineties, but certainly at least they deserve a 3. Some of their earlier records are quite outstanding in their genre and for sure they deserved to be regarded in a much brighter and greater positive light. Accusing them of being blasphemous did not go well with me much either; certainly their music at was overloaded with dark imagery but I do not think that for that alone they qualify as Satanic. Anyway, Tony Iommi himself refused to give me comments about this issue when I met him back in 1994. The same can be said about Judas Priest; a band that at times I like more than Black Sabbath. If anything, they were much more consistent and stable and played relatively more versatile riffs and rhythms. Regarding Ozzy’s ‘helium’ vocals, I better not comment much because, unlike the case of Jon Anderson, I grew with him “cursing war pigs and praising sweet leaf”. Therefore in Ozzy’s case I might be biased. I am trying to be as objective as possible in my judgements and I hope that you won’t accuse me of any worshipping or of having a ‘Ben ‘O Hara’ attitude.
I am writing this to you in fact, after reading some of your positive comments on Renaissance, because replying you after reading some distasteful comments on certain bands would not have helped at all. Your judgments on Prologue and Ashes Are Burning (though I expected a higher rating for Scheherazade & Other Stories) managed to calm me down like no tranquilizer could have possibly done. If anything, they have managed to keep me browsing your reviews with some degree of optimism. Initially, hearing you describing Jon Anderson as a “graphomaniac whose only purpose in life seems to be penning pretentious, cosmic, universalist, but totally absurd, senseless and bland lyrics”, stating plain and simple that you “hate” Pink Floyd (this is my all time favorite band by the way, though I do not worship them), ridiculing Peter Hamill and Van Der Graaf Generator and stating without any shame or guilt that “all Tangerine Dream albums suck” made me go more hysteric than Roger Waters goes in ‘One of My Turns’. And not to mention your mediocre ratings for Rush, Kansas and Camel. Those too were tremendous turn offs for me.
Semiotically speaking, much of the Progressive Rock that was released in the 70s related to the connotative side of things and unless you bear this in mind, you’ll never manage to make a lot of sense out of the lyrics of ‘A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers’ or to enjoy any of Klaus Schulze’s productions. I am very positive that you should have enough intellectual and academic background to comprehend this. Charles Morris once suggested that “something is a sign only because it is interpreted as a sign of something by some interpreter”, but nevertheless, it is certain that at the end of the day an encoder cannot enforce any significant control over what the decoder eventually does with his or her given sign-vehicle. Nietzsche went as far as to state that the existence of facts is an illusion and that they are only their interpretations that can be said to exist. The main point here is that different signs signify different meanings to different people. As you wisely said, there are billions of ‘Eleanor Rigbies’ in the world and the number of different meanings of heavy metal “more or less equals the number of people in this world”. Perhaps no one stated this premise better than Umberto Eco. As he put it; “The form of the work of art gains its aesthetic validity precisely in proportion to the number of different perspectives from which it can be viewed and understood. These give it a wealth of different resonances and echoes without impairing its original essence...”
This is certainly where ‘the endless battle of objectivity vs. subjectivity’ steps in. This is perhaps best contended in Umberto Eco’s discussion on Fleming's James Bond novels (Narrative Structures in Fleming; 1965), in which he states that “since the decoding of a message cannot be established by its author, but depends on the concrete circumstances of reception, it is difficult to guess what Fleming is or will be for his readers.” And this explains why while I get filled with loads of emotions when hearing something like “Unreal, unreal ghost helmsmen scream/And fall in through the sky/Not breaking through my seagull shrieks/No breaks until I die…”, you seem not to be moved by an inch. This might also explain why I regard Tales From Topographic Oceans, Pawn Hearts and Cyclone as pleasing, useful, adequate, innovative and honest while you claim them to be the among the worst albums in Rock history. However, having said that, this argument should neither be abused in order to excuse you for dismissing Pawn Hearts as “prime crap” nor should it make us forgive our contemporary DJs for insulting our intelligence with the nonsense that they hail as true revolutionary art.
But the latter, of course, is another issue altogether. Contemporary ‘music’, despite its shortcomings, had succeeded in convincing us that music is dead like no other genre has ever did. This is perhaps its greatest legacy – not even the screaming and demonic Death Metal bands did manage to be so convincing about the bad state and bad tastes of contemporary culture. Whoever states that today’s music is of any serious worth has perhaps never heard any Cream releases or perhaps he or she is just a prisoner of his own illusionary dreams. I attribute this tragic downfall mostly to the youths. Talkin' 'bout my generation, when compared to that of the 1960s revolutionary and idealist hippies, it seems to be suffering from an Huxleyan cultural bankruptcy. In today’s world, everyone seems to prefer to be trendy just for the sake of being trendy; which leads me to strongly agree with your argument that “the greatest stupidity in the world is when people prefer listening to modern music instead of listening to good music”. This world is totally Fugazi, but anyway, this is my generation, baby.
I am of the idea, however, that technological innovation had its say as well and to disregard its importance would be hazardous. Not that I am a technological determinist, but I am of the belief technology is one of those dominant factors that bring about change. As Christopher Evans put it, the computer was that machine that would 'world society at all levels', both for the good or for the bad. And regardless of his dangerous deterministic aura, for our purpose after all he might be right. Technology, or in our case the use of synths and related electronic devices, was one of the prime factors that forced the creation of both Progressive Rock and also of the Krautrock movement in Germany. The introduction of synths was in itself, a kind of microelectronic revolution in music. And for that I think that we should be thanking them forever. Imagine, for example, Tangerine Dream or Yes without synthesizers. But in the long run, like in the case of all the great innovations, it backfired. This is perhaps equivalent of what in economics we refer to as the principle of diminishing returns.
As Neil Postman wrote, contrary to the instrumental view of technology, ‘only those who know nothing if the history of technology believe that a technology is entirely neutral’. Jacques Ellul elaborated on this further by pointing out, 'technique carries with it its own effects quite apart from how it is used... No matter how it is used, it has of itself a number of positive and negative consequences. This is not just a matter of intention.' Moreover, Postman went on to argue that technology also has an autonomous or at least, a semi-autonomous will of its own. In his own words, 'Technique, like any other technology, tends to function independently of the system it serves. It becomes autonomous, in the manner of a robot that no longer obeys its master'. Elsewhere, Postman refers to this process as the Frankenstein Syndrome. In this sense, the Synth, is the Frankenstein of Rock Music, although the doomish sound that Tony Iommi introduced in Black Sabbath’s debut album was to produce more or less the same repercussions. This is not to say that Tony Iommi and some Klaus Schulze are to be held responsible for banality to have become music’s dominant supra-ideology of our times. This would be as ridiculous as stating that Karl Marx was responsible for the disasters of the Stalinist regime, or as blaming Nietzsche for the Nazi’s persecution of the Jews.
There are also, of course, economic considerations. Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today. Capital had also managed to make its way into music like it did in anything else. Therefore, it had to follow that also music and culture in general had to degenerate. Capital has eaten up like a fatal cancer the true worth of the value of man; let alone his artistic creations. This pretty much in line with the assertions that French social theorist Jean Baudrillard makes in his ‘Simulacra and Simulation’, that in many ways are also analogous to Herbert Marcuse's notion of one-dimensionality. Baudrillard, stated that art has become reified through a process of simulation in which the ‘real’ is replaced by the ‘hyperreal’. The real is created through conceptual or ‘mythological’ models which have absolutely no connection or origin in reality. Nevertheless, regardless of how hyperreal they may be, these models become the sole determinant through which we perceive reality - the real. Everything you can imagine becomes dictated by their ideal models presented through the media – which of course not exist in a vacuum because they are one of the greatest representatives of capitalism and consumer society. In this hyperreal scenario the boundaries between the simulation and reality break down – just like the distinctions between good music and modern music become blurred. Ricky Martin becomes a simulation of god showmanship; Paul Van Dyke a simulation of good musicianship; Oasis a simulation of The Beatles; and Maryln Manson out of the blues descends for the skies disguised as the Anti-Christ, though to me he seems more like a perfect incarnation of the 21st Century Schizoid Man.
And this, to borrow again some words from Neil Postman, only serve “to accommodate the values of show business.” Today, despite the freedom of the press of the so-called Western liberal democracy, the radio and television stations we have are rigidly controlled by a minority of dumb billionaires and transmit nothing but garbage. Our books, our music, our work and play are all looked after by the benevolent wisdom of the priests. Big Business is solely devoted in giving the public what it wants, or what it thinks it should have. In the music and the media industry there’s a lot of agenda setting going which imposes on us the false consciousness that we have no need for ancient ways the world is doing fine.
The future of music? Well, I am just 21 years old, but I am more pessimistic than you about this issue, especially on the wishful thinking of the discovery of ‘The New Beatles’. This is now reminding me of the discovery of that “strange device” we hear about in Rush’s 2112 – an other album on which we surely strongly disagree, especially on its title-track. I happen to love the Rush and particularly that epic to death. I am also very skeptical about the worth of the bands that came after the post punk generation, excluding of course, Neo-Progressive Rock bands like Arena, IQ, Pendragon and particularly Marillion. The latter bands at least make me partially disagree with you on the exhaustion of Progressive Rock’s possibilities; though I must also admit that in that argument there is some truth. Having said that, I must also inform you that I love Fish’s Marillion almost romantically – though to be fair I have also to add that with their first 4 albums I have had a pretty emotional connection going on for these last few years. But Marillion are an exceptional case, although after Fish’s departure they have been doing nothing but clutching at s straws, and they’re still drowning.
Perhaps I’m a melancholic man, but when I try to look ahead my eyes only see Starless and Bible Black. In many ways I feel like the old rocker who we hear about in Jethro Tull’s Too Old To Tock N’ Roll: Too Young To Die!. While epochs have changed quite a long time ago I am still living in the past. Perhaps this what makes me love that album so much; like the guy named Rudy in Supertramp’s Crime of the Century, it narrates the story of a character that I can easily associate myself with. I do follow bands like U2, The Cure, Radiohead, REM and most of all Dire Straits and Marillion – but these are just a few exceptions to the rule. Furthermore, those great bands of the 1970s, like Jethro Tull and Black Sabbath, that kept releasing dull records for the sake of production make me even more pessimistic. Longevity is not enough to convince me that they are still worthwhile. It’s been a long time since they rock n’ rolled. I have heard nearly all Black Sabbath’s recent releases for a couple of times for example, but honestly, I just can’t explain why that uncertain feeling is still here in my brain. Only Rush and certainly Camel seem to me to be among those few exceptions. To me the rest sound like they never get tired of running on the spot.
However, having said all this, I also believe that we two have a lot in common as well. Although at times we give different priorities to different bands, at least we are both Eighties' kids (I actually 90s; ain’t that a shame?!) who stayed away from the trends in order to follow previous musical epochs. And also we both get turned on when hearing Annie Haslam’s ‘DUUUUU!’ at the beginning of Renaissance’s Prologue. And that is something, isn’t it? Pity we do not seem to share the same feelings for Peter Hamill’s and Jon Anderson’s vocals. But anyway, we know what we like and we like what we know.
Plato once wrote that “when the modes of music change the walls of the city shake”. The walls of the city might be shaking, but certainly they aren’t rockin’ like they use to do. All in all, for the above reasons, I believe that Rock music has been forced into stasis a long time ago. Had John Miles known the direction that music had to take several years ahead of him, he would surely have rewritten some parts of the lyrics of his epic ‘Music’. I do not really see him as the type to fall in love with and get pulled through the music of the future. But anyway, I am not even looking forward much to hear some new form of music, because first off all I am not really much interested, and secondly I agree with you that the 1960s and the 1970s have produced enough records to satisfy a good music enthusiast for a lifetime. And since we did not exhaust all of those records, and neither did got sick of them, why do we need so much another Fab-Four to save our decade? Why should I care, why should I care?
And what about my future? Perhaps the future is uncertain and the end is always near. But well, why do I have to move with a crowd of kids that hardly notice I'm around? Frankly, I have no motivation whatsoever to work myself to death just to fit in. I guess that while I would still be accompanying my pals to their beloved all tomorrow’s parties, at some time or another I would certainly get myself a bear and end up in my car to listen to Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage to kill the boredom…. unless, of course, I manage to find a Catholic Girl or a Lucille to mess my mind up.
I've been meaning to send this comment on your essay 'Music: Where The Hell Is It Heading To Today?' for ages and ages, but your recent reappearance on the web finally inspired me to get my act together. I promise this isn't intended to try your patience: I wrote it because the points you made caused me to think and I wanted to share my view, closed comments section or no, and also because I appreciate and enjoy your website and wanted to give something back in discussion.
Firstly, I thought your comparison of the three 'musical revolutions' of Classical, Jazz and Pop/Rock was very interesting and, for the most part, very insightful too. However, the theory you presented about Rock Music being the unifying link between the Classical-born idea of music as high art and the Jazz-born idea of art for the people did not ring entirely true, at least in terms of how each trend has affected the state of music today.
Principally I think this is because you ignored the fact that, personal tastes aside, there are plain reasons to believe that these three trends are not (in practise) 'equal' forms of art. Whereas popular music relies almost entirely on melody, the heart of Classical composition is based on the relationship and development between melody and harmony that (though it is not literally a language) has enough formal structure to be thought of as a metaphorical language; one which must be understood to a certain level in order to properly appreciate its products. Rock music has great capacity for beauty and the application of skill but it is nonetheless fair to say 'good' Rock music cannot match 'good' Classical music as an achievement (and you could replace the 'good' in that statement with 'simple' or 'complex' in order to extend the argument). The gap between Rock and Jazz is much, much narrower but I think it is still true to say that there is a greater emphasis on technical ability in the former, one which is not really necessary for artistic success in the later. After all, none of the Beatles were virtuosos with their instruments (though perhaps their singing would qualify as such, I don't know enough about it to tell).
I'll say at once that this view is coming from someone who is far more interested in Rock music than I am in either Classical or Jazz, but I don't buy into relativism: there are objective reasons to say that Rock is not as accomplished a form of art as its predecessors. When you apply this to an examination of music's history and evolution it seems that each dominant phase in music has been progressively shallower than the last while simultaneously being broader. Jazz music was more exciting and easier to make than Classical music so more people did it, in turn Rock music was more exciting and easier to make than Jazz and so yet more people did that. You could argue that the next logical stage of this trend has appeared in the form of hip-hop, which strictly doesn't even require an instrument, just someone to make a beat and someone to rap over it.
My point here is that if you're looking for the direction of music today it's important to recognise that music has grown and continues to grow impoverished and increasingly separate from art. Rock did not cause this pitiable state of affairs but it did contribute, as punk, hip-hop and dance have all contributed in turn and it's hard to believe that this situation will be resolved simply by the advent of a new technology, the 'next' electric guitar so to speak, which will herald a new age of musical expression. This is because the problems facing music today are as much to do with mass-culture mentality as artistic capability.
Let me elaborate: for my money the next musical 'revolution' in the terms you describe it has already arrived with hip-hop. Certainly hip-hop is a relatively limited and primitive form of music (though personally I enjoy it a lot when it's done well) but simultaneously it's the most vibrant scene going today. Hip-hop commands enormous commercial success and has created a large audience that does not listen to music based on electric guitar, perhaps for the first time since the sixties. Dance music too has created its own scene, which in its own little way is also inarguably removed from rock music.
What do hip-hop and dance music share? Both carry themselves away from musicianship and formal theory, the use of melody and harmony etc, and towards accessibility and insta-gratification, most obviously represented by the increasingly dominant beat and rhythm. Both have short self-life. Dance music is pretty much exhausted already and hip-hop, while stable, has not developed meaningfully since it broke into the mainstream. Both represent the latest symptoms of popular music hurtling down towards a dead end.
If Rock music is indeed a 'link' I believe it acts as the link between the artistic and technical stresses of Jazz and Classical music and the excitement and accessibility of Hip-Hop and Dance. At the moment and for the foreseeable future the presence of Rock music's corpse is something to be celebrated, not despaired. Rock music today may be lacking in fundamental innovation but it still acts as the most artistic and interesting expression of popular music. Every year I discover new artists that fascinate me, and year it still amazes me how diverse Rock music continues to be. I couldn't honesty say that any of these artists do it better than The Beatles but at least the world is yet to be short of exciting musicians. Personally I find Rock revival acts like the Strokes far healthier than mindless trance music and so I'm happy they're around and making money. In a sense as long as I find artists whose music I'd be interested in you reviewing (hypothetically speaking) I do not worry too much about the state of music. Lets just not hold our breath that a massive commercial and artist revolution is just around the corner.
Lastly, I thought you made one of your most valid points when you identified Rock music's essentially parasitic nature; it's ability to marry itself with jazz, reggae, blues etc. Two things occurred to me after reading this: 1. Surely this very nature means that Rock music will never be entirely dead as long as there are new forms of music to attach itself to? Aren't Radiohead to Electronica-Rock what The Police were to Reggae-Rock? 2. Mightn't this characteristic also make it quite hard to identify truly original forms of music as long as the 'Rock-filter' exists to dilute them for the Mainstream? The Red Hot Chilli Peppers were making Rap-Rock back in the 1980s, Dance-Rock has enjoyed a surge recently too.
Anyway, I'm not going to speculate any further, I'm sure you've had enough. Once again I want to thank you for all the hard work you put into your site and let you know how much I enjoy reading your work.
George Starostin Replies:
Although the page is formally closed to comments (see below), I still posted this one because Ben does raise a few interesting points, I think, that have not been discussed previously. However, I also feel that the theory of the evolution of music as its gradual "simplification", even if we do not associate it with qualitative evaluation (i.e. "complex" = "good", "simple" = "bad" or at least "worse"), reflects only part of the truth. True, music is constantly being simplified, but that's one tendency. The other tendency is the opposite - to get more complex. Complex classical music gradually evolved out of simplistic folk structures. "Primitive" jazz grew into Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Boogie-woogie, at some point, became Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Electronica evolved from the effective, but simple loops of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream into the intricate webs of Autechre.
In other words (dialectics!), everything complex strives to become simple - and vice versa. So I wouldn't want to make one-sided predictions.
Where to start... I think it'd be wise to give an overview of the things you try to explain in your essay and the explanations you come up with. First and foremost, your essay tries to give a reason for the terrible state music is in today.
Simply stated, you write that today, music (rock music in particular) is doing bad, because, frankly, there is nothing new that can be done anymore, or, if we're lucky, there's nothing that can be done with rock music as we know it anymore. Contemporary artists, at least most of them, can't be anything but rip-offs of the old masters, since they're only repeating what they did, and so, in cases, old rock music is better than new rock music.
To explain how it's possible that rock died, you take a look at how music evolves and conclude that basically, all music dies after a period of time. En bref, there's a point that everything simply has been done and there is literally almost no new thing that can be done. When that happens, a new genre of music is "invented", aided by, for example, new harmonic ideas or new instruments. Rock reached the point of everything-having-been-done faster than either jazz or classical music, because simply, over the period that good rock music was made, this happened very intensively, more so than was the case with jazz and classical.
So far for the summary. I'll first go on and try to explain why I think those ideas don't aptly explain developments in music.
To start that off, let me ask the following question. If rock has exhausted it's possibilities, how come that there's nothing new? It can't be for a lack of new harmonic ideas or instruments: computers, while of course they make it possible to create horrible music like techno etc., have also brought a whole range of new sounds and possibilities to the musical world, and creative artists can (and have) use(d) this to make original and beautiful music. Still, we're complaining... because well, there's still no replacement for rock (as rock was a replacement for jazz to the masses) after all these years. It appears that mere exhaustion of possibilities can't account for what's happened.
So obviously, new ideas and new instruments (new possibilities) aren't the only things that are needed. I believe that, in your analysis, you've placed way too much emphasis on the matter of musical "exhaustion". Let's take a look at how and why new music is created.
Music is a form of expression. It's clear then, that a new form of music is created when the need to express something arises. I agree with you that this would happen when a certain genre of music is exhausted, but more importantly, this also happens when the thing you want to express changes. For example, the blues wasn't invented just because the slaves in the U.S. couldn't think of anything else to play in the music they played before the blues, but because there was something they wanted to express (the blues.. pain, anguish, waddever) that wasn't there before. Punk music could only develop because there were changes in the social condition (mostly in Britain's working class) and the youngsters wanted to express their discontent with their lives, which wasn't there (in that form) before - the mere fact that people couldn't think of anything new to play in pre-punk rock also doesn't account for why the new genre people came up with was punk, and not, for all I care, electro.
The same goes for classical music. Romantic classical music wasn't created because baroque or waddever was exhausted, but because the things the composers wanted to express changed. Same for jazz too. It started out as "entertainment", but sooner or later, the artists wanted to do different stuff.
So, it's not at all certain to me that rock is exhausted at all. Changes in music have occurred because of different reasons than that in the past (reasons related to wanting to express different things). Therefore there might be different reasons than mere exhaustion for the fact that there's no good music around these days, too.
In fact, I believe there *must* be other reasons than exhaustion, because there is really no lack of new possibilities, and so, no need for exhaustion. As I said, computers have seen to that. The real question is why there are so few creative geniuses out there who use those possibilities in a good way to make beautiful music.
I believe the answer to this is that this is because of the social and cultural changes we've seen since the 60s. Art itself, not just music, has become something underrated and something considered useless (that is: without any intrinsic value), judged only by it's economic value (e.g. Andy Warhol: something is art when I create it, and good art is what people say is good art -> good art is defined by the number of people who want it, that is, its demand, and therefore its price).
Postmodernism has destroyed the thought of art being anything specific, of there being a definition or goal of art. Everything we want can be art, and therefore, there's no specific need to make art 'beautiful' (I yield, whatever that may mean). And that's why there's no longer any good music. Music has been degraded to mere entertainment, and the primary reason for the existence of music, the will to expres yourself, is seen as something "unnecessary".
The same goes for every other kind of art. Ever been to the Museum of Modern Art in New York? While there's a few really beautiful things there, there's also a lot that can only be justified by the "art = anything" doctrine. Note that I'm not just blaming it on Britney and commercial teen music: you said somewhere, correctly, that there's always been commercial music. The difference is that nowadays, there's no will to make anything but that. Unlike before, we now live in a time in which art is completely synonymous with entertainment, in which there are absolutely no thoughts on what good art ought to be. This is, for a large part, the fault of "artists" (dare I call, for example, the aforementioned Andy Warhol and his associates artists?) themselves.
I believe, fortunately, that this is slowly changing, mostly because of personal experiences... I know a lot of young artists in the jazz scene who can, and want to, make absolutely astonishing new things. The good thing is that this isn't just jazz - it's heavily influenced by fusion, and so, there might be a little future for rock left out there, if people realise that there *is* in fact a good reason to make music beautiful, and to see music as an artform.
Well, I hope you found that somewhat interesting... please note that it wasn't ment as an outright attack of your essay. I agree with you that contemporary rock music is *stupid*, that old music is better, etc., I just don't agree completely with your claim that this is because the music's been exhausted (I don't believe this is a apt way of explaining the situation), and so, I also don't rule out the possibility that there might be new and original rock music on a large scale in the future, provided that "some social/cultural stuff" changes.
This page is now closed to reader comments
It's time to make a short resume now. I won't accept any new comments for this essay from now on (unless you come up with something ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT to make me gape) because I feel the readers are already running out of ideas themselves and keep repeating the same accusations over and over. Still, I had fun penning all these replies, and I think the discussion was great. My great thanks to everybody who contributed, even the flamers. And here are some final conclusions from me:
1. Once again, I deeply apologize if I've offended your favourite band from the Nineties. I repeat that the point of the essay was never to really humiliate post-Sixties music. There has been a lot of good music written after 1975, and a good deal of GREAT music, even; just because as of now I haven't yet gotten around to reviewing it doesn't mean that I don't respect it or love it. If it can console you, I love the Police and the Talking Heads. I am deeply moved by a lot of REM songs. I have a profound respect for U2. Elvis Costello is a vastly intelligent being and a master of pop hooks. I even get my kicks out of Sonic Youth, hell, even the Swans might do. And the Ramones? Wow, now that was a fun band at one time! The Clash wrote some excellent material too, now if it just weren't so monotonous... eh... sorry.
Anyway, I repeat: the main point of the essay was this - rock music as a genre, as an enormous, rich, independent subdivision of MUSIC is past its prime. I don't see what's so offensive about the idea. Many, many genres of art are past their prime - you wouldn't want to argue that baroque, or drama, or Gothic architecture, or, hell, Sierra adventure games are past their prime? Same goes with rock music.
2. As long as you don't think about it, everything's all right, because with a little luck, one can find lots of good bands today; my difference is that I was trying to take a little peep into the world of tomorrow, when all these bands that we consider good today will wither and die out (because their only use was to provide some immediate entertainment), and the bands that were more original and broke new ground, both in the technical and philosophical and emotional sense, will survive.
What I mean to say is that many of the readers just didn't get my initial presuppositions. I completely understand their point of view when they say "why the hell are you so bothered with originality?" Their presupposition is: "music must please". This essay was written with a narrower presupposition: "music must please and music must last". In fact, this whole site is made according to this presupposition - if you wish, every review here is written with an initial presupposed question: 'does this particular album have a hope of lasting through the years?" or "what sides of this album are unique enough to make it worth being saved for the future?" This doesn't mean that I consider the broader presupposition "music must please" wrong, harmful, stupid, or anything like that. It's just a different presupposition, with different things to come out of it, and this site is not based on it.
3. I am perfectly willing to admit that there is one serious personal flaw here: I am, indeed, biased towards the Sixties, if only because I was initially raised on Sixties' music. The Beatles were my first band, and I'm used to judging everything by Beatles' standards which, quite naturally, can be a rather cruel thing. (I think I'm slowly getting cured of that illness, though - just look how quickly I'm raising my prog-rock ratings!). But note that I wasn't a Sixties kid; I was an Eighties' kid (sure there was the Iron Curtain too, but heck, Sixties' rock material was no easier to come by in the Eighties than Eighties' rock material). Sure my parents were Sixties' kids, but so were your parents. The only difference was: I stayed away from trends and I stayed away from the radio (well, there wasn't no rock radio in the SU anyway).
So if it is advisable for me to overcome the Sixties bias, it is all the more advisable for all you guys to overcome the biases of your childhood - which everybody has in spades, of course. I mean, why is Mark Prindle so hot about all that hardcore crap (sorry Mark)? Why is Nick Karn so hot about all those ridiculous metal bands (sorry Nick)? Why is Rich Bunnell so hot about generic synth-pop (sorry Rich)? Well, they grew with 'em, and they'll probably have to wait until they're forty or so to balance the situation. I understand why they, and others, are so particular about certain kinds of post-Sixties music: it is their music, and they naturally take it to heart when some obsessive dork like me comes up and seems to say: "forget it, guys, it's all derivative crap, why don't you listen to the good stuff instead?" (which I certainly don't say - at least, it's not really that way). I know how it is: I'm just a bizarre guy who doesn't feel the need to soak in contemporary culture (even if it's decent-quality culture) as long as he can soak in older culture of superior quality (did that sound pretty pretentious? Forget it, there's more!)
4. Lastly, I think some of the readers here seem to have grasped the impression of me as a sad, bitter and pessimistic person (or a "wannabe rockstar", or any other crap like that). WRONG. I do feel sad about the state of today's culture, but I don't think it's necessarily come to a dead end. Who knows what the future holds in store? Not me. We just need to get away from conservative patterns and ugly commercialization of everything, people (which is a hard task, but a possible one), and then everything will be all right. Love your neighbour, in other words - these darn hippies might have been sissies, pussies and wusses, but don't you think they had something going there?
And to conclude, don't fear - eventually, I will get around to reviewing solid amounts of newer material, and you'll be surprised at how much "newer" music I actually enjoy and rate rather high. I'm just being a little hindered with those MP3 reviews, but everything will be there in due time. In the meantime - open up your mind, people, be eclectic, try to love the good sides of both Black Sabbath and Renaissance, eat, drink, and be merry. And don't forget what I said about those different presuppositions. That's the key to the problem. That's the key, consarnit!
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