Poll of a Billion Monkeys

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Exchange - Why Modern Music Sucks

The Exchange - Why Modern Music Sucks


A couple of weeks back I went to the library. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular to read or listen to, just sort of browsing. I went by the music section to pick up some Opera and Art music, probably Verdi and Bach. My love affair with modern and popular music waned a long time ago as music began to decline, but occasionally I’ll still listen to stuff from earlier eras of even modern stuff just to see what it sounds like. I got a truly fantastic CD by the Squirrel Nut Zippers called Ballroom Bedlam that I highly recommend, but that’s a tale for another day. And my personal newsletter.

Anyhow while at the popular shelf I saw a CD called Hits of the Seventies and another called Greatest Hits of the Eighties. In my opinion neither CD had the greatest hits of those eras but the music included as tracks for the seventies was nearly all good, and there were a couple of stand out tracks on the eighties collection.

So I checked them out along with the new copy of Handel’s Messiah I got my hands on and went home and listened to both CDs. While I was listening I began to think to myself that popular music from the seventies and part of the eighties was vastly superior to most of the stuff produced nowadays and I began to wonder exactly why that was. I’ve always known this to be true and it’s why I don’t listen to local music radio stations anymore, just music off the satellite. But I began to really wonder if I could formulate real reasons for why the popular music produced 30 years ago was so much superior to the popular music currently produced. So I began to think on the matter and soon the seventies disk was over. So I put on the eighties disk and the very first song was an old song entitled Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles. Now I liked that song when I was younger but while listening to it this time I was suddenly struck by just how good the song was, and what it was really saying. Then I had an epiphany of sorts about popular music, then, and now. And slowly it began to take shape in my mind the exact reasons why modern music sucks so badly. Viciously really. Like an 8 lb. Oreck.

The first reason, and this is blatantly obvious if you stop to think of it for just a moment or two, is exactly what the Buggles’ song was speaking of. Video, and video music, and video images make it possible for supposed musical talent to fake being a real musician. Whereas in the past everyone in a band could play at least one instrument, everyone could read music, even if only in shortcut form, and everyone had exposure to making music personally, nowadays you don’t have bands, or musicians, you have singers, and acts. Music is no longer the important function of being a musician, performance is. Video has made it possible for acts to survive on appearance alone, devoid of anything any past age would recognize as in any way resembling real musical talent. Singing and dancing are the new music. Sounds and noises are the new tones. Squeals and raps are the new lyrics. Bitching and moaning is the new art. Thank God music has finally arrived.

Prepackaged individuals whose only real musical talent, if you can call it that, is singing and maybe dancing (often not) have debased music from the playground of the musician, professional or amateur, to the jungle of the entertainer. And the entertainer is always a professional, even when it is obvious he is not. Because video is like stage magic, it doesn’t rely upon the actual physical skill of the magician to make real things happen (in this case music), it relies upon the ability of the magician to deceive the audience into thinking something real is happening. And baby does it work. Because very, very little real popular music has been made since about 1985, but the way people lick up any old piece of auditory crap nowadays you would think they were starving to ingest a scurvy infested turd. But I can’t really blame em too much because turds and words is what passes for music nowadays, and the music industry is more than happy to hock what will hang in a dry wind. Why go to all the trouble of recruiting talented bands and real musicians when you can hire some guy who can dance and sing and all of your troubles are taken care of? Besides entertainers are a lot easier to promote because the entertainer has a natural talent for self-promotion that few real musicians possess. And then again if you are a performer and entertainer and you know that your shot at stardom is gonna come on stage, and not from any musical skill, then why bother to learn music? Your time is much better spent learning dance moves and vocal tricks. Real musicians don’t become American Idols, entertainers do. And that’s what the modern audience expects and wants, an entertainer. The music industry has pushed that kinda crap for so long that nobody much remembers what the real thing looks like anymore. A musician today is 9 parts entertainer, 1 part musician. And music nowadays is 90% performeration, and 10% imitation.

But aside from the fact that so few popular acts nowadays have any real musical talent at all, much less know anything about music; you also have the vexing problem of versatility. There is none. All acts today produce a million different versions of the same song, in the same type or category of music in which they will always produce the same kind of music they will during their entire careers. In other words you just play the same tune and sing the same song over and over again and vary the dancers and video images. This is related to the fact of the Balkanization of musical genres nowadays, a subject I’ll get to in a moment, but for right now let me just say that the lack of versatility and flexibility on the part of modern musicians (and every time I use this term in this article I feel more and more like I’m prostituting the word, making a whore of music so that the musician may eat cake) is a sort of microcosm of the entire musical industry. A band makes metal death hardcore split spine incest apathy tunes and that’s all they will ever make, metal death hardcore split spine incest apathy tunes. A performer makes R&B tracks, and she couldn’t even conceive of writing her own songs, much less of remaking an old bluegrass song. A gangsta rappa puts his pile on the streets, day after day, but he couldn’t imagine writing or performing a love ballad. I guess he’s afraid that if he smiled his face might stick like that. It’s juvenile of course, this calcification of musical categorization.
But that’s the Age of the Reptiles in which we live. It can’t last forever like that of course, but for now the dinosaurs walk again, and few seem willing to ask them what comes after the approaching Ice Age. Fewer still want to know. But you just don’t say this kind of thing in public, that the emperor has no clothes, that it takes a village of record producers to make a single idiot, and that the modern listener hears angel harps while Nero fiddles. But they do. Either because they want it that way, or because they are just too damned ignorant to know any better. The good news kids is that this generation of musically skill-less performers will die off. Nature will take care of that even if talent won’t. The better news is that their audience will either grow up one day, or die off too. It’s an even fifty-fifty as far as I can read it right now.

(To be continued…)

© JWG, Jr. 2006

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