(Issue #20 - 2006-08-26)
I know I am getting old, I know I am getting isolated, but damn if I can't find much music that's worth shit today. People who know me think I am cranky and cantankerous, and I am in my way, but at my heart I am a hopeless optimist. Here is the truth: I am not bitter and jaded, I just say what I think. In music, as with all things, I have pretty relaxed tastes. I'm open for almost anything to grab my attention and impress me, any genre or style. So why is there so little that I find worthwhile in music?
I don't pretend to have an answer, but here are some of the symptoms. Number one in my book is commercialism. It seems like everyone wants to be in a band because they think it will bring fame, fortune, success in love or some other crap. No-one is playing music because they simply have to, because there is something inside them that has to be expressed or because they love to perform. The ONLY way music will be good is if the performer loves the music first.
Let's get something straight. You WILL NOT make any money as a musician. This means you. All of you. You will get hit by a meteor or killed by a terrorist (both as likely) before you make money as a musician. This does not mean that some people get rich as musicians. It only means that it will not be you, or me. You may have what you think is success, you may play some big shows, sell 20,000 records and get a big head. Even if this happens, you still won't make any money. I know people with this sort of track record, and they are poor like me. Not that it isn't nice to make 20,000 dollars one year of your life in a band, but a union plumber makes three times that, and they make it every year, not just one year. Being poor isn't bad, I love my life, but I want to make it clear that you will NEVER make money being in a band. If that's why you're doing it, stop now. Please. If that's why you're doing it, your band sucks anyway.
Another thing: style. Oh my fucking god. Having a tattoo isn't punk rock. Having a nose ring isn't punk rock, holding a guitar isn't punk rock. When 35 million teenage girls on myspace are doing the same thing, it is mainstream. Normal. Suburban. Any other hideous cliché of boring mundane life that music is trying to transcend. Good music comes from some exceptional point of view, and eyeliner and loud chords are no longer enough.
Good music must be original or inspired by some depth of understanding. All good music is by nature rebellious, because it changes us, moves us or confronts us. Bad music is the repetition of the status quo. All black, two guitars and angst-filled lyrics about a girl ripping out your heart or how war is bad but I still like my air conditioning is normal. It's boring. Swearing reflexively, homophobia, misogyny and racism for shock value is boring and normal. It's what everyone does. The US has this massive cash machine of pre-packaged individualism. It's not even funny to repeat the "we are all individuals" mantra any more. Music made in the name of pre-packaged individualism, warped tours, shoe endorsements and the petty vandalism of teenagers drunk on six-dollar beers is boring and bad. Stop sending it to me.
Good music will not be heard by many people. The population at large can like good, original music - I think the White Stripes and Green Day and Christina Aguilara are great - but they are just as happy with total crap. Good music simply says "here I am," and lets you take it or leave it. Have you heard of the Brokedowns or Power Struggle or Hickey? Well, if you're reading this, probably, but most people have not. Most people who send me music or have posted a band listing on byofl.org have not heard of them or heard of anything. Even if these sorts of bands are unheard, they are still great bands.
Good bands do not have publicists, viral marketing, slick videos shot on 35mm, headshots or endorsements. Ok, some good music does manage to slip into the mainstream, but as a rule of thumb, any one of these items guarantees that the music is bad. If you have a publicist, stop playing music. Please. Go to work for the law firms that represent big tobacco. You're going to do that anyway in three to seven years, so save the world the trouble of first having to suffer through your awful music.
I've been working on an idea for a website with a woman named Saturday, who runs a site called 'Earn it yourself.' I think she and I are in total agreement that there is no shortcut to getting your music recorded and published or somehow put into the mass of popular culture. If you are playing music and you cannot come up with the 1,000 dollars needed to put out your CD (that's $250 each for a four-piece - less than you spend on cigarettes and Internet porn in a year) and you are unwilling to burn a CDR or get your music out there by any means necessary, then your music sucks. Really, it does. If you cannot put enough energy into your music to do the things that go with making music: performing and recording, then your music is no good and you already know it yourself. Please stop sending me your CDs.
Look, this is an impossibly random mishmash of complaints and rants, but I know that there is good music out there. It might be dance music, hip hop, punk rock or singer-songwriter, but it's good. The people who make it are honest or crazy or both. They take PCP and have sex with the wrong gender in the streets. They threaten and enchant and terrify. They might even just make good songs, competently played, with a love for what they're doing. They might be air guitar champions of the world. Those bands, they're what I haven't heard enough of. I want you to send me your CDs. I want you to write me a long handwritten rant about riding the subway drunk when you send me your CD. I want to see these bands play and have everyone in the audience call them fags and scream at them to get off the stage - everybody but me and a handful of other outcasts and rebels.
Please, send me your music!
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