Monday, January 27, 2014

The Grammys and the Sorry State of Modern Music

I watched the 56th Grammy Awards Show last night on TV, but not because I was interested in the show in any way, shape, or form. I never watch the Grammys or any of these award shows. They're simply a way for the film, music, and television industries to showcase their perpetual self-importance and self-righteousness to the rest of the country (and the world) and to congratulate themselves on their work, sales or critical reception be damned. The only reason I tuned in was to see Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney perform; Ringo performed "Photograph" with his backing band (which included Peter Frampton on this night!) and Paul performed "Queenie Eye" with his band, which included Ringo sitting in on a second drum kit. Beyond that, I just flipped channels back and forth to catch those performances...I wasn't interested in anything else. However, I did follow along on Twitter and read the news stories this next morning about who attended, who won what, and who performed. 

One thing I noticed right away is that I had very little, if any, idea of who the new artists who performed and won awards were. In some cases I'd heard the names but had never heard the songs. In other cases, I'd never even heard the names. Part of this can be attributed the generation gap, I guess, although I'm only 33 years old. I did recognize a lot of people there who I simply have no interest in (such as Jay-Z, Beyonce, Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Yoko Ono etc). The people I recognized were mainly the ones I myself am fans of, whether they performed, were up for awards, presented awards, or were simply in the audience: Paul and Ringo, Peter Frampton, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Willie Nelson, etc. What is the one thing all of them have in common?

THEY'RE OLD!

I don't mean that to be pejorative; I mean it to point out something that shows just how lousy the modern music industry really is. Yes, I was happy to see Paul McCartney win all five awards he was nominated for, I was happy that Black Sabbath won an award, I was thrilled Paul and Ringo collected the Lifetime Achievement Award for the Beatles. Beyond being happy for who I liked, it struck me that there is a huge dichotomy in the current mainstream music scene: those that make music for the art of it, and those who are in it (or manipulated into it) for a fast profit. Not only that, there was very little middle ground there between the classic rockers of the 1960s and 70s and the current peddlers of pop garbage active today. Where were any bands or musicians from even my own generation of the 1980s and 90s, many of whom are rightfully held in as high esteem as their forebears from the 60s and 70s? Modern music celebrates the legends of the first wave of rock music for their monumental contributions, and then gladhands itself for churning out mindless pop pap to teenagers and college kids by "artists" who have little or no discernible talent and are in the business solely for the money and not the art. The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Willie Nelson, and others are still revered nearly fifty years after they began their careers; will anyone even care about Miley Cyrus or Macklemore in five years, let alone fifty?

Maybe it's because I'm a musician myself and am usually pretty critical and snobby about what I like to listen to, but when there are still a LOT of great bands and musicians from more recent generations, from the 80s and 90s up through the early part of this century who maybe aren't selling millions of records...oops, I mean downloads...but who are releasing high quality albums and touring everywhere, why are these artists ignored so that the Grammys can award someone with no talent whose autotuned vocals play over a pre-programmed computerized backing a trophy for peddling this soulless and uninteresting crap to the lowest common denominator of "music fans?" Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh and sounding a little too much like a crotchety old man, but today's pop music is to music what aspartame is to sugar: a poor substitute for the real thing. But aspartame at least approximates the taste of sugar (slightly) and can be enjoyable at times, so it's got that going for it. Today's popular "tunes" don't even come close to real music. If you plucked a musician or even just a music fan from the blues and jazz era of the 1930s and 1940s, or a rock or folk musician from the 1960s, and transported them instantly to 2014 with only the popular music charts and Grammy awards to go by, they'd look around and wonder what the hell happened.

Good music is still out there, performed by men and women ranging from their teens all the way to their golden years...you'd just never know it going by the mainstream. It used to be the mainstream; now you've got to dig, and dig a lot, a lot to find it. But it's there. Think of it like the underground resistance in The Matrix films, pluckily fighting against the monolithic industry that has ruined everything.

Frank Zappa once said in the 1970s that "jazz isn't dead...it just smells funny." Well, in 2014, rock isn't just dead, it's dust in the wind at this point.

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