October 25, 2003

One more time:

Same as it ever was,
or deep decadent decline?

I don't think there's much question that
popular music is in bad shape... in fact,
isn't it interesting that there isn't
that much question that something *has*
been lost?

You might take a line like
"it's all just a matter of
taste, if you like it you
like it, what right have we
to judge?"

But whenever we're confronted
with the hit of the moment, we
know immediately that we're
not looking at another
Doors, Who, or Airplane let       Or even a
alone another Beatles.            Talking Heads.        Or a Billie
         Clearly some things
         are very different.

                     The music industry is now capable
                     of manufacturing pre-fab megahits
                     (Britany, etc)... *but* these have
                     no staying power.                     No one cares about
                                                           "New Kids on the
                     But the recording labels make         Block" now that
                     most of their money on their          they're old.
                     back catalog, and their
                     current mega-hits will never
                     be worth anything in later

                        They've dug themselves into
                        a serious hole: they can make
                        a lot of money, but they need
                        to spend a lot of money to do
                        it, and *all* of their return
                        on that investment has to happen

                                         This is their central trouble:
                                         internet file-trading is just
                                         not having that big an effect on
                                         their bottom line -- at least
                                         not yet.

Walking around in                             (Note: written in 2003.)
public, I hear a lot
of very retro-music:
20 to 30 years old.
It really wasn't like
[his back when that
music was new.  If
you went out to a bar
in 1975, you did not              Caveat: there *was* the
hear Frank Sinatra on             musak plague of the
the jukebox.                      70s.  For those of you
                                  who are uninitiated,
In the 60s, (and to               Musak was a company
*some extent* in the              that claimed to have
70s and 80s) it was               scientifically designed
possible* for                     a format of                 You couldn't
authentic, creative               easy-listening              go out to a
music to get a major              wallpaper in the form       supermarket in
label contract.                   of symphonic versions       the 70s
                                  of popular songs.           without
Major labels were willing                                     drowning in
to experiment with                   Though I guess in        Musak.  Now
different trends in the              these post-"Kronos       you're more
hopes of *discovering* the           Quartet" days this       likely to hear
next big thing (rather               is standard procedure    a "light rock"
than manufacturing it).              in the "classical"       station.
                                     world, e.g. symphonic
                                     "tributes" to Black
Disco, 70s punk, and new             Sabbath.
wave were *all* picked up and
pushed by the majors though             I'm skeptical of
sometimes -- often? --                  this trend, but
without much in the way of              still, the worst
return on their investment.             of these are much
                                        better than Musak
   So they gave up.                     was.

      Columbia is not going
      to be discovering any
      more Leonard Cohens.

          It looks like something is
          fundamentally broken in
          our culture.

             The music sucks because most people really
             don't care about it very much, which in
             itself might not be much of a problem, but
             they don't seem to care a lot about much of
             anything else either.

  Of course, this is the
  standard geezer lament:

    Gee, back in our day were we really as
    stupid as the kids are now?  We were
    certainly pretty stupid, but aren't
    they even worse now?

         Call me self-deluded if you like,
         but I think they've finally
         achieved perma-stupid.

            But then there's a possibility that
            future decades will look back on
            this era as a passing phase, a "New
            Fifties": Lost in xenophobia; a
            dangerous lack of respect for core
            civic values (freedom, democracy);
            pop culture stagnant, creativity
            driven way underground...  Thank god
            decades are only ten years long, eh?