Saturday, April 4, 2009

THE VAMPIRE THEORY OF ROCK AND ROLL


Nobody knows exactly when or where rock and roll started, but it’s probably a good bet that it started at the crossroads in Mississippi where blues legend, Robert Johnson, made his pact with the Devil. There are many variations on this theme as all great origin myths deserve. One describes how Johnson was directed to arrive at midnight at a plantation crossroads where the Dark Stranger tuned his guitar. In another version, he was given a guitar by the father of all agents and learned how to play like a demon in just one night while sitting on top of a gravestone in a local cemetery. What we do know from Johnson’s contemporaries who described his amazing, seemingly overnight talent and success, and his surviving masterpiece recording are enough evidence to speculate on a supernatural origin for his unique skill. Whatever actually happened, the Faustian bargain certainly informed a lot about music industry business models ever since. But what’s more important is that rock and roll has always been informed by a death wish probably since it’s an adolescent music at heart that is uncertain about mortality, but as foolishly daring as a teenage driver with a fast car.

The first recording with the actual title, “Rock and Roll”, was released by the Boswell Sisters in 1934. Hardly a rhythmic cousin inspired by the long snake moan of the Delta Blues, this trio’s song spreads the message in a big band, pop setting, but the meaning is still clear despite it’s white bread, if swinging delivery. It’s still all about sex even though drugs and electrification would arrive later. Rock and Roll takes a cue from the industry standard of “farewell tours” in that, its death has been exaggerated and proclaimed many times from early cynics like Frank Sinatra and Steve Allen. The former loudly denigrated rockers as lowlifes, miscreants, traitors, and troglodytes. He especially singled out The Beatles who he called “creeps” and cultural enemies of the state—though he was later to repent with a rather flaccid cover of “Something”. Steve Allen famously tried his best to cut the young upstart rock and roll down to size by humiliating Elvis Presley during an early TV appearance when he had the King sing “Hound Dog” to a real dog set on a pedestal.

They were not alone in the 50’s when “concerned” parent groups, white “citizen’s councils” and other community organizations attempted to alert families to the dangers of this musical form which created juvenile delinquents and whose connections to African Americans and the sensual abandon of jazz were clearly outrageous game changers. Nobody could have predicted what was to come despite early warnings like the West African beat of Bo Diddley. You didn’t have to drum along to the “bump de bump, bump, bump, bump” to add the grind to the recipe and realize that this music was all about the beat and like a jungle telegraph echoed its earlier tribal origins.

Maybe the white status quo sensed that this revolutionary music of slaves and field hands like the great American 20th century poet, Muddy Waters, could lead somehow to overturn the Establishment—their instincts were correct given rock and roll’s eventual cutting of a swath from the Delta through to America’s blackboard jungles, urban sprawl and a neo-tribalistic sequence of youth mutations of sock-hops, boogeying in the back of mom and dad’s car and at the drive-in, screaming Beatles fans, love-ins at Monterey and Woodstock, fan sites, Hip Hop culture successfully invading the suburban mall, and web rings, and Band MySpace pages.

Even the attempted co-opting of rock and roll by safe, white singers like Pat Boone, for example, who hijacked Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” , divesting it of its undulating, native rhythms and innuendo (“Got a gal named Sue, she knows just what to do”) was only a blip. Disco was another Barbarian at the Gates which ultimately failed to take its mantle and actually inspired post MC5 punk, and was ceremoniously served its own funeral pyre at a disco record burning at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1976. In a frightening reprise of 50’s censorship and parental concern, the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Council) spearheaded by drummer and Vice Presidential spouse, Tipper Gore, was successful in providing convenient labels for popular music to point out its incipient dangers to parents too lazy to listen to the lyrics themselves. Rock and roll survived the labeling system and other vain efforts to stop the beat of time.

Who killed rock and roll, then? Well, like its historical collateral damage of multiple rock and roll suicides, it actually succumbed to self-immolation like a speeding kamikaze guitar run—not in a grand crescendo of Marshall stacks feeding back overamped to 11 with smoke bombs and drums thrilling in deafening splendor—but in greed, naiveté, and most of all, as the result of a generational shift. The beginning of the end was actually in 1968. It was in that year that The Doors decided to sell “Light My Fire” to Buick as a soundtrack for a car commercial. It not only was a source of contention between Jim Morrison and the other three band members—because Jim didn’t want to do it—but the start of a lethal love affair between Madison Avenue and its musical concubine. It was Advertising that killed the Beast.

If Mad Ave killed rock and roll, then MTV was the nail in the coffin. The idea of “music” television may have sounded like a good idea at the time because the inmates had never run the asylum. Rock and roll was always an embarrassment in the television of the 50’s and 60’s. Shows like “Hullabaloo” and “Shindig” suffered from producers and network executives doing too much frugging at clubs with go-go girls and having bad acid experiences that became the TV light shows of op-art, fisheye, multiple single-frame, swirling psychedelia of wall paper surrounding recording artists of the day. Rock was certainly the wicked stepchild of the musical arts. It always seemed to be introduced as the embarrassing poseur, and black sheep of the family—which it was proudly when it worked well.

Ed Sullivan
opened up the television stage in what seemed to be a genuine commercial desire to connect with music of all kinds—but the network censors did their best to emasculate bands like The Doors—who infamously did not change the word “higher” in their performance of “Light My Fire” and The Rolling Stones, eventually to become one of rock’s billion dollar conglomerates who did, in fact, change the lyrics to “Let’s Spend The Night Together”, by substituting “some time” in lieu of “the night”. Maybe the art of negotiation made them a better business proposition in the long term. As they say, "you can’t always get what you want."

But, creating visual interpretations by twenty-something, music video “directors” is dodgy because it eliminates the primary experience that is the salient feature of music as an art form. Music videos substitute a visual interpretation that is often quite literal or at the other end of the spectrum, totally contrived, as a substitute for the listener coming to terms with their own experience as it connects with what a song is saying. They were also blatant commercials to upsell records. When The Beatles did early videos for songs like “I Am The Walrus” from “The Magical Mystery Tour”, and “All You Need Is Love”, there was a purity and charm to them because they were unpremeditated and seemed almost like afterthoughts.

The other danger factor was pointed out to me once during a conversation with Frank Zappa just after MTV came on the scene. “How did MTV change music, Frank?” I asked. Without losing a beat, the Maestro intoned, blowing out a plume of smoke, “It turned musicians into models.”

It also had the effect of connecting popular music more directly with the advertisers who would be its nemesis. While it was a rarity for rock and roll to infiltrate the province of Madison Avenue jingles and Hollywood soundtracks, that began to change as rock and roll, itself, became less of a movement and more of a business. Its mass appeal could no longer be denied as it became newsworthy when colorful, Dionysian multitudes grew to attend festivals and stadiums. Even the gold and platinum standards for record sales had to be adjusted higher to accommodate increased audiences for the category. Movie executives were also smoking dope and doing the Swim, and started catering to yuppie audiences with nostalgic, Motown-infused soundtracks replacing or augmenting original motion picture scores. Like music videos, some movies such as “The Big Chill” leaned far too heavily on conveying emotional weight by literally using “The Weight” instead of dialogue and character to drive story structure.

In the 50’s and 60’s, rock and roll wasn’t really a business yet because it was easy to deny. I remember a visit with Little Richard at his house which had been at the Hyatt on Sunset for many years. He proudly displayed his gold records to my brother and me, and remarked that they were the first he’d ever received. This was in 1995. The rip-offs of seminal artists like Richard, Chuck Berry, and others who were denied royalties or entered into bad deals is now the stuff of history with some reparations made, usually through court settlements. Contracts in the 60’s looked like they were signed with a pen in one hand and a joint in the other. I watched “Monterey Pop” recently with my kids who are 8 and 15 and saw that—through their eyes and questions—that it was almost like viewing an ethnographic documentary. It all looks so naive and innocent, and many of the musicians were, too, with respect to the business side of music.

I’ve worked with D.A. Pennebaker on a number of projects who with Richard Leacock and also with the Maysles were largely responsible for cinema verite style of film making. Pennebaker is also well known for his great documentary, “Don’t Look Back”, which documented Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England. When I was clearing the video rights for “Don’t Look Back” and “Monterey Pop” as well as on another project for the 20th anniversary of Woodstock, I had to reference the original artist contracts. Jimi Hendrix’s contract for Monterey was signed by his lawyer and most likely never seen by him. The Who were paid $2500 for their Woodstock performance, and were only among several who insisted—and actually got paid for the celebrated free festival. Although he was the first artist to be paid a hundred-thousand dollars for one concert, Jimi left only twenty-thousand when he died. Tom Petty talks about when, as a teenager, he first signed with MCA Records and didn’t understand how books entered into it when he saw the clause about “publishing”. He had the courage and fortitude to eventually sue to get his royalty earnings from publishing, but many such sagas do not share such a happy ending. Even if artists were not paying a lot of attention to deal terms, there were a lot of record company executives, managers, shysters, agents, interlopers, and operators who were.

It was only natural that rock and roll became an industry in the 80’s fueled by cocaine, hookers and other fresh marketing tactics that innovated from the original 50's payola techniques. But most of all, it was the introduction of the CD format that changed the business model. And why shouldn’t it have? Imagine the first meeting where the concept was tendered: “I want to replace vinyl with this!” (Holds up disc which glints like gold in the Hollywood sunlight streaming through the high windows). “What is that?” “It’s plastic. The total cost is going to be about $2.50 to manufacture and including all your distribution and marketing costs! And guess what? We can mark it up as much as 100%! And it will create a whole new market for players, too!” The executive probably was cynical at first, especially at the low cost, but the rest is history as we replaced our collection with an audiophile digital version—even though “Who’s Next” still sounds better on vinyl.

Inevitably, in a lesson that Wall Street should have paid attention to, greed caught up. The Industry now only consists of several major labels left standing or somewhat tottering worldwide in a landscape of thousands of independent labels, a new singles business invented by iTunes, Limewire, MySpace fan pages, Mac garage band, and Amazon downloads. The Internet broke the bank with the Napster peer-to-peer sharing model and a generation that took piracy to another level entirely—evidenced now by Apple relenting last week on DRM. Not only were the inmates now running the asylum, but they were controlling the distribution, too.

The record business is now the iPod economy with well over 100 million sold, over half a billion iTunes software downloads, over $120 million in 2007 profits, and well over a $1billion worth of digital downloads annually. The major labels should have seen that we were on the eve of a new singles business—instead it decided it was a better idea to sue its own customers.

As the mass audience for music grew in the 80’s, arena rock established the tour and merchandise as the revenue model. With the decline in record sales in the last decade, looking to the 90’s heyday when million-sellers used to be the rule, now a hundred thousand unit seller is a big deal outside of certain legacy performers. The only two growth markets for records are for world music and Christian rock which grew from 4% of overall sales in 2000 to over 10% last year. Maybe Jesus will resuscitate the Big Beat, but given the cryogenic state of the industry today, it is clearly a job for an entity with supernatural powers.

Where we are now is that the music, itself, is the Trojan horse stalking consumers as the advertisement for the tour and merchandise. On average, there are forty-thousand concerts a year with average attendance of five thousand tickets sold. The average merchandise per person is 6-8 per customer, but it can be upwards of $20 depending on the artist and with annual market of approximately $1.5 billion. That’s a lot of t-shirts.

The band logo is the final stamp of the rock group as corporation. Advertising killed rock because it legitimized it. Rock and roll’s very existence was that it was the illegitimate child of rhythm and blues, jazz, the Delta, and far off Yoruba beats. As the baby boomers grew older, they became the captains of industry and technology and Madison Avenue and selfishly wanted to hear their own soundtrack—even if appropriated to a thirty-second spot. Bruce Springsteen ordered a cease and desist when Ronald Reagan tried to use his “Born In The USA” for promoting the Republican cause in the 80’s. That should have been a sign.

I mean, Fleetwood Mac in association with Bill Clinton is self-explanatory in a cuddly, yuppie sort of way. But now, rock music is a featured player without guilt and plays party agnostic at political conventions, on the campaign trail, and inaugural balls. How does this scenario equate with “Born To Be Wild” and the bikers getting blown away at the end of “Easy Rider”? How does political endorsement add up when compared to the spirit of Jimi Hendrix’s deconstruction masterpiece performance of the National Anthem during the Vietnam War and Berkeley riots?

When I was growing up in the 60’s, my junior high school gym coach used to call me “Hair” and vilified my music wishing that it would die. It made my passion for the music even stronger. Now, I find it irksome that Bruce Springsteen and Prince perform at the Super Bowl, and rock and roll is the soundtrack to television sports—adding its energy, guitar army, and percussive attack to connect with its viewers who all apparently have grown too old to remember when rock and roll was outlaw music. And am I alone in wondering what “Who Are You” has to do with forensics? Maybe it’s in memories like my battles with the gym coach where rock still lives—as a memory, the music exists as a reference point in time when a song or a band or a show references a moment in our lives that was significant—or even if it was insignificant as Robert Plant once put it—as something “deep and meaningless”. He also said, “I’ve lived a hundred years in rock and roll.” Perhaps that’s long enough for those who have really lived it, but that’s another story…

The day after Keith Moon died, my brother, Jeff, finally got to interview John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey for his movie, “The Kids Are Alright”. During the interview, he asked Roger about the future of rock and roll—a pointed question for The Who, at least, given that they’d just lost their key man. Roger said to him, “Rock and roll doesn’t have a future, so shut up!” That sort of ended the interview, but Jeff still used “Long Live Rock”, with its anthemic refrain, “Rock is Dead” for the end credits of the film—whether to give hope or irony, I’ll never ask for fear it would be a repeat of what Pete Townshend once said to him when Jeff asked what the meaning of his song, “Who Are You” was. Pete replied slyly, “Ask Harold Pinter.” My brother and I always wanted to riff on Pete's famous lines from "My Generation" and say to him, "Hope we get old before we die..." But, we never found the right moment and the lyrics seemed to have haunted him ever since anyway. Rock and roll does not look well in the mirror.

Rock and roll suffers from having become our classical music. It’s cross-generational now. When I was running the Jimi Hendrix Foundation, he had a greatest hits collection called “The Ultimate Experience” that had been selling twenty-thousand units a month for almost two years. Estate Creative Director and former Hendrix producer, Alan Douglas, wondered who was buying all these records and conducted a marketing survey. The results were that 60% of the albums were being bought by fans under twenty. Jimi was now effectively converting his third generation of fans from beyond the grave. But, then again, Jimi is a classical composer now.

Rock and roll shouldn’t age gracefully for some kind of old timers day, endless reunion tours, and unplugged sets. Maybe Keith, Jimi, Janis, Jim, Brian, Buddy, Ritchie, Gene, Eddie, Otis, and all the others were lucky in some way to be frozen in time. The problem with rock and roll is that it was always a euphemism for the mystery dance, so perhaps we were screwed from the beginning. And maybe, just maybe, rock and roll isn’t dead after all, but is just about to start out on one of its annual “farewell tours.” As the song says, “Hail, hail…”

15 comments:

thepicklebarrel said...

Although I agree with practically everything you state, I firmly believe that R & R was in a decaying orbit much earlier than it's 1950s beginnings.

R & R was pretty much a peacock strut fest as soon as the big labels got a hold of it. It was a visual medium from the start of the 50s explosion. Duckwalkin' wasn't Chuck trying to rile the crowd in a juke joint anymore, it was a sales graphic.

Senior Zappa's statement about 'musicians into models' is true but it happened WAY before the 80s. As fond as I am of the Doors, Morrison had to be one of the most self-aware, self-indulgent marketing sell outs of all time. Perhaps not solely for the commercial gain, but certainly for the adoration.

The minute big money and big distribution enter the equation, spontaneity and sincerity give way to ghoulish self-awareness and premeditated spontaneity. This is why most of the 50s and 60s rockers generally had some type of personality/visual gimmick. Compare this to the true 'country' music of the same period. I'm not speaking of the Nudie-bedecked cowboy stars, but rather 'plain old folks' such as the Louvin Bros and Hank Williams.

Rock was hijacked pretty early on, especially when it could be marketed to a general white audience. The best part was how it, pretty much from the start, marketed its sincerity by glorifying 'rags to riches' stories such as Elvis' rise in visual simulations (Jailhouse Rock, Loving You, etc).

Two favorite films that really capture this stuff well are Elia Kazan's 1957 masterpiece, 'A Face in the Crowd' and Cameron Crowe's 2000, 'Almost Famous'. These show the evils of marketing and fame in a medium that peddles itself as the genuine deal.

The corps that have sold R&R all along have been marketing it as an 'eye-witness to greatness' for so long because in the end, it's the audience that wants that crap.

The difference between the 50s-60s boom in rock was at least the artists were competitive in the musicianship levels. the audience wouldn't have it any other way. Today, the 'artists', at least the one's that have permission from the corps to be distributed, have even less interest in skill than the schlemiels that buy it.

So what's this all about in my mind? It goes back to why are society is in such decay. Corps today are impure and are wholly parasitic. The have no trouble going for the quick buck and all the while, feeding the egos of its management. Hollywood is run not by smart men who know how to manipulate a genre, but rather egotists that win by default because this society and its culture have been riding on the shoulders of greatness for way too long.

But, like the farmer that mustn't over plant the soil or the fisherman that shouldn't over-exploit his territory, we the audience are the one's dictate the health of our culture.

Sho' nuff.

Kevin Stein said...

Dr. Picklebarrel,
It would have been easier, of course, just to agree with everything I said, as opposed to just most of it. That said, outside of a rock and roll debate/grudge match, which would be probably a lot more exciting than say, U2 at the Rose Bowl, I think that on the whole, you should start your own blog with all the interesting points you share in this current and previous comments to mine.
Rock has always been a peacock strut fest because it is a biologically driven art form (so to speak) at heart. So, as Testosterone Theater, the guitar as penis connection is all too obvious, but that's never stopped any rock stars from parading as peacocks or just cocks strutting if they were to lure potential after gig dates accordingly. I remember Jimi talking to an interviewer who accused him of using gimmicks like playing with his teeth, behind his back, etc. Jimi wryly agreed, and even though he was always the first to say that he felt like a circus performer, his training ground was the Chitlin' Circuit where gimmicks were also like Jail Toasts and a form of competition between musicians--the fact that audiences were there to cheer them on is the other part of the sport.
No matter, I have seen Chuck Berry put on a show, and I have seen him rock. Interestingly, the show was for a big audience, and the time when he actually put on one of the greatest performances that I ever saw was at a nothing concert at a college in the Midwest where the audience of perhaps one-hundred very fortunate souls of literally all ages bore witness to rock and roll as I know it, anyway. It seems that rock and roll is about that moment when despite all of the trappings that you articulate so well--fashion, self-indulgence, visual gimmickry, rags to riches sagas (as reinvented by VH1's "Behind The Music" which always turns on "And then, tragedy struck..."), and the like. Rock and roll seems to be a survival mechanism affixed somehow to our reptilian brain. Without wooly mammoths to hunt, I suppose that Heavy Metal is a fair substitute for adrenalin rush.
Your comparison to Country is worthy, though I could select out rockers who are "just plain old folks"--not those who play one like Bruce as blue collar worker spokesperson and Woody Guthrie rocker incarnate, but people like Neil Young who have always avoided the hype and cut their own path, even in jeans and checked shirts.
The hijacking for white audiences is also an interesting point, but what would you do with Hip Hop? And Jimi was not accepted by the black audience, much to his dismay--even despair--until after he died. What of that?
I think that the best is without reference to color in the same way that my kids have no idea the Dr. John is anything but a black artist.
But marketing will stretch the truth of any art like Turkish taffy, so rock's truth is its vulnerability, I suppose.
BTW, I know several of Jim Morrison's best friends who are both recognized poets. They have both confirmed that he was a super goof--in contrast to what you allege. He was tortured by the act and far more interested in film-making and writing. He cried when he saw the first copy of "The Lords and the New Creatures", his premiere book of poetry. So, I respectfully (sort of) disagree with your characterization of The Doors and Jim as sell-outs--remember The Ed Sullivan Show reference in my post--it was The Rolling Stones who sold out.
Were The Doors pretentious? At times, sure. But, I don't really think in talking with the surviving members that they thought of themselves as anything other than a garage style blues band.
I agree with one of your film references and disagree with the Cameron Crowe. I found the latter film sentimental and watered down for teenage consumption. Kazan is another matter. And I think that "A Face in the Crowd" also nailed the marketing spectre that gave birth to Mad Ave in the 50s.
In terms of decadence and music, I would refer you to an ancient Chinese text from the 5th century, B.C. of Lu Bu Wei who sees harmony in music as the reflection of the health of the kingdom and atonality, noise, and lack of harmony as signs that all is not well. That is a vast oversimplification of what the worthies say, but your point is well taken. Rudolf Steiner also suspected that there were entities being served behind the early jazz he heard at the beginning of the last century that probably are a precursor of the decay you cite.
Ego is the Hollywood OS. Occasionally, there are breakthroughs when the model doesn't hold and a great work escapes the marketing department.
Bottom line, we will continue on this path of decline, I fear, as the only nation of our size, wealth, and influence in the world that does not even have a Minister of Culture.
And if we can judge the health and well being of a nation, as Lu Bu Wei advises, then I think we should refer to the section about fiddle playing as the Empire burns.
Thanks again for your inspiring comments.

thepicklebarrel said...

The Kevin ouches on Cameron Crowe!

....well, true. It is a tad commercialized, "Almost Famous", and its WAY over sentimentalized, I agree. However, I do believe it's a nice text on how the fame of rock can be the driving force of so many bands in the so called, 'pure era' of the 70s. Also, it addresses how the marketing of fame can drive the thirst of its audience.

Chuck is an unequaled genius...no question. You are one lucky boy to hear him at his best. My point about Duckwalk'n has less to do with Chuck as an artist than it does for what the 'biz' chooses to celebrate/market about the art form.

For all his fame, Chuck is truly underrated. To think that as I type this note, one of THE pillars of R&R is STILL performing somewhere in the world is nothing short of incredible.

Chuck is a causality of the biz in many ways. One of my favorite moments on film is the end credits of 'Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll' where Chuck is alone, playing slide guitar by himself in a dank room.

I wish his character was more stable...that he had more appreciation of his own art over his insecurities with the world.

Fame and wealth can ruin any sincere get together. It seems that a brutal climb up the mountain itself, can be enough to corrupt a soul of it's purity. Sangin' the blues ain't what it used to be.

Again, this is the torrid, sordid world of R&R. I believe if we both didn't think so highly of it, these comments would be far more brief.

As always, sir, your intellectual gymnastics with a given topic are a hoot to witness.

Now shaddup and let's blast some ABBA!!!!

Kevin Stein said...

I'll resist the temptation strenuously to put on some ABBA. I guess the truth is that I died in 1970 except for The Sex Pistols, so Cameron Crowe, who I knew at Rolling Stone, kind of misses the mark for me. I think that "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle" is my take on what you describe as "the marketing of fame to drive an audience."
Anyhow...ah Chuck. I remember the scene in "Hail, Hail" and it was the same scene my brother Jeff and I witnessed when we went backstage in 1968 to meet Jimi Hendrix. He was surrounded by what seemed like a hundred people all buzzed and buzzing around him like he was the King Bee, but no one was talking with him and there he sat next to a stack of Fender cases playing by himself. I still have the autographed copy of "Are You Experience?". It's probably because the Road is a lonely place as so many artists have written about, I personally don't think it's such a bad job to have--but I remember talking to some E Street Band members who complained that they never had time to sight see in Europe and so on.
With Chuck and Jimi, I think it's because they're primarily blues musicians whose lot in life is to be stuck forever at the Crossroads as discussed.
I've planned on a post about Jimi for a while, but the present one about the music biz seemed to say to me in class, "Me first!" Interestingly, I want to connect the dots between Chuck and Jimi in it as well as tell a tale about interviewing Chuck in 1980 which will speak to your remarks about his character and bitterness.
Again, dear sir, thanks as always for your continued comments and tip on ABBA. I like Hyperborean rock, but prefer Garmarna and Sami yoiks.

Joe Escalante said...

For those of us that grew up in the 70s, our beloved punk rock is headed for the same fate. That seems more tragic to me than the death of rock, but then I start to laugh. The only rock star I'm invested in these days is dependable Benedict XVI. I wont be fooled again.

Silvanus Slaughter said...

Well, Mr. Stein, you know how much I love music supervisors who cram every modern film with mickey-mousing pop cues, most of which are not even worth hearing with or apart from the film: they make me want to learn waterboarding. All Kasdan's The Big Chill made me do was put my Motown in storage. The embarrassment of watching adults dancing in a kitchen to "I Second that Emotion" was too much bear.

Your mesmerizing overview of the death of "rock'n'roll" sums it all up, and, yes, Pop Did Eat Itself, much like all else under laissez-faire capitalism.

While I do make music videos for my songs, I try to diverge from the format and rarely lip-synch. Their culmilative effect has been to make me hate even seeing live performers hold guitars on Letterman or Kimmel.

I personally think downloading is the biggest rip since.. CDs, but I persist in my datedness in wanting something to read and hold that MIGHT reflect the artist's sensibility, or not.

Anyway, brilliant review of history as we knew it. The Muse has her way of killing things off so, perhaps, a new thing may emerge.

Kevin Stein said...

Joe, thanks for your comment. Now let me get this straight--which died first, Rock or Punk? I'll check your blog to find out. And I agree, I see the Pope selling out arenas and stadiums for some time to come...but, do you think his latest release is up to snuff?

Kevin Stein said...

Hey Silvio, thanks once again for your commentary. Yes, that kitchen scene is one for the books. It made me want to turn it into a scene of wanton, hapless violence or to invite the zombie hordes in from suburbia to deal with these Yuppie wretches who made me understand one thing about the movie--that the wrong guy died at the beginning. In terms of your videos, I don't hold you to account since you seem to be creating soundtracks and songs that are interchangeable--at least to this reporter--it's different when the songwriter has his hand in the till and is responsible for any attendant, resulting imagery augmentation to his work. Your videos look like movies to me, not some young director's hallucination and striving for visual one-upmanship or self-conscious understatement. Yes, you do videos, but as Pete Townshend says at the end of the live version of "A Quick One" featured in "The Kids Are Alright"--"We're all forgiven!" Must be Easter somewhere still...

Kevin M Henry said...

I remember the first record I ever purchased..."I want to hold your hand" by the Beatles...a simple song at best and not earth-shattering my any means...I remember clearly my father yelling to turn that carp off. It was revolutionaire at the time and changed my life forever...by high school Buffulo Springfield, Neil Young and the birth of CSN&Y became the background music of my teen years, along with Jefferson Airplane, Hendrix and the Doors and the beginning of my counther-culture battle with my father. The war in Viet Nam was raging on and as I was approching draft-age...my hair became longer and the music louder.

Today, when I look in the mirror, I wonder who that old guy is and I always sing a little to myself..."hope I die before I get old...feeling a little sorry for myself and then a magical thing happen the other morning...my 17 year old daughter picked up my ipod by accident on her way out the door and when she walked in that evening she said with a smile..."who are these guys...this stuff is incredible"...and at that moment a connection took place between us as told her the story of my youth and realized that the revolution lives on.

Kevin Stein said...

Thanks for your comment, Kevin. I guess we are running in generational parallel universes. After years of being ostracized by among other people, my darling daughter, as a freak flag waver who died in 1970--I caught the undeniable sound of Keith Moon's claves and "Magic Bus" seeping from her iPod earbuds--whereupon, I busted her and the rest has been history as they say. She's always liked Jimi and my eight-year-old The Beatles, but now their playlist includes everything from "White Rabbit" and "Break On Through" to "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Sympathy For the Devil." Hearing my young son sing the refrain to that number is quite a mixed bag as are my footnotes to my daughter: "Do you know what 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' is about?" I asked her, explaining that it was a tribute to nitrous oxide. That was far easier than explaining away the Jefferson Airplane song. I told her to check out the promo for the Rolling Stones song which she loved, particularly since she didn't know that there were "music videos" back then--even it they were called "promos." I turned her on, so to speak, to some of the Beatles' promos as well. Now if I could only cure my wife of her Country Music addiction, the whole house would be rockin'!

dennisinLA said...

K: Your finger's on the pulse, and the stuff is still pumpin'. Love the Chinese reference. The whole thing is about spiritual rebirth to me, as well. The mystery, the wonder. That a couple generations missed the real show doesn't matter to me. People get what they deserve. But that you and I and these others here, got it, does.

A kind of duality exists for the performer. Jim (M) was able to exist on two or more levels. And as the ancient book says. "one needs nourishment" -meaning cash, I never saw him as a sell-out. He relieved the need of the people as only a sage can.

Think I'll hang around for more of your blog, if you don't mind. And invite an old Motown buddy.

Dennis Decarr, of the Mojo Men

Silvanus Slaughter said...

Your overview did inspire me to watch the Maysles'(spelling?) GIMME SHELTER...finally. I enjoyed that more than any pop documentary I have ever viewed (I think).

Now, did Evolution intend the concept of marketing and packaging, and does it have a self-destruct button built inside its own awareness? With countless lame movie remakes and such, it seems we are still stuck in this bubble of repackaging the past and recent past. A remake already of "Angel Heart"? On the way.

Here is torture for you, Kevin: A remake of "The Big Chill" with dour Gen Xers dancing to Nirvana.

Oh, here is the "re-union" of Dinosaur Jr. Wow.

Greetings my Salinger-esque new seclusion.

Kevin Stein said...

Thanks for your comment, Dennis. I hope that more readers pick up on The Mojo Men and their part in the development of the so-called "San Francisco" or "Psychedelic Sound." I guess record sellers and rock critics found these labels helpful for the bins and end caps, but I don't know how accurate they really are--though the question of how regions play a part in defining musical style--the US really is a mosaic of such styles, so I guess it's convenient and maybe a good subject for future posts and discussion.
Anyhow, it was great to hear from a musician who was in the slipstream of the zeitgeist and I welcome your "Motown buddy" and hanging around the blog some more. While I usually have some musical frame of reference, I'd forgotten how writing about music brings a lot of attention and the response and readership has been overwhelming, gratifying and inspiring.
I am glad you liked the Chinese reference. Speaking of the 60's and ancient history, I came across mention of that book in Hermann Hesse's "Glass Bead Game" which inspired the name for Timothy Leary's Foundation for Psychedelic Studies--Castalia--among other things...Lu Buwei, the source of the treatment on early harmony and music of the Kingdom, was an extraordinary character and worth looking into now that the Web provides that Alexandrian Library infinite catalogue. His notion that the state of the State is reflected in the quality of harmony in its music is a scary thing to contemplate today. I'll leave it at that for now, but your comment about the generational decline of music is a thread that I want to pick up in a future post that I've been ruminating on--you know, my music was better than yours type of thing--if it's all a continuum, than maybe it's out of time, but as dwellers in time, then our art and lives are partially created out of response to the spirit of the times--well, here I go, and I need to save it for the post.
Your comment on Jim and connection to the Chinese adage about "nourishment" and audience need is really compelling. It just makes me wonder what need or entity is being served by music today. The decline of the record industry is due, in large part, to it serving the entity of cash, but that's no longer a headline. Your articulation of duality and the role it plays in the artistic life is also worthy and conjures lots of thoughts related to harmony and the challenge that artists face in relating the personal to the public. Thanks again for your inspiring commentary and for The Mojo Men! We can always use more mojo!

Kevin Stein said...

Silvanus, thank you for your horrorshow commentary. I have already stolen your idea for the "Big Chill" Gen X/Nirvana remake and sold it to Disney. Glad to inspire any Maysles viewing--try their Beatles doc for another, very different POV. They shot their first US Tour and it's not the usual travelogue approach. "Salesman" is also a must-see window into 1960's.
As to evolution and rock and roll, I don't know how Darwinian it is based on non-survival of fittest and suvival of bands that I'd rather forget. But I like the idea of the self-destruct button which is probably more a feature of the individual artistic life and record industry, than music itself. I tried pressing it when Disco arrived, but nothing happened--maybe it was on time release until The Sex Pistols. Speaking of which, check out "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle" which along with "Monterey Pop" and "Apocalypse Now" is my favorite rock doc.

Silvanus Slaughter said...

Oh, I loved "The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle," but I still enjoyed "Gimme Shelter" more. Probably my fetish for the raucous "Brown Sugar" and hearing it being played back as they were crafting it in the studio.

Additionally, I remain a huge fan of Roeg and Cammel's "Performance", as much for Jagger's more-than-adequate performance in "Memo from Turner" as for the director's take on the effects of mushrooms on identity and gender roles. I always wanted to be James Fox for a week or two.

I must admit I liked some disco - the early R&B stuff around the time Diane Keaton got snuffed by Tom Berenger on the heels of hearing "Backstabbers" in her local NYC bar (don't see THAT film on ANY drug!), and, of course, Kraftwerk, were the seminal discoids, but, yes, it finally deserved its death ( then, of course, got reincarnated as New Order). One more zaftig black woman screaming "yes, baby" over a 20 minute 120 bpm drone was turning me into Travis Bickle.

Your blog is great. Where's the next installment?