Monday, March 09, 2009

Signs of the Apocalypse: Rock 'N Roll's Willing Surrender

These are times of laments and regrets. Even the self righteous, hormone fueled, anti-establishment, sex and drugs spirit of Rock 'N Roll seems to have slipped away and is lost. When Elvis first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show they shot him from the waist up. His moves were seen as too sexual and lascivious to be broadcast. The Doors were banned from the same show for life because Jim Morrison sang the words "girl we couldn't get much higher" even though he had agreed to change the lyrics when he appeared on the show.

The rebelliousness of youth culture has been replaced by.... I'm not sure what. Some recent examples:

Last week, for a full 5 days, U2 goofed and clowned for David Letterman. Ironically, it's the same theater that Elvis and The Doors played, the former home of The Ed Sullivan Show.

The same week, images of U2 inserted into Dell monitors on the cover of a Best Buy circular.

Heartland hero Bruce Springsteen gave small town destroyer, WalMart, a 2 weeks exclusive on his latest release. The following week he performed what can only be described as insipid, self-parody during the Super Bowl halftime.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers just released "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" in its entirety for the game Rock Band. In their video for Californication they are animated as if in a video game, snowboarding and battling sharks and bears. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and AC/DC would never have done something like this.

The members of Coldplay as marionettes in the video for Life in Technicolor. More childish infantilization.

Kid Rock teamed up with Dale Earnhardt Jr for a National Guard promotion. What bothers me the most is that Kid Rock has really come into his own as a musician and performer with his latest release. And then this. I don't even know to process this It's postmodern in its perplexity.


DMC said...

Meh. bunch of middle aged bands who haven't been relevant to 'youth culture' for years.

there are still great things happening in rock and roll, they just aren't being sponsored by Best Buy or Walmart, and you might not hear them on traditional radio.

ps-I think AC DC licensed to Rock Band back in november, but I'm not for sure. I heard the beatles have a package coming out as well.

ANIMIKE said...

can't blame the veteran bands for cashing in on some of the cooler opportunities (ie rock band), but walmart and best buy really don't scream revolution to me.

it seems that selling out to the establishment isn't really as bad as it used to be, but it should matter how you choose to do it.

With the barrier between the band and the consumer becoming narrower with apps like itunes, facebook, twitter, youtube...the stores are forced to find ways to brand themselves with the band itself, since the foot traffic is no longer guaranteed.

On the other side of the coin, piracy continues to be a thorn in the music industry's side and bands (or maybe the record companies) are eager to offset these loses with any opportunity they can.

It seems in these bleak economic times, both parties are looking to the bottom line with blinders on, or perhaps everything has been done before and there are no more original ideas out there.

BlackCobraLuver said...

i was a big u2 fan. was.

Thomas Sherman said...

There are interesting things happening in music but music as an overall cultural and social force has neutered itself. Music used to be an important part of youth culture and a primary function of youth culture was to challenge establishment, question the way things were and to promote cultural if not social changes. The difference between rock and pop can be best described as thus: The message of rock: Youre not ok, Im not ok, this is all fucked up. The message of pop: Have fun, be young, drink pepsi. Most music, outside of hip hop doesnt challenge anything.

Look at the world today. Every bought into establishment values: make money, get all you can even if you have to cheat a little.

A lack of anti-establishment attitude and an acceptance of bourgeoise values ultimately led to todays current economic crisis. It became ok to put money first.

The music industry fucked up when they got out of the music industry and into the "selling round disks in plastic cases industry".

DMC said...

Wait, what? U2 promoting dell prompted the economic crisis?

The record industry's struggle to change the way it does business and the messages in music (like mainstream hip hop, which hasn't been about challenging anything since the early 90's, btw), are two different conversations, I think.

There are many levels of promotion, and to take the extreme examples of what bands like U2, Coldplay, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers (who at this point are NOT rock bands. They are pop, or at best 'adult' alternative', and have been for many years) are doing and apply it to the entire music industry is a bit lazy. The examples you gave are acts that have stated very plainly in action and in interviews that they are about getting maximum exposure and making as much money as possible. U2 isn't trying to move music forward or really 'say' anything, U2 is a corporation, and happy to be so. Coldplay have said many times they just want to be the biggest band in the world, and bands like the Chili Peppers aren't really going to sell albums or fill venues the way they used to, so unless they want to split up and discover other ways to make a buck (risky), so finding new ways to re-release their best selling albums back to their fan base (which isn't exactly growing) is their best bet to continue making money as musicians.

But lame, farty old bands and new promotion/sales tactics aside, I just think you should expand your focus before you decide that ALL music has gone the route of bourgeoise complacency. Its not a new thing that you have to look beyond the mainstream channels to find the rebellious/non complacent voices (both in music and in the general youth population) you are looking for.

Thomas Sherman said...

wow. Whats up with all the snarky bitching?

DMC said...

other than saying 'lame, farty old bands' at the end, I don't think I was snarky at all, just disagreed with you.

Thomas Sherman said...


I think you've very narrowly interpreted my post and comments. I was putting into historical context the social role of rock n roll. The (rock) music of the 50s, 60s, and 70s was very much a powerful social force. The Rock of Elvis' era was seen as morally and sexually dangerous. Rock was a powerful force in the civil riht and anti war movements. The FBI kept a file on John Lennon. It sparked the free love movement. Only rap music is seen as being socially dangerous and blamed for corrupting youth.

You canot compare todays music on the same level.

And yes, the decay of anti-establishment values is a factor and caus efor todays economic crisis.

I think you simply took offense to my slighting of contemporary music. There's a lot to love out there but it doesn't have the social currency it once did.

Yea. You did get snarky. You argument amounted to "those guys are fat and middle aged, the stuff i listen to is cool and you need to "broaden your horizon".

DMC said...

Big Bird, I don't disagree that music was a powerful force in the 50's, 60's, 70's, I just don't agree that music has lost its ability to break through our personal defenses and touch a raw nerve inside the collective
brain. What about the social and political activism that went with the hardcore punk scene from DC in the 80's? The rejection of 80's excess in the early grunge scene in the 90's? And I never said rap wasn't influential, I just don't
think what we've been hearing for the past 10-15 years is just another form of pop. Its become more of a marketing tool than rock is.

I think the period you are speaking of might carry a bit more resonance for a few reasons: firstly, the older a field is, the harder it is to make a significant impact, and second, music radio until the late seventies was carried on the AM band. A lot of the typical top 40 was played during the day, and there was (of course) a lot of 'play for pay' action during peak
hours, but the late night DJ's (such as wolfman jack in the US and john peel in the UK) had free rein to play what they thought was 'good' music. And it was indeed 'good' music. The AM frequency travels further after sunset,
enabling more people to hear that awesome music, and that's how the good word spread. If music was broadcast on Clear Channel owned FM back in the day, I think it would've been similar to radio today. Lots of dross, maybe
a little bit of amazing, and the people who really cared would've had to work a bit harder to find it. We not only don't have the golden age and the far reach of AM anymore, we have more media channels for the corporate
sponsored filler to dominate. We also have to consider that the act of listening to music in that period was still very much a social experience. There were no walkmans, ipods, YouTube or even cassette mix tapes to be made. You listened to the radio, you bought the albums, and you shared it with whoever may be within earshot. That was a huge factor in the shared memory of music in that period, and probably will never be recreated. And I don't think that is a fault of the current music, its an effect of new technology.

I picked on Coldplay and U2 because they have said several times that they want to be 'huge'. I used to really like U2. The Joshua Tree was the first cassette I bought with my own, saved up allowance. They had me until Achtung Baby (maybe Zooropa, but that's pushing it). U2 have said several times that they are a business, and have no regrets about marketing
themselves as such. They don't want to push the envelope, they just want to put out albums their fans will buy. There are more than a few artists who feel this way, to varying degrees, and I just think its an easy target when your argument is that rock music has lost its youthful mojo. And what I was mainly addressing in my second post were the marketing strategies, which admittedly are another discussion altogether.

All that aside, I didn't mean to insult you directly, and if I did I apologize. Much like you, when I have an opinion, sometimes I spit it out rapid fire.

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