In looking forward to Rob Reid’s book Year Zero, I’ve been thinking about music. I mentioned in an earlier post Rob’s TED speech on Piracy’s impact, and read the first chapter posted on Wired (definitely looking forward to this book). All that got me thinking about when, growing up, music first started really meaning something to me. It damn sure wasn’t what I grew up with in the 80’s.
I mention that because there’s a lot of 80’s fetishism going on nowadays. Between Ready Player One (awesome, by the way), Rock of Ages (which I’ll skip, thanks), Drive (I’ll be catching that on Netflix) and plenty more that decade just keeps spinning right ’round, you know?
I really didn’t enjoy a lot of what I was hearing at the time. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t inspired by it. I blame MTV. When having visual instincts started trumping aural ones, and the music was less the focus and more the soundtrack to flashy short films, it got old fast.
A lot of that music ended up being the weakest form of pop to me; clever for a moment, but not really keeping my attention. It made great wallpaper, but didn’t really stand on it’s own. I still watched MTV, though, you just couldn’t show up in school without knowing what was on.
As I got older, and stayed up later, I found out the videos got weirder. This was where they put the stuff too strange for the cool set, the work put out by the bands without the deep pockets to pay for premium placement. As a result they seemed to either take more chances visually, or didn’t care at all about being flashy. That’s when I found the Ramones.
Their videos didn’t have high production values, the band members weren’t pinup material, and a lot of their videos were of the point-the-camera-here-and-don’t-move variety. But the music blew everything else I had heard away.
From there I sought out other examples of that sound, and found the whole New York Punk scene. It’s probably a double standard to run down 80’s fetishism when 70’s fetishism is just as virulent, but we’re talking about passions here, not consistency.
With CBGB’s as my ground zero I found a lot of those artists were re-emerging. Iggy Pop’s Brick By Brick and Lou Reed’s Magic and Loss were showing these artists still had contributions to make, and they carried me into the nineties and paved the way to a whole world of artists just starting to claw their way into the mainstream. The ‘net hadn’t exploded yet, but fanzines, traded tapes, burned cd’s, and college radio were still fueling the emergence of music in a way the boys and girls in the Bowery would have appreciated. Now, they had access and elder statesman status to get their message out.
Back in the day punks used to put up flyers, showing how to play three chords then ordering people to form bands. Now, with a couple of apps those bands can record, master mp3s, post them on a blog and market themselves to the world. Instead of waiting for A&R to stumble into a club they can launch themselves. And we can feast on all kinds of music from every corner of the world. I mean, I can read Japanese Literature (if someone translates it), or watch Italian Cinema (if someone subtitles it) and connect with the story, but I don’t need any translation to understand music. I can’t tell what Jonsi’s saying most of the time, for example, but I always get what he’s trying to say. I have that interest and insight thanks to a love of music. And I have that love of music thanks to Joey Ramone.