By Pete Ross Dec.8.2008
In: Opinion
Comments Off

They don't make 'em like they used to

Neal Peart of Rush

Amongst my favourite bloggers is Sam de Brito on the Sydney Morning Herald website, who writes fairly wide-ranging entries focussing on a masculine perspective on life. A couple of weeks ago, however, he strayed uncharacteristically into the area of music. What he said irked me considerably, in several polar ways, and I really wanted an outlet in which to respond to it.

I am buried in the past; I pretty much always have been. The vast majority of what I listen to was recorded before, say, 1993. I would like to think I am one of the more musically open-minded people I know – I honestly believe that the greatest and most cathartic joy of music lies in diversity – but I don’t enjoy most modern music. I find so many people around me listen to what they are told to listen to – the latest, freshest, hottest music – in other words, nothing older than, say, 3 months. I look at this and I just see consumers blindly accepting the product lifespans dictated to them by a cynical commercial industry which has no interest in art, merely ongoing income streams.

Besides this, I figure you’re a fuck of a lot more likely to find genius, talent and passion in the first hundred odd years of popular music than in the last ninety days. I also think increases in commercial control and advances in potentially manipulative technologies have contributed to mediocrity in modern music.

De Brito speaks of musical nostalgia amongst elder generations, and how people seemingly develop life-long hangups for the music of their youth, to the exclusion of everything that comes afterwards. He speaks of how much influence comatose nostalgia can have over people, and attributes the old axiom “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” to this reminiscence.

As always, he writes exceptionally well, and one of the reasons I was so irked by the article is because he does make quite a darn good point. He namedrops MGMT, Ladyhawke, the Presets and Arcade Fire, amongst others, as examples of good modern music and even such a nostalgiac as myself has got to admit there is some pretty fucking good bands in his list.

In the end, though, I have to disagree strongly with what he is saying.

I’ll get my harshest point out of the way first. De Brito is a really intelligent, cool fellow, but to the best of my knowledge, he’s in his early 30s, and the list of bands he namedrops in this particular post gives him the air of someone who has been listening to Triple J with a notepad. I’m trying to be diplomatic here, but he comes across as being worried about his own relevance and recency rather than the objective merits of the music.

Another thing that I found irksome was De Brito’s mentioning of Jay-Z. In an article which grasps around for examples to hold against names like Presley and Hendrix, tapping the name of someone who is really only famous for being Beyonce Knowles’s handbag rings a bit hollow.

Honestly, when you’re trying to compare the last ten or fifteen years of music to the ten or fifteen years before, or those before that, etc, I think the bottom of the barrel isn’t even enough. When was the last time Australia produced someone with Farnham’s vocal mastery? When did we last hear heart-melting guitar solos on the radio that could hold a candle to Gary Moore or Mark Knopfler or Eric Clapton? When I think of talented drummers I’m thinking of Rob Hirst or John Bonham or Neil Peart, not Nickelback or Coldplay (no I’m not even going to be bothered to look up names).

Speaking of Neil Peart, listen to Rush. Now. Go.

In 150 years time, when kids are getting taught the history of rock in music class, are they going to be listening to Skynyrd samples or Kings of Leon? Good Charlotte, or Bon Jovi? Will Rihanna or Aretha Franklin go down in the textbooks, under the heading “soul”? No (I fucking hope not).

Look, one of the things I can take away from that article is that there is good music out there. There always has been and always will be kids toiling away on pentatonic scales in their bedrooms who could, on a technical basis, lay waste to Yngwie Malmsteen or Oscar Peterson or whoever. What makes the difference, and what really lets art blossom, is the ability to spread to an audience. It is only exposure to the world that allows the transaction between artist and audience to be complete and bi-directional. What I’m trying to say is that good musical artists will never be great if nobody ever hears them. If a tree falls in a forest…

Yes, there is good artists out there. But the invasive prevalence of marketing theory into music has turned a creative field into an industry. The result is that instead of having Marvin Gayes in our music charts, we have Kid Rock.

I’d like to hear what others think, please do comment.

Although if you disagree with then I’m going to spread internet rumours that you like Kid Rock.