By Hans Ebert
“There’s something happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?” Dylan sang those lines years ago without realising just how many “Mister Joneses” have been given a free pass to run free in so many industries.
Look at what has been allowed to happen in the theatre of absurd in American politics. How on earth did a businessman who has declared for bankruptcy so many times, never paid taxes, insults women, and is some television reality personality, who is equal parts schoolyard bully and buffoon, get to a point where he can single-handedly blow the constitution to bits by threatening to throw his toys out of his pram if he’s not named the next President Of The United States?
While the rest of the world watches, America is suddenly imploding and under siege by one man- and his followers- who can say whatever he wants, invoke all types of conspiracy theories and refuses to play by the rules. The leader of the free world has created a monster and has no idea what to do about it- not the Democrats, not the Republicans, not the constitution. Donald Trump has beaten the system and he’s pummelling it to death. Reality television has entered American politics and the Joker has become the Thief. The door was opened for him to enter, and now that he has, he’s not leaving. Like enjoying the smell of napalm in the morning, he’s high on power and this addiction is spreading. Like Gremlins, he’s even creating others in his likeness- like President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who just broke off relationships with America to cozy up with China. Where will this lead? Where will any of this lead? Nobody’s right when everybody’s wrong.
Let’s not be naive enough to think that the rise and rise of Trump and, to a lesser extent, the showboating of another showbiz politician in Duterte, and all the other ongoing politics is not affecting and going to affect the entertainment industry- and every other industry. Fear is bad for business. Fear preys on weak minds until all hell breaks loose. Fear creates shrinkage. Fear affects the creative process. Fear robs people of inspiration.
People, we’re living in a dumbed down world made dumber by the 24/7 parallel online world giving a platform for the geographically and intellectually challenged. Too many buffoons have been let in and allowed to become second hand experts on EVERYTHING. Grey matter must be in short supply and Darwin’s theory of evolution must be in regression whereas the Peter Principle has made a very big comeback.
For the sake of this post, let’s stick to the music industry. Let’s focus on this as focus is in short supply and where the thinking that Less Is More has been replaced by all this often very stupid sharing online by many who should be barred from your life. They’re an unnecessary intrusion.
There’s so much of everything that nothing has any meaning. And nearly everyone actually met in recent months in the real world have lost me at Hello as they simply have no idea what they’re trying to sell and incapable of reading the tea leaves in order to close the deal. They’re time wasters and wankers.
This is why there are so few successful partnerships and why monopoly situations are allowed to run roughshod over everything and everyone. It’s that word allowed: Allowed. Add to this, words like free pass, delivery platforms, online trolls, waffle, and huffing and puffing and bluffing.
As for the music industry, listen. Listen hard. What do you hear? Nothing? Isn’t it incredibly quiet out there? Hell, even Taylor Swift and Kanye West have seemingly gone into hiding. Maybe they’re no longer famous for producing nothing except for publicity stunts.
Though vapid channels like E! and fawning groupies like Perez Hilton try to keep quasi celebrities alive, and where we’re meant to feel sorry for Kim Kardashian West being recently robbed in Paris, their very long fifteen minutes of fame might just have finally come to an end just as it did for Paris Hilton, now a celebrity DJ. Please, stop.
Records might be still being released, but who’s listening? Really listening. Touring is taking place, but who’s showing up? And if they do, what do they take away with them? Back in the day, we took away memories. Today, we might take away a Coke before moving onto the next something. And if an unknown act that’s still to make it, what’s the future? To be in the over-Forty group on a television karaoke competition? It’s more than a teenage wasteland. It’s a road to nowhere.
What does it say for the future of music when three dumbed down American Presidential Election Debates featuring two clowns attract a larger television audience- a worldwide audience- because it has freak appeal? Freak appeal starring two liars throwing everyone under the bus backed by CNN and Faux News.
We have come to this low point for entertainment. Forget the Beatles’ first television appearance in America on the Ed Sullivan Show. Forget The Voice and all of its forefathers. What passes off as entertainment today is freak appeal. What passes off as music today is made to sound like something we should all embrace through the relentless vapidity of social media. And many do without questioning as they believe everything they read. There’s no internalising. There’s only an appetite to inhale anything and everything. It’s why music has lost its mojo. It’s why innocuous performers like Drake and Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, and listening to the throwaway new track by Bruno Mars, can be released without dismissing it with a, “Man, this is just Uptown Funk dressed up in Sly Stone’s hand-me-downs.”
We, us, them, you, I, we just don’t care. Those of us who have respect for and a knowledge of the history of music have all that great work produced so many decades ago to return to and find solace and inspiration in. We were and are real music fans. We are not at some buffet table or a free tasting session. Everything was the main course. Everything mattered because there was focus. Because less was more. Because there was a premium on creativity. Because there were record guys giving us music fans what they were fans of- Berry Gordy Jr, Ahmet Ertegun, Jac Holzman, George Martin, Spector, Alpert and Moss, Jimmy Miller, Gus Dudgeon, Geffen, Lou Adler…
We bought records that had their names on them. It/they stood for quality. We bought music that featured session players like The Wrecking Crew, Steve Gadd, Waddy Wachtel, Russ Kunkel, Danny Kortchmar, Andrew Gold, Karla Bonoff, Big Jim Sullivan, Leon Russell, Jim Keltner, Jim Ed Davis, David Lindley. The list is endless. So was the consistently good music.
Today, music fans buy into celebrities and hairstyles and whatever is approved by the fashion police. Back then, we bought into musicianship and great records- records that have gone the distance and still remain as fresh as ever. If only music companies realise the drawing power of their back catalogues. If only all those who own those classic television programmes like TOTP, The Old Grey Whistle Test and Shindig would repackage these for a new audience. If MTV only realise what it had and still has with Unplugged and Storytellers. If the wheel ain’t broke…
Are all these different charts for every genre of music to blame for the clutter and confusion? How many truly understand how the streaming of music works- and the marketing strategy needed to stream music and how the timing of streaming could be impacting the sale of downloads?
There’s an awful lot of “stuff” out there and so many people and companies peddling more and more “stuff”. Isn’t all this “stuff” stuffing things up and adding to the confusion and clutter as opposed to staying with the Keep It Simple, Stupid strategy instead of making everything complicated and stupid?
Reading something from some “name” music executive past their Use By Date doesn’t make something credible or relevant. They’re to blame for songwriters today receiving chump change for their work. What has Marty Bandier or Clive Davis ever done to make music publishing more than one monkey that’s a one man show that has taken so many for a ride?
Why are those behind the “This Is Spinal Tap” suing Vivendi, the parent company of the Universal Music Group after all these years? No one likes being screwed over, that’s why.
There are some extremely stupid music executives around today, and there have been way too many stupid music executives over the years with really stupid ideas. This is why the music and entertainment industries are in the shape they’re in: Shaken and stirred with pretentiousness brainiacs trying to make something spontaneous into an exacting science.
Music has nothing to do with Google and algorithms and data research. Music is and has always been about soul and ‘feel’ and lyrics and melodies and the creativity and passion of all those who have created and continue to create this art. It’s Chuck Berry, Robert Johnson, Miles Davis and Coltrane and Dylan and Hendrix and Prince and Bowie and Joni Mitchell and Quincy Jones and Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and the Beatles and Brian Wilson and Beck and everyone behind Gorillaz. There’s much much more but who’s counting?
Music is not Mark Zuckerberg or Tim Cook. It is not about Jimmy Iovine anymore who’s more well-known for his parties than for producing music. It’s probably not about anyone who once mattered because they’re probably gone. But it is about those with the foresight and clarity to create something new and exciting- those who don’t follow leaders and watch their parking meters, and who can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary by seeing the complete picture and not stopping at the sight of a postage stamp and thinking this is good enough to travel. It’s not.