Sunday, 8 August 2010

Rock Es Muerte, A Dios Gracias (Parte Una)

Over the past few months, I've noticed a serious shift in my listening habits. For the first time in my life, the guitar is no longer the centrepoint of my borderline obsessive music-hoovering. Sure, there are some astonishing guitarists out there, but I can only think of one guitarist whose music I've discovered in the last couple of years that blows my fucking stack like all the usual suspects*, namely Ninni Morgia**, and that's somewhat depressing for a guitarist in many ways***. But also liberating. Because I've found myself bored to fucking tears by 99% of new guitar-led music§, electronics have rushed in to fill the gap.

In some ways I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised by this, given that my guitar setup has gradually evolved to have more in common with a modular analogue synth than anything else, and that a lot of my playing comes from running as far in the opposite direction to anyone else as I possibly can, that my listener side would eventually catch up with my musician side. It's not that I've rejected my past loves in that sphere of music, they still thrill me the way they always have, it's just that there's fuck-all new to add to them at the moment, and I need amazing, beautiful, new music like the Earth needs the fucking Sun.

It isn't just me either, I can think of a fair few other musicians of my generation, with very similar musical backgrounds, who've expressed similar opinions to me, whose musical focus has shifted in a similar way (and no, I'm not going to name names, it's not for me to attempt to unpick their reasoning, or to relate private conversations here, musicians' equivalent of the Chatham House Rule applies), but a lot of us seem to be heading in a very different direction than I reckon our listeners would have suspected even a year or two ago, and the one music that seems to have backslid to a much lower priority than it used to occupy in our minds is Rock music.

Yes, I know the whole "Rock is dead" cliche has been with us for a good while, and previously I'd have dismissed it out of hand. But now, I'm not so sure. Rock has become so codified it no longer has any fucking meaning, the cliche has taken over, the map has become the territory, and that's the death of any artistic medium as far as I'm concerned. Rock has become Lego for lazy musicians, and, I now believe, the rot set in long ago, over thirty fucking years ago, and it's death throes have been protracted and increasingly unpleasant, not to mention enormously damaging to our shared cultures artistic health.

In the 60s, when Rock was born, the musicians who played it didn't start out playing it, mainly because it didn't exist before then. Yr average 60s rock group consisted of people who learnt their craft playing Blues, Folk, Jazz, Skiffle, Country, Classical, you name it; and the music those groups produced was a beautiful synthesis of those influences, their original ideas and the need to create something new, a music that was theirs. Simply put, you couldn't just be a rock musician because the concept hadn't solidified yet (and wouldn't really for a good ten years or so). Look at Rock'n'Roll. A glorious semi-electrified fusion of Blues, R'n'B§§§, Country, Western Swing, elements of Jazz± and all the other music of the Deep South, that swept the musical world in the early/mid 50s and was essentially a spent force within 5 years, because it failed to transcend it's origins, and allowed a sanitised, commercially driven imitation of itself to become the dominant popular music.

It's the same with it's idiot child, Rock, only worse, much worse. Because Rock wasn't killed by the sharkskin-suited hucksters of the music business like Rock'n'Roll, but by the musicians themselves, and the mindless cretins that followed in their ignoble wake. And not just any musicians, but the people I trace a goodly amount of my musical lineage from, the psychedelic musicians of the late 60s, baby-boomers one and all, that generation that managed to betray every single fucking ideal it ever held dear, politically, culturally, economically, ecologically in the space of a decade±±.

Rock, in the mid/late 60s, was a paradigm shift in the conception of what a popular music could be. The record labels couldn't control it the way they had previously because they simply didn't have a fucking clue what was going on. As far as the musicians were then concerned, everything was up for grabs, freedom was the name of the game, any source was fair game for transmutation, assimilation or transformation, and the listener was therefore exposed to an astonishingly wide range of music, even if they only listened to so-called pop stations.

Imagine listening to Radio 1 in the late 60s, for a DJ to go from Petula Clark to Jimi Hendrix wasn't a particularly unusual occurrence, it was all pop, whatever it's provenance, freak or square - this is the reason John Peel was the greatest Dj ever, he never fell for the idea that one kind of music was one thing, and another less valid, it was all good and to be judged on it's individual merits - pop simply meant popular then, not officially sanctioned for the edification of the great unwashed and ignorant, the default position of most big record companies and radio stations these days.

Even a band as accepted into the upper echelons of the pantheon of pop/rock genius as the Beatles (loathe them as I do), would probably end up on some obscure indie label these days, can you imagine a band which combined a love of R'n'B & Rock'n'Roll, Victorian Music Hall, 20th C composition and Indian music into a coherent music gracing the charts these days? No is the simple answer. Ain't gonna happen. Much as I fucking hate Revolver or Sgt. Pepper, they were pop albums then, but now? I don't think so.

Part two in a few days. I thought it would be nice to end this part on a note that has probably surprised a few of my closest friends, namely mentioning the Beatles in a positive light.

*Matt Bower, Helios Creed, Gary Mundy, Jim Plotkin, Michio Kurihara, Matt Pike, I could go on (and on and on), but you probably know the drill by now...

**Big article about his last LP coming soon, so not going into detail today. Go here. Say hello. Buy his records.

***See here, here and here.

§Even my beloved Doom Metal seems to be spiralling ever deeper into a self-satisfied pit of regurgitation of past glories, Free Jazz now sounds exactly like Free Jazz then with a couple of new pedals, and don't even get me started on Improv; bloodless, sexless, devoid of any physicality§§, and a (very long) rant for another day. It's only the fucking noise/psych underground putting any guitar-led stuff out that's worth a fucking shit at the moment.

§§This is possibly the first time I've ever found myself in complete agreement with David Keenan. Fuck me, who'da thought it?

§§§Which soon became an essentially racist epithet for R'n'R played by black people, before mutating into the utterly meaningless term it's now become.

±Listen to Chuck Berry, then listen to Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker, notice anything?

±±Not that clinging to a fixed ideology is a particularly good way to live yr life or run a country, but there's a massive fucking difference between pragmatic flexibility and cynically licking yr finger to see which way the winds of power are blowing. No that I expect any better from people in general, I firmly believe 95% of everything is bullshit, but the joy of life comes from finding that other 5%, whatever that 5% is for you, I'm not quite the misanthrope I'm occasionally accused of being, just really fucking picky.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if the cult of youth that seems like it’s been so wrapped up with the way rock etc. is flogged predetermined that eventually it would all go to shit as an industry. That eventually, the aging but still popular pioneers’ existence and continuing careers would contradict what had seemed like the key way the music is marketed to non-musicians (it’s young, it’s new, it’s not like your parents, and you’ll never be like your parents if you listen to it et cetera) to the point where nostalgia and pretensions to edginess had to uncomfortably co-exist in a way that basically precluded anything new or exciting being done in front of a wide audience.

    I’m not sure that makes sense but I know what I mean.