I know that throughout history changes have been inevitable. What is most interesting is the way that science fiction becomes science fact. Having heard yesterday that they are now predicting people will be eating artificial meat by 2050, well one can only think back to Charlton Heston screaming out in that now famous 1970’s cult classic, “Soylent Green is made from people!”
At any rate, which at my age is always slow and methodical, I like to imagine that there are always possibilities and yet I see an endless barrage of disappointing amendments within this world that do not make me feel more interested or comfortable. Change is not always good and in music it never is. There was a time that music was played by incredible talents who learned a craft by playing in the minor leagues. Much like baseball players had to earn their way up through the ranks, musicians had to start out at the bottom, which in my day meant playing in the garage, to hopefully attain a spot somewhere on a bill someplace where they might actually pay. You know, we didn’t really have to play in the garage but we always seemed to wind up there.
Now I do admit I am often found smiling when I walk down a neighborhood street, and trust me in the suburbs I’m pretty much alone, only to hear a bass, guitar and drum sound emanating from a home. They are few and far between in this prefabricated world since most musicians don’t need bands anymore because technology has made other players expendable. Heck, you can get a drum machine and pretty much add all the tracks yourself to a cheap portable studio either on a computer program or a stand alone model. Is this really music? Is this really what rock and roll is? And yet it is what rock and roll has become.
What has to be remembered is the roots of music. Remember it was the “beat” that made rock and roll different than the music of the 1950’s that preceded it. However, without a steady backbeat coming from a solid percussionist, the whole “feel” of the music is gone. It’s no longer rock and roll. It’s just music. There’s a difference.
Now there is of course a reason for this. As noted much earlier in this columns illustrious history, so much of what was a part of the minor leagues is now gone. What is the point of playing in a band these days? Where can bands play original music? There are no longer the rows of rock clubs that had open doors for groups to come in and test their wares. I don’t know why this is but it is. I mean most bands never made a dollar for playing in such venues. In other words, most provided free entertainment for the owners. So why did they shut their doors to such things? The reasons are perhaps varied and plenty. One was of course the drunken and disorderly. Live music often brings in a potentially undesirable crowd that the owners don’t want to deal with. Of course, from the number of shootings outside nightclubs these days that feature loud, obnoxious noise that I can’t believe anyone would want to subject their ears to I would venture to say the crowds at such places are perhaps even less desirable than any rock audience this side of Altamont.
So the point is really, where are the minor leagues today? Where are the places new bands can go to learn their craft in front of an audience? Where can artists play who may not be at the top of the food chain but want to tour to try and create some interest around the country? These places are gone and so the music itself has changed with the times and the times are not going to get better. It’s really a shame. Being one who loves to hear old fashioned rock and roll played live in a small, quaint club, I really wonder if there will ever be such a place for me again. No longer do bands have to earn their way up through the ranks. They can release a CD for less than a couple thousand dollars and promote it all over the internet. And yet, when one sees the band perform in public, they will surely be disappointed because more times than not they are about as interesting and polished as the crystal your mother never used that sat in the china closet waiting for a special occasion. To become a performer is to learn how to perform. It’s not about recording a great song. It’s about recreating it night after night for audiences who may not know what you’re doing but slowly become attracted to your music because of your playing. Do you think people listened to Jimi Hendrix on a recording to become interested? Of course not. The initial excitement was created by his performance. As it was with Elvis. And the Beatles. And the Stones. And the Who. And the… Well you can start listing them. Very few groups sold records because of their songs. A lot of great songs never became popular. Why? Well I think the case has already been made.
I know that I cannot change the realities of the day but maybe in a small way I can remind all of you of what was and what is in the hopes of revisiting yesterday rather than waiting for tomorrow.