Segarini: The Kids Are Alright – Updated!
Editor’s Note: The overworked and dedicated Jaimie Vernon gets a rare day off today and rightly so. Enjoy the respite, my friend, it’s back to the grind next week.
In place of Jaimie’s well written weekly column, I offer up this article from October 11th, 2011. It touches on today’s generation, Indie week, Musical Dreamers, and a rather spirited debate about Apple products in the comments section. For those of you who are new readers, enjoy, For the rest of you, either enjoy it again or maybe your memory is going and it will seem new to you too. Roxanne’s column appears tomorrow in it’s usual place. YAY! Roxanne! Pictured: Jaimie Vernon
When I was a kid, rock and roll was one of the few ways you could get out of your crappy home town, avoid going into the family business, or pull yourself out of abject poverty. If you had zero skills in sports or math, it was the ONLY way to change your life without having to spend years and years in school learning how to do something you hated to earn the money you needed. Not only could you make a shitload of cash, it was money for nothing and the chicks for free. Sure it was.
In the lifetime since then, things have changed a lot. Back then, you learned to play an instrument, started writing songs, put a band together, started playing at your school, or teen centers, and maybe the odd club that would book underage players. Then you would buy a van (usually co-signed for by someone’s dad) and start to play further and further afield until you established a personal circuit you could tour and play over and over again. You slowly picked up fans, earned more money, and came to the attention of record labels both small and large, hoping one would sign you up and put you in the studio to record a single or album. It was the dream, and thousands of us pursued it. Hard work, skill, and above all else, talent, were prerequisites, and having those coupled with good timing and public favour could lead to a crack at the brass ring, success, and a career. It was a food chain that served the public good, the music, and the music and record industries. It was exciting, it was fun, and most importantly, it was a community of like-minded individuals. A club. A secret society of dedicated dreamers, dunces, and delusional die-hards. Believers in miracles and movers of mountains, boys who slept on floors and lived on fast food, all for the love of music and the pursuit of the dream. 10,000 hours? Hell, not only did we put in our 10,000 hours, we put in a 100,000 miles…every year…for years. Honestly, you had to be there.
Over the years, music became less and less regarded as a holy grail for youth, less a means to break away from a mundane and stifling, humdrum life. Music was replaced by video games, and writing code. It was replaced by law school and business acumen, by banking and the brokerage of stocks, by marketing and advertising as a means to make money and rise to a kind of ‘stardom’. Money for somebody else’s 10,000 hours and you could afford the chicks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…kinda.
The biggest hero these days isn’t an Elvis Presley or a John Lennon, it is a Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs, who we have lost far too early, was indeed a brilliant, charismatic man, and easily the most important figure in today’s musical landscape, but he is also a perfect example of the changes that have taken place when it comes to the importance of music in our lives, and where the focus now lies. Steve Wozniak was the man who invented what became Apple computers. Steve Jobs talked him into marketing what he had created in such a way as to make more money. After that succeeded, Wozniak designed and perfected the first Apple computers, threw a couple of HUGE rock festivals, and left the company.
After Jobs saw how clunky the new portable music players on the market were, he made a call to Apple chief hardware engineer Jon Rubenstein and ordered him to put together a team to create one with a better user interface. They did, and the iPod was born.
The iPhone was created during Apple’s first attempt to create a tablet computer (the Newton Message Pad). Jobs ordered the hardware staff to look into other applications for the new ‘touchscreen’ technology, and soon afterward told them to change the focus of their research into creating a touchscreen phone instead of a tablet. They did. We all know what happened when Apple turned their attention back to the tablet, and like everything else Apple’s creative teams have come up with at the behest (some say the loudly, sometimes rudely demanded orders) of Steve Jobs, the iPad too, is a much sought-after product with today’s tech-savvy populace.
I do not own any Apple products. The reason is simple; I cannot buy into an expensive piece of technology that is, as advertised, a wonderful piece of well built coolness, but also perpetuates planned obsolescence (you cannot upgrade an Apple product, you can only replace it with a newer, more expensive version), you cannot replace any of its components, (battery stops charging? Buy a new iWhatever), there is no USB input, Flash, or HDMI connectivity, and if your iWhatchacallit gets wet, you have to submerge it in a bowl of rice for a couple of days to get it to work again, and finally, iTunes is overpriced, irreplaceable, and the app eats any and all music files on your hard drive and makes it impossible for you to hear on, or transfer them to, any device that isn’t made by Apple. Jobs created none of these products, but he will forever be remembered for being responsible for all of them. As brilliant as he was, this is the equivalent of saying whoever the guy was at Parlophone records who told The Beatles they had better write some new songs because they had to record another album, should get the credit for those songs, or the script writer on Gone With the Wind should have gotten the credit for the incredible (at the time) special effects in the film that resulted from a two word sentence in the script that simply read “Atlanta Burns”.
Guys like Steve Jobs are the new heroes along with the guys that came up with Facebook (had a movie made about them!), the folks behind Angry Birds, and Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. We could name all the members of our favourite groups. Can anybody name all the members of Arcade Fire or Nickelback?
My point is that these days, if you go by what is popular with the young folk, the developers of video games like Nazi Dinosaurs from Mars and Spork Wars are probably bigger role models for some than any guitar player or singer/songwriter out there. Even in music, it seems that the songwriting teams, production teams, some managers and even lawyers and agents are more revered than any of the artists they represent or work with. Our society, our criteria, our very passion seems to revolve not around talent or creativity, but around popularity and wealth. We have become a culture of deeply shallow, self-centered, greedy, assholes.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. Not everyone has caved in to the desire for more money with the least amount of actual involvement in creating that which makes the money. Mind you, there are good (talented and creative) people in the above name-checked support industries, but they too make more money than the source of their income. No wonder more kids are starting labels, agencies, and managerial and PR firms than are loading gear into a used van and heading off to Hicksville to play a church basement.
But even in today’s climate, even in this era of (seemingly) instant fame via a television show, or releasing an album recorded in your mother’s kitchen before you have ever played a gig, even when your self-penned ditty gets a million hits on You Tube without so much as buying a real instrument, let alone learning how to play it, there is hope. There are still dreamers. There are still Road Warriors, still people who want to rehearse and write, and play and play, and drive all night and eat KFC out of the bucket, solely because they believe in the life, believe in the music, and believe in themselves and the dream. These kids are out of their minds just like we were.
Which brings me to Indie Week.
There are bigger and better known events like this one around the globe, but Indie Week has a vibe unlike any other. NXNE, SXSW, and CMW may have more bands and a bigger playing field, but Indie Week has a street level excitement that is infectious, and more palpable joy than a fleet of beer trucks brings to a chili cook-off. Now in it’s 8th year, the 5 day event has a sister event in Ireland as well, and the winners of each get sent across the pond to play the next event. Pretty cool, considering this is the first real competition some of these kids are exposed to. Indie Week (which this year is sporting a winged pig wearing sunglasses as its mascot) really is a place where ‘pigs can fly’. Genre doesn’t matter, past successes (if any) don’t figure in to it, looks, experience, none of it impacts on who plays and who doesn’t. It is all about the music. Period. And these kids travel a long way to get here, and I’m not talking Ottawa or Sudbury, although both were represented this past week. There were bands from Ireland, Australia, the U.S, and even Japan. There was folk, rock, Celtic, roots, hip-hop, and pop. Musically, Indie Week is a free for all, and the energy projected by these young hopefuls fills the venues and the streets of downtown Toronto. Bands watching bands along with musos, fans, and knowing hipsters. You really can’t help but have a good time.
Darryl Hurs, the man behind Indie Week, and his mostly volunteer staff do an amazing job of organizing and wrangling this bunch, and the venues are equally committed to making sure the bands and the fans have the best possible time. It seems almost like family sometimes. And like Thanksgiving dinner with your family, you never know what’s going to happen, or which uncle or aunt is going to pass out in the yams or start a fight with your dad.
There is a ‘golly-gee-whiz’ factor I don’t feel at other, similar events I’ve participated in. For some of these musicians, it is the first time they have played to this many people or been this far away from home. Every one of them seem to be thrilled to be here, exchanging notes and ideas with other band members, checking out as many shows as they can, all of them trying their best and rooting for the other guy at the same time. It is refreshing compared to the backstage drama and intense seriousness and self awareness of artists a few rungs further up the ladder. This is where the dreamers are, some naïve, some a little seasoned, some ready to break out, and all of them still over the moon about being able to do what they love; out on the road, making music, making new friends and fans and hearing new bands. There are good bands and bad bands, bands that are ready and bands that are not, but they are all here to play, to learn, to get experience, and to get better. Some will, some won’t, but that is the nature of the beast. For me, just knowing that this dream still thrives, that all young people didn’t decide to go on TV to get famous or stay in college to become a lawyer or an accountant, that no matter what the media says, music is not only healthier than ever before, but kids still dream of making it in the wild and wacky world of music by playing instead of taking the shortcuts so many seem to have embraced.
Some of these kids will realize they don’t have the goods and go back to school or settle down in a steady job, and some of them will slog away for years, playing the clubs, just making enough to get by but soldier on because the love of music and realizing the life of a journeyman musician is fine enough, and still others will get the deals, get the shots, and some, will get the careers all of them had dreamed of. They will ALL have memories that are worth their weight in gold. As there are now, there will be real estate agents who have a little band together with a dentist and a lawyer friend who plays barbecues and maybe their local pub. There will be bands that reunite every few years to play a bit and have some laughs, and there will be those whose dream died hard and will always wonder why they tried in the first place. The latter, fortunately, are rare, and quite frankly, are the ones whose motivation was fame and fortune, not music and the work and talent that goes into making it.
You have to be good to survive and great to succeed in music, but the experience of trying is like no other. It is so comforting to know that people still do try. There is no greater time in a person’s life than when they are starting out in pursuit of their dream, regardless of what it is. Indie Week is one of those starting points, the first big step into the great unknown.
God, how I envy those kids, and that feeling.
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Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for radiothatdoesntsuck.com with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.