JAIMIE VERNON – WHERE HAVE ALL THE ARTISTS GONE?
I’ve been deep into music since shortly after my 14th birthday. Three quarters of my life has been spent doing something I love. A lot. The side benefit has been that I’ve been able to create music as well. As much as any computer whiz with software can create “music” these days, I came about my (cough cough) talent honestly.
I strapped on a guitar and spent my 100,000 hours in my room, in basements and on stages around the world. I believe I’m finally proficient enough to call myself a musician.
The dichotomy of yesterday’s musicians (of which I am one) and today’s can be put in perspective by realizing that Justin Bieber has only been ALIVE for 175,000 hours. That’s a third of all the years I’ve spent just making music (never mind being alive). Much of the hatred hurled at Bieber and others like him from fellow muzoids is not jealousy, per se. It’s the unfairness of seeing someone rocket to stardom without really, truly earning it.
A buddy of mine who is a labourer tells me similar stories about cocky interns and apprentices who believe they’ve earned the right to slack off, goof off and give half-assed efforts merely by being employed there. Sorry, junior. Until you can problem solve while unattended, supervise, devise, implement and team build you’ve earned nothing except a seat on the bus.
In contrast, the music world now let’s these people drive the bus – mostly into personal ditches. It affects everything from scheduling, staffing, touring, ticket prices and music sales. And in a social media universe, they also control publicity and with it the media itself. Where once the goal used to be about increasing music sales, it’s now about increasing brand awareness. Short term brand awareness. They’re beacons of narcissistic intent. They are lighthouses that don’t help those around them to navigate treacherous waters – but ones to dash hopes and dreams on rocks that are close to shore. Everyone’s in the row boat drifting toward the siren’s call. It’s simultaneously deafening and blinding.
How did we get the simple stardom formula so turned around? I’m not a fan of the scores of industry weasels that took young talent and used them up and spit them out (calling Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis is on Line One) but I also wonder when being an unsupervised dickhead with a can of spray paint – or a naked girlfriend motorboating on a green screen and a hall pass to idiocy became the ‘norm’? Yeah, I know. Keith Moon used to throw TVs out of hotel windows and put Rolls Royces in swimming pools. Yet, it somehow seems different when it’s ‘Uncle Keith’ doing it…and not your little brother.
At least Keith kept getting up the next day to play another show. He earned every minute of his manic behaviour. Bieber just goes on stage long enough to fulfill his legal obligations to the venue so he can grab his pay cheque and kiss the fans off as if this is acceptable. That’s insubordination on par with Guns ‘N’ Roses. Even Axl Rose has smartened up and gotten a real job with AC/DC.
There is no etiquette for Rock and Roll. The point of crossing over ‘the line’ continues to get moved farther away from society’s standard of acceptance. It’s all about catching that next news cycle. It’s a lifetime of shame for a temporary gain. There’s only two taboos left untried in a commercial venue – live sex acts (Miley’s foam finger? Puhlease) and murder. Once those have been broached it’s all over, kids. You’ve got nowhere left to go. The taboos are being toppled at an alarming rate so expect someone to push the former sooner rather than later either in a video or on stage. And the murder thing is a mere ‘Running Man’ reality show away. The Japanese are already close to crossing that line.
I’ve often wondered if any of this generation’s stars knows they’ve got an expiry date? I’d back that self-aware horse 100%. If they let us in on the joke and took us along for a very short, exciting public ride I’d gladly support that. Especially if they came out and said, “Hey, let me sew my wild oats in public for awhile and then I’ll go get a real job and maybe cure cancer or solve the water retention issues in Third World countries” then I’d be the first to line up for tickets.
Instead, we get the lie. The unfulfilled promise of talent (HELLOOOO, KANYE WEST!). Rebels without a clue in some stunted adolescent fantasy world where the entire planet is a giant Toyland ball pit to dive in and out of at will. “Here kid, here’s a license to print money. Good luck keeping your shit together.”
And none of it has anything to do with music. Indeed, the biggest three ring circuses ever in the music business have always lacked any true musical acuity or integrity. Talk to a generation of Bay City Roller fans and ask them what attracted them to the act – music is rarely the #1 item on that list. Oh, sure you’ll get fans that say that some of the songs changed their lives – but those words were manufactured by songwriters on demand as part of the cardboard facade fed to audiences in the McRockandroll feeding frenzy. And the Rollers were stuck having to wear that facade and the hideous clothing and hairstyles. These were real guys that could actually play and sing and really only got the chance after it was too late (c/f The Monkees).
Music needs to come first. It’s what careers live and die on. Want a long life in the music biz? Spend your 100,000 hours perfecting your craft – as a musician or as a songwriter or both. Songwriting – particularly a well-crafted hit – will make you more money in the long run. Being a musician will keep you semi-employed indefinitely. Being talentless and a cipher will make you stupid rich for 14 minutes and 59 seconds. It’s a sad state of affairs when this generation always chooses the latter. No effort required. No need to become an expert in your field. No chance of changing the lives of the next generation. Just yesterday’s news cycle and not yesterday’s classic hit cycle.
I can safely say that Bieber, Gaga, Kanye, Robin Thicke, and Miley Cyrus will never grace a poll of the greatest artists/songwriters 100 years from now. That space is reserved for those that put in one million hours. It’s rarified air breathed by the truly gifted, the truly talented. And for Kanye or the Gallagher Brothers to try and convince the world (let alone their puppet disciples) that they belong in the roll call is behind ludicrous. We’re not buying the lie. The kids are alright. They’re smart enough to wait out the 15 minutes of lame. They know there’s always someone better coming down the pipe. Maybe one day it’ll be the next Beatles. And don’t believe for a minute that it can’t happen again. One day there will be a talent big enough to sweep more than just nations off their feet but entire worlds. That person/group will have learned the meaning of hard work, of connecting as musicians; songwriters; as people connecting to people.
The humanity of art is on life support at least in the hands of the commercial Gods. The next revolution in music will come from the street. It will be from a struggling musician whose soul is worn on his/her sleeve. Whose motivation for making music is the art of breathing. A heartbeat that lives in 4/4 time. Eating, sleeping and fucking to the rhythm of the world. In tune with a dying planet and empathetic to humanity’s pain and victories. That person is in the ghettos of Africa, or on an island in the Pacific. They are not driving Escalades in Beverly Hills. They most certainly aren’t strutting around in meat-suits or spray painting hotel walls in Brazil. That’s just bread and circuses.
If you want to hear real music – untainted by swine wearing lipstick – take your next Taylor Swift concert ticket money and go to a small town (hell, go to another country) and head to the streets. Visit a bazaar in Bangkok or a piazza in Rome. The street people are the voice of us all. Listen. Not just with your ears. But with your heart. This is where music lives. Not on a stage at the Staples Centre. Not on Instagram. But in the dirt, in the rain, in a savannah entertaining elephants or aimed at a star flecked sky. The music is playing whether you’re there or not. Why not be a witness? Get in the trenches, sing along, join the band. Before you know it you will have put in 100,000 hours. And time sure flies when everyone’s singing the same song. Just be sure it’s not in the name of selling cola.
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon