Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Unpardonable Interruption

"Averagely wise a man ought to be,

a man should be
never too wise;
for a wise man's heart is seldom cheerful,
if he who owns it is too wise." Poetic Edda, "Sayings of the High One" #55

I have an idea for writing about interrupting, because I interrupt, and because interruption seems to be a skill by itself, but this is not it. This is, instead, about music, which is why the quote has nothing to do with music.

I have alluded to my punk rock past in the past, and even I am tired of the glory days.

I do still harbor a grudge against Lee Abrahms (now at XM/Sirius), who kept my brothers and sisters off the radio back in '81, who made "punk" a scare word, who played into the "Nightly News" stories on "punk rockers from England with safety pins in their cheeks whose battle cry is 'Anarchy.'" It's shocking that Lee Abrahms managed to harbor shocking thoughts, after so carefully screening America from shock, but apparently he had a "send all" e-mail with some Thought Crime in it. His inside came outside, and that's not allowed in business.

Anyway, before people were scared of rap and rappers, they were scared of punks. The difference is that they never got a chance to get over their fear of punks, never put us in the top 40 (unless you count The Police and Talking Heads, and even now - even as The Pogues sing about drinking to the point of damnation and have it used as a soundtrack for a Kia sport utility vehicle - the same folks who denied us space then are erasing us from "oldies" and making us unexist). We remained the unclean bacon product of music.

Why? Why the hatred from music itself?

Well, our central point of pride was anti-corporate sentiment, so I'm sure that didn't help. On the other hand, we were touring machines, and the corporations don't care what you think of them, if you go on tour for them. We were liberals (unless we were Nazis), so that might have been out of tune in the cocaine Reaganaut industry, but the hippies were worse. We were relatively intellectual. None of this makes sense, though. In general, the punks were no more unmanageable than what came later. (Rappers have been singularly obliging for the corporations. Their "more money, more bling" ethos has been tailor made for corporate bottom lines. The fact that the group is usually one highly addictive personality is also good for managing and replacing.)


I actually think that other musicians and the musical component of the music business (the folks who manned the operating boards) disliked Punk in a way that they wouldn't rap and didn't disco.

Disco, lest we forget, sucks. It is horrible. I don't care what you say: it's awful. It has one beat, no lyrical content, and is, at best, an adjunct to coke and sex, not an art. Take the best disco song, strip the rhythm track, the synthesized strings, and play it with a Dixieland band, and it's fine. However, it had synthesized strings. It had synthesized beats, as soon as they could be synthesized. It had loops. It had, in short, studio magic. The old guys with the ratty beards and stringy pony tails didn't want to ever listen to a disco record (although they seemed to enjoy the coke and sex), but they loved disco because of all the fun they could have in the studio making those interesting burps and gurgles.

The corporate guys.... Well, let's not consider those reptiles. They've demonstrated that they do not think at all, most of the time, and, when they try, it's a mistake.

Rap, too, is a great deal for producers. Rap, in fact, is a producer's medium. The producer often gets artist credit on a rap song, because the studio writes and makes the "song." Studio rats think rap is neato, because they get to push tons of buttons and run all kinds of software and experiment endlessly with loops and stuff. They pride themselves on inventing "beats," which have little or nothing to do with playing drums.

The studio guys, and the corporate guys alike hated punk because we interrupted.

We didn't merely interrupt their smooth progression from Fleetwood Mac to Mack Daddy, but we interrupted musically, too. You see, to make a song, the process is supposed to be:

  1. Audition as a singer
  2. Get a producer from the company
  3. Buy a song that the producer thinks is right for you
  4. Sing the song over some tracks
  5. Thank the company and wear its placard.
Or, if you are a "band" (and they would rather you not be), the process is:
  1. Learn the instrument to virtuosity
  2. With said group of musicians, produce a demo of professional quality
  3. Submit finished record (demo) to Artist and Repertory dude with packet of cocaine "accidentally fell in there"
  4. Get signed and assigned a producer
  5. Have demo re-recorded by producer who rewrites the songs for their "potential," puts new drums on, makes the rhythm sound like whatever sold most last year
  6. Have singer praised and given "side projects" until she or he does steps 1-5 above
What you are not supposed to do is be a collaborative unit or a team, a la The Beatles. You are also not supposed to go perform and build up a fan base of people who like the music as it is instead of how the producer thinks it should be or how Lee Abrahms's closet of teenagers says it should be.

Punk annoyed everyone. The corporate guys saw it as a monkey wrench to a system that was working just fine. The punk route meant less cocaine, for one thing, and it meant that there would be no way to be sure of the next financial quarter's profits.

It annoyed the studio guys, too. It interrupted. Instead of studying the instrument for decades and then submitting the perfected performance to modification, people were shortcutting. They were having their witty lyrics or protests and going straight out with them, and yet
without relying on a studio to do it.

That's awful, isn't it?

Instead of sturm und drang compositions about what it would be like to be a ghost in a wishing well, we were strum and dang. We grabbed Ventures records and rockabilly and just ... played ... badly, but we needed no one's help in doing it. If we bored the audience, we heard about it. We didn't have to wait for a report from a focus group.

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