We were hippies, idealists, thinking the world could be better, more fair, less racist, better income distribution, less violent. More insightful, more intelligent. But the mindset of what we saw as our parent's generation is still intact, and at times seems stronger than it ever was. There were good reasons for our parents' way of living and thinking. WWI & II, the Great Depression, the ascendent America cast as a hero on a quest for democracy. I'm not belittling that thinking. But the circumstances changed, and we were trying to figure it out.
And now, even after what appears to many of us to be a disastrous 8 years of Republican Bush mismanagement and constitutional destruction, we often feel we are losing. We can't create enough momentum to overcome the insidiousness of what we felt in the 60's needed to be overcome. Even with a brilliant candidate, studied and fair, openly egalitarian, inclusive -- we often feel we are losing again.
When we had our candidate in Clinton, and had momentum, we were stopped by his sexual stupidity, sold down the river by a blowjob. (When they get caught blowing or being blown, they are seldom punished. They are the moralizing parents who say "don't do as I do, do as I say" and they mean it, for real.)
Until recently, much of the MSM has been silent. The outrage about the lying, the manipulation, the criminality, is corralled within the nets. The map looks too red, the numbers eroding the hope. The same hope we had 40 years ago. Our parents are still scolding us, in the aged sagging voice of John McCain and the demonic grasping fantasy of Sarah Palin
Were we wrong? Are we naive to believe? Is it really that Exxon guy with the fat neck who got 100's of millions of dollars for his bonus that is the reality? Obama is told in blogs to get nasty, hardcore, vicious, to strike back violently as the Republicans are striking out at him.
Should Obama make a Depends box with a picture of McCain on it, as the Values Voters made a box of waffle mix with an overtly racist caricature of Obama on it? Obama's trying to be decent, to not be drawn into the glop where the Republicans like to play. It seems obvious to us that it is in his nature to be fair, to weigh alternatives and try to make decisions for the greater good. In other words, he's weak. Rove and Davis et al see Obama as a sucker.
Music in the 60's was a driving force of the idea of change. The World War was over, the Swing Era was crashing, and a new era had started. America's interests had become paramount, and 50,000 soldiers were dying in Viet Nam. It was a fight for democracy. There really was a cold war going on, all in the shadow of nuclear holocaust and world-wide destruction. The main ideas of change were expressed through songs.
Alot of people thought a song could change the world. A song was a hope that once played would work like a fuse, burn down to and ignite the major charge, blow things open and start the chain reaction of change to the new. The new order of things would be an open society free of racism, injustice, poverty, and the ideas that cause and support them. It would be a new majority, in charge, beneficent, enlightened. All would be included, all religions, all points of view, all cultures. In a word, Love.
Howie and I started out together in thinking this way. He had his independent label, and was releasing new bands no one had heard of, punk bands, rebels, more new ideas. I had been writing songs and putting out albums of my own, trying to come up with a song that would be another fuse to the future, and having failed at that, I started over, answering phones in a studio so I could learn the gear, get control over the means of production, and make albums with artists who were also looking to make a fuse.
Plus, I just loved music. Independent of the participation in culturally revolutionary activities, I loved the art of sound, the mechanics of it, the resonances and what I learned about the nature of Nature. The 5th, air moving in powerful ways, the human voice and it's connection to what is hidden in the human soul. So there was a meta level to the whole thing that was and still is much deeper than the cultural aspect. There are the ideas behind it all, but behind those ideas is the physics of music, the beauty of a sound well made. More than a metaphor, music at it's deepest level is an actuality, briefly existing and disappearing when the air quits moving. Arising and dissolving...
Then a record
I made that Howie put out did well in the marketplace, and then another
, not good enough to make a lot of money, but to put the label on the map as a potential source of new gold, a new vein to be mined by the big music corporations. Howie made a deal with CBS, and started putting out records through their distribution systems. The idea was to reach an even bigger audience with this new music, and spread the change.
I was noticed too, and made my deal with the corporation. I was intensely idealistic about it all, wondering if my soul would be absorbed by the big machine in the push to grow profits. Would the music be co-opted, the message changed to suit the market, and thereby miss the market the artists were aiming for? Would the emerging new be shaved down and compromised? When I shopped the music that I was working on to the major labels, before Howie and I made our deals (I'd shopped music to majors and didn't get anywhere with it before Howie decided he'd give it a shot) I was told the music wasn't mainstream or marketable. But when the labels saw it selling on Howie's label, they all came back to get in on the action.
Howie's label grew, and he eventually became general manager of a very successful major label, one that was very much on the cutting edge of new music. And then later he would become president of an even larger label. And I eventually became head of the A&R department of a major label. It felt like there would be an even greater opportunity to spread the change.
We both kept working towards this change through music. Trying to find artists who would move the dialog forward, make the dream more real, change the culture through their artistry, bit by bit. Howie would do it by promoting and marketing the new music, and I would do it by making the music with the artists. Oddly enough, Howie and I never spoke about any of this. The push for change, for a new culture revealed through music, was always implied but never explicit. It was, and is, always taken for granted.
And the major corporations allowed us to move forward with our ideas in our own ways. And prosper, too. As the business grew, so did we. We were in league with big companies, but trying to change them from within.
One thing about the metaphor business that's fascinating is that the product, when it's good, is intensely ephemeral. Artists who are seeking to make a strong personal statement, and who have the power to do so, are unique and often in delicate balance within themselves. And constantly in danger of losing that balance. And these artists are the people whom the corporation relies upon for its future viability. If the music isn't forward thinking, then eventually the business will atrophy.
When music follows the needs of the mass market, growth stops. In the artistic direction, music grows and changes and the markets follow. This is not to say that music can't be produced that targets a market and succeeds; that it can is proven every day. But the life of the music company is based on moving the culture forward; the vitality of the corporation is based on the new markets that open up when new music catches on. Before Prince, there was no Prince market. His creativity sparked a whole new set of businesses, and infused his label with a new vitality that lasted for years. You could feel the pride.
Another change that disrupted the business is that a generation of listeners began to feel two things simultaneously-- music is not the main driving force for new ideas, and, music is free. Gaming, film, internet, all became as important in the New as music had been. This is not to say that music doesn't mean as much in individual lives, because it can still spark change for people.
But the idea that a song can change the world doesn't seem viable anymore. Music releases are dwarfed by Halo releases and Batman releases. And those massive releases seem like ancient history 5 weeks after they take place. Listeners still love their favorite new music, but there hasn't been a Sgt Pepper queue for many many years.
What is the larger view I'm trying to get at here? It's that, just like the weight seems to have gone out of music's ability to be a catalyst for big change, it feels at times like big change through a catalyst like Barack Obama is impossible.
There was an initial hope and expansion which carried Obama forward into the place where his success was the driving force to finally-- or once again (as in Kennedy)-- make real headway against the culture of Christianists, racists, posturing hypocrites, corporate greed, and now, creeping fascism in the form of governmental suppression and intrusion and gross mismanagement. With the lethal injection of Sarah Palin into McCain's life, we see in her the reflection of a part of the electorate that-- once demoralized by the possibility of Obama-- is suddenly reanimated. The energy around her, that she drew as a strange attractor, is the hope of everything that new music and new culture fought against initially in the 60's. Hippie love is attacked by God's love, and it feels like the pendulum is swinging breathlessly between the two.
Music was the way of expressing the change we felt might to come. We made these metaphors of revolution and change, thinking they had the power of armies. And the music did inject the ideas into the culture, seeds & memes taking root. But Obama is an actual embodiment of the change. He's not a metaphor. I can barely imagine what he feels like, knowing the forces that are at play and at war through him. But I'll stand in the queue for him, waiting for the store to open, to see what a possible new way might look like, to see whether the fuse burns down and reaches its explosive goal.
Labels: Good vs Evil, music