It's Still Rock 'n Roll to Me

by Jeff Siegel

Those of us who are older, which means that we remember Ronald Reagan's presidency, mainly fear one thing more than any other: That we will no longer be able to recognize good music.

This is our terror – turning on the radio and hearing nothing but Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton (and not just any Frampton, but the same hellish song from Frampton Comes Alive that has been burning a hole in the right side of my generation's brain for more than 30 years). And going, "Wow, that's cool." And then singing along.

This doesn't have to happen. My musical taste, three decades ago, was impressive. I knew punk, new wave, Chicago and delta blues, folk music, the British Invasion. I could tell you the great radio stations in the United States (like WXRT in Chicago, WRNO in New Orleans, and KLIF in Dallas), and which ones – most of them, in fact – played 1970s crap. I was always looking for something new, something different, some kind of music that I had not heard before. And I never once thought it was odd that I could like both Emmylou Harris and the Dead Kennedys. Isn't that what made music so much fun?

Then, for a variety of reasons, I stopped paying attention. Much of it had to do with the changes in radio, as locally-operated stations that played interesting music gave way to the corporately-programmed system that has us by the throat today. I stopped listening to radio sometime during the Clinton administration, when even the good stations started to sound like everybody else.

And I stopped knowing a lot about music, which scared me. Remember the Clintons and Gores boogeying to "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)?" I didn't want that to be me. And then, one day, I read a story about something called Napster, and that the record business hated it.

If there is one thing I have learned in 40-some odd years of listening to music, it's that if the record business hates something, it must be pretty damned good for the rest of us. Which file sharing has been. I am not advocating that anyone commit file sharing, of course, because it is illegal and the record business has pursued offenders with more vigilance than they have pursued good music.

What I am advocating is that file sharing has been a Godsend for the music business – not the corporate, all songs must sound alike music business, but the nervy and intelligent music business that I thought had gone away. File sharing is not just sharing tunes, but the technology that makes it possible and the mind set that you don't have to wait for some suit in Manhattan to choose your music for you. You can do it yourself. This is as revolutionary as overthrowing the czar, and may be what really scares the record business and its stooges in conglomerate radio. It's one thing to lose a couple of points of sales on the current It Band; it's another to lose the power to decide what will be the next It Band.

Is this happening? I think so. In the past year, I have discovered the Chesterfield Kings, the Hives, Heavy Trash, Neko Case, and Carrie Rodriguez. I'm a 49-year-old man who bought a Broken Social Scene album, for crying out loud. How often does that happen in the extremely narrow world view of a record company executive? They don't even want me to know what Broken Social Scene is. I'm just supposed to buy the current Classic Rock Hero greatest hits album, and hum along quietly.

And how did I find these bands? Without any help from the record companies or radio. I found them by going to band sites on myspace, using the resources at allmusic.com, and looking for specific band websites. At allmusic, for example, you can listen to a bit of a song, look up the band's influences, and then listen to a bit from the second band. How well did this work? Well, I don't mean to brag, but we played Amy Winehouse on the IvoryTowerz podcast when she was just a chubby English girl.

So nuts to you, record business. Nuts to your bellyaching about lost royalties, and nuts to the compilation albums that you pass off as progressive programming. I'm going to go listen to some Ted Leo, who is much cooler than you could ever be. And I will sing along to "Bomb.Repeat.Bomb."

(Photo by Mary R. Vogt of Arkansas via morgueFile. To see the video version of "Bomb.Repeat.Bomb." from Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, please check below.)

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Comandante Agí said...

DK rules!

Anonymous said...

Carrie Rodriguez is ther BOMB! Why haven't more people discovered her? Obviously, not enough people like you around. Keep up the great work compadre...

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