Friday, April 3, 2009

Mellencamp, Idol, and the end of everything.

I was recently forwarded this piece by musician John Mellencamp (John Mellencamp,  Musician and Activist
and I found it so interesting that I thought I would comment. The points that resonated most with me, were the idea that the music industry has sold out its original mission out for financial concerns. He makes the point that the music industry has gotten so turned upside down that what was once a mechanism to bring people the music they liked, has turned into a hoax on the public to force them to listen to the music that the labels can make the most money with. By controlling the forces of radio and reporting, the industry now dictates what will be popular rather than trying to understand what people want. I can think of no greater example of this than American Idol. What was once a serious art form (think “Blonde On Blonde” or “Kind Of Blue” or “London Calling”) has become a bad Vegas routine. If in the 60’s someone had told me that public taste would be shaped by something that resembled the old “Merv Griffin Show” I wouldn’t have believed it. Seriously, the level of schmaltz that the viewing public has embraced and the record labels have jumped on board in the guise of American Idol is appalling. All originality, youthful energy and creativity has been replaced with easy-listening versions of old hits. And if I bring it up in public, people look at me like I’m crazy. When the industry stopped trying to figure out what the kids liked and started to dictate what the kids SHOULD like, we lost something big.
The other point he made that I really identify with is something I talk about all the time. It is the loss of regionalism in our country. I recently saw “Cadillac Records” a not great, but pretty good movie about the birth of Chess records, the Chicago label that defined the regional merger of Blues, R&B and Rock and Roll and thus changed the face of modern music. It is safe to say the Beatles and Stones would have sounded a lot different if there had been no Chess records. It is also true to say, that, in today’s environment, there is no chance that a world changing music form could be launched off the streets of one town. Now, things never grow organically or by serious word-of-mouth. Even on the internet, almost every break-out has the dirty fingerprints of some king-maker on them.
So what can we do about it? Probably nothing. As Mellencamp says in his piece, he isn’t really sure what can be done-he just asks people to wake up and recognize what is happening around them. I’m not the biggest Mellencamp fan in the world, but let me just say: hear hear John, hear hear. Let’s try and remember what the thrill of music was all about. American Idol is the opposite of that thrill. It is the predictable crap that I would see on daytime TV when I was home sick as a kid. --Paul Epstein

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