Killing Me Loudly (The Death of Music in the Modern Era)
As one enters into their sixth decade on the plant, they become keenly cognizant of their detachment from modern pop culture and its manifestations in the realms of artistic expression. It becomes increasingly evident that you are quickly sliding into that territory of being the angry old man yelling at kids to get off your lawn and turn down that awful racket. I am well-aware that this week’s TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less may well exacerbate that process, but to be honest, I just don’t give a damn. That’s because this generation is killing music, and in the words of Hall and Oates, who they have never heard of, “I Won’t Stand for That- No, No…”
My girlfriend and I recently returned from a glorious week in Cancun, a week full of sun, cocktails, skinny-dipping, and really shitty music. Seriously, have you listened to the stuff that’s being played out in the clubs these days? Well, you probably have because we’ve all had that obnoxious kid pull up next to you with the bass of his car stereo pumping so damn loud that you can’t even hear the melodic tones of Joni Mitchell coming out of yours. But that’s exactly it- all modern club music really comes down to that same thumping bass with the same 1-2-3 and 4 beat that you learned to tap on your knee in elementary school music class. On top of that, they layer an overly simplistic, synthesized melody with all the textured nuance of a Krispy Kreme donut. Some of these songs will actually have lyrics to them, words so vapid and meaningless that even Kim Kardashian can commit them to memory. You know, lines like, “What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me no more.” Yes, just the type of linguistic and lyrical creativity that makes Bob Dylan seem small by comparison.
The first sign that your music might suck would be the complete lack of instruments in its creation. Much of this bewildering crap is created on a computer. Sure, computers can be a resourceful tool for recording and shaping musical genius, but if you don’t strum, beat, or blow into some sort of instrument to make the sounds you want to call music, well, I’ll give you something you can blow on.
The second sign that your music isn’t really what could properly be described as “music” is that it is so lacking in creative merit of its own that it has to borrow substantively from previous material. We call this process, of course, sampling. But when I go into the frozen yogurt shop and ask for a “sample” they don’t give me an entire cone full of flavors of my choice. No, they just give me one of those tiny sample cups that I then have to reuse over and over again until the local high school kid working behind the counter has to threaten to call their manager if I do not stop. That’s because a sample is supposed to just be a small taste, not the whole damn thing. But listen to how “sampling” is done in modern music, and it quickly becomes clear that the only good part about the new song that is being created is the old one they had to steal.
My girlfriend’s daughter will often complain when she gets in the car to go to school and the Phish station is playing on Sirius radio. “Oh great,” she’ll complain, “We can listen to just one song on the entire ten-minute drive!” Oh that’s right- that’s what happens when talented musicians come together and jam. They listen to the playing of others and then use their own musicianship and expertise to tailor their performance into a seamless integration of sound. It is pure poetry in action, as the sum becomes greater than the parts, and a unique artistic expression is formed with the articulation of a finely-tuned novella. Listening to the 3-minute pieces of garbage our would-be teenager prefers, it is clear that when it comes to creative expression, the pieces she prefers are more gibberish than articulation.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule and there are a number of performers out there who buck this trend towards the insipid decline of creativity in modern music. John Legend, Brandi Carlisle, John Mayer, etc. all serve to remind us that as long as there are genuine musicians out there, they will have an audience to appreciate them. But more and more as I listen to the crap that now passes as music, I am crestfallen at the lack of creative impetus involved. Simply put, most of the music produced today is soulless, vacant of the depth and energy that music, when done well, is able to impart from one being to another.
Certainly each generation falls into the trap of bitterly complaining about the ones that follow them, echoing the sentiment of a forlorn loss of culture. My grandparents used to rage against “all that blasted rock’n’roll music” just as their grandparents railed against, well, I don’t know….maybe the promiscuity and debauchery of the Big Band Era? But it seems to me that something different is happening here than just the usual clash of generational tastes. It seems that as with many other aspects of our modern society, this generation of young people want to replace soul and hard work with technology and ease. Unfortunately, it is the sound of that deafening bass droning on that is drowning out the euphonious nature of the voices of our not-so-distant past.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com