We have an enormous amount of work to do for the future of our economy, our society, indeed our whole world. Every day should be focused on new vistas, possibilities, obstacles, solutions, inspirations. But I submit that we will not truly embrace this future while our pop culture holds onto the 20th century by its bloody fingernails.
Yesterday, I stopped into Barnes & Noble briefly, a side trip on my voyage to get some fresh running shoes. I thought that I would perhaps get a paper copy of Bass Player, since I really don’t prefer the iPad version. When I looked at all the different music magazines at once, the people chosen to be on the covers left my mouth open in disbelief.
Recently, I tried to ask a larger question: “Is the music industry primarily about nostalgia?” To help answer the question, I pulled up the top 25 touring acts and top 25 recording acts. Bottom line: the most money is in tours, and the biggest tours are by artists who emerged multiple decades ago. The record sales are primarily from new artists, but it is not clear if in twenty-five years they too will be selling out stadiums.
This magazine cover business gives more weight to the idea that the whole industry is about nostalgia, irrespective of what people are downloading on iTunes. Just look at the faces picked to represent something “newsworthy” in and around guitar based music. Sorry, I gotta let the Gen X rip on this one: This looks completely f***ing ridiculous to me.
HEY EVERYBODY, HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE BEATLES? Holy shit, no? Lads with “long hair” from Liverpool? No? Well jeez, Paul’s the cute one and John is the deep one! Never heard Sergeant Pepper? Abbey Road? Never? Well it’s great stuff!!! Alert the media.
Also: you know who’s a great guitar player? CARLOS SANTANA! Yup, yup, yup. Oh, and who’s that super guitar hot rodder from California? IT’S EDDIE VAN HALEN! Wow, if you like guitar, you had better hear these guys, whose first gold albums were 35 – 45 years ago!
And do you like it heavy? Well get ready for some super edgy heavy stuff and check out BLACK SABBATH, formed in Birmingham, England in 1969! Don’t let your Mom hear this one – she might take the needle out of your turntable just from fright.
Wait: Lamb of God? I’ve heard of them, but none of them get Social Security – should they really get an album cover?
And wait – The Milk Carton Kids? Whoo! I’ve never heard of them! Maybe their music is new and newsworthy? But wait, it’s safe to read – they are apparently “channeling their inner Everly Brothers,” according to the cover. It’s a new artist – but we wouldn’t want you to read about them without a direct comparison to an artist from the 1950s.
We won’t fix the economy until the Beatles are no longer on magazine covers
I have a question for all these editors: Do you remember 1988? Were we looking at Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington on magazine covers? Were all the kids sweating Frank Sinatra’s crooner period?
NO. We were inventing the goddamn Internet and making synth pop and listening to U2’s Joshua Tree and watching crazy Peter Gabriel videos and beating the Soviets and making the future day by day.
We were not pathologically afraid of the future to the point that we continued to perseverate on artists from fifty years prior.
This world is so exciting right now. There are brand new technologies and a world of problems to which they can be applied. More than ever, young people are hungering for real changes. Old people will depend on our ability to generate prosperity out of a confusing morass of failing institutions. The work will be arduous, but the potential is as great as it has been in a century.
Part of that work will be psychological and cultural. I’m sure nobody meant anything harmful by putting Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac on the cover of a magazine. Yet the constant assertion that the 20th century is still more relevant than the 21st is actively deleterious to our crusade to revitalize society. We are headed to the future, not the past – and that’s a good thing.
If popular culture refuses to come along on that journey, then it has become nothing but noise pollution.