Friday, May 10, 2013

My Greatest Experience in Music so Far




In 1964 The Beatles opened the flood gates for Rock bands everywhere. Even bands that only knew 2 chords (96 Tears) could craft a hit record.  For a brief period, The British Invasion made their living playing “Race” Music.  The Beatles were still singing “Mr. Postman” The Rolling Stone were singing “Robert Johnson’s Love in Vain”.  And the Dave Clark Five were singing the Chris Kenner Hit “I like it like that.

With the Exception of a few gems, Elvis was signed to a Movie contract which tied him up for 6 years in which he did 29 movies. So Elvis was no longer a factor in Rock and Roll.  He was a Hollywood Actor. Elvis once said he wanted to be “Dean Martin”.  In the 60’s the open use of drugs was encouraged in Rock Music by the Hippie scene.  Drug use would turn Rock into Acid Rock.

Acid Rock would invite many sub-genres of Rock from folk rock to pop to metal music while surreptitiously replacing “Race” music.  In an attempt to legitimize Rock music, English musicians began playing opera style Rock.  The “Rock Opera” became stylish (Tommy).  Later, progressive Rock from bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer made what was once “Race” music, literally recognizable. This was all between 1967 and 1980. 

In 1977 an artist named Iggy Pop saw what was happening to “Rebel” music.  It had been co-opted by the establishment for a profit.  In an attempt to make “modern” Music more palatable (translated: “Profitable) Hollywood started kicking out, (once again), The Partridge Family and ABBA.  Safe bets like “Bread” or “The Bee Gees” had endless Hollywood bucks behind their success generated by lunch box sales and the “Rock T-Shirt”.

Hollywood started guiding this new style of Rock back towards the “Pretty boy Sex angle”.  With the huge success of both “Cassidy Brothers” (of which only one could sing) and British Icon Rocker Rod Stewart singing disco, (Do you think I’m Sexy) Iggy Pop started doing a new thing called Punk.  Iggy’s dream was personified in the Band “The Ramones” which worshipped Iggy Pop.  In one line: “Punk was music for the other kids”.  It represented the geeks and brought music back to that “Teen Rebellion”level that started it all.

PUNK, which was indicative of a rebellious, James Dean style of music, was given a new name (Typical of the progressive left) “New Wave”.  New Wave was form of punk yet less threatening.  Something Hollywood could put a handle on.  It didn’t take long for Hollywood to replace the real Punks like the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Ramones, with less threatening pretty boys like “The Romantics”, “The Vapors”, “The Knack”, “Blondie” and to a lesser degree, “Greg Kihn”. One band that started out as a punk band, encompassed a panoply of genres by the time it’s lead singer would die of HIV. The Band Queen reinvented its’ self with every album and won the moniker: “The Band of the Eighties”.  By the end of the eighties, Metal had made a big impression on young teenaged boys again.  Bands like Metallica and Megadeath recycled older bands like Lead Zepplin and Ozzy with Black Sabbath. 

What does Hollywood do?  You have to remember that the money that bought Metallica Albums was usually allowance money.  This meant that the music had to be socially acceptable in the household.  So in an attempt to negotiate, metal music for mom and dad’s money, Hollywood went back to its’ old formula.  Pretty boys only this time in Spandex pants and really big permed out hair.  The music was loud, but that was O.K. because the bands like Motley Crue and Poison were singing lyrical masterpieces like “Girls, Girls, Girls”. Ultra success came to a mid-western college band called “REO-Speed Wagon” Fronted by the big haired attractive singer Kevin Cronin.  The once credible “Billy Squire” lost his integrity in an MTV video that had him dancing around in a “foot loose” fashion wearing a “pink” top.  He was touring with the English hair band “Def Leopard” and during the tour, Squire and Def exchanged places on the Marquis.  This list of Loud bands went from “AC/DC”, “Aerosmith” and “Cheap Trick”, to “Twisted Sister” and “Ratt”. 

These “Metal” or “Hair” bands were playing loud “Head Banging” music in really clean leopard skin Spandex.  Vocalists were literally screaming.  The culture was about decadence and drug induced irresponsibility.  It was the perfect soundtrack if anyone wanted to make a movie called “Los Angeles”.
In Seattle, garage bands were minding their own business making their own sound.  It wasn’t something organized and it wasn’t a movement.  It was music from a forgotten region, The North West.  Just as you had “The Philadelphia sound and the Memphis Sound” Seattle was quietly (without notice) playing really loud ear bleeding music.  But it was music that truly touched the Teenager that didn’t look like Bon Jovi.  It was LOUD, it was HONEST, and it got straight to the point.  Songs like RAPE ME and LITHIUM appealed to a generation of Teens who didn’t have mommy and daddy’s Mercedes to drive down Sunset Blvd.  These bands were PUNKish but PUNK ON STEROIDS and written from experience.  I almost lost a tooth in a MOSH PIT.  Teens were having fun hurting each other.  It made the music come alive.  It was their music. It was music for the depressed.  Grunge bands sang about depression  The first band America would hear on national radio was a trio called Nirvana.  Ironically, Nirvana defined this new sound which would be defined or labeled: “Grunge” music.  The chord progression was not your typical Blues/Rock/Country/Gospel progression of chords.  It gave the music a flavor of its’ own. 
Just like The Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor or Stuka Dive Bombers screaming down on Poland; bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam literally over night put the pretty boy hair bands like Poison, Motley Crue, Ratt and Quiet Riot in the unemployment line. 
Just as the Beatles represented the U.K. invasion and The Ramones defined Punk, Nirvana would be the “Poster Child” for this strange new Alien sound.  But it wouldn’t take long before slick production would ruin the “quaint” originality of the Grunge Movement.  Pearl Jam, also from Seattle, (Originally known as Mookie Blaylock) would have a refined studio sound.  This went against everything the Seattle Grunge sound stood for.  It was anti-establishment.  Every A&R agent from southern California took the next flight to SeaTac International airport to sign anything that played this new music and had an audience.  Here’s the hideous part, bands in L.A. immediately shed their spandex pants and like chameleons, started wearing plaid flannel shirts and jeans with holes in the knees.  They let the layers in their hair grow out and did their best to look like Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vetter.  Ironically, Eddie Vetter and Kurt Cobain wore these tattered articles of clothing because it was all they could afford.  It was like the “Carringtons” from the 80’s TV Show Dynasty, dressing up like the Beverly Hillbillies because they thought it made them look like they were from Seattle.  They thought that was the “look” behind the sound.  In reality; the look had very little to do with the sound.

Hollywood, as it tried so many times in the past, would produce its’ own version of the real thing and market SoCal bands like “The Stone Temple Pilots”.  It had to get in on the action. The degradation of Grunge had begun.  It was like Pat Boone singing “Tutti Fruiti”. 
Coincidentally, just as the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richarson was known as the “Day the Music Died”; In 1994 when Kurt Cobain, who had written his songs about depression and teen angst based on his own life, finally succeeded in ending his own life; That was the day the last original music died.  Grunge wasn’t a fad that someone with a Master’s degree in marketing created, it was organic.  Just as the sound of cotton pickers singing in the fields of Mississippi was from the heart, So was the sound of Grunge.  It was proven by the country’s reaction to it.  Overnight the Glam Bands were in the “Where are they now” bins at Tower Records.
This was the greatest musical experience I had the chance to witness first hand.  Unfortunately, the same type of phenomena may never happen again as the “Theater” for Rock success is no longer there.
Hollywood, like a bad case of termites, destroyed the house called music and just came out and created a hit TV show called “American Idol”.  It’s what they wanted all along.  American Idol is the tombstone on the grave of something we will never see again.


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