Friday, June 03, 2005

Why "Mostly Modern Music"?

It's mostly music in the sense that most of the posts will be about music. There will be a few stray comments on TV and maybe a couple on movies. But mostly music.

It's mostly modern in the sense that I'm not writing about classical. I have a music degree, so I'm excused from writing any more about the rise of romanticism or trying to explain what happened to the whole genre in the 20th century. I might reach back to the Beatles' early albums, but that's about it.

But it's also "modern" in the sense that it's not "postmodern." I won't get all academic here, so I'll put it like this -- I think some music is better than other music, and I'm going to say so.

It's important to think about these things these days because we're overwhelmed with choices, and most of them aren't good. Radio programmers went down a dull road of conformity and marched right off the cliff like the lemmings they are. (Case in point: The death of the once-mighty Washington-Baltimore alternative station WHFS, which lost its soul as it chased the skateboarder demographic. They did reinvent themselves by taking a few hours on a corporate brother in Baltimore, going back to their roots and putting together an impressive bill for the HFStival, which has happily survived.) Satellite radio beats you over the head with its giant playlists, carefully categorized, but it takes only a few hours of listening to realize that tossing aside the gatekeeper means you're going to drown in a flood of mediocre music. If you've ever made a mad dash through 100 or so channels on a poorly mounted satellite radio receiver at a traffic light, you know what I mean.

And now we're all getting iPods and downloading whatever we like. (Judging by the iTunes "Top Songs" list, we all like Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl, but that's another rant.) That's great in a lot of ways, but it's going to make it harder for us to discern what's truly good.

And I worry that it's going to be harder for bands to develop. That's heresy to those who think this great new "democratic" era will free us from record company shackles. But the trouble is this -- the 99-cent-per-play, 200-radio-channel universe makes music even more disposable than it has been in the past, and that'll make it harder for bands to have the U2-R.E.M. career path in which they build up an audience and find their artistic vision over time.

Sound pretentious? OK, maybe it is. I respect Gene Simmons' realistic view of his own career, but some people did, in fact, get into music for reasons other than picking up women. (For some, that's a welcome fringe benefit but still not the main reason -- why am I picturing Bart Simpson in the Spinal Tap episode?)

So if I've lost you, I've lost you. For the rest of you, I've given you some idea of what this blog will be about. Enjoy.

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