Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why Can't It Be Easy To Find New Music?

Yesterday, I listened to Born to Run.
Thirty-five years after it was released for the first time, it still sounds good.
Sitting at my desk at work, with little tin can speakers, Springsteen's vocals still sound just as desperate as they did when he was recording the album. The writing resonates in the age of Obama as it did in the throes of the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon. The band has been together for four decades and is still as relevant now as they've ever been - just take a listen to Working on a Dream.
As unbelievable as Born to Run is, it was damn close to never being made.
The story's been told thousands of times, most recently by Louis Masur in Slate Magazine.
And, while I could go on and on about the merits of Springsteen's work, I won't.
At least, I won't today.
Instead, I sit here with the scanner chirping as background noise wondering what good music isn't getting made today, and what great music we're not listening to.
As great as Springsteen is, for some reason people just didn't get him until Born to Run hit the airwaves. He was even then a legendary live performer with two critically acclaimed albums to his credit -- and his record label was ready to kick him to the curb.
Today, with the Internet, downloadable music, radio that doesn't play much local music and the ever-important prominence of music video, it's hard for certain types of artists to get started. The entire Born to Run album wasn't even finished when Springsteen's manager delivered the single to radio stations. There was no album for fans who wanted to buy it. Listen to Masur tell the story of how important radio ended up being for Born to Run.
"Within weeks, Appel also sent tapes to Scott Muni at WNEW in New York, Maxanne Sartori at WBCN in Boston, and Kid Leo (Lawrence Travagliante) at WMMS in Cleveland. To Leo: " 'Born To Run' was the essence of everything I loved about rock 'n' roll. Bruce held on to the innocence and the romance. At the same time, the music communicates frustration and a constant longing to escape." Leo played the song every Friday afternoon at 5:55; one fan remembers it as the start to the weekend happy hour. Nearly two dozen more stations had it by the new year. All this exposure, with no record in sight, made the record company nervous. When listeners heard something they liked, they usually wanted to buy it right away. But in this case, hearing the song on the radio helped build anticipation for the album."
Does anybody think that's happening today? Something tells me local radio airplay earned on the merits of a particular song had very little to do with The Pussycat Dolls' 15 minutes of fame. Somehow, I don't imagine the Pussycat Dolls spending six months working on one song because they just couldn't get it right (their hair, on the other hand, had to have taken hours).
I remember the days when Rolling Stone or other music magazines would highlight the best music coming out. Usually, if a band was big enough to be in Rolling Stone, they were big enough for you to find their music. Now, it's all about finding a blog or other online source to help you find music you may be interested in.
There are musicians who are making their way much like Springsteen did so many years ago - playing in clubs, rewriting songs on the fly until they're just right, getting good playing in front of an audience. The big difference is that now, they don't end up on Time Magazine before they're sold their first million records. You're not likely to flip on the radio (remember what one of those is, kids?) and hear something that rocks your world by an artist you've never heard of before. You're not likely to hear something on radio not being pushed by a major label.
Small bands usually don't get a boost from regional radio stations that can get a song into the right hands. Good luck getting their stuff on MTV - youTube is a better bet. Apparently, a lot of newspapers don't do much to back local acts, either.
Just for fun, I searched the Internet trying to find some of the best independent rock music out there. Since you usually can't find a lot of these bands at stores in our area, I thought maybe the Internet would help me out. It didn't.
The biggest problem is finding a way to syphon the good from the truly terrible. In an afternoon surfing through live365 stations broadcasting independent rock acts, I heard all of three songs I wanted to hear again: The Best Thing by an artist named Ivy, Lonely Holiday by the Old 97s and The Killers' song, Human.
Old-time radio had a lot better ratio of good songs to schlock than that. I haven't gotten into Sirius or XM yet, so I'll reserve judgement, but why does new media make it so hard to find good new music?
I want new music to entertain me the same way listening to Springsteen does. I don't want to be stuck with the same old music when I'm 50. Sometimes, I'm in the mood for music I know and love - Springsteen, Gary Allan, Billy Joel, early Michael Jackson, Otis Redding.
Other times, though, I want to be surprised. I want a band to hit me over the head with a song that I can't get out of my head.
In this spot, as I get time, I'll try to help out as best I can.
For those with a better way to find good new music, drop me a comment.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Why The Furor Over Obama's Education Speech?

President Obama wants to make a speech next week to school children explaining the importance of studying hard and staying in school.
Apparently, people think this is a bad idea.
According to the Associated Press, "Some conservative critics say Obama is trying to promote a political agenda and overstepping his bounds, taking the federal government too far into public school business.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a potential presidential contender in 2012, said Obamaás speech is "uninvited" and that the president's move raises questions of content and motive.
Many school districts have decided not to show Obama's speech, to be delivered at 12 noon EDT Tuesday, partly in response to concerns from parents. "
At the risk of sounding like Lewis Black or Denis Leary, what are you, high?
Since when is it a bad thing for a president to set goals for the nation's children? Are studying and staying in school bad things? Is there a Republican or Democratic way to educate kids? Do we want kids dropping out of school and being lazy sacks of crap?
I understand the debate over religion in school and the separation of church and state. I don't necessarily think that means there should be no religion in schools, but I don't think kids should be preached at in the middle of math class. I don't think the school day should open with prayer, but if kids do it on their own, fine.
Back to Tuesday's presidential speech.
For years, the United States has slipped in the world rankings when it comes to school testing. Some parents do a wonderful job instilling education as a worthy value in their children. Some kids would be successful regardless of the decade they're in school - they're self-motivated to do well, put in the effort to be educated and set high goals when it comes to their education.
Other parents, however, do not. They can't get their kids to go to school and, when they do, they're not exactly applying themselves. They might stay eligible for school sports, but they're not preparing themselves for much. With manufacturing jobs fleeing the United States faster than I'm losing hair, what's left for those kids? You used to make a fine life for yourself working in retail, but those jobs are drying up, too, and the pay isn't what it used to be (coming from the son of a 30-year grocery store employee, trust me, the pay's taking a serious hit).
Kids need to apply themselves in school. There isn't a safety net of blue-collar work anymore. Education really has taken on a life of its own. And, while something has to be done to make college more affordable, there is little excuse for kids not to be prepared for some sort of life after high school.
I'm disappointed past presidents haven't done this, and that includes President Reagan and President Clinton, who I thought were good presidents. Frankly, I applaud President Obama for trying to inspire kids.
It worked for President Kennedy in 1961 with his challenge to put a man on the moon - it didn't take long for math and science to take on more priority. It was cool to be smart in school. It was cool to give a crap about your grades and to take your books home. It was cool to say you want to be an engineer.
Now, not so much. You're a nerd or a dweeb. And, as a country, we're getting dumber.
We're the coolest dipshits on the block.
It's time to change.