Music Suicide Hotline
Selkow van Urine
Despite what the revisionist music historians would have us believe, the years between 1970 and 1980 comprised possibly the greatest decade for “pop” music ever. “Pop” meaning what I think the readers of Ink Nineteen are listening to. Considering that reviews for the works of artists like Tori Amos are published side-by-side with bands like Cannibal Corpse, everything is “pop” music. A quick roll call of bands who made a serious impact in the 1970’s includes: AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Kiss, the Cars, the Grateful Dead, the Sex Pistols, the Stooges/Iggy Pop, Heart, Cheap Trick, the New York Dolls, Lynryd Skynyrd, David Bowie, the Who, T-Rex, Bad Company, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Grand Funk Railroad, Devo, the Ramones, Aerosmith, Van Halen, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin; not to mention Fleetwood Mac, Styx, Yes, Boston, the Osmonds, the Jackson Five, the Bee Gees, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Hall and Oates, Shaun Cassidy, the Partridge Family and Leif Garrett.
If one will remember back to the Grammy awards given as well as the state of radio back then, provided one was hip to the scene at the time, it will be recalled that a) the Rolling Stones were ignored by commercial radio, 2) Fleetwood Mac and Christopher Cross were winning Grammies left and right, 3) unless you lived near a big city with an extraordinarily progressive radio station, you would never have heard of, let alone heard a song by, the Sex Pistols or Ramones. However, you’d have to be bedridden in coma to avoid hearing Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” or the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Jackie Blue.” And who could forget Paper Lace’s “The Night Chicago Died,” or Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.”
And disco! Disco?! Where the hell did it come from? All of a sudden this disco thing comes along. But, contrary to what the “history books” are telling you, disco as a commercial success was a flash in the pan, a minor radio phenomenon. For all the times “Stayin’ Alive” was played over the airwaves, James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is” was played tenfold. Commercial radio was terrible! But that didn’t matter because Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Rush, Jeff Beck, and UFO were recording albums and playing to sold-out crowds. Yet the music industry apparently ignored these and other bands as far as attention was concerned.
Could you read about these bands and their music? Sure, there were Creem, Circus, Crawdaddy and Hit Parader and others that all took on a “fringe” look; they were strange in a white trash way (if only I’d known). As an aside, my cousin Rick, who was infinitely more hip to music than I was, had his bedroom wall plastered with Rush, Van Halen, Judas Priest and Kiss posters ripped out of these magazines; me, well, I had this big poster of Clint Eastwood and a record collection of almost nothing but the Stones, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead. Somehow, Rick, who lived near Baltimore, was hearing this music on the radio and I, who lived in Washington, D.C., wasn’t. When George Washington University’s WGTB started playing Sex Pistols, Dead Boys, and the Ramones, they closed the station down after a month! Bethesda’s WHFS (which now sucks) was too staffed with hippies to play punk rock, but I did manage an education in progressives like John Mayall, Brian Eno, and Klaus Shutze. The best DC 101 had to offer was Howard Stern, Loverboy, and Steely Dan.
There were multitudes of “teenager” rags like Tiger Beat and 16 attacking your eyes with photos of “hunks” like the guy who played “Willie Olson” on Little House on the Prairie or John Travolta or the Hardy Boys or whoever the fuck else was on TV at the time. I can’t remember them too well because I didn’t care!
But the 1980s came along and were looking OK considering that “New Wave” was pretty good music, hardcore emerged, as did speed metal, death metal, house, techno, ska, etc. But most of all, college radio flourished. They took the helm and did something with all this out-of-control music people were recording. I think the 1980s was the decade of “growing up” rather than the “decade of greed” as far as music is concerned. Even though “classic rock” radio appeared, college radio really was an “alternative.” You would hear the Ramones, Black Flag, the Dickies, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, Meatmen, Dead Milkmen, Flipper, etc. The commercial stations, just like their myriad listeners who enjoyed being spoon-fed the Marshall Tucker Band, Mike and the Mechanics, and Bryan Adams, didn’t have a clue. And good! Being into punk rock, music with real energy, made one an outcast!
As the generations who made classic rock radio meaningful got older and meaningless, the younger folks had caught on this “alternative” music and didn’t want the watered-down mush of Menudo or whoever the fuck else the dying music industry Elder Ones were throwing at us. Credit MTV with a huge role in this transformation as it was playing new wave, punk, and metal, while the big-name radio stations were trying to hook us on Gary U.S. Bonds.
The 1980s exploded with punk `zines and magazines that were different, provocative; but still you had to go out and find them. The mainstream media wasn’t paying attention to the huge underground scenes that had developed. And, again, this was a good thing, a really good thing: you were into the music because you had looked for it, listened to it and made your decision for yourself. To be sure, plenty of these bands were on major labels (indeed, Metallica were on Elektra and made some of the greatest metal ever) but where were these companies like Dutch East India, Homestead, Death, Metal Blade, and Alternative Tentacles coming from?
And we know oh-too-well how things changed in the 1990s. At first it really looked up. Commercial radio stations were now paying a little bit of attention to “alternative” radio and started to toss in something from New Order or whomever seemed tame enough to not make their listeners switch the dial to maintain their fix of 1980s elevator music. Then along comes the amazing media housecleaning and Nirvana gets to do in 1992 what the Beatles did in 1964: it looked like commercial stations were going to play cool music finally. And even though MTV had gone nearly totally to shit, they still had Headbanger’s Ball and some other specialty shows worth watching. When Green Day “broke” I actually thought that commercial radio and MTV would do a complete turnaround and start playing all the great music they’d ignored over the last 20 years. I was ready for it, too. I so looked forward to the day when nothing but Ramones would be on the radio and the lame people responsible for “classic rock” would have their heads explode.
Didn’t happen. By 1994 the revolution was completely under control by “them,” who actually were “us.”
There was a hell of a lot of great music being made and played over the years, that should be on the air now, and that isn’t. Bands that are so atonal, so awful, so, so, BORING, are “commercial alternative” staples. I’m talking about lame bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. Zero-energy bands like Blind Melon (thank God for heroin) and Rage Against the Machine. Where is the melody? Where is the power? It’s just a bunch of tin-ears yelling and hitting drums and bass about something they AREN’T experiencing. This is supposed to be the music of revolution?! (Yeah, it is revolting…). Everyone has tattoos, everyone has mohawks, and everyone listens to this shitty, dull, boring music! And they managed to fuck up rap music, which used to mean something, too! All day long on BET it’s nothing but crooning! Where the hell is Ice Cube?
And what about the written word? Well, if you surf the Internet, chances are you won’t even be able to understand what somebody’s talking about since they possess the communications ability (i.e., spelling, grammar, etc.) of two-month old baboons! But then again, the bookstore shelves are littered with magazines devoted to the “alternative” scene. Now it’s impossible to avoid knowing about the most insignificant band, like Silverchair (hah!). Everyone really is part of the act!
And because everyone’s part of the act, we will destroy ourselves. Marilyn “Talent Incarnate” Manson remarked at this years’ CMJ convention that “…record reviewers don’t buy records, they sell them.” The recording industry has just started to notice the reviewing community’s brazen cannibalism. I have a feeling music reviewers will become very scarce, too.
Consider this: I received a copy of the latest from ###, the worst band in the universe, for review. The album sucked incredibly and I threw it away. Threw it away! I mentioned it to a friend, also a reviewer, who said she hated it as well, but sold it for two bucks at a record store. Not a strict used record store, either (it sells plenty of new records, too). I saw the same CD at the same store, brand new, with a $17.99 price tag. Eighteen bucks for something I wouldn’t even use as a beer coaster? Of course, the savvy consumer would trot over to the used bin and find the same CD, brand new, for $5. I figure, sooner than later, somebody’s going to wake up and start refusing to send out review copies en masse AND they’re going to stop signing shitty bands on the hopes that they discover the next Nirvana. Hey! Music industry: WAKE UP! New music is dead! Hell, the mail-order clubs don’t even bother with cataloging by genre any more, they just lump whatever this months’ flavor is with everything else. You should worry about selling the warehouses of left-over shit and not sign anyone for the next five years!
But the ultimate indicator that the industry has gotten wise is the return of the teeny-bopper. They won the siege. And how are sieges won? Whoever holds out the longest claims victory. Remember I said it looked like everyone grew up as far as cool music went? I didn’t just mention the Partridge Family and Leif Garrett to be cute. Punk rock was a response to that kind of shit. For a brief moment (1992-1996) we even thought they were good for nostalgia purposes (re-releases of novelty compilations, etc.). But wait a minute, the music is tame, lame, boring, happy, and parents are too damn approving. Saturday morning cartoons like Archie and Josie and the Pussycats parodied rock and roll. They used the kids to get at the parent’s money. All the animators and producers were blatant Bing Crosby fans! This shit is not cute! I do not want to hear Bobby Sherman! I do not want to see Osmonds specials on TV! They way I figured things, the entire world was supposed to grow out of that shit, thanks to Nirvana.
But no. I grew out of it and so did everyone born before something like (!) 1985. But you know what? They waited until “alternative” radio transformed back into “classic rock,” they waited until Live and Beck and their spawn of ugly, boring bands usurped the rightful throne Mötörhead should be on now, they waited until the Ramones retired, until the Stones recorded a lounge album, until everyone in college now started dying from horrible infections resulting from bad piercings, they waited until we fully forgot about three-chord punk rock and ripping speed metal, until “hardcore” became indistinguishable from flushing toilets, they waited until a point where the markets are so saturated with shit that every band in the world owes them money, hibernated until a point where a band called the Butthole Surfers can’t raise the eyebrow of the President of the United States, a point where, a point when we couldn’t respond, where they knew we were beat. Then came