Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Rock Radio Part II: Why the commercial rock product, it’s creators, and its consumers suck

There are a host of reasons why the Music on Clear Channel’s the Buzz sucks ass but I can generally point at some particular problems – a lack of history, Blackness, and ingenuity.

To begin Rock radio is so racially segregated that it doesn’t even know it’s own history. This is music made by people for people who think that the prime mover, the big bang of all music, was Kurt Cobain. Nothing happened before and certainly nothing Black ever occurred in rock music.

When I learned guitar, I worshipped Willie Dixon and Chuck Berry. Chicago Blues, for example, rolled out some of the greatest riffs ever and I sure as hell couldn’t ignore it even decades removed from the original recordings. Sure Led Zeppelin was stealing riffs from Dixon. Sure ZZ Top throws a knowing wink to John Lee Hooker. 70s Rockers may have had a lot of sins but at least they knew their history and openly acknowledged it enough to inspire their listeners to seek out the originals. Yet on The Buzz you have bands all seem to want to ignore anything Black. Listening to this station you’d think that Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Hazel and Sonny Sharrock never existed. How Rock became so white that James Hatfield was once quoted in Rolling Stone as saying something like “Black people can’t play metal” and nobody called him on it, I don’t know. The result is a music so disconnected from its history and so segregated that it has become the equivalent of a 10th generation copy made from a copy of a copy of a copy that was...well you get the idea.

But take away the history and there could at least be some innovation if only by dumb luck. Unfortunately Rock on commercial radio is a manufactured product with stock features – innovation is frowned upon. Do you think something that really is interesting is going to make it onto the radio? Hell no! The reason is that the radio stations are banking on lazy listeners who will stop if something sounds familiar. That’s why all these bands sound alike. The fit in the peg – play ‘em.

And the market for the Buzz is pretty clear. This is music made for white male teens in suburbs. Here is Rock that’s safe for consumption with a prepackaged rebellion that ends at “buy our product”. You want rebellion? Here is a guy with a loud guitar and tattoos. Woo! I can feel “The Man” shaking in his boots. It’s the same packaged rebellion that the Minutemen mocked when they first heard Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55”. What’s sad is that I play my 3 year old son a Pete Seeger children’s record and, in all honesty, it is much more rebellious, subversive and challenging than anything put out by these boy bands masquerading as rebellious rockers. Consider John Lennon’s “Imagine” or Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. Those albums still hold up because their rebellion is based on ideas. On the Buzz, volume and attitude are confused for rebellion. Why? The music simply doesn’t have anything to say.

The problem for these bands is that Rock, like any art form, is something that is communicative. It must communicate not only with it’s own time but with the past and future. It must communicate not only with it’s own musical genre but with other musical genres. It must communicate not only with its place in the realm of art but in the realm of day-to-day life and the history that surrounds it. By pigeonholing Rock as this very particular thing to be consumed by a particular audience it becomes no longer art but simply a commodity - a commodity to be consumed, enjoyed, and then shit down the toilet and forgotten.

Me, I’m keeping it left of the dial where they still play music.

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