An Evening With . . .

I don't know if the first music I ever heard came from a loudspeaker or from a live human being. It must have been the latter (both my parents are musicians) but even if it was a radio or record player that first connected me to music it was the live experience that turned me on. I have a memory of a guitar player coming to my school in the early 70s, long haired and denim clad. What kind of musician was he? A songwriter, maybe a friend of one of my teachers, trying to make a few extra bucks on the road? Was he a music student bringing some culture to rural Ontario kids? Who knows? But I can still feel the tingly excitement I felt when he played. I can also picture a young teacher my parents knew bringing an electric piano to the house and singing pop songs. The sense of joy he expressed as he belted out Beatles tunes remains with me today. The sound of my mother playing standards from the hit parade on the family piano, my father struggling with his clarinet, all these musical memories are as vivid now as when they were first imprinted.




I've lately become bored with recorded music. I hear about some great new musical artist and lean into the radio prepared to be thrilled. But it never happens. Hungry rockers, soulful blues singers, jazz wizards, they all leave me cold. I flip though my CDs looking for some road music but nothing calls to me. Spinning though the radio dial scanning folk, rock, dance, jazz, classical, it all seems dull to me, uninspired. On the other hand, I can sit in a pub and hear a musician play yet another rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" and be moved. The edgy romance of Arcade Fire (on record) can't hold a candle to a local rock band having their way with "Ziggy Stardust". Maybe it's a part of growing old but passion just doesn't reach me down the long line of the recording process anymore. I need real fire to burn.



It's probably just me, or just the older me. There occasionally seems to be a buzz around this band or that singer that matches the hysteria of the early days of rock. Or is it just manufactured hype? Young people I know seem as excited about music as I used to be. Or are they just victims of insidious marketing campaigns? I wonder if the age of discovery is behind us and pop music is just rehash after rehash of tired old formulas, old dogs and older tricks, dressed up and pimped out with digital effects to distract from the tedium. I once heard my young son complain that the radio station "plays the same song over and over again." If he was already tired of "The Joker" at the age of 10 imagine how I feel! I hear the great records of the 20th century from early jazz to the revolutionary music of the 60s and it all seems faded to me, like old keepsakes that need to be brought to the thrift store. It seems like an age has turned and we're in a holding pattern waiting for a new upheaval of imagination.




So if the past has been strip mined and the present is recycled junk then why make records at all? No one buys CDs anymore anyway so it's always going to be a money losing proposition. Technology has made it so that everybody has a CD. I recently met a grandfather who pulled out a tool case filled with harmonicas at a social event. On top of his harps was a brand new CD, "my second" he informed me before stumbling through "What A Friend We Have In Jesus". The CD has become, for the independent musician, a glorified business card, something to hand out at gigs. They make great coasters and five boxes of 50 will make a great speaker stand. Putting out a record is frankly not impressive in the least. So why not leave a dead medium in peace and work toward a living future? Shouldn't we be striving for something new, something truly original, something that will electrify us again? We live in a time when hundreds of thousands of artists are releasing tens of millions of songs but what are they all saying? Is it just vanity? Or is each CD a mini-revolution for family and friends? One thing is certain, nothing is going to happen until we kick out the jams MFs.




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