Hard as it may be to believe, it has been twelve years since Nirvana’s release of Nevermind, the album that most people who still could be referred to as Generation X-ers consider the seminal alternative rock LP of all time. Nirvana’s crunching guitars and mangled lyrical stylings may not have the lasting artistic influence of, say, Bach, but for many people the band’s widespread commercial and critical success marked a key turning point in radio rock n’ roll. The slickly produced, monotonous and insipid music that ruled the 1991 airwaves was finally getting some real competition from bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and others.
It was okay to mosh. But where has that passion, that feeling gone to again? Where it began (enter Nirvana)Although the late 80’s were sprinkled with great guitar rock bands like the Pixies and Husker Du, these bands were little known on a global level. Popular music was concerned more with image and superficial entertainment as what it has grown to again today. This, of course, left the music cold and lacking of any truly emotional qualities.
Even the hip-hop and rap of the day was of the light beer, dance hall, diluted to 1% of its strength variety. This atmosphere festered and bred a more apathetic music listener. This tendency also had other disastrous side effects like the decline of live music on a local level as well as many other detrimental by-products, but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, the point is pop music was breeding a whole generation of music listeners who were void of passion, and as a result many believed rock music to be dead.
Enter Nirvana. “The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, ‘Is there a meaning to music?’ My answer would be, ‘Yes.’ And ‘Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?’ My answer to that would be, ‘No.'”- Aaron CoplandNirvana’s sound so brimmed over with passion and intensity that it at first appalled its listeners. Their music was not the frivolous, feel-good tunes or the passive background music to which people had grown accustomed. Suddenly, listeners had something to feel passionate about. This passion is the key.
It didn’t matter if you loved or hated Nirvana. What mattered was that you had a feeling, and the “Nirvana difference” wasn’t just in the sound. Nirvana didn’t smile for the camera and thank you for buying their album. As a matter of fact, they did the opposite. Once you had torn away the cellophane wrapper and opened the CD you were promptly given the finger.
However, before Cobain could even finish screaming “a denial” in your ear, every record label in the world was searching for the next Nirvana. This was the sword that killed the rock and roll dragon. Lucky for us there were many bands playing and performing with passion at that time, and the music world had a few more years of storm before the calm. Bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soul Asylum, and Stone Temple Pilots were able to sustain this flame through several years of great and exciting music. Yet, throughout all this, the quest for the next Nirvana by the record labels continued.
Nirvana became a figurehead for a sound rather than a movement. Fans, record executives, and musicians alike couldn’t distinguish between the power that was the passion and the vehicle that were the overly distorted guitars, the huge dynamics, and the subdued to screeching vocals. Before they could even say, “Nevermind,” every new band was beating this formula into the ground. Even though rock once again owned the pop music world, it did so just long enough to allow its grave to be dug. I have a hard time completely blaming Nirvana for the death of rock in the very same way that I can’t give them total credit for its temporary rebirth.
They simply did what all musicians were meant to do, give us their passion. When music stops making us feel, then music is dead.”If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” – Henry David ThoreauWhere it ended (enter media)Then inevitably the good times officially ended somewhere between 1997 and 1998, about the time Pearl Jam ceased to matter and Britney Spears released her debut album, Slap My Ass Again, Daddy or whatever it was called. Now music sucks even worse than during the MC Hammer, Milli Vanilli heyday of the early 1990s, if such a thing is possible. Generic, inoffensive-as-possible tripe roams the airwaves and video stations.
Teen music stars are held in high sexual acclaim, and rappers are admired for their financial status. Television shows such as “Cribs” on MTV and “It’s Good to be. .
.” on Entertainment Television idolize musicians’ material possessions, making it cool to be materialistic. Actual adolescents exist who have never heard of The Clash, Pearl Jam or Soundgarden. Meanwhile, the Christina Aguilera Christmas album is still selling faster than cigarettes at an AA meeting. “Music media is a self-contained, nationwide feedback loop, which calibrates and segments the tastes of the consumer.
” – Jeff Sharlet. Who is to blame? This problem is that no individual group can be blamed. The media gives the consumer what they want which in return tells the media what the consumer wants. But, as Jeff Sharlet said, through this endless cycle the media calibrates what is “cool” and “uncool” changing the consumer to more fit their wants.
The common consumer acts as a testing subject for media experiments. A few years ago I was consumed by professional wrestling. I knew all the names, all the feuds, all the moves, I couldn’t stop watching it.
The drama that it created was genius. This form of entertainment was created purely to trap people. The media machine made the wave and I rode it, until I caught my breath.
On a behind the seen special on wrestling, the owner of the WWE, Vince McMahon, talked about the media machine behind wrestling. “It’s easy” he said, “We use the way the wrestlers behave to control who the consumer likes or dislikes.” It was then that I realized that I was just another point on the ratings and I divorced myself from it.”The biases the media has are much bigger than conservative or liberal. They’re about getting ratings, about making money, about doing stories that are easy to cover.
” – Al Franken, “Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them”, 2003The blame lies with the children, as well. Millions of teenagers with far too much moneyand far too little taste do not deserve to be roaming our malls, visiting the giant music chain store of their choice and pumping cash into this nonsense. It’s their fault as well that TV is becoming even more intellectually devoid. It’s their fault that Freddie Prinze Jr.
is a star. And it is their fault that music has gone to hell in a hockey bag. After all the fisher only drops the hook in the water, the fish have to bite.Perhaps you think I am being too harsh. After all, I am a teenager. Am I not merely lashing out, as each generation does, at the tastes and cultural mores of its successor? More to the point, isn’t it possible that I liked lame pop music, too? We are all vulnerable at points to the media controlled music machine.
Some choose to ride the wave of popularity, but others create their own.At some point, the music of rebellion for teenagers gave way to the music for Gap commercials they lap up now. No matter how much a father hates the Backstreet Boys, for example, he could never refer to their sound being “noise” or “racket”, as mine does about most of my music.Someone tried to explain the current trend in music as a backlash to the woe-is-me lyrics of alt-rockers. Current music, I was told, was a lot more optimistic than listening to Trent Reznor moan about hanging himself over Kraftwerk beats.
Happy music means happy people, so I should just grin and get over it. The problem with this argument is that there has always been pretty, happy music around. The problem is not happy music. Music isn’t good just because it’s sad or because it’s happy.
The problem is assuming that music is happy just because it’s devoid of any kind of artistic credibility. Just because some boy-band Orlando-refugees can sing and dance to moronic lyrics does not mean that it has a positive message for the youth of today. Indeed, I predict that many of these young men will not be happy in the near future, when their svengali managers dump them for younger, hipper video-meat and they suffer through about five years of New Kids on the Block jokes on Conan O’Brien. Truly good music comes from the heart and soul, not from a machine. Shows like “Making the Band” on MTV and bands like the Spice Girls console purely commercial music. They are formed in a group primarily so that they can make money for whomever has found them.
Sure some people on the shows say they are following their heart into music, and granted they are talented people, but where is the soul and passion? How can soul be put into music that is mass produced with a “hook” and is purely designed for the purpose of sales?It has been pointed out to me that if I hate the current wave of popular music so much, I should just avoid it and seek refuge within my own CD collection. That’s fine advice, except that current “hit” music invades many aspects of my life outside my living room walls. Be it mall music, or the top-40 station my barber insists accompanies his trimming, or the kid whose headphones are blasting next to me on the bus, I am forced to endure the gradual decline of pop music culture firsthand. “No matter how much spin, effort, lunch or dinner you give the media, they will not fail to notice whether you have won or lost.” – Robin Renwick, former British ambassador to the United StatesThankfully, creativity in music is cyclical. With any luck, there will be a shift in taste very soon, and it might even be something I can actually stand.
Right now, some kid might be buying an album that is brilliant, which will change his life, and he’ll start a band that matters. You know, a band with guitars and something innovative to offer, but without the choreographed dancing and midriff-baring shirts. With luck, they’ll get signed and sell a ton, and the cycle of rock n’ roll elitism will start once again. “Here we are now, entertain us.”- Kurt Cobain.