Random observations, Spring 2013 from GuitarAttack World Headquarters

All of us sit around and think about things...some probably more than others.  After thinking about a bunch of things, here are a few I’m going to throw out and ask for your opinion.  If you want to talk back, go to the Forum and have at it.  If nothing else, you’ll have something to think about.

1. Does music suck?

Was music really better in the 60s?  I know that 1967 was a banner year for the Beatles (two albums), The Stones (two albums), Cream, Hendrix, and even the Cowsills and the Monkees.  Robert Christgau of Rolling Stone recaps his top 40 of 1967 here, and it is pretty awesome. 


Why 1967?  It was a pretty good year for music, with the debut of Hendrix and several other great artists who still show up on the cover of Guitar World magazine even though it is 45 years later.  Forty five years – hard to believe!  A lot has changed in the last 45 years, but apparently there are still those who long for the music of that era.

My opinion is that music today is just as good, and there is a lot more to choose from.  Lots of genres, lots of artists, and lots of formats are available.  Yes, you can still by vinyl…on Amazon!  Saying music today is bad is like saying the only art worth looking at is in the Louvre and that Impressionism is the only true artistic statement.  Yes, it does sound dumb.

But how was the music business back in the 60s?  To make a record, an artist either had to have a huge amount of money or sell their souls to a record company for the privilege.  The recording studio was a mysterious place where artists took orders from the producer/record company and made something that could be sold.  Consumers bought what radio stations played and record companies sold.  Period.

In the world of 2013 consumers are better off, in my opinion.  The gatekeepers – the record companies and radio stations – are still trying to operate like it is 1967 but the model has changed.  For artists, getting through the gate, or achieving wide commercial appeal, is still a daunting task.  Yes, people can record a great album in their basements using an iPad and Garagband software.  But, just like the old days, they can’t make people like it or buy it.

Consumers can now listen to what they want to...not consume what the record companies want us to...kind of like the beer business or news. There are lots of choices now.  The downside is that it takes some work to find music you want to listen to.  The upside is that musicians now have the ability to really, really, really record what they want to and find out very quickly whether somebody likes it…or not.

Rather than dreaming about recording and making a video like we did in the old days, young folks can record to their hearts content and may be able to stumble upon something people really like.  Odds are that won’t happen, but we’ve cut out a crucial roadblock – THE MAN!  Like Jack Black (Dewey) said in the “School of Rock”,

Dewey: Oh, you wanna learn something?

Summer: Yes, I do.

Dewey: You want me to teach you something? [most of the students nod] Here's a useful lesson for you: give up. Just quit. Because in this life, you can't win. Sure, you can try. [really getting angry] But in the end you're just gonna lose, BIG TIME. Because THE WORLD is run by the Man.

Frankie: Who?

Dewey: The Man. Oh, you don't know the Man? [class shakes their heads] He's everywhere. In the White House, down the hall, MISS MULLINS, she's the Man. And the Man ruined the ozone, and he's burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! And there used to be a way to stick it to The Man. It was called rock ‘n’ roll. But guess what. Oh, no. The Man ruined that too with a little thing called MTV! So don’t waste your time trying to make anything cool or pure or awesome, because The Man’s just going to call you a fat, washed up loser and crush your soul. So do yourselves a favor and just give up!

Don’t give up!  Music is great and maybe you’ll find something great if you keep looking.  Yes – You can make something cool, pure, and awesome!  Get to it!

2. What is success in the music business today?

 I remember when I was in high school back in the 1970s we always thought about “making it” in the music business.  To Eric Pegram and me – Junior Rockers -- “making it” was getting a bunch of money, riding around in limos, and people clamoring to see our concerts and scream for us.  It never actually dawned on us that we should have tried to figure out what success really meant in the music business, but we were too busy playing loud rock and annoying the neighbors.  Also note – hard work was not part of the equation at that point!

Around Nashville, a lot of the musicians I know claim success in the music business today is being able to make a decent living playing in a band.  Not rolling in limos or traveling to Cuba like Jay Z and Beyonce…just making a living.  Don’t get me wrong – that is not a bad thing.  Making a living and working hard are noble things, and I will never give anyone a hard time for that.

However, I don’t think I would have plastered the walls in my bedroom with posters of KISS, Foghat, Boston, et al when I was a kid for the prospect of “just making a living.”  There has to be another component.  I think it is the ability to play for appreciative audiences and the act of performing music that keeps the current crop going and willing to live in a van with a bunch of other dudes with no end in sight.

Nobody wants to play for free but it kinds of boils down to that, or playing for tips.  Out of this is that point in every musician’s life where the realization hits that stardom is probably not going to happen and, if it does, it will be short-lived and ultimately pretty meaningless.

Therefore, enjoy your music, put everything into it, and consider having a backup plan.

3. Are guitars still cool?

Do young people care about them?  I go to the guitar shows here in Nashville, and the crowds are old white guys – kind of like the guys in trading card conventions and the Barrett-Jackson Muscle Car auctions.  Who really cares?

In the pre-historic world of the late 1970s, I loved guitars and guitar players.  Van Halen, Foghat, KISS, Boston, Rick Derringer, BOC, and on and on….there was a bunch of great guitar music coming out during the darkest days of disco.

We lamented that nobody got it and there was no place to play the kind of rock we wanted to play.  Of course, THE MAN kept us from becoming the kind of stars we wanted to become.

There were very few distractions back then for somebody who wanted to play guitar.  However, I really didn’t know that many guitarists in my grade in school.  There would be three or four bands playing at the school talent show, but that was about all of the guitarists who could actually get up and play.

There seemed to be more active bands back then….and that may be anecdotal.  Maybe it was just my imagination.  One thing I do know – You can buy a great guitar for $150 today, and it was tough to do that back in the 1970s.  Yes, gear is better now, and there are so many choices for guitars and amps it is hard to decide.

Ask a young person you know if they like guitars and guitar music.  I am interested in your perspective.

So, are guitars still cool?  Yes, and I’m not going to change my mind.

4. Who is the next guitar hero?

I contend that the last guitar hero was Eddie Van Halen.  He, like Hendrix and Clapton before him, changed the way people played the guitar.  Cobain was probably not a guitar hero, nor was/is Billie Joe Armstrong.  I was sitting here wracking my brain trying to think of someone in the last 15 years who has really captured the essence of the Guitar Hero. 

Steve Vai, Steve Morse, Joe Satriani, and Kirk Hammett immediately came to mind, but I’m not sure that any of them caused a seismic shift in the way the general public played or approached the guitar.  They are all incredible guitarists but there is something semi-obscure about them in the mind of the general public.

Brad Paisley is a great player and he has influenced a lot of young players, but the LL Cool J thing, as well as being condescending to his audience, may make him a has-been very soon.  Hey Brad -- Hollywood will never really accept you.

What do you think?  Who inspires you?  Who is the next old guy on Guitar World magazine?

5. Am I the only person on the internet without a Kickstarter campaign?

Sometimes I think so...better than the government giving money away for long shot ideas.  I need to raise some money for something in order to do something.  How about raising money to record an album?  Produce some art?  Pay some bills?  I am interested in your opinion on this issue.

So what do you think?

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