Thursday, June 30, 2011
New Rock City
It’s interesting to imagine how a rock scene in an American metropolitan area would function if a New Rock regime were to take hold. If the scene consists of a group of recluse geniuses, what would fulfill their need for socialization? As absurd as it sounds on the surface, the idea of a “rock salon” is intriguing. It’s difficult to think of Gertrude Stein passing Picasso an acoustic guitar, or Virginia Woolf sharing a spliff with T.S. Eliot, but who knows? The rockist criticism of a rock salon is easy to anticipate— it’s too tame, effete, delicate. But it doesn’t have to be. And as to other forms of socialization, the most obvious question, considering what I’ve already written, is whether bands should make a point of playing live in the cities where they reside. The guiding principle (that recorded rock is usually aesthetically superior to live rock) can be taken to extremes— with this kind of music, hard and fast rules are made to be broken. Who knows?
Another good option for musicians is to become DJs. Every American city has clubs, and club nights; DJ/musicians have the advantage of being able to spin superlative records, without the fuss of trying to duplicate them live. DJs function as mock-curators; to the extent that club-nights can be rigged to feature whatever the respective venues will allow, each club-night works as a kind of “showing.” Because records are what’s being shown, and in a live, social context, the New Rock meets the old halfway. This is especially true if what’s being spun is hometown rock. The club context also takes away the tame/effete ambience of the salon; and, if the tradition of rock debauchery is to be extended (New Rock being more mature, but only 20% more mature, than old-guard standards), this is a good way to do it. As for local press— that’s a tricky one. It depends on the musicians noticing the depth and seriousness of local writing and coverage. If the press corps in a certain vicinity has in it a few earnest rock writers, the relationship can be cordial. If the city press happens to be imbeciles, the more intelligent among the rock musicians will stay away from them. This includes bloggers and Internet presences. In terms of pushing things forward, New Rock scenes might have to accept that it has to happen slowly and in increments. The “hype model” of rock culture probably won’t hold.
The whole idea of New Rock has to do with moving rock forward as an art-form. If it happens, it will require sacrifices, some of them major. There are also potential hitches— if no one, not even the elite, can make much money from rock music anymore, the “rock auteur model” will either involve a trust-fund or an ancillary form of employment. If this seems to land us squarely in Bohemia, so be it. You have to create because you want to create; the poseurs will suddenly have no one to ape. Survival will depend, not on hype but on inspiration; even if New York and L.A. function intermittently to churn out more crap. This is all hypothetical; the old system might find a new way to function. System regeneration in art can be a rapid or sluggish process; and idiosyncrasies often determine new directions. The Gertrude Stein connection is pertinent— the idea that, in rock contexts, aficionados will gain rather than lose power and influence. If these ideas hold at least somewhat, the question for each city is if something coheres— if things fall into place so that a scene develops. Even if participants know that for a long time, no one might notice. And there are plenty of rock venues still operating out of the momentum of the old system, which will die hard, if it does die. New Rock aside, rock in general has to decide what it wants.