Tuesday, July 19, 2011
New Rock Saints
If the New Rock is going to take hold and work in an effectual way, the small minority of established artists at the top of the rock business will have to participate somehow. To what extent are commercially major artists capable of promoting others (especially commercial underlings) selflessly? Rock stars are not, to say the least, known for selflessness, but (for once) selflessness is going to become a good career strategy. This is true because rock stars losing commercial clout can gain influence in the industry by mentoring younger artists with serious potential; even if this is influence in an industry that doesn’t seem like an industry anymore. New Rock ethos will offer rock stars new ways to maintain their positions— but they may be forced to do it in a social context. For those at the top, the rock biz has never needed to be that much of a social context— extreme fame and money create an Ivory Tower scenario. But all those Towers are being chipped away at on a daily basis. Some of the smaller Towers have already been struck by lightning, as the saying goes.
The super-big guns won’t need to be brought down to earth— they have enough money and fame to tide them over. But they risk losing the acknowledgement of future generations, and appearing retrograde. Where making investments in burgeoning artists is concerned, advantages outweigh disadvantages. Attempts in this direction have been made by rock stars before— the Beatles’ Apple Records, Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song, and what Bowie did for Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and Mott the Hoople in the 70s. The entire Amer-Indie system has its basis in this kind of social context— but the classic indie paradigm is a label with a stable of bands but very little money behind it. If the New Rock is going to flourish, the vertical axis has to contract— those at the top have to share with those at the bottom. Not that it has to be Communist Rock— no art is set up so that everything (or even anything) can be equal. If the New Rock is going to start off on the right foot, it will help tremendously if the privileged open themselves generally to those below them. It might amount to little more than facts-of-life stuff— that musicians have to work part-time rather than full-time jobs, that they can afford decent equipment, etc.
What would be difficult to imagine is for the big guns to complain that they can’t find anything new and worthwhile— with the rampant availability of everything on the Internet, no one that’s any good is completely obscure. If someone decides to redo Apple Records on the Net, and if its handled in a disciplined manner, the results could be tremendous— especially if its backed by recognizable names. The obvious question it leads to is simply: what else is possible in 2011? Bands and performers who choose to play the game in the conventional way will be subject to endless delays and disappointments, no matter how charismatic they are. If you look in a magazine like Spin these days, everything is in completely bad faith— bands are introduced as potential superstars who are then never heard from again. It’s either an unconvincing display of the new or a repackaged version of something old. Bands who get famous now the conventional way only get sort-of famous— like Fleet Foxes. New Rock is hipper because you’re not being carried by moribund vehicles. There will always be rock musicians who want things fast— and, to the extent that the old vehicles seem swifter, they’ll jump on if they can. It’s a shame, but if an old vehicle carries you far enough, it can wind up dumping you into a grave. To the extent that few saints emerge, vehicles may be created that have prestige through taste, intelligence, and refinement. All those virtues will have to be rewards, and perceived that way— the old dreams of overt success are already in a state of forced entropy.